Today is the first day of the strike in Kathmandu. It was imposed by the Maoists. They said if someone violates the strike rules, keeps his shop open, or drives around, etc., they will ruin the person and his business. People are frightened, everything is closed, Thamel looks like a ghost town in a Thai horror movie. The only cycle rickshaw driver who manifests on the street the moment I step out of the hotel, wants me to pay 300 rupees to get to the nearby Durbar Square, because ‘he is the only means of transport today’, he says, but I bargain it down to 40. It isn`t easy though. I’m hanging around all afternoon on the square, which is a little more busy than other parts of the city, thinking what I should tell my group tomorrow when I start guiding them through Nepali history and vision. Huge temples are facing the old royal palace. Some Kathmanduites are sitting on the stairs around the temples, having a chat or reading the newspaper. Tourists try to squeeze everything into their cameras; fake sadhus come up to them to get hard cash for their photos. Kids are asking for biscuits. Guides want to take me around. As the sun goes down I walk along Freak Street looking for dinner. The hippie movement started here in the 70s, and the atmosphere didn`t change much since then. There is no one in the restaurant, but it’s open. The waiter looks at me trying to figure out my mood. Then selects a tape. Let it be.
The rikshaw wallah was an old madman. First he wanted me to buy him new shoes, then had several ideas about visiting shops, it was really difficult to convince him that I am serious about crossing the whole city just for a temple visit. He was entertaining me all the way from Assi to Kotwali by doing all kinds of acrobatics on his bicycle similar to a fake Hungarian wrangler on his horse on the Hortobagy performing for German tourists. We were heading to Kal Peron as he pronounced the name in his Bojhpuri dialect, the temple of Black Bhairav. After a 45 minutes arduous ride we reached a big intersection, and I thought we must be close. I jumped off the riksha, gave the guy the money we agreed on, and hurried down on a small alley. Wanted to get away badly from the crowd, the noise, the busy traffic, the pollution. After a few steps I found myself staring at a little shop selling garlands of small red roses, and a man from the counter was signaling me which way to go. The temple of Kala Bhairav was right there. At the entrance a Puranic description read: ‘This is Varanasi’s Lord Bhairava, who destroys the terror of samsara. The very sight of him removes the sins of many lifetimes.’ Around the shrine people were selling pictures of Bhairav and his cord protecting against illness and evil spirits. It is made of twisted and braided black thread that can be tied around the wrist or the neck. The temple servant offered to beat the `devil` out of me, first by swinging his stick in front of him saying a prayer, then beating my left shoulder with it. He said it keeps away disease and physical pain. Kala Bhairav, the “Black Terror” is widely known as the ‘Kotwal’, the police chief of Banaras. Shiva appointed Bhairava to be the chief officer of justice within the sacred city, because Yama, the Lord of Death is not allowed to enter Kashi, the place of liberation. Bhairava took over the duties of Yama, and he keeps the record of people’s deeds in Kashi. ‘Whoever lives in Varanasi and does not worship Bhairava, accumulates a heap of sins that grows like the waxing moon. While all who die in Kashi are promised liberation, they must first experience, in an intensified time frame, all the results of their accumulated karma.’ This is called the punishment of Bhairava. This punishment is said to last a split second and to be a kind of time machine in which one experiences all the rewards and punishments that might otherwise be lived out over the course of many lifetimes. Pilgrims hope that by visiting Kashi Bhairava, they can achieve freedom from sins and the fear of death. It reminds me of a beautiful short story written by Jorge Luis Borges. I don`t remember the title, I read it in a collection of his short stories called ‘Secret Miracle’. The story followed the rushing thoughts of a man who was about to be executed. From the moment the gun was fired till the bullet reached him. It was such a perfect presentation of how all the events of someone’s life run through the mind in an instant moment, how these events speed up so much that they blow up our space and time limitations, and everything explodes and expands well beyond our physical limitations and dissolves into a timeless spaciousness. The experience of purgatory and purification. I was wondering how it feels. How it feels to see all the joy and sorrow of our life, and how it feels to experience the results of our actions, all the joy and sorrow of a failed future ‘zipped’ into a sudden impression.