Tag Archives: Bangalore

Traveling North: a summary – part 1 of 2

My last post was a summary of the sculpture I made in South India; and, thus, finishing one of three important tasks for this India Trip.
It’s been awhile since I posted, mainly because I’ve had to devote time to my work and to plan what’s next.

South India was amazingly productive. When I made my first Cairn and I got back in the car with the quarry owner and his son to drive an hour and a half back to Bangalore, I breathed a sigh of relief because I had – in fact – just accomplished a major goal of why I came to India, to establish contacts with quarries in India and work with upwards to 50 tons of granite … and, let me be clear, I am grateful for the help:

Samuel Nigro, India, Bangalore

I stayed in Bangalore for a few more weeks, and I continued to talk with people, meet with people, visit quarries and I could have stayed longer, much longer, because there were many more quarries to visit, many more interesting people to spend time with. I had to make a difficult decision to move on to the east coast along the Bay of Bengal, south of Chennai, to find stone carvers and people who could help me create and execute some different ideas. It took some searching, but I found a master carver, whom I’ve dubbed MUR, who was open to my work and helped me create Project II and III from the previous post. The man below is Samura and he was the one who spoke the best English at MUR’s shop.

Samuel Nigro, India, Bangalore

It was Samura who was instrumental in explaining what I wanted to accomplish at MUR’s studio. In the middle of our introductory meeting as communication was not happening, Samura kneels down. MUR and I stay standing and watch: he grabs a random shard and quickly breaks it with a bigger, but equally random, shard; and then, he takes the broken one and stands. Speaking quick Tamil, he holds the two pieces and puts them together and takes them apart, puts them together and takes them apart; he does it to me to get affirmation; he does it again, a number of times, to both me and MUR. I nod and nod and nod. I say “yes, I break the stone … not cut with a saw.” MUR nods; he understands. Samura is about to throw the broken shard away. I extend my hand with a slowness that beckons him to stop, to stop and not throw the stone away. We catch eyes, and, mirroring my steadiness, he places the broken piece in my hand. I put it in my breast pocket and say: “This is shard #1.” MUR gives a deep, guttural, resounding Tamil “Yes” (I think it meant “yes”???) which sounded something like: “Hummhhahhhhm”

Samuel Nigro, India, Bangalore

Samuel Nigro, India, Bangalore, Sculpture

I left South India on March 17th, 2014 and traveled back to Varanasi. This was another difficult move because once I headed north to Varanasi, I knew wouldn’t have time to come back south and I would be foregoing a number of trips and activities, such as visiting a handful of sculptors in Orissa that I met and seeing many recommended sites, like Hampi; and, most importantly, going back to Varanasi meant I wouldn’t be going to Calcutta this trip to see Rathin, who is the reason I started this whole India trip in the first place. I had about 20 kgs stone sculpture I’d be lugging around with me, and couldn’t easily carry it with me for sightseeing and detouring to Calcutta. Also, there was so much stone at MUR’s place that he would let me work on; so, another difficulty was to leave it all untouched. I still could be working down there. Some day soon … I’m working towards it.

Yes, the move back to Varanasi was difficult, and not to visit Rathin, but I know that there will be another time. The itinerary was getting tighter, as I knew I had to finish up in Varanasi and then head north for the third leg of this trip and seeing the Himalayas.

I get back to Varanasi and it is much hotter. The weather, the atmosphere and the tone, tenor and efforts of the people had all changed. It was still cool in the evening, but like wearing a lead suit between 1 and 4 pm when outside because of the intensity of the sun. In February when I was planning my trip south to find Indian Granite, people told me to go to the south early because it was going to get hot in March and viciously hot in April. I was making plans to do just that when I found out about the Stone Fair and raced down. Bangalore has very pleasant climate, but the coast was another issue – it was hot all day and night and got progressively hotter as I was there – not so much like a sun-hot, but a “I’m hot, the sun is there, but the heat is coming from somewhere else and I have nowhere else to go” sort of hot, if that makes any sense (don’t know, that the best I got now, still processing all this. Oh, yeah: there were plenty of nighttime mosquitoes, too). So, although Varanasi was hot during the day, it was a different sort of heat and a relief from the south. I noticed another change between Varanasi in the winter, and Varanasi in March/April. In January and when the fog lifted, the days were clear, crisp and refreshing and I got clear, vibrant photos, and the Ganga had a smooth silkiness to it. In April, the pace of the city changed, and something happened to the light and air, and, thus, the City, the Ghats and the river were not so photogenic during the heat of the day. The river was much lower and oozed forward like a lumbering milk shake … or something … Amazingly, it wasn’t even summer heat, yet; and, I could understand why people told me that May, June, and July were unbearable in Varanasi.

Anyway, I got back to Varanasi and threw myself into my work and stayed at the residency mostly; I had plenty of work to do before I headed north. If you’ve been following my facebook posts, you may have seen my updates about waking up very early unplanned. Here’s one:

Samuel Nigro, India, Varanasi

Walking the ghats early this morning, a consequence of another unplanned 4 am wake-up, I saw a heart-warming scene, three kingfishers frolicking against a clear blue sky.

I got back to Varanasi and I just couldn’t sleep, consistently couldn’t sleep, like every morning, like I was on a different schedule, like my mind at 4 am said, “time to work, get up,” and like I wasn’t tired, but agog at what I was doing – if I got out of bed as late as 6 am it was only because I was laying there since about 4:30 am, and it wasn’t because of the heat either; mornings where quite pleasant and I had ac in the studio. Not going to dwell on this, because this post is just a quick summary to get caught up to where I actually am; but, I mention my early rising because I took to riding a bicycle to the ghats before the sun came up and walking around before it got too hot. The city was quiet and vibrant and pleasant and, besides, the sunrises were outstanding. Here’s a few morning shots of the Ghats:

Samuel Nigro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, VaranasiSamuel NIgro, India, Varanasi

I shared the residency with two new artist, David Bruce and Camila Santo, during this time; and, like the artists whom I met during my first two month in Varanasi and the list of themes I promised to address before, and for the sake of brevity, I have to wait to share our mutual experiences. I regret to have to do this, because these people are integral to my experiences here; but, time clicks on and the third leg of my trip is calling … and, again, this is a quick summary and I either spend one week writing about each day in India or I process most of this later. Besides, I don’t want to rush these ideas, because they deserve more time.

I’ll conclude with a pic of my daily companion outside my studio window:

I shared the residency with two new artist, David Bruce and Camila Santo, during this time; and, like the artists whom I met during my first two month in Varanasi and the list of themes I promised to address before, and for the sake of brevity, I have to wait to share our mutual experiences. I regret to have to do this, because these people are integral to my experiences here; but, time clicks on and the third leg of my trip is calling … and, again, this is a quick summary and I either spend one week writing about each day in India or I process most of this later. Besides, I don’t want to rush these ideas, because they deserve more time.   I’ll conclude with a pic of my daily companion outside my studio window.

and a gratuitous Monkey pic:

and a gratuitous Monkey pic:


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Cairns – Shards – Pieces

Going down to Bangalore, the wild ride filled with shenanigans and welcomed surprises ­that accompanied it, allowed me to work and achieve much of why I came to India in the first place. A big thanks to everyone I met and who helped me, who supported me and who followed me on my vision. Thank you …

Thank you …

Thank you …

you know who you are … and I look forward to seeing you again.

Here is a brief look at what I did in Southern India:

Project I – Cairns

I came to India to find quarries that would allow me to work with upwards to 50-ton blocks of granite – done. I made a series of Cairns out of 10-30 ton blocks of various types of granites. In total, I visited 4 quarries and moved about 120 tons of granite. The Cairns below are each about 15 feet high and are just a sampler; and there’s more. I have two additional companies who are willing to work with me, and 10 MORE quarries to visit; I just didn’t have the time this trip. Would love to make 10 more Cairns! These Cairns will go through another process of transformation to relocate them. To make this possible, I am looking for suitable locations and people interested in furthering this field of sculpture.

Samuel Nigro, India, Sculpture

Cairn_I_people India south – Cairn II India south – Cairn IIICairn_IV


Project II – Shards

I took the discards – the unwanted, the dismissed and disowned – and gave another look. I focused on a few shards of stone – castaways, really – and ended up developing seven. The first two shown below can fit in the palm of your hand; the third, better use two hands. These seven deserve additional attention through drawing, video and performance. I now need the time and space to take these seven through new stages of development that will run a gossamer thread through a series of triads, cycles and opposites … and … um … a bunch of other stuff I’m curious about
India south – shard iii a India south – shard iii bSamuel Nigro, India, SculptureSamuel Nigro, India, Sculpture



Project III – Pieces

In addition to finding quarries where I could work with large blocks of granite, I needed to find people who understood the delicacy and finesse and care this material requires; and I found them … and spent much time with one man in particular … He knows …

Granite – light and liquid.

This is only a sneak peak of the sculpture I made at his place. It’s about 26 inches high, consists of 5 pieces, about 300 pounds and representative of a wealth of connection and transition.
Samuel Nigro, India, Sculpture India south – pieces 2 India south – pieces 3Five Pieces

Five Pieces detail

Potential Project IV

As we were finishing up with Project II and III at his place, I decided to describe my Project IV to him to see if it was possible at a later date, to see if he and his studio could handle it; and, of course, he could (he’s making a 20 foot high Shiva sculpture, way out in the countryside – he drove me out there – with seven jumbo cobras, each of which seems like it could swallow my whole head. The block of granite must have been 60 tons when he started 3 years ago). But, he then beckoned me to a hidden section of his field, which houses scores and scores of blocks from the size of a shoebox to the scale of a Range Rover. At this point with my process, I see these sorts of stones, and I know immediately what to do with them. I could still be down there working. This man hardly speaks English, but we worked together long enough to have our own kind of communication. In his Indian-English pidgin, open brachial gestures, and, most importantly, a gaze in his eyes that connected with my own, he made it know to me: “Use whatever you want. It’s all available to you.” Wow. I, now, look for the means to go back there, and soon … more to come.


Have another view of this work here:

India Portfolio: Strategic Placement with Social Media

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Bangalore – Granite conference and aftermath

Samuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, IndiaSamuel Nigro, Bangalore, India

found stone … as planned …

more soon …


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Monkeys … Trains … and The Secret of High Energy – part IV

Samuel Nigro, Bangalore, India

7 am, Wednesday – the 34th hour

I wake up on Day Two of my train journey to Bangalore, my first Indian train ride, which is scheduled to be a 39 hour journey. The train is way late, but I don’t seem to care. I’m on the train and that’s all that matters. I slept well for a second night in a row. I get out of my bunk before Ved and Raj pull their tan, train-provided blankets off their heads …

“chai chai chai chai … CHAI … coffee coffee coffee CHAI …”

Yeah, I can’t sleep through that. Anyway, I brush my teeth and clean up … er … the best … well, minimally … and proceed with my culinary plan.

See: from the beginning, I knew that Day One would be the day of the bananas and Day Two would be filled with orange delight. I ate the number of tennis ball-sized oranges that I imagine Andre Agassi would use to warm up on his day off – a sensible and respectable breakfast as I remember the negotiations I went through to get them. It was starting to be a good day and the rush to get to the Train two nights before has already started to fade. I am well on my way toward a new phase of my India Project, and the only thing for me to do was to continue reading Fantastic Voyage, by Issac Asimov.

1 pm, Wednesday – the 40th hour

Fantastic Voyage is the story of five people getting shrunk down to microscopic level to enter a patient’s body to perform life saving surgery as the geopolitical balance of power hangs over a precipice, and – you guessed it – that balance hinges on the technology of miniaturization, itself, and which side can make it permanent and de-miniaturize at will, which, as of now, our side can’t but their side … well … just maybe. See: miniaturization, according to the story, has a limit of smallness (which the crew is at), but will wear off in an hour; so, they not only have to complete the surgery, or the patient dies, but also get out of the patient’s body before they grow back to normal size, or, again, the patient dies. And, have you guessed it, yet? The patient they are trying to save is a scientist from their side who holds the secret to controlled de-miniaturization, but he is unconscious with a blood clot in the brain and can’t reveal his scientific knowledge! This is pure excitement. Of course, you can understand that if one side has the power to de-miniaturize at will, they have a distinct advantage, like they could fit an army of a million men and their equipment and provisions into a snuff box and … well … transport them anywhere undetected, and you can take the implications from there … like de-miniaturizing them in the middle of enemy territory etc … it is an arms race … with the threat of the worst parts of the bible coming true … Anyway …

Because of problems right when they entered the body, the eclectic group of miniaturized explorers cum surgeons were running out of air – miniaturized air, that is! (They obviously can’t breath air that you and I breath, duh. That’s why they miniaturized a submarine, along with its oxygen tanks, for them to travel in) – and had to make an emergency stop in a capillary right by a lung. The plan was to exit the submarine, cut into the lung and push in a tube that would then suck in air as they miniaturized it. This would give them the necessary oxygen so they could travel to the head and cut away the blood clot in the brain and save the scientist so our side could then get the secrets of controlled miniaturization and balance our technological deficit.

But, wait, there’s even more excitement: You may be wondering that if they are already miniaturized then how are they going to get full-sized air molecules and make them small enough for them to breath? The answer: they had a miniaturizer ray-gun miniaturized with them! This is awesome!

A discursive thought: One of the caveats to this story is that the miniaturization can only go so far with the shrinking, and the group of 5 is already at that limit, but since they miniaturized a miniaturizer, what would stop them from miniaturizing themselves … again! Then, they could miniaturize another miniaturizer and take themselves down even smaller! In fact, what would prevent them from shrinking more and more of these ray-guns and send them and themselves down the line into smaller and smaller realms, creating an infinite regress of smallness! (Remember: I  < 3  infinity!) What would happen then? Would you just go smaller and smaller where an Hydrogen Atom became the size of the Sun, the size of the known Universe?!?! Issac Asimov dismisses this point by saying you just can’t, which helped him shorten the book I’m sure and stay to the point, because it has nothing to do with saving the scientist, waking him up from a coma and find out his secrets, but it is something I immediately thought of. Why?

because it’s fun …

… and this blog is about curiosity and so I share it with you, as promised. So, forgetting for a moment that further miniaturization is not possible and Issac dismisses this point, what would stop them? If you thought: “Well, Planck’s constant would stop them.” Yes. That’s my answer, too!

However, neither this geopolitical tension, nor the implied infinite regress of smallness is why this story is such an appropriate, fortunate and albeit random choice for me. I found Asimov’s descriptions of what the universe would look like at the microscopic scale fascinating – capillary walls yards thick (relative to the shrunken person, that is), surface tension of water that will hardly budge, boulder-sized debris in the lungs, a slowing of time and a vibrating, graininess of the new, enlarged universe because you begin to make out the wave patterns of moving electrons and the particle properties of atoms, all of which looks hazy due to their mercurial nature and the relative largeness of the light you are using to see. Wow, and that’s more fun than any infinite regress or political brinksmanship, and I don’t mind saying that this may be a relevant pointer for me and for where I go next and what I do … but I digress.

One thought I had to come to India was to push the idea of breaking stone to the very big and the super small. Of course, I won’t be able to push it to the astronomical and microscopic – that would be something else – but I love thinking about it; and, besides, the quantum world versus the cosmic world is a boundary, a horizon line, of knowledge of our current scientific thinking and where many of the relevant questions are. How it plays out in my field of sculpture? I don’t know. It may not … I don’t have to worry about it now, because now I just play.

7 pm, Wednesday – the 46th hour

We stop at Chennai, a major East Coast Southern City.
In 6 to 7 hours, heading due west, the train
should make its final stop ­– Bangalore
and where I need to be.

Ved goes: “Come on let’s get some coffee …”

I guess we will be at this station for a while, so I follow.
We exit and it feels so good to get outside.
It is dusk and much warmer and stickier
and you can taste and feel the ocean
with each breath.

We walk a long, long way down the track. Nothing seems to be open, but people are everywhere.
We head towards the main station, and it is the first time
I notice how incredibly long the train is.
We turn off our platform and towards the station.

“Hey, Ved, we are walking far from the train … uh … how will we know if it leaves?”

“Don’t worry we have time.”

We are on the edge of the main station and there is a kiosk of sorts… and the only word that comes to mind is “madness.”

I mean: so many people ordering food and drink and paying and moving to different areas to pay, order, get food,
parry left, baulk right … pushing, jockeying, positioning. I don’t know what I’m looking at and if I was alone,
I probably wouldn’t bother. I am amazed how Ved picks his opening and hardly waits to order.
The guys in the kiosk, serving, are working it. They are busy: slinging chai, rice, dosas, chips.
It’s a rush of madness
and somehow it flows,
it all works.

Ved orders, he pays, and

“Wait!? My turn …”

“No, No … I got it.”

I appreciate the gesture and put away my wallet and we move to another location to get the drinks.
I think: “Yeah, I would have had no idea to move to this location to get our order …”
Once again, it tastes great to get a hot drink.

We get back on the train and eat dinner.
With the help of Ved and Raj, we finish off my oranges.
They have a dinner they buy from the train.
I have pistachios and honey.

9 pm, Wednesday – the 48th hour

The train is moving and Bangalore is the last stop; so, there is nothing to do, but to sleep as much as we can.
I finished my Asimov book and switch off my reading light.

2 am, Thursday – the 53rd hour

Lights on and a sudden influx of Hindi I don’t understand. Finally, we arrive!
Speeding towards the conclusion: We exit the station,
and Ved points me toward the taxi stand.
We say our good-byes …
We wish each other well.

I have my list of Bangalore Hotels in my hand and now I need to find a taxi to take me to one of them.

3 am, Thursday – the 54th hour

Finally, I lay my head down on a hotel room pillow….

You may be wondering why it took me an hour from train station to hotel room pillow, especially when I tell you that the Hotel I checked into was blocks away from the train station. Well, I’ll save the full story for the book, but it includes taxi shenanigans, language barriers and the inability of a taxi driver to a read map, but his ability to ask for directions and the allusive Indian way of giving and getting directions – it’s a mystery to me and maybe more later – and … this part I’ll tell.

I finally get to the hotel. The lobby is deserted and only once the receptionist wakes up can I go through the ritual of checking in.

I think: “I just want to take a shower and lie down …”

I get into my room, sit on the bed, and breathe a sigh of relief that I actually made it, that I am now firmly on the path of finding Indian Granite to work with.

As I kick off my shoes and go to unzip my bag, a clear and unmistakable sound breaks the otherwise silent and sleeping city:

The bells, whistles, drums and all the wind instruments you can think of, erupt like a college marching band at an All-American Football game … I am on a high floor and it sounds like they are in my room! I listen amazed for a few minutes and even make some movements as if I am just going to move on and ignore it, and it goes on and on and on … then … out loud:

“Yeah, I can’t deal with this …”

You don’t have to …

I call the front desk.

“Yes, hello. I just checked in … and well … what’s the marching band doing practicing at 3 in the morning?!?”

“Oh that’s from the temple from across the street … “

“I’m guessing this happens every night …”

“Oh, yes, Sir. It does…”

“and probably more times through out the day …”


“and through out the night, again …”

He hesitates: “Uh … yes”

“Look. I just need to sleep. I’ve just traveled …”

He cuts me off: “Of course, of course. I’ll move you to the back of the hotel right away.”

“Thank you”

It is this second room that I finally lie down to get some sleep for a few hours,
before I venture off on another journey to find the Stone Conference,
which is the whole reason I came to Bangalore
in the first place.

More later …

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Monkeys on a Train … or … The Secret of High Energy – part II

Samuel Nigro, Varanasi, India

I exit my room at Kriti Gallery for the train station, which is an hour-ish away.

(I find out about a stone conference happening in Bangalore, Monday at 2 pm.
I rush around trying to prepare for a trip that got thrust upon me.
I am acting before I am ready
and this I decide is
a good thing.)

9:30 pm, Monday – the 0th hour plus 30 minutes.

My taxi drives down the main road the residency is on that heads due east toward the Ganga and the Main (and what could be described as the Middle) Ghat, Dasasvamedha Ghat. I am very familiar with this road because I’ve traveled on it almost daily for the last two months, and I am now comfortable to walk back and forth between the river and the residency. It is about 4 km to the Main Ghat and like an obstacle course (subject of future posts). I am familiar with the intersection where the taxi turns north and heads around the city towards the northern most Ghat, Raj Ghat, where there is a highway and from there, I’m breaking new ground. We are on a highway for a very short distance and then we get on backcountry roads, dirt roads, dusty roads, but this last quality sinks in too late. The driver has the window down to let in the cool night air. It feels good, and then, 30 minutes in, I realize I’m breathing all that dust, too. I ask him to close the window. I fear it is too late to prevent some future sinus problems, an issue I’ve been dealing with off and on since I arrived in Varanasi.

10:30 pm, Monday – the 1st hour plus 30 minutes.

I arrive at the station. I’ve heard nightmare stories about taking trains in India and missing trains and late trains. This is my first time in an Indian Train station, and I am already rushed and I want to stack this in my favor however I can; so, I take Olga’s suggestion and ask the driver to come in with me and help me find which track my train arrives on. See: when trains arrive, they stop for minutes and if you don’t get on, that’s it … bye, bye train and bye, bye reserved seat – back to square one, which for me means finding – and negotiating – a ride back to Kriti and not making it to Bangalore in time for the conference. One train to Bangalore a day, that’s it.

The driver and I park and exit the taxi. After dodging a swarm of Indian men who want to carry my bags, sell me chachka, give me “direction and help” and otherwise try to get my rupees: “No,” “No,” “Get away,” “No.” We enter a cavernous station: approx. 60 x 100 ft., and a grid of people sitting, laying and lounging right in the middle of the floor with bedding, baggage, pets and food splayed everywhere. Rough guess: 150-200 people sitting/lying on the ground? I position myself out in the open so I can see the wide expanse of the digital arrivals and departures display. I stand out and I don’t care what I look like. I ask the driver:

“Can you help me find my train and the track it is on?”

I show him my ticket … and … well … I don’t want to fixate on too many details of an Indian Train ticket (there are all sorts of train numbers, car numbers, route numbers and confirmation numbers; the train station is Hindi in text and sound, movement and hustle – and I need to just cut through it all to make sure I get on my train), because I’m sure with some experience this sort of travel can become routine, but if this driver leaves and I miss my train for some reason … well  … I’ll do everything I can to make sure that does not happen. He looks at my ticket and points and rubs the Train number: “This,” and nods his head to mean: “This is what you have to be on the look out for.” English is not going to be our main avenue of communication. He looks up at the board and points, thinking … I follow his gesture … and:

“What are you looking for? Can we help you?”

There before me are two Indian men in their late 20’s, speaking very clear English,
dressed in casual western cloths.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to find my train and my track number”

“Ok. Where are you trying to go? You have a train ticket, right?”

“Oh, yeah definitely … Bangalore.”

A third Indian man comes up, 40’s, clear English and these three fellow travelers explain the track system and the station lay out. They are sincere. They are helpful. I explain this is my first train trip and I need to get to Bangalore – posthaste – and pepper them with questions.

“Yeah, wait at the track and get on your train immediately. In this station, it stops for a few minutes only, then goes.

“Nice. Ok.”

“If you can’t find your car, don’t worry, just get on, you can walk through them all and find the right one. There will be conductors.”

“Yeah, ok, sure …”

“There are a few stations that a train may stay for a while, and you can get off, but don’t wander far … trains won’t wait for you.”

“Which ones … which stations will they stop for a while?”

A naïve question, but I don’t care. I just need more information and appreciate their help.

“You can ask someone when you get on the train. Don’t worry; it will be fine.”

“And track changes? I’ve heard they can change them
at the last minute without any announcements…”

“Hmm… Maybe… That would be very rare, I think … Look your train is coming soon, so the likelihood that they will change the track is low.
Just listen to the announcements … watch the other people.”

“Ok. Thank you for you help.”

“Sure. You’re set?”

“I’m set. Thanks again and have a safe trip.”

“You too …”

The older man and the taxi driver speak in Hindi, and the driver looks at me, satisfied. I give him a big smile and lead the driver back out of the station to a marginal place so I can pay him. He is another friend of Kriti and at the last minute showed up to take me to the train station. I couldn’t make this trip without him; and, thus I am grateful for all the help to make this last minute trip possible.

We do an amalgam of a good-bye in Hindi-English.

“Thank you for you help. Thank you for the last minute ride.”

He says something in Hindi and gives the Indian Head bobble. I bobble back and bring my hands together to the prayer position, directly in front of my chest and give a slight bow while maintaining eye contact. He does the same but with one hand. I try my darnedest to say “Dhan’yavāda,” which is thank you in Hindi:


Ugh … a complete butchery of the pronunciation, I’m sure. He smirk/smiles and gives a deeper head bobble.

“Ok. Good-bye”

and – another double-bubble bobble.

I breathe and walk back into the train station and stand right where I was before. Seems as good of a place as any, I make no pretense to conceal myself or fit in … I have very little experience with this rhythm, and I don’t care: I’m getting on that train. Young kids running around: some probably just hanging out nowhere to go; some just bored waiting for their train. There’s bare feet everywhere, dogs roaming around, people well prepared with containers of hot food for their trip and their favorite blankets wrapped around them or folded up under their arms; and then, let’s be real, lots and lots of people traveling, some in groups, some as families, just trying to get themselves and their luggage to their destination. They all have their own logistical problems and routines: people just making their way to point B.

Pay attention, Sam. Yellow warning flag at half-mast.

 There’s a man in a turban and dirty dhoti and shirt, whose been circling and hovering ever since I entered the station, sometimes from a far, sometimes just without the perimeter of normal, “western” conversation. I picked him out of the crowd moments after I entered the station. He is very thin and has deep lines in his face, like many men in India, making it hard to tell how old he is, brown teeth from sucking on paan. In another country with his mild herky-jerky movements and directional changes, I’d guess he was a heroine addict, but 40% of India’s population don’t get their daily nutritional requirements, so that could be it … I don’t know … doesn’t matter … still don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time … then, what happens next is important: He turns and walks directly towards me speaking what I think is Hindi and makes to take my bag … I can speculate about his motivation, but decide, again, that it doesn’t matter. I aim for his center of mass, and boom:

“NO. Get away from me!”

He stops and we lock eyes. He hesitates and walks away never to approach me again.

All right, so I’m not standing in a good place. Let’s think about this …

“Stay out of the flow of traffic, find a place populated with people with your same needs and motivation, that’s best … avoid transitional areas and boundaries – that’s where clash and action happens; the marginal and dark are no good, either – you want to be in this mix, not hidden; and you’re in no mood for liminality – that’s the stuff of a Shakespeare tragedy and mythic transformation, too much to handle at the moment … “

or so you think… Wait: what are you talking about, anyway… would you just move somewhere else …

Yeah, right, ok:

“… Ah, ha! There’s my place.”

I stand off to the side – a handrail, which creates a right angle used as a guide for lines at an unused ticket counter, protects a little corner from the flow of traffic and creates my eddy of calm. I move among a hand full of people, who all look like they are doing the same thing I am: waiting, some sitting on their luggage, some standing, motionless; waiting for time to click by because it seems too early to go to the Track. I wait and watch the currents before me.

1:33 am, Tuesday – the 4th hour plus 33 minutes.

The Train arrives, two hours late.

(I eventually moved from my eddy of calm to the designated track, where I’ve been standing since 11:15 pm. The train was supposed to leave at 11:30 pm, but it was only at 12:30 am that the Train Station Authorities acknowledges this with the digital readouts along the track that displays my train number and “2 hours late.” – an announcement that itself was late. I continued to stand and watch, and I wandered with lukewarm motivation.)

When the train arrives, people scurry to find there assigned coach, the numbers of which are displayed along the digital readouts, and I am amazed and heartened that everyone boards in an orderly fashion. We are all tired and just want to get on the train, and the collective feeling is that there is no reason to make this more difficult by pushing to get on. I realize the wisdom of reserved seating. As described, the train starts to move only minutes after it arrives. I have a Class 2-AC ticket, the highest class, which means I am in a compartment that has two long benches that face one another, one window at one end of the benches and a curtain that offers a thin veil to the body-wide corridor just outside the compartment, opposite the window. This is a compartment for 4 people: the two benches each serve as a sleeper platform for a person, and there is a platform above each bench, making sleeping space for two more. There is enough room to sit up on whatever platform you have. I was told they provide bedding.

I find my compartment and my position is the top-right.

The lights in my compartment are out, but the dull yellow light from the station platform shines through the window and the harsh brightness of the fluorescent, nighttime lighting configuration of the corridor peeks through the curtain. I can make out a lump of a figure in both the top and bottom left positions.  They are each wrapped with a light tan blanket around their bodies pulled up around their heads that says: “don’t disturb me.”

My bags are way too heavy with food and water and books … probably too much of each, but I’m not worried and yet I feel totally unprepared for this. I pull out my lock and cable that I brought all the way from the States for this contingency and locked my baggage to the bottom, right bunk, like it was suggested I do from what little pre-India research I did in New York. These are close quarters and I will probably be traveling with these two for the next two days. I push away any thoughts of how this will go, because prejudging does not help and now the next thing to do is to lay down and fall asleep: it is a long journey and I might as well have as much of it pass while counting Zzzz… or, I think, it’s sheep, nope – I’m gonna count cows…

Cows, really Sam?

 Hey, it’s India, you know. All right, Monkeys then. I’m becoming quite fond of them and …

Monkeys are pretty energetic. Try again…

 Oh, you’re right … Ok … I think … it has to be the water buffalo.


They are such noble beasts – gorgeous. See: a hallmark of domestication is specialization for a specific function. All cows are descendants of one species, the Aurochs or Bos primigenius, from which come the Bos indicus, the common ancestor of all Asian cow species, and Bos taurus, the common ancestor of all European and American species. This domestication started at least 10,000 years ago and we have many, many subspecies of Bos, some that are highly specialized and some who cannot survive without the aid of humans. I think of the American Dairy cow: a highly specialized subspecies created by the selective pressures of breeding for specific traits through the intelligent designs of humans. The water buffalo, in contrast, is Bobalus bobalis, a different genus entirely! Its domestication didn’t start till about 5,000 years ago (for the Indian species, it was about 4,000 years ago for the Chinese species). This late domestication, it is my guess, didn’t allow for as much specialization to occur; so, to my untrained eyes, they seem more primitive. Now, this is probably not the right word, it doesn’t have scientific value as far as I understand. Maybe better is ancient, but better still is that there was less time to develop stark specialization than let’s say the American Dairy Cow, and thus the water buffalo maintains many of their original, ancestral markings and traits (there phenotypic attributes and older morphology that came about from natural selection and Darwinian evolution and not by human intelligent design). There is much interbreeding and hybridization among Bos, but they cannot breed or hybridize with Bobalus. So, when you see the water buffalo there is no genetic mixture with cows and I imagine when I see water buffalo that I am looking at a scene straight out of the turn of the last ice age. These water buffalo are beautiful: herds move around Varanasi like they are one organism, they seem to be connected to one another, moving in unison, and to think together, unrushed by the human melee around them. They are technically domesticated, but hardly specialized and they do just fine without humans.

I already miss the herd that wanders around the residency. This is a long train journey and might as well have as much of it pass while sleeping, and counting water buffalo will be an a appropriate homage.

As quietly as I can, I push my baggage underneath the bed-platform, undo my shoelaces and place my shoes underneath the left bunk. I pull out my warm shirt and winter hat (yup, it’s sorta cool) and put them on. I follow the top guy’s lead and forgo taking my bed sheet out of its brown paper wrapping and I use my Spiderman stealth techniques to silently migrate up to the top bunk. I unfold the blanket and do as my new companions do and give myself a tight, full body wrap with the blanket. As I pull the blanket around my head and make sure my feet are well covered, I note that the pillow is about the size of a collegiate dictionary and just as hard. I think:

“This is it: you are on your way to Southern India! … Well before you had planned … three weeks before you thought you were going to go! This is why you came to India.”

This whole project – To come all the way to India to work with granite, is this foolhardy? I know what people think: “Plenty of granite elsewhere …” So, it is not just about the material, then … it is about the connection of material. “You work with granite?! Isn’t that hard and heavy. Whoa!?” – That’s what many think when I tell them that granite is my material of choice, and there are various subtexts to these conversations: whatever. But, that reaction is incomplete at best, prejudiced at the heart. I’ve worked so long with the breaking of stone that granite now feels like a liquid, and given the life cycle of stone, the life cycle of carbon, the life cycles of the earth, granite really is not heavy at all and moves in unexpected ways.

Granite flows like a liquid and floats as a thin crust on top of the planet – that’s right, I said it, granite is light and is like a liquid. This is where I’ve come to … This is where I am …

Granite – light and liquid.

Exactly: One just has to think in deep, geologic time.

The scale of granite on our planet is huge, and is evidence of long-term, planetary-scale fractional melting, which is the distillation through heat and pressure and chemical processes of mantle rock where by certain elements, like silicon, sodium and potassium are concentrated. Basalt, the ocean floor, can be created by one revolution of fractional melting. It takes granite multiple revolutions of this heating, melting, cooling to form the concentrations that exist today. Another way of stating this is that because of the super hot radioactive process at the core of our planet (that makes our planet tectonically alive, btw), the mantle churns and moves, heats and rises, cools and falls, just like the cycle of a full-flowing lava lamp. Through this churning and the fractional melting that occurs because of it, what rises to the top are the lighter materials. These lighter materials make up the crust of the earth; and, now, after multiple revolutions of the mantle mixing and sorting over billions of years, this crust is basically granitic, and made up of basic minerals like feldspar, mica and quartz (for traditional granites) and with plenty of amphiboles and pyroxenes thrown in. There is evidence of many different stages of all these cycles – of melting and flowing and sorting – with various mineral compositions and crystalline structures being created by the ways materials are cooled, hardened and crystalized, all throughout the crust; for example, granite is an igneous rock which means it cooled from a melting of some kind – if from lava, it’s volcanic rock; if deep underground and cooled very slowly, it’s plutonic rock – there are granitiods that got frozen in many stages of development and metamorphized into another type of stone called gneisses, which are some of the oldest rocks on the earth (in the order of 3.5 billion years old!), and the classifications can go on and on. The important point is that all of this floats up and rests on top of the surface of the planet, giving a matrix for everything else, including us (and other rocks, too), to interact with; and this granitic crust, in turn, continues to move and play with the rest of the life cycles of the planet. Granite is unique to Planet Earth and evidence of tectonic robustness.

Well, this is what divergent thinking and curiosity is about: Spiderman Stealth, water buffalo encomium, the rumblings of our planet and how to come to terms with flying to the other side of the world and traveling to a strange city at the flip of a switch, all to work with some new granite. It all flows together and I’ll leave it for now….

There is more flying around my head as I wiggle into a comfortable position for sleep; like, I wonder how traveling so farther south will affect the weather and climate and flora and fauna of India. It will be the furthest south on the planet I ever have been. For example, there is a species of kingfisher that fly around the Ganga. It has a powerful refulgent blue and rust colored plumage – so different from the North American species. I discovered one of these tiny gems my first day in Varanasi. I have always loved kingfishers and seeing one at the Ghats my first day was … umm … I felt happiness and nostalgia. It centered me, but – ahem?I owe you all a post about that first day. The kingfisher of the Ganga riff will have to wait. I’ll get to it, I promise.

As I laid my head down on my collegiate-dictionary-like pillow,
thankfully, at this stage, I am pretty good
at turning all this thought off,
and I fall into a deep sleep.

To be continued.


Filed under Art, Story