“You look too prosperous to be staying in this neighborhood,” said Jack, né Jürg. (He had not been pleased to learn that his German name sounds very much like “jerk” to Americans.) He is proprietor of the Good Stuff Restaurant on a narrow lane of Varanasi’s old town. He has assimilated sufficiently to shout in a peremptory manner at dogs, cattle, and people whom he considers intruders in his establishment’s space.
He had, he told us, in his slimmer youth been in the Kampfschwimmerkompanie of the Bundeswehr (the German version of the US Navy’s SEALs) and later had worked on pipeline construction in the field. “I would have died if I had kept to that. My father had three sons. The oldest he didn’t care for; the youngest is clearly the kind who would never fall down, but for me in the middle, he was always worried. ‘Something is not quite right with Jürg,’ he would say, ‘but I don’t know what.’ When my father died, I came to Varanasi. I have found my climate. I am 100% at home.”
Jack had built the restaurant from a space empty of everything but debris. Surely dealing with the governmental and commercial bureaucracies must have been a greater challenge than cleaning up. His menu differed only slightly from many Indian owned eating places, but when we actually tried to order, we found that he lacked many supplies. “The Titanic is going down. I made no money yesterday; I have no gas to cook today. I can do nothing but recreate. So, I will call it a good day.”
He took little interest in the news or in politics. When I brought up the recent attack in Mumbai, he said, “I can’t worry about terrorists. A bomb is an excellent way to die – instantly and without pain.” He was, though, sufficiently engagé to note, “Of course we Germans are socialists. Is it not only human and natural to take care of one another?”
“Going to Kathmandu, are you?” he said at parting, “Bring a gas mask. I’m not going anywhere.”
At the outdoor pavilion of the enclosed gardens at Doctors Cave Hotel is a Jacuzzi. During our visit, the only other guest to enter these precincts was Gahlia. As the lovebirds in a hanging cage peeped, she told us, “It used to be Dahlia, but my life was not what I wanted, and I was told if I changed even just one letter, my life would change.”
“And did it work?”
“Oh, yes,” she said as if surprised at the question. Then she purred, “Mmmmmm . . . Jamaica.”
Before long she was boasting that seven of the Jamaican “boys” she had met on her last trip had been writing to her in Tel Aviv. The hotel was holding its staff’s holiday party that night, and she had, she told us, been the only outsider invited. She had promised not only to attend, but to appear, as she told us, “nothing less than a knockout.”
The next morning she was working on a carafe of coffee in the hotel restaurant at a table with a largely silent corn-rowed fellow half her age.
“Keep your love forever, honeys,” she said, a rhinestone peace symbol sparkling on her chest.
Montego Bay, 2007