Archive for the 'Marilyn Stablein' Category

No Laughing Matter

No Laughing MatterDhobi’s wife collects cow dung in a large basket perched on her head.

At home she kneads the dung with straw and slaps it into patties against the wall of their hut to dry.  Dhobi pulls the dried chips off the wall as needed to light the morning fire.

One morning after a rain Dhobi tossed into the fire two dung patties that had a fresh crop of mushrooms sprouting on one side.

Oh well,” he reasoned.  “Wood is scarce.  Mushrooms will burn.”  He didn’t give the mushrooms another thought.

Shortly afterwards a cloud of smoke rose up and filled the room.  Dhobi gasped then coughed forcefully.  He started cackling then laughing like a mad man.  Suddenly tears filled his eyes.  He began to visualize Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe, dancing wildly in front of him.

When Dhobi joined in with a frenzy of movement and a babble of words, his wife, greatly upset, fled in search of the village exorcist.

When they returned Dhobi growled at them like a wild pariah dog.  Red betel juice dripped from his mouth like blood on the lips of the vengeful blood-drooling goddess Kali.  A hideous laugh rang out.

Without further delay, the priest began an exorcism.  Lighting incense, he recited prayers and dunked Dhobi’s head in a bucket of water three times while blowing on a conch shell.  The priest tossed red chilies on the fire.  Dhobi’s wife prayed fervently by his side.

When Dhobi came around after inhaling the fumes of boiled cow urine, his throat was raw and his vision blurred.

That scoundrel!” Dhobi lashed out.  “That new washerman on the next ghat?  He did this. He caused this witchery.”

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Ticketless Traveler

Dhobi - Ticketless TravelerThe Shivaratri Festival in Kathmandu is the destination of pilgrims throughout North India. What better way to spend “Lord Shiva’s Night” than by blasting chillum after chillum in honor of the blue-throated god of the high Himalayans. Bom Shankar! Dhobi spent two days camped on the railway station platform in preparation for the trip.  A sign in the depot warned “Ticketless Travel is a Social Evil.”  Dhobi purchased a ticket and watched the comings and goings of travelers at the station.  He wanted to be extra sure of the procedure before striking out on his own.  Third Class Unreserved was in theory “first come first served.”  In actual practice, however, those who pushed hardest managed to get inside the railway car.  All others had to hang onto the outside.

When the express train pulled in, Dhobi was prepared.  As planned he was among the first to crowd into the car — but at what expense!  No sooner had he sat down when he realized something was missing–his wallet.  A thief had picked his pocket in the stampede to climb aboard.

What a dilemma!  If he left to get a new ticket, he’d lose his seat on the train.  If he stayed without a ticket, he’d risk eviction from the car.  Then Dhobi remembered, his money too was stolen.  That settled matters; there was no way to procure a ticket before the conductor came through the car.  Dhobi sat still and rehearsed his appeal as the miles clacked by.

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Dhobi at the Laundromat

Dhobi at the LaundromatWhen a laundromat opened in a nearby village Dhobi was one of the first to experience this modern convention.  He selected a large batch of his best clothing for the occasion. The clothes weren’t even dirty.

“Take mine, too!” his wife panted, running after him with her wedding sari.
When Dhobi approached the building, a crowd of pilgrims blocked the door.  Mantras directed to Shiva rang out.  A line formed and Dhobi fell into place behind the thirty-ninth person each one toting a bundle of dirty laundry.  By late afternoon his turn finally came.

Dhobi asked a special favour. “Do you think I could have a small portion of the machine water as a keepsake?
The proprietors agreed, accepting the bottle Dhobi held in his outstretched hand.  The magic cycle began: Soak/ Wash/ Rinse/ Spin.  A man filled Dhobi’s bottle with water from the Rinse cycle.

Dhobi muttered his appreciation as though he were accepting prasad, communion, from the village priest.
He loaded the wet clothes onto the back of his compliant mule for the trip back to the ghat where Dhobi stretched each article over the banks to dry in the hot, dry Varanasi sun.

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A Sound and Light Show

A Sound and Light ShowOn the day a birth-control clinic opened in Dhobi’s village, men and women from all over the area traveled many miles to attend.  Everyone was amazed as they stepped on the automatic door mats to see the doors swing open. Inside a Sound and Light Show illuminated the various methods of contraception in six dialects using life-sized models of people.  A full selection of new products bearing the names of prominent movie stars was available: Agni Diaphrams, Prakash Condoms.  The best-seller was a Hanuman Prophylactic that came with a full-color portrait of the Monkey God in one of his heroic poses.

A display table illustrated the prizes and incentive awards that everyone was eligible for.
Dhobi asked himself over and over again the big question, “Is a vasectomy worth a transistor radio set?”

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Special Treatment

Special TreatmentDhobi tried every medication sold in the local dispensary to get rid of itchy scalp:  Ayurvedic preparations, homeopathic concoctions, castor oil, linseed oil, mustard powder.  He tried yogic exercises such as standing on his head for ten minutes three times a day.  When his hair started to fall out he had a good excuse to visit the local herb doctor.  But even the doctor couldn’t stop that exasperating itch.
“Dandruff! It must be dandruff,” the doctor concluded, handing Dhobi yet another gooey cream rinse.
Dhobi dutifully took the bottle down to the river and bathed in the usual way, following up with applying the rinse to his hair.  It was so slimy, however, he had trouble rinsing the lotion out of his hair.  River silt clung to the strands.  He had to buy a large-toothed comb to ply his way through the mess.
Then Dhobi made a startling discovery.  Ambling down between the teeth of the comb was a large chunk of dandruff.  Dhobi looked closer.
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed.  “Head lice!  I should have known.”
A special lice treatment was available in the bazaar.  For twenty-five paisa Dhobi could rent a monkey on a leash. The monkey meticulously picked through Dhobi’s scalp singling out the vermin and expertly popped them into his mouth.  With smacking lips, the monkey scrunched the lice between his teeth like pomegranate seeds, juice squirting all over.

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Flying Carpet

(Introductory Note: This tale is part of an ongoing series of prose poems based on actual dreams first recorded in 1968 when I lived and studied in the Himalayas for six years. The series titled Night Travels to Tibet conjures the surreal and crazy juxtaposition of eastern & western cultures, people and events.

Flying dragon

Flying Carpet
Marilyn Stablein

                 At the village chai shop, the chai-wallah, tea-maker, churns a pot of salty yak butter tea.  He serves me where I sit on carpet on the floor.  Then he adjusts a knob of some kind.

                 Suddenly we’re airborne.  The carpet cruises out the door and hovers three feet above an ancient caravan trail. The driver struggles to gain altitude then halts at a stop sign.

                “Don’t stop. Take it higher,” I urge. “Cut loose! Fly like Aladdin on his magic carpet! He never stopped for signals or hovered in traffic.”

                When I look down at the carpet I see the problem. It’s ugly!   Instead of a beautiful Oriental Persian carpet I’m sitting on a cheap shag rug.  It’s not even square or rectangular, just a frayed coffee-stained remnant of the cheapest polyester wall-to-wall gray shag torn in an odd shape.

               Just my luck, I think, stuck on a low-flying funky shag remnant cruising slower than an ox cart.  We’re barely skimming the ground.  I can walk faster in my sleep.

A special collector’s signed and numbered edition of seven dream-inspired tales, More Night Travels to Tibet, printed in Nepal on handmade lokta paper, with Tibetan woodblock prints from the author’s collection, is available online at   http://www.marilynstablein.com/#!artist-books/ch1q
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