• Laurent Goldstein

Nothing Happens by Chance


Nothing happens by chance, neither your current incarnation in this world, nor your family or friendships, the answers will come up eventually, everything has a meaning.


I remember when I first came to Varanasi (Benares) many years ago.


After unpacking my things and spending the morning at home, Manish and Priyal took me to the Ganges, they wanted to show me the Eternal city with a boat ride along the holy river.


It was in winter when the water was low and showing all the details of the old palaces and ghats which are covered during monsoon.


I didn’t know much about India then and I probably had a common misconception that most of the people may have before visiting a place however as soon as the boatman started rowing I had a strange feeling that I was not a complete stranger there.


I couldn’t explain the many flashbacks and perception of « déjà vu » as we navigated from one ghat to another, what I saw was quite familiar and suddenly it was obvious that I knew this place, I even knew it very well yet all this was impossible.


We reached Manikarnika ghat, the navel of the world where it is important for any Hindu to be cremated, I was not horified like most of the people who come for the first time, on the contrary I could feel a kind of happiness and a juxtaposition of images which kept scrolling in front of my eyes mixing a state of unconsciousness to reality.


Reality was the corpes burning on the pyres with amazing temples and palaces in the background looking like the city of Jerusalem in several Primitive Dutch paintings, this vision was staggeing but at the same time I could feel my mother opening a big book covered with a red fabric and explaining me pictures in black and white of the same ghats.


It was in winter, I was seating next to her on a green Second Empire style sofa, from a window I could see that it was snowing in the garden, the book was big, huge, heavy and was probably my first encounter with India.


I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel around the world with my parents since I was a child, they always said that we’ll go to India but fate had another plan and they died wihtout being able to make it.


I remember thinking at that peculiar moment on the boat that I was there because they wanted to come and I also felt that I already came there, I knew this place, this city and I said to myself that I’ll stay and probably even die there as well.


My parents had passed away two years earlier and I didn’t have the time to mourn, even though this word doesn’t mean anything, nevertheless I really felt on that special moment that the grieving process operated in a jiffy.


Then it was almost dusk, the boat was going back to Dasaswamedh Ghat, Priyal asked why I was crying, I didn’t realise that a tear was running down my cheek, it was a tear of happiness and relief, a baffling feeling to be back home in a way.


No, nothing happens by chance, and for someone like me who thought being Cartesian in nature, I accepted that I could not be so and that somehow everything could be predetermined.

I never use a map in the oldest living city in the world, as if I lived there before in some former incarnation, I don’t know many streets and quarters names but I never get lost in the maze of galis (lanes).

More than a decade later, as I was cleaning a few things I came upon a box with some books from my parents which was never opened and to my astonishment I found the book.


It was much smaller than in my memory, probably because things look bigger when you are a child, the Hindi letters printed on the red fabric on the cover mention Bharat which means India.


This is a book with a text by Indira Gandhi and pictures by French photographer Jean-Louis Nou who died in 1992 and was an important photographer for the understanding of the Indian world from both a sociological and an art history point of view.


And as things happen by serendipity, my agent in Paris is also dealing with his work as if something had to complete the circle…



© Jean-Louis Nou


#benares #varanasi #memory #serendipity #ganges #ganga #jeanlouisnou #laurentgoldstein

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