(Almora – Anthony van Zijl)
On the train to Varanasi I asked the boy to marry me. Fortunately, he agreed. We sealed the deal in a hotel called The House of The Rising Sun. The Brahman, who performed the ceremony in a tiny Shiva Temple in the hotel’s courtyard, did not speak a word of English, and our Hindi was fairly inept. We gave him a fresh new lungi, and a white brahmanical thread, because that is what he asked for as payment. He had also relayed to the hotel-keeper that we should feed the birds and monkeys afterwards with sweets. We climbed to the sun-drenched roof and did as we were told.
We went for the afternoon to Sarnath, to the deer park, where the Buddha had given his first teaching after enlightenment. Women there painted my hands with henna.
The honeymoon we whiled away in Almora. There we met a certain Mr. Shah, an impeccable little tailor, whose wife ran our guesthouse. It was called the Kailash Motel. The place hopped with bed bugs and we woke scratching at bites furiously every morning. Mr. Shah had a habit of commencing conversations at the breakfast table and just when you were thoroughly hooked, he would stop and loudly sigh.
‘Ah yes’, he would intone, with all the practise of a mantra, ‘these and many other interesting topics may be examined further if you will visit me in my Textile Emporium in the Main Bazaar.’
Thus did we find ourselves passing many hours, cross-legged on the floor of Mr. Shah’s Emporium, which was a three-sided shack, no more than ten foot square. We sat like royalty among the heaped up velvets and cottons and silks while the tailor sewed wedding suits for his fine boned clientele. He gave us a present of ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran.
‘I will tell you both a secret’, he said, when we informed him of our marriage. He put aside his work. ‘The problem with you people in the West’, he said, ‘ is that you choose to wed the people you love. But here we know much better.’
Mr Shah was nodding his silvery head.
‘ Here we choose to love the people we marry. And that makes all the difference’.
OM TAT SAT