Every day Dhobi, a washerman in India, hand washes clothes at the sandy banks of the river Ganges. Fish, Dhobi thought one day, are like cows. In India both lead privileged lives. It is even considered lucky to be reborn a fish in a sacred lake or pond where one is treated royally, fed with offerings for the gods, able to swim unmolested, to live to a ripe old age.
In Bodh Gaya, a dusty village in Bihar state, there are fishmongers who cater to the Buddhist pilgrim trade. For a modest sum a fish can be purchased from the sellers and set free. The merit of such a compassionate act increases the pilgrim’s chances for a better rebirth.
On a pilgrimage one summer, Dhobi watched Buddhist pilgrims from many regions converge upon the village in great numbers doling out compassion, as alms for the poor. In the search for meritorious good deeds that bring good karma, or in shopping for merit, some unusual questions arise. Do fish have souls? Do larger fish have greater souls? What is compassion to a fish? Dhobi admired the good intentions of the pilgrims.
But what about the fish, he wondered? Each two-rupee liberation found them cast loose in the same pond from which they were caught, as no rivers flowed out of the village of Bodh Gaya. So the fish made the rounds from the pond to the buckets and back to the pond again. There’s no telling just how many times a fish had been liberated.
TICKETLESS TRAVELER: The Dhobi Stories, is a collection of twenty pithy fables. “For that first edition in 1980 I did all the layout… cut & paste the old fashioned way… and typed on an IBM selectric with proportional type to look more like it was printed. before desktop publishing…”.
Marilyn Stablein is the award winning author of eleven books including the memoir Sleeping in Caves: A Sixties Himalayan Memoir and a collection of prose poems More Night Travels to Tibet. Her book Splitting Hard Ground: Poems won the New Mexico Book Award and the National Federation of Press Women’s Book Award. She is also a visual artist. Her collages, assemblages and photographs have appeared on the covers of Rattle Magazine, Malpais Review, Gargoyle Magazine and in numerous publications and exhibitions. Her award-winning artist books have been widely exhibited and published in LARK’s 1,000 Artist Books, The Bone Folder and Bound and Lettered magazine. For a schedule of workshops, readings, talks and art exhibitions visit her website marilynstablein.com. Her books can be ordered through the bookstore she and her husband own Acequia Booksellers, a used, rare and independent bookstore in New Mexico and online at acequiabooksellers.com.
© 2013 marilyn stablein
Now you’ve read this, enjoy having a Listen to Marilyn – interviewed by Doug Grunther on station WDST 100.1 fm – Woodstock NY 2003. This interview/reading publicized ‘High in the Himalayas’, a chapbook published by Peter Lamborn Wilson.
“In the heyday of the sixties, during a seven-year stay in the Himalayas, Marilyn Stablein teaches herself how to not only cook a curry on a cow dung patty fire, but to master sadhu rituals like preparing chillums. Whether describing Mishra’s bhang lassi shop, the government hash store, her meeting with cannabis guru Ganesh Baba, or a trek to a cave in Kashmir to view Lord Shiva’s miraculous ice lingham, Stablein is an intrepid adventurer and humorous chronicler.”