Afraid of Asia’s maw
In Benares, Ross describes his experience of an unbridgeable alienation between Indian and European culture.
This impression is made all the more urgent by the appearance of intercultural understanding: Visiting a Viennese woman married to an Indian man, Ross feels her traditional Indian garb erecting “an astonishing partition wall between us two whites” [p. 38]. Likewise, Ross is shocked to find even a European-educated Indian lawyer drinking the holy water of the Ganges, which to Ross’s eyes is “reeking sludge” [p. 39].
Much is made of the contrast between devout Indians drinking from and bathing in the river Ganges and Ross’s revulsion about its lack of hygiene. He concedes that traditional Indian wisdom might be partially right in ignoring European standards of hygiene, inoculating the practitioners against certain bacteria. But mainly, Ross’s disgust is the bodily manifestation of his intellectual and spiritual alienation. “It is as if Asia was gaping in front of me like a threatening maw, like a yawning chasm”, he notes, expressing relief upon seeing the minarets of a nearby mosque which remind him of church steeples. [p. 41] Ross leaves Benares ahead of schedule.
Colin Ross. Das heilige Wasser. In: Heute in Indien. Durch das Kaiserreich Indien, Ceylon, Hinterindien und Insulinde. 3., auf Grund einer neuen Indienreise überarbeitete und ergänzte Auflage. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1937; 37–41, 24 verso.