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Sadhus, sand, chillum and three Americans
By Vinay Tewari
The Times of India News Service

ALLAHABAD: It was just past 5 am and not dawn yet. Justin Gooding sat silhouetted against the river bank, gaping at a bunch of Naga sadhus smoking chillum.

A first-timer in India, Gooding is a clothes designer in New York. ``I have seen nothing like this before. It's sad Americans back home know nothing about this country, what to say the size and atmosphere of the Kumbh mela," he said on Tuesday.

Gooding next made the most blasphemous of statements. ``You know, I am sitting here wondering how it would be to dress up these sadhus," he said, without realising the import of his words.

``I think nudity is a faux-pas in India...it's okay only if it's religious," he said. ``In fact, I had expected Indians to have a more relaxed attitude towards it," he added.

Thanks to the Kumbh, Gooding managed his very own triveni, meeting two other New Yorkers - Ken Cooper, a social worker, and Keith Gemerek, a carpenter, - here.

But what attracted three Americans to a land which few know about in the US? ``Well, I was clearly in awe of these people the last time I came here (1989). It was hard for me to imagine what motivates them (the devotees) to come here in such numbers," said Cooper, who works for a support group for the elderly.

But varied as their backgrounds may be, Cooper, Gemerek and Gooding were chanting a common mantra...the devotees all seemed so happy. ``You know, we Americans are basically miserable people and life is so insecure there. We are just not happy...not as engaged as you guys. May be it's the rat race, I don't know," Gemerek said.

But they had a complaint. ``You guys seem to be going our way. This Kumbh seems far more commercialised than the last one. The corporate, urban influence is very visible this time around," Cooper said.

The trio are now keenly awaiting the next big day, January 14. ``We basically want to see the processions being taken out by the akharas...that should be good fun," Gooding said, trying to avoid a mass of devotees gaping at the three spread out on the sand.



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