Cambodia: My Family And Other Temples

PART I  (A lightly edited version of this Part I was published on Youthkiawaaz.com. It can be read here)

“Sir, a taxee vee be de ad aaepo tomoro to pi you ub”, our prospective tour-guide said over the phone. “Da ca numba e 4-1-9-7. OK?”  

“ya, thanks, Johnney”, I said. “I’ll be on the look out.”

Scores of westerners and a handful of Asians came streaming into the petite airport arrivals section. As we snailed forward in the queue terminating at the immigration desk I was struck by a mural displayed on the far side of the hall: a scene of tug-of-war between two mythical factions, the rope taut and serpentine.

“That’s a painting of the Samudra Manthan, isn’t it?” I nudged my mother.

A pleased yes-nod.

A half hour later, passports-stamped and a total of eight bags trollied up, of which mine was but one, my mother, her sisters, my aunts, and I trundled out of the wood-pannelled oriental-palacelike building. 

“So where is your Johnney?” asked my aunt, shading her squinting eyes from the sharp noon light. 

“He should be around.” Although there was no sign he was.   

Wekkum! Wekkum to Anko!” I then heard a warm voice. A stout man of roughly my age was smiling and holding a placard bearing my name.

“Hi Johnney.” Haro, Haro! You cuddan fin da ca? It e der, in frun ov you!

“Huh. Where? You said the car number was 4197. This one is 4971.”

Bu e e same-same na!” Johnney beamed.   

An annual pilgrimage is a compulsion for my family. I should clarify—it is a compulsion for my mother’s side of the family, with my mother acting as the perennial and avid group-leader. I usually end up the compliant tag-along. But this year, I took charge and decided to take her together with my aunts to some place new and foreign.

Owing to my tepid but enduring interest in Indian mythology, the historical Khmer relics had been on my bucket list for a long time. “Enough with poojas and rituals”, I’d persuaded. “It’ll be a nice change to look at monuments purely for their aesthetic appeal”.  My mother, I knew, ever-keen to add a place of worship to her credentials, never least the one listed as the largest Hindu temple, wouldn’t turn down this opportunity. My aunts, too, though nowhere near as idolatrous as my mother, I had expected to be agreeable to coming along. I wasn’t let down.

Johnney slid the door open to van number 4971.

I chuckled as my aunt grinned in a manner that seemed to say, these guys are like us only. Same-same.

We had landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

***                          

              As a little boy I spent my Sunday mornings, much like how everybody else I knew spent theirs: at home, transfixed to what in my planet was universally regarded as the thing to watch on Sundays: the televised renditions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. For one godly hour, shops shuttered down and road traffic hummed to a lull. Servants would gather all agog and grandparents’ features matured yet to wholesome glows.  

In those guileless and more imaginative years, before the unstoppable flood of Cable TV and 3D effects and other such happening things had begun to happen, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were considered The Most Happening Things of All Time. Even then, my six year old self had a sense he was in witness of something bigger than mere drama; for not only did these classics open portals to worlds at once surreal and too-real, they were also believed by those around me to be the very manuals to living life. Indeed, these were the primordial trees—bearded Banyan trees, I liked to imagine–laden with fruits of meaning.

For me, though, always it was about the Super-Powers.

The galaxy of god-powers, the curses liberally dished out by quick-tempered sages and the herby potions vied for by all were the sorts of things that drew me to that fabled fold. The Sudarshan Chakra—the disk that spun fiercely on Vishnu’s index finger–was the most exciting choice of weapon; the shapeshifters and the morphers, avatars of the ever-mounting wickednesses, frightened me more than anything. Half-chanting and half-mumbling half-memorized mantras, eyes closed, I’d perform the bow-and-arrow scenes of Ram and his brother Laxman fighting evil, praying I could in someway conjure to myself their talents. Only then would I be able to vanquish some bully I’d decided looked just like a Rakshasa.

Growing up, my sister and I imbibed from our mother a great many stories on the continually colliding constellations of Hindu avatars. Parables that bespoke the timeless pull and tug for primacy between the gods and their lesser divinities; stories that wove into me the skein of honourable battles and justifiable deceptions and petty conceits playing out between the Asuras, the demons, and the Devas—Deva, the Sanskrit word for deity, has the same Indo-European root as the Latin word for God, Deus—not to mention the tussles amongst the gods themselves.

Once, as a 10 year old, I breezed into the Shemaroo video rental store near our home in Bombay and asked to rent the Mahabharata series.

The salesman’s eyes widened. “Ya there are 94 episodes. Which one you want?”

“The one with the most magic!” I’d said.

So it was perhaps understandable when years later, as a Sci-Fi-obsessed adult, while watching the superhero movie, X-Men, I felt something in my mind ricochet: a memory cobwebbed to a stored-away alcove. Where before had I observed this same situation –in which two opposing forces had come together for a common objective before going their own separate ways? Was I imagining a link where none existed? But the echo lingered; it dogged and gnashed until it untangled and rose to clarity.

Yes, the same thing had occurred in the Samudra Manthan, or in “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. In that account the Devas and the Asuras had for once, for a time, joined hands in pursuit of a single quest: the obtainment from the deepest depths of the ocean, Amrit, ambrosia, or the nectar of immortality.

And it was this affair that I was to find depicted on its grandest, most intricate canvas in the architecture and imagery of the once Hindu and now Buddhist temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

***

                          “This place actually feels like India only”, my aunt said, massaging a cube of butter into her breadroll during breakfast. “Like South India. There’s no difference only”.

A better description I thought might be India-lite. For one thing, all of Cambodia was home to fewer people than just Delhi and its environs. Though it was true, Siem Reap did at any rate remind of Goa; here too, tourism seemed to have seeped into the town’s every feature. Shops and tuk-tuks routinely accepted US Dollars, and some even regarded dollars the only acceptable currency.

“We should get going”, I said, “Johnney will be waiting for us in the lobby.”  

The previous evening we’d dawdled down the tourist-brimming and justly named Pub Street—my jeans amid the tri-flutter of salwars—pausing for dinner at a restaurant specialising in Cambodian Barbecue, the decision to halt being firm and unilaterally mine. As I marvelled at the selection of meats on offer my aunt sought certain essential clarifications from the waiter.  

“We are pure, pure vegetarians. We are looking for something totally vegetarian. No meat and no stock-shock or anything.”

You hab no mee? Fee you hab?” came the baffled response. “No, no. No Meat, No Fish. We are Pure Vegetarian”.

We do for you. Can-can.

“But please, no meat stock. We want pure vegetarian. To-tallee pure.”

OK. OK. No probrem. We pu mirral votta.”  

Soon three bowls of steaming vegetable noodle soup placed beside a platter of raw chicken, shrimp, pork, shark and crocodile landed on our table. Additionally available were kangaroo, frog and snake, but seeing as my aunt said between meagre gulps and watery eyes, “Beta, I don’t know how you can put that… stuff in your mouth!” I thought it practical to refrain from further gastronomic misconduct.  

“Oh I hope the smell isn’t bothering you”, I tried, feebly apologetic, the aroma of smouldering meat issuing from the tables around us. My mother said she loved her portion of soup—“it is like Tom Kha!”—and my aunt reminded she’d long since lost her sense of smell.  

“Oh, ok Thank God!” I exhaled, continuing with my chopsticks to roast my bits of dinner.                        

         

           Johnney had been a guide for getting on six years. He flaunted a picture of his wife and son, which he said he kept all the time with him in his wallet. Da Khmer Empire”, he said seriously, craning his neck to face us, the 4 Indian subjects sitting in the car’s backseat, “wa biggit in whore South Eet Asia”.

The morning was bright and the air warm. A scent heavy with sodden leaves blew through the windows leaving behind a sweet trail. Clear of the thick-trunked trees edging the road, rice fields opened out for miles upon miles under the cloud-puffed skies.

We were on our way to the temple city, Angkor Thom.

Burma, Tailan, Veenam, all came under Khmers ad one taiym.” Johnney waved his hand to incorporate the countryside falling past.  

Though our guide was proud of his country, he was not exaggerating. At its peak the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire had ruled over most of mainland South East Asia. Angkor (or city)—a vernacular form of the word nokor, whose origin lies in the Sanskrit word, nagar—is the supreme legacy of that period, satellite imaging having revealed it the largest pre-industrial urban centre of the world.

We reached a bridge leading up to an arched stone gate, one of many, to the Angkor Thom. Below, a moat encircled the 9 square kilometre sprawl of ruins; and on its bottle-green shore, not three feet away from us, barefooted kids leapt in and out of the water, cackling, snorting. Railings to either side wore the form of a rock-hewn naga, or serpent; while to the right side, a row of gods strenuously pulled on the length of its tail, on the left side demons tugged the reptilian stretch controlled by an upright and engorged head.

20141221_102341 The story went that Vishnu using his wiles positioned the demons on the fanged-end so that the gods would be kept safely distant from the venomous fire-jets spouted by Vasuki, the king of serpents–a sure side-effect of the bodily stresses he was to undergo. Accordingly, throughout the joint exercise of ocean churning, the demons’ hair and vitality scorched and singed, and were by the end of it all but shorn off, while the clouds driven downward to the snake’s tail by the breath of his mouth refreshed the gods with invigorating showers.  

The Angkor gate ahead was the pivot round which the churning had taken place. Though yet another interpretation suggested the pivot might actually be the city’s central temple, Bayon. For in the original story, as the gods and demons started to pull back and forth on the snake hugging Mount Meru—the centre of all physical and metaphysical universes and who’d taken on the role of the churning rod–they felt themselves being dragged to the ocean bed by the weight of the rapidly sinking mountain.

It was then that The Preserver of the universe, Lord Vishnu, came to their rescue; adopting the avatar of a Turtle he supported the mountain on his impregnable back.

Now be go buy tree day tikke” Johnney said to nobody in particular. “It e 30 dorra for 3 day. But unlidded endree!” The dutiful expression on his face hinted at the pleasure he took at this aspect of his job.

“Every bloody thing is charged in dollars here.” My mother rummaged in her bag. “It’s 64 rupees to a dollar. Thailand was much better that way”.

“Thailand is waaay more commercial than here”. Though Cambodia is fast catching up I reckoned.

We made our way past the immortally-strained boulders, and on through the gateway. I’d just entered what looked like a craggy and foliaged compound, and was waiting for the next cue from our guide when a concerned, vaguely out-of-breath-voice from far back chimed in,

“Johnney, bhai, can you please make sure that for lunch you give us clean, hygienic, pure vegetarian South Indian food.”

***

            At first glance the Khmer temple Bayon appeared a muddle of stacked up boulders, a wild sprouting of rubble that was withdrawing into the jungle. It was a structure barren of its function, but seemed also to have been robbed of its allure.

It was only when you lifted your gaze that the eyes came to rest on the temple’s majesty: the multitude of stone-faceted Buddha countenances, thick-lipped and thin eyed, each as placid as they were expressive, and every one haloed by a nimbus sky. It was remarkable: the way in which a face could bring focus to the beauty of an everyday thing that otherwise hangs behind ordinarily.

Lore said King Jayavarman VII built the Bayon in the late 12th or early 13th century as an exhibition of his own likeness; that is to say as Himself in the incarnation of Devraja or god-king, an avatar of the Buddha represented in the 216 faces etched on the temple’s towers. Though illuminations in such vein were consistent with the royal order of the day, as they can still sometimes occur today, where the king departed from custom was in adapting his persona to the Buddha rather than with Shiva.

(Following his death nevertheless, the temple was modified by succeeding rulers in keeping with each one’s persuasion, a number pulling towards chaste Buddhism, others tugging to the Khmer kingdom’s Hindu past.)

Incised on the hardened grey walls were hundreds of dancing apasaras, nymphs of the waters, such water naturally signifying the swelling ocean from which they’d arisen: the enticing portents to the elixir of life that was to finally surface.

Afterwards mother and I climbed up and then down some prohibitively steep stairs creeping up a tomb while the aunts relaxed on a couple of the masses of embellished stones studding the surrounding lawns below.

Descending, our ears caught a tempo of beats: a lilting cadence, chants and singing. A clapping of cymbals. And predictably, if unwittingly,  my mother melted into a stream in search of its fount, my legs wading behind.

A pulsating Buddha temple: white-robed female priests, their heads shaved, sat on the floor in concert with a huddle of kids enfolded in prayer. Some palms clasped, some held incense sticks, but all minds present called on the powers that be.

Except for the difference in the language employed—Pali, not Sanskrit— the god(s) invoked and inveigled, mother was at home. I could tell she was eager to join the energy, but alas she knew nothing of the tongue.

She decided to seek the advice of the astrologer sitting in the corner: a wizened face with wrinkled hands thumbing through a flaking papyrus scroll enshrouding a wad of promise. Unfortunately again for her the man spoke no English either.

Even so, he beckoned and I trod near.  Finger pointing at my right hand.

I extended my arm.

Benignly the old man tied a red string on my wrist as his lips quivered to formulate, “You gib me dorra?

                           

20141221_110541

PART II          

           The story began when the sage Durvasa Muni offered a garland to Indra, the leader of the Devas and the Lord of the heavens.

But Indra, wielder of the lightning thunderbolt, rider of the clouds, paid the guru’s prasad no heed. He tossed the garland on his elephant’s tusk. Who in turn stomped over it.

An infuriated Durvasa then imprecated a curse upon Indra. He and his entire god-troupe would be stripped of their powers.

Time unspooled. Unfeeling, predestined.

And slowly the gods saw themselves losing battles to their long-sworn foes. The point had now come where the control of the universe fell completely to the demons. Under the kingship of Bali, also a Vishnu devotee, the Asuras’ reign was absolute.  

“Then only, the gods went to Vishnu asking him for his help”, my mother declaimed with a flourish, leaving no doubt she was on first-name basis with all the characters in the story.

A rapt Johnney and panting aunts silently listened.  

Having scaled yet more stairs we stood under the spell of a bas-relief frieze depicting the Churning of the Ocean—92 Asuras and 88 Devas stationed on opposite ends wrenched the snake, Vasuki under the celestial guidance of Vishnu–on a terrace connected to a further multilevel maze of chambers.

20141221_135649 The building’s architecture was the union of two diagrams: the temple mountain and the later constructed concentric galleries. The temple itself, a representation of Mount Meru, home to the Devas, was surrounded by a moat and an outer wall. Three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next, were adorned by episode after episode taken from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, a series of vivid tableaus set into stone:  the Battle of Lanka in which Ram defeated Ravana; the Battle of Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas; and the 37 heavens and 32 hells of Hindu mythology, the latter engraved with excruciating precision: fires toasting a man alive, another being boiled, nails driven into a third…

The heavens, wafting with apsaras, remained out of immediate sight. Too high up to appreciate.  

Yet, somewhere above me a firefly torched. Blazing then in high reverse it swam and reveried.

I was a boy entombed in an epic. Only that now I was held not so much by the story’s telling as by its physical avatar; for this version needed no imagining. It was a phenomenon the fingers could touch, eyes could see, legs stand on; contained as I was in these halls circumambulating this Vishnu temple, built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, and that was also the world’s largest religious monument: the Angkor Wat.

“Vishnu then suggested the gods churn the ocean to bring out the magical nectar”, my mother was saying, “because only after having it could they regain their powers, but as the gods were now powerless they had no choice but to seek help from the demons to accomplish this huge task!”   Luckily, acquiring such help would not to prove difficult, it came rushing back, for the weak-willed demons would be easily lured by a share in the spoils, the chief amongst which of course was the ever-nourishing Amrit.

Plodding on, in a little while we arrived at what seemed the temple’s nucleus.

A melee of locals and Koreans and Chinese burbling forward; and before long in the thick of the swarm was my mother.

Everybody ­stepping up one by one, offering their prayers, or miming those of their neighbour; making wishes or simply inserting an incense stick in the receptacle of sand that stood at the idol’s feet.

I was back in the real world, a place with its own attractions; potions.

Some of the devotees saw in him the qualities of Vishnu; others heaped praise on what was certainly the Buddha; yet others still didn’t seem to mind who he was for both the Buddha and Vishnu were essentially similar, avatars of the other, the swayers of worlds, of truth.   

Perhaps it did not matter then that the deity before me, though wonderfully draped, was altogether missing his head.   

***

                     “This is the most insipid food I have ever had”, my aunt said, forcing down a (pure vegetarian) dosa she made clear was devoid whatsoever of any Amrit-supplying attributes. “Coconut curry, coconut curry, coconut curry, how much can a person eat it? Should we speak to the chef?”

Four Indians and a Cambodian were dining at a restaurant that served supposedly Indian dishes in addition to the South East Asian regulars. I was happy I got my desired choice, the signature Amok Trei: fish in coconut cream and galangal wrapped up in banana leaves and steamed. Divine.  

“No point”, I said. “He probably wouldn’t understand.” 

“But if they’re serving it, they should know how to make it na.” My aunt looked crestfallen.

Johnney was somewhere else. Through a mouthful of fish and rice he said to me, “I hab intreestin idea to deecas bid you. But lader.”

Meanwhile my mother enquired about the next day’s schedule. “Johnney, which temple do we go to tomorrow?”

No tempar”. We would visit Mount Kulen, a site that was well-known for the one thousand Shiva-lingams and yonis (not least a Vishnu) carved into the sandstone riverbed. The rivulet washing over them was sacred to Buddhists and Hindus alike.  

(This sounds like Cambodia’s very own Ganga river! my mother considered. Food abroad never tasted better.)  

***

                         The following morning we left Siem Reap and drove northwards to Mt. Kulen some 50 kilometres away.

 Rice fields carpeted out and ponds shone. From time to time materialized clusters of rural Khmer houses: wooden, gable-roofed and raised on stilts up to 3 metres above the ground, high flooding the reason for such a design. A boy chased an errant tyre as his siblings lay stretched out on hammocks that were bed-sheets strung up to house pillars.

From under roadside-shacks moms and pops sold coconut juice and wooden toys. Most conspicuous, villagers stirring pots of bubbling golden palm juice over mud-dried and wood-fired stoves.

Johnney was saying, “…. Chaam pippal are Hindu. Lai you. In Central Vienam dey all Hindu befo, and Thai peepal come from China.”  Immersed in their talks, none of the ladies were paying any attention to the free history lesson being dispensed.

Vietnamee peepal are ok lai tourist, but ben be talk politick then be don lai…… They stole land from Khmer Empire…Saigon used to be ours, Khmer!

“Have you been to Vietnam, Johnney?”

Neber!

My mother broke in, “Wow. You can see so many cows grazing out in the fields. They look just like our cows. You’re lucky, you must get a lot of fresh milk here”.  

No, be don’t hab our own mil, be hab to impo mil from Tailand”, Johnney replied with natural ease.  

“Really? So what do you do with all these cows then?”

Ah, be use for agrilchaa”. A pause.  “and for meat”.

A caramel-like smell overtook the senses, the heady drift of palm-sugar.

My mother took in a deep breath. She said, “If you kill the cow then you utilize the animal totally in one stroke. But if you rear it properly then you can use it for milk and for butter and for cow dung.  For its full life it will keep giving you….. Like a mother.”

Our guide giggled encouragingly no matter what his thoughts were.

“I don’t think they have a concept of dairy here”, I added, hoping to change the line of conversation.

A different female voice.  “Yes, and my stomach just can’t take tofu!”

“Let me talk bhai!” my mother said, intent on making a point. “In your famous ocean churning story also, one goddess who emerged was the wish-fulfilling cow, Kamdhenu. Did you know that Johnney?” Then, “I have decided. I’m going to open a gowshala—cow shelter–in Cambodia”.

“Oh wonderful,” I let slip from my lips. “Johnney, what do you say about that?”

***

                                    Mahendraparvata, “Mountain of Indra, the leader of the Devas”–once the name of Mount Kulen–was where Jayavarman II had himself declared Chakravartin or the model and universal king; an event Johnney said was regarded the founding of the Khmer Empire.      

Snaking up through the jungle-clad massif we came face to face with saffron-robed monks on pilgrimage and children weaving palm leaves into baskets and more droopy hammocks. Breastfeeding mothers. A cheery sausage vendor.  

A clutch of hut-temples relayed to a foamy cascade pouring through lychee trees.

Then all of a sudden gnarled roots thick as trunks tore out of the earth like grasping demons, the woods trembling, dark and dense in the back; and overhead knotted a sense of creeping anxiety: a sapling from some ancient seed of logic? A foreshadowing of what lay farther along?

We trudged up a dirt track winding alongside the Kbal Spean River–my mother, aunts, Johnney and I–until we were able to make out a few feet away, glistening wistfully, in a sunlit clearing at the base of the shallow stream: the valley of a thousand lingas. 20141223_112440 The hum of the river, a gust stimulating the surface. The tremulous Shiva-lingas, rock-hard and tenacious underneath.

I was a time-traveller whirling back. Once more inside the Churning of the Ocean, I remembered the first thing the sea expelled was not something life-giving, but rather the very opposite: a deadly poison by the name of Halahal; it was a poison so potent that both the gods and the demons grew terrified all of creation was at risk of being destroyed. Overwhelmed, they implored Shiva, the Lord of Destruction, to protect them.  Shiva forthwith appeared in answer to their calls and drank in the oceanic-toxin to the final drop. But he did so without himself swallowing any of it. So that it would go neither down to his stomach nor up to his mind he stilled the poison in his throat; and Shiva’s neck went blue, and thence he became known as Neelkantha or the blue-necked one.

My mother was down on her haunches. Uninhibited and unchangeable like the stream flowing below, she surged into sonorous paeans in Sanskrit as onlookers watched in amazement.

Om Namhah Shivay, Om Namah Shivay, Om Namah Shivay…….

Cameras pointed motherward; a scampering child froze in her tracks, bewildered or petrified; the aunts were returning to the car, hands thrown up; and Johnney continued staring, wonderstruck.   

I was buffeted by a wave of embarrassment, annoyance.

Minutes later, the circuit of mantras orbiting their last revolutions, my uneasiness was evolving to new concerns. “I really hope you don’t plan to drink this water.” A film of scum floated on the surface atop which long-legged insects danced and skated.

A mischievous shuffle of the pupils that served only to exasperate. “What do you think?”

Everything that came out of the Ocean following the Halahal poison was as miraculous as it was serviceable: Kamdhenu, the cow; the goddess of wealth, Laxmi; and the wish-fulfilling tree, Kalpavriksha. As had been agreed, all the treasures were shared equally between the gods and demons. Until when, finally came Dhanvantari, the divine doctor, carrying the kumbh (or pot) of Amrit along with a book of medicine called Ayurveda, and a fight erupted over the Amrit’s possession; and before any truce could be reached the stronger Asuras seized the pot all for themselves.

But yet again, and as always, Vishnu was there to save the day. Assuming the form of a bewitching maiden, Mohini, he used a feminine charm to trick the Asuras into giving him the Amrit. Fleeing the demons then, he gave the pot for safekeeping to his winged charioteer, Garuda, or perhaps as some say, to the sun and the moon. Soon, the enraged demons came maniacally chasing, and for 12 days and 12 nights a battle of wills raged between the demons and the gods. It was during this time that a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell at the Indian sites of Allahabad, Ujjain, Nasik, and Haridwar; and it is here every year devotees flock in hopes of cleansing and enriching their Karmas. The Mahakumbh Mela of 2013, one such recent megacongregation, was by several estimates the largest ever peaceful gathering of people in the world. Present in those bristling millions were my mother and myself; with one of us wholly partaking in, and the other mostly absorbing, the Holy Ganga rituals in all of their unabridged glory.

Vishnu then distributed the Amrit amongst the Devas. The life-force that had once deserted the gods commenced again to race through their veins. However a demon, Rahu, saw through the ruse; and taking on a god’s guise he attempted to drink some of the Amrit.  The sun and moon, clear-seeing as they are, recognised the intruder and quickly alerted Vishnu. Without delay then The Preserver set his spinning disc loose on Rahu’s neck. But this was not before it was too late. The demon had already taken a sip; and cleaving in two he was respawned by a stroke of fate: Rahu remained the head and Ketu became the headless body. And to this day Rahu and Ketu take revenge every now and again on the sun and the moon by devouring them. And to this day millions forgo food and water tainted by the shadows of solar and lunar eclipses.

Again futilely I pushed for affirmation. “This water isn’t safe to drink, is it Johnney?”

Ob course, I dreen. Be all dreen.”  Bending down Johnney took a draughtful of the liquid into the cup of his palms and gladly gulped it down.  

Hopeless. “I hope you realise how illogical you are being here”, I then burst out at my mother, “these stones were carved by some king hundreds of years ago. I don’t understand what you are trying to prove.”

“You’re all weaklings, you young people. This is a natural stream with healing qualities. The water can only be good for you….. and anyway, it’s much cleaner than the chemically treated polluted river water we get at home.”

The stream continued moving the length of its course, oblivious to the morass deepening beside it, faithful to nobody but its inner-current. My mother and I meandered back to the car, both steadfast and tugging to our positions, the blessed and snaking stream the physical and metaphysical distance between us, a bottle of holy water in tow.                        

       Later that evening I asked Johnney what it was he previously wanted to discuss.

He thought for a moment and then said, “You know, you and me, be lai brothers: Hindu and Buddhist. We same-same.

I was thinkeen to do bezness deel. You send tourit from India and I show dem aroun Cambodia’s Hindu temples.”

***

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3 thoughts on “Cambodia: My Family And Other Temples

  1. Wow… the writing is simple so can read on… I can caught your age with all the clues when the Mahabarath playing stuff… but that apart you hit right on things that amuse me lightly… the churning story between Asuras and Devas… there is something facinating in all that(:…that period which you alluded about is amazing when there were no cable TVs(: they used to have cartoons in doordarshan, I think from panchtantra and turning point too…long time ago late 80’s and early 90’s I guess…also the national song to unite Indians, the one which had all celebrities, mele sur mera tumara stuff… well anyway… good know the stories… I think you would love the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit…and the Silmarian too…so much history, mythology, mix of everything… I quite reading non-fiction books, but I am glad to have read the above 3 books before quiting… In Mahanaratha and Ramayana there are very charming scenes that can be interesting… like the fight between Jathayu and Ravana who defended Sita and was like her father, or when Laxman recognized only the ornament Sita wore down or the Sabari lady where Rama eats her the fruits she tasted or my favorite the loyalty of Hanuman to Rama who was like his younger brother… there are interesting instances… In Mahabaratha, Abhimayu knows how to enter the kurushtra but does not know how to get out…very charming ones… anyway nicely writen I like the driver’s accent you have brought and wonder how your mom and the other aunt bore the smell of meat being pure vegetarians… I guess your the sort who does not complain so much about Indian culture… I used to complain a lot and set about to prove that Mahabaratha and Ramayana went against Indian values in several instances but left it… after all they are stories of a different world and era, let it entertain everyone… goodday

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