Doug Bruns

The Benefits of Opium

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on February 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

Perhaps we should consider travel as metaphor? Another travel vignette:

A Sadhu, Holy Man of India

A Sadhu, Holy Man of India

Dhdhundaly, Rajasthan, India:

By mid-morning the village elders in Dhdhundaly were comfortably quite high—and anxious to get at it again.

No sacrament, no wine, nor bread–but opium, consumed in liquid form, concentrated and filtered, like a stoner version of Mr. Coffee-the-Divine. As this is India, there must be a spiritual reasoning at work—consequently, with a flick of moist finger, an offering to Shiva is made. The priest-elder pours the dark liquid into his cupped palm. It sits high and brimmed, like mercury might sit. He offers his hand to the squatting man on his left. The squatting man sips, then slurps it gone. Smiles follow. With the palm refilled, another offering to Shiva, and the next man is offered the mix and so on until it was the priest-elder’s turn. A deputy takes over and offers the elder a righteous palm-full. He sucks it down in one shot, like a thirsty sponge. He exhales and shakes his head. He makes noises like a horse in early morning stable. Again, he motions, as if to say, “Hit me.” I notice how red-rimmed and stoned his eyes are. There is an electricity in the air. We are sitting behind a wall in an open garden, the morning grows damp with humidity. The elder smiles at me and twists the ends of his moustache. He instructs his assistant that his guest not be overlooked.

Alas, in liquid form opium takes a month or more to work its magic–so I am told. One must be a faithful practitioner to really enjoy its benefits. Benefits? Why just look at him, says my guide. The elder is over 70 years old. See how young he stays? He seemed to be looking through me by this time, deep into his practitioner-addiction nirvana. I sip. The liquid is bitter–then, being the good pilrim, I brace and finish it off. Stoned smiles all around. A tin jar is passed containing golden nuggets of raw molasses. I am advised that it absorbs the bitterness and is sweet on the tongue.

If you should ever ponder the difference between tourist and traveler, know this: the tourist doesn’t drink the opium.

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  1. Shades of Anthony Bourdain, who as far as I’m concerned is one of the smartest people on television

    • High praise, indeed, Lacey. Thanks for the compliment. I agree, Bourdain is not only entertaining, but smart, though he seems to mask it. As far as his travel philosophy goes, he’s a hero, along with Paul Thoreux. They have similar travel styles, appreciate going off the grid, pay deep attention to details that make a place come alive. Bourdain was in town here two seasons ago (Maine) and did a piece on Jay’s Oyster, which is a little hole-in-the-wall about three minutes from where I live. Jay’s has always been very popular with the locals, but now everyone comes to town and wants to go to “the place they filmed in No Reservations.” Now it’s tough to get a stool at the bar, forget a table. Thanks for stopping by “…the house…” I appreciate the note.
      d

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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