The man I did not meet in Varanasi


Last Februari I have spend time in Varanasi.
In my wallet was the name and address of a man. It was a contact given to me by Peter Malakoff when he heard from me in Tiruvannamalai that I had planned to go to Varanasi.
Peter Malakoff I had met the year before when I went back to the place where I had attended a lecture of him about Kabir, the famous poet that has lived in Varanasi in the 15th century.

During the time that Peter lived in Varanasi during his study of Rumi, he had met the man named Sashi Kant and he gave me his name and address as a contact in Varanasi.

Once in Varanasi I realised that I had no idea if this man was a street guide or a collegue writer or a university teacher.
And one day I decided to find out. And then something unexpected happened: I was walking through one of those small shopping streets and according to the indications people had given me I was rather close to the address I was looking for. At a fork in the road I stopped and looked around, trying to make out which way to go. I man standing in front of a travelling agency asked if he could be of assistance. I showed him my little note with the name and address. Ah yes, he said, I knew this man, we were friends, he is not here anymore, he has passed away. After a while I walked on with this knowledge and in search for the shop and the family of the deceased man. I found a closed shop, the yellow one, and heard from the neighbours enough to know when to come back.

Later I had two meetings with the wife and daughters of the passed away shop owner.
Those meetings were deeply touching for me. And kind of weird. Culture shock with a complication, confused/confusing, yet heartwarming encounters.

I let this piece be written by the email exchange I had with Peter:

On maandag 24-02-14 4:41, hans van der gugten wrote:
Hello Peter,

Sorry to let you know that the man you mentioned as a contact here in Varanasi has passed away. (23d of December).
Maybe his family already told you.
I was there almost a week ago, gave them your mail and waited a while as I said to them u would.
The daughter invited me to come again to meet her sister too.

Maybe you want to write them something thru me?



On maandag 24-02-14 12:54, Peter Steven Malakoff wrote:






On maandag 24-02-14 13:31, Peter Steven Malakoff wrote:
Hello Hans

I have found two pictures of Sashi that his daughters might be interested in

all the best




On dinsdag 23-09-14 0:32, Hans van der Gugten wrote:
Hello Peter,

For some unknown reason it took till now to answer your mail.
I saw it being postponed over and over again.
I also did not forward your pictures to the family.

There were two meetings with the sisters and their mother.
It was a deeply human meeting with a shared sad undertone.
They told me openly that their father and husband had taken his life due to economic problems.
And that they had a tough job at hand to get things working on their names and things like that.
I was touched, almost shocked (cause it did not fit my expectations) by their openness.
I shared with them that after our first meeting I had played with the thought  of writing a blog about the man that I did not meet in Varanasi.
And they were fine if I would do so. All people here also know about how he died, they said.
And here we are, seven month later.
First have to check with you if and what happened between you and the family.
Did you have contact since?
I have to find a way or have a entrance to send them the pictures you send me.
And the idea of writing a blog about Sashi Kant has lost its momentum.

Can you give me a first reaction please.


On dinsdag 23-09-14 2:55, Peter Steven Malakoff wrote:
Hello Hans

So sorry to hear all this. In the last few years, Sashi had phoned me
on several occasions asking if I had any work for him. I thought he
had retired and was looking for something to do as we talked about him
leading tours in Varanasi as he had done for me when I came. He never
mentioned any monetary problems. I thought Sashi was rich with all his
business and I never made it to Varanasi after my initial visit.

We had talked about his older daughter who is a musician, coming to
America for school and I had offered that she could stay at my house
near San Francisco. I thought that he had wanted someone to look after
her while she was in America. He had her play for me while I was

I have had zero contact with his family. My relationship was only with
Sashi and the men who worked with him in his clothing/tailoring shop
in one of the ghalis.

Are they still living in their house near the ghats with the
restaurant on the top floor? Are they destitute? How are they getting
by? Please give them my regards and best wishes and tell them I will
come and visit when I come to Varanasi again one day. I am living in
India for the last four years.

Hearing about Sashi’s suicide, he must of been distraught. It happens
that I am presently creating a book about death and dying using some
pictures I took while in Varanasi. You can see that here:

Also a recording:

The book is only a first draft that I published myself but it will be
combined with the recording into a Kindle book later this year

Regarding your blog on the man you never saw in Varanasi, I think that
would be an excellent honorarium, a tribute to this man. So, my first
thoughts are to do it. I may be able to find some other pictures of
Sashi. Please let me know if you go there again as I would like to
convey my regards to his family.

Peter Malakoff
On zondag 19-10-14 15:00, Hans van der Gugten wrote:
Dear Peter,

Thanks for your letter.
After your stimulation I see myself make this page about the man I didn’t meet in Varanasi.
So, yes please, find the other pictures that you might have.
And maybe you can write a short memory about your meetings, how this came about, what happened.

I found a reply letter that one of the Dutch poets wrote to a man who wrote her about the suicide of his daughter.
I will write it off from a tv interview and translate it into English.
For the rest I think I will use (quotes from) our email exchange.
What about this?
Please give your feedback.



Ida Gerhardt (1905-1997).

Upon returning home I found your writing.
I am so sorry that it kept lying here for so long.
And that for a letter with this importance.
But I can not help it.
We never let mail send to us once we’re gone.
I will try to answer as best I can.
But first of all I thank you for your confidence.
Readily I give you mine, convinced of your absolute silence.
I was nineteen years old when I took the same decision as your daughter has taken, allthough the backgrounds in my case were different.
See my collection The living monogram.
Actually I did not have much hope. You can find the reasons in that bundle.
But it was discovered and I had to endure the humiliation that people also deprived me of this freedom.
The argument ‘You have had such a rich life later’ does not make it more nor less; it was my hard-won decision.
My hope was at last to be freed, to be allowed to live in that other country.
And now they compelled me by force and with reproaches again.
I did not know your daughter, and I do not know you, nor her mother.
But then she was found in the garden while the larks sang and carried into the house by reverent hands.
Personally I think, and you also mention it, that a voice from the other side, frozen in the azure, with increasing urgency has called her.
But this thinking is nothing but a suspicion.
Honor your father and your mother.
Oh certainly.
But for sure also: honor your child.
On vrijdag 07-11-14 1:36, Peter Steven Malakoff wrote:
Hello Hans

(I had written the following to you quite a while ago but did not send
and then forgot about it. I do not yet have the pictures and will not
have them until I return to the Himalayas in the springtime. Sorry,
but I left the external hard drive behind.)

I just remembered that Sashi and I had a short lived project in which
I bought several inexpensive cameras and we gave them out to various
street kids (he chose them) to take pictures. They would bring the
pictures back to Sashi and I would make them into a book. I left
Benaras and never knew what happened to the project.

Sashi has an astrologer come to his restaurant where we all sat
together (Sashi, the astrologer and me) and my chart was done. Sashi
was sufficiently impressed with my chart to later ask me to host his
daughters if they went to school in the San Francisco area.

I bought about $1000 of handmade clothes from Sashi’s tailoring store
in the ghalis of Benaras. He had a very good tailor. I later had him
ship me another $500 worth of clothes to America about a year later. I
have brought these clothes with me to India and still wear them.

Sashi called me several times over the last few years and wanted to
give tours with me or to do some work. I did not know that he was
having monetary problems and he never told me he did. He seemed like
he was just looking for something to do with his life. I wish I would
of known as I would of made more of an effort to create something for

To die in Benaras is considered a blessing. I hope that extends to a
man who took his own life there.

I remember him as a good and street smart guy, a loving man and a very
smart man. I wish I knew why he killed himself. If you find out
anything about this from his daughters please let me know.

He had his daughters play music for me at their house in Banaras.

He was a good man.


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