A very, very dear friend came from the State side to visit us in India. Whenever guests came from outside of India, the first thing we did was to grab them and take them to Varanasi! We felt one needed to see, sense and feel Varanasi if they really wanted to experience India. Most of the times we didn’t give them a choice. ‘Ok, this is where we are going folks! Pack your bag!’ ‘But how about Agra, the Taj?’ they sometimes tentatively ventured! ‘Later, maybe!’ we firmly retorted, and headed for the airport! Jeez, weren’t we in charge of taking them around and planning their vacation? In the chaotic land of India, we were their sole life line to navigate the traffic, the shopping and bargaining, the public transport, the beggars. We were in complete control of their itenerary and time! Wow, feel the power?
Anyway, our friend was very interested in seeing Varanasi so we didn’t have to coerce him to go. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast called Ganges View on Assi Ghat! That place is a real treasure, friends, if any of you are planning a trip to Varanasi! We were having a delightful stay and a simply wonderful visit. We woke up before the sun came up and sailed along the river Ganga watching the sunrise and seeing the city come to life. Walked along the ghats taking in the peace, serenity and timelessness of Varanasi. We trudged along the narrow lanes and by lanes of the ancient city, dodging the holy cows and holy cow dungs, little boys playing cricket, peeking in the houses to see what the inside looked like. So wrong, I know! Salivating in front of the sweet shops and tea stalls, looking at the temple of Vishwanath with reverence (we didn’t go in since Sean and our friend weren’t allowed in, being non-hindu) where the widows came to beg, sing songs and try to make a living. Serenity and peace juxtaposed with sadness and poverty. But such is life.
Everything was going great till some pesky foreigners, attired in Indian clothes, came and brought confusion and chaos. The sleepy, little bed and breakfast became a hub of activity, all of a sudden. The owner, who was taking very good care of us, forgot to ask us every two hours, if we were doing ok, or if we needed something. He seemed preoccupied with those foreigners wearing saffron dhotis and saffron sarees. In the evenings, they would play the harmonium and sing songs, accompanied by tabla. My husband and friend kept whispering something about a certain individual resembling Sting. I didn’t pay much attention. Just told them it was bad manners to stare when they were staring! One evening, I was enjoying a beautiful sunset over the Ganges, from the balcony, the B&B owner came to me and asked very politely if dinner at 9 would suit us since Sting wanted to have dinner at that time. I shrugged and said ‘That’s fine!’ When my husband and friend came back I informed them we were having dinner at 9. At dinner time, we were passing the dal and vegetables with these, very polite foreigners, who I still considered pesky and wished them gone. The conversation between my husband and our friend went like this ‘Gosh, I swear that guy looks like Sting!’ ‘Why, even his butt looks like Sting!’ I just focussed on my food.
The next day, we were waiting for our flight back to Delhi, guess who should walk in? The bunch of foreigners, still in their Indian outfits! Going back with us in the same flight. Seriously, are they following us? I groaned. My husband and friend perked up immediately. ‘Gosh, how can two people be identical? I swear he looks just like Sting!’ This time I was listening. I piped in ‘He is Sting. Who’s Sting?’ They whipped around to look at me. ‘What did you say? How do you know? And how do you NOT know who Sting is???’ ‘Hold your horses, I know because the b&b owner told me he is Sting. Who the heck is he?’
My sweet husband did not disown me but very patiently explained who Sting was. For that, I am grateful. Sting was in Varanasi to promote Indian cotton, on a UN mission. We stayed at the same place, ate together, listened to their music. Justifying my ignorance here, I hardly listened to English music those days, didn’t quite get the lyrics. That, my friends, is my excuse for not knowing who Sting was. Now? Now, I roll down my window and sing ‘Every breath you take….’ at the top of my voice while driving till the kids say ‘Mom!! STOP!!!