Last night at twilight, as I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room, high above the broad sweep of the Ganges River, temple bells were tolling and puffs of the late freshening breeze carried small gusts of distant chanting. (Now tell me, honestly, could there ever be a more promising start to a story than that?)
Swarms of swifts or swallows were wheeling and darting directly overhead. At first I thought they had been driven out of their niches in the temple towers by those bells. They were so numerous that later, when I examined the photos I had been taking of the sunset, they give the appearance of an extremely dirty lens or film, with dots all throughout the scene. Click to enlarge this image and you will see them.
The birds flashed and turned overhead. Then I realized, they were feeding on . . . mosquitoes! That insight was confirmed as a fat one took refuge in the hairs on my arm. Just as she was about to drill for dinner my sharp slap freed her from further entanglement in the Great Mandala of Life; for it is written that all who die at the Ganges, or cremated here are permanently released to the highest plane of spiritual perfection. Given the malaria and dengue fever that are prevalent around here, one of us, she or I, was on the cusp of eternity – and it wasn’t going to me.
One of the young men staying at this hotel told me that he recently had dengue fever. I have no interest in the experience. Abe Lincoln summed up my feelings about similarly unpleasant events when he told of the man who was about to be tarred, feathered and ridden out of town, strapped naked astride a splintering log, “Gentlemen, were it not for the general honor of the this thing, I would just as soon decline.”
Within seconds I was back inside my room, door sealed, air-conditioning turned up high. Thus, even eternity was held off for at least one more night.