Ashok

This is Ashok Sarkar. Today I got an email from the author Deborah Baker who’s researching her forthcoming book on Allen Ginberg’s travels in India and found this photo in my picture gallery.

The best party I ever attended was so great it was actually written up in a book. It was in a flat above – believe it or not – the UBC campus RCMP station. Among the hundreds or thousands of guests was the insanely beautiful Lisa after whom even the homosexuals lusted, and there were plenty of those, too. No one dared speak to her, that’s how great she was. I was talking to a couple of guys I just met and they said, hey we’re having a barbecue tomorrow and we’d like you to come. Okay, but only if she can come, too, I said pointing at Lisa who just passed by with her wine glass. Yeah, sure, no problem, they said. Lisa looked at me and all I could say was what time should I pick you up? And I did and we went and that was one of the great moments in the life of an actually incredibly shy around girls kid of nineteen. Hard to believe, I know.

Allen Ginsberg was at the party, too. He’d just returned from India and a group of us stood in the stairwell as Allen taught us the Hare Krishna chant which he’d learned from Ashok. In spite of anything you might think about the people downtown with their drums and bells and painted faces, chanting works. Try it.

Back in Montreal I taught my friends to chant but the only one I know who appreciated it was Charles (last name will come to me in a minute) but he was a fun guy who appreciated everything. Eventually I met Janis Dambergs who went on to found the first Krishna temple on Park Avenue. Despite my extreme atheism I felt an affinity for this group, especially because anyone could show up at their nightly feasts and eat pretty good Indian food. I often brought some friends. When they ejected Michael Barash because he wouldn’t remove his shoes in the temple (“The world is my temple.”) I kind of stopped going. They were getting too religious.

Back in Vancouver a few years later I met Ashok. We both worked at the Georgia Straight. We hung out a bit, talked about many things including Allen but he never mentioned the Hare Krishna thing. I don’t think either of us were at the Straight for too long and I didn’t see him again for a lot of years.

The Vancouver Krishna people have an annual parade winding up in Stanley Park. It’s actually pretty nice, what with the beautiful women in saris, the drumming and chanting, etc. When they get to the park they cook up Indian food for everyone. They’re very big on feeding you, which is not a bad tenet for a religion. It’s right by my place so I go. About eight years ago I ran into Ashok and took the picture above.

This is Ashok and Allen in Calcutta, 1962. Photo by Peter Orlovsky.

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