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The Ganga is a Local Call

The Ganga is a Local Call

I'm now at Santosh Puri Ashram in Haridwar.  I took the train, and at Haridwar, and took pictures of some monkeys on the train platform.  One of them beared her teeth and tried to grab the shoes hanging from my bag, but I stepped back and she stopped.  I walked across the street from the station, had a pratha with cheese and a chai with no sugar and a lime soda, put stevia in them both.

Took pictures with some engineering students, one who graciously kept me company, although I did not ask him to.  Indian boys want to be nice to you though you haven't asked them to.
I took a rickshaw to the ashram, but they told me it was full.  A man with very long but well-groomed ear hair was the only English speaker.  I said "hello" and they said, "no hello" so I said "Namaste, hare om."  And they said, "Namaste."  I told them about Mandakini and how I had emailed her, and then I realized it was the wrong ashram.

They pointed, and I walked and walked, asking for directions every few minutes to this small ashram with my over-packed backpacks in the midday sun.  I got closer and closer it seemed when I hear two bearded sadhus singing bajans inside a gated home.  "Ram something Ram" was all I understood.  I let myself past the gate, shed my bags and shoes, bowed, and sat in the little room where they were playing a harmonium and drum, passing the melody back and forth.  I lovingly ignored the thoughts in my mind suggesting I should leave and also suggesting I should stay for as long as possible.  After a while I began to hum along with them.  After a longer while I realized they were singing "Sita Ram Sita Ram" and began to sing with them.

The singing became very pleasurable and I began to smile in my heart, and also thinking of Jai Uttal and Aharon.  After some time, they spread out a mat, interrupting the chanting to point it out to me that I should sit on it instead of on the cement.  When I felt it was time to leave, I got up, and they motioned for me to give some money.  But because they hotel only took cash and the rickshaw driver had no change I had nothing but 500 rupee notes left.  I motioned that I had nothing but bowed in gratitude.  Then I remembered I had a dark chocolate pretzel and a granola bar from the airplane, which I didn't eat because I'm not having white sugar.  I gave them the sweets and walked back out of the gate.

I walked to the next door and realized that ashram was next door to Santosh Puri Ashram.  Guru Mataji's daughter, Mandakini, greeted me and showed me to a room.  We talked about our friend Erin, who suggested I might come here if I was looking for a peaceful and secluded ashram.  Erin left only two days ago, and they said she mentioned to the people staying here that I would be coming.  Very kind of her.

Some people were going to the River. Stephania from Italy told Mandkini she was going and asked if she should take the dogs with her.  The dogs were too hot for a walk, so she went alone. Though I hadn't slept much in 48 hours, I wasn't so tired, and I wanted to go to the Ganga as well.  I walked along the path a passed a number of sadhus in the woods, speaking only briefly to one younger man with matted hair folding an orange robe, who asked my name and told me he is called Gopi.  Then I saw the three other foreigners from Santosh Puri wading in the Ganga.  It's so dirty in Varanasi that I didn't dare go in, but here is much closer to the source, and people aren't creamated and sent into the river.  There's very likely less defication here too.  I mean, if you're not allowed to go in the river and leave your shoes on, it follows that you shouldn't go in and leave your shit there as well.

I slowly walk into the water with my clothes on.  The riverbed is silty, a smooth mud, and I slip on it, falling in up to my shoulders.  Blessed by the Holy Ganga.  I hold my nose, relax my knees, and dunk my whole self in.  It's dark brown and big river plant parts are floating past us the whole time.  This is because it rained heavily yesterday.  I climb out and Antoine ask Krishnabai, who looks very familiar to me, "How long were you in Oregon?"  "We were there four years."  Osho was in Oregon for a few years, and I immediately assume this is who she was with.  They continue talking and I ask if it was Osho.  She says yes, and then I ask if she knows the American man I met in Tiru on my first trip here, who told me he was with Osho for twenty years.  "Yes, very well." she says.

We walk back to the ashram together, and I'm still not tired.  In the library I send an email to my parents to tell them I've arrived safely and where I am.  The shelves are full of books in different languages, and the one that pops out is titled, The Way of a Pilgrim.  I pick it up.  Where have I heard about this.  It's by a Russian man in the nineteenth century who sets about on a journey to learn the practice of incessant, interior prayer.  J.D. Salinger places it in the trembling hands of Franney in Franney and Zooey.  I placed Franney and Zooey in the hands of RM.  On Independence Day, July 4th, 2006, an hour before we saw the fireworks, on the steps of the Maritime Apartment complex in San Francicso, he told me that he had read The Way of a Pilgrim while traveling in India these past seven months, and this might be more than a coincidence that we are reading Franney and Zooey together.  Though we parted ways several years ago, strands of our conversation are still finding their other end and turning out to be incessant loops.

I'm still not tired, and after dipping in Ganga, I pick up The Way of a Pilgrim and sit with a guy outside the gate of the ashram.  He is building a set of steps out of bricks and dirt, sandbags, wire, and old pieces of wood and concrete.  Since the path to the Ganga is not ashram property, it's illegal to make a proper stairway, but the path is difficult to traverse and Mataji has asked him to make something a bit more sturdy that the monsoon won't wash away so easily.  I sit and read The Pilgrim while he chain smokes and builds and I feel both an affinity for him and a desire to help construct the stairs.  He says it's his third trip to India and he has stayed for almost a year the past two times.  He had lots of complications in his home country; his mother fell ill, but he found himself counting the days until he was to return in January and finally decided he couldn't wait any longer, that no matter what happens, he's coming here in May.  I tell him the same thing happened with me, and I had to come now.  He remembers Erin, "Covered with tattoos?" "No.  Tall, curly hair."  "Oh, yes.  Black hair.  Very strong and clear internally.  She does astrology."  "Yes."  I tell him how Erin suggested that it would be astrologically fortuitious for me to travel immediately instead of waiting, and then get back to working on my career punctually on July 31st.

He and I agree that the West is materialistic, and he says subtly that the stars might not know better than my internal guidance.  He suggests that if I want to be in India, I should focus on India, and see how I feel then.  We agree that we shall see.  I feel judgment that my internal compass is not louder and stronger like his or like Erin's.

A woman here wears a white cotton sari, and she reminds me of someone I met at Anandashram, on my last trip here.  I found myself at Anandashram because during a medicine journey my guide played a bajan sung by Krishna Das, and was in tears at the ecstacy of God Realization.  I asked Krishna Das after a concert about this prayer, and he told me this song is sung day and night, incessantly, at a place in Southern India called Anandashram.  On my first trip here, I went to Sivananda Ashram upon the suggestion of a friend I  had met, and I write a little bit of comedy about my trip so far, which I get up and perform for the two hundred yoga students and the swamis on talent night.

One fellow there, a fellow Jew now living in Boston, lived at Anandashram for several years, and he tells me, yes, go there and you can chant Sri Ram Jai Ram day and night.

At Anandashram, Thuli Baba is making a rare appearance, and I just happen to arrive while he and his devotees are there, though I have never heard of him.  A devotee of his invites me to attend his satsang, during which we chant the Rhibu Gita and receive the prasad of his his left over food.  It's not really left over, it's more like they make food for him and he gives us each a bite from his plate, and this is very holy.

I fell asleep after reading and awoke to hear the chanting of Arti.  At dinner last night, K has just bought a new handloomed thick white sari because she is headed north to Badrinath to the holiest city in India, to be with her Guru.  "We are not averse to the cold up north, and we are very ready to be out of this heat."  I ask the name of her Guru.  She says he is not famous, and I think, well, I don't even know the Gurus who are famous.  "His name is Tuli Baba."  "I met Tuli Baba at Anandashram.  You must know M!"  "She is a good friend of ours.  Babaji gave her a new name, Gagi."  "I thought you reminded me of her.  You must also know C, who is now in San Diego and came to my house in Oakland a couple of months ago to give a satsang."  "Yes!"  K says that her name came from Thuli Baba, after the Mother of Anandashram.  

This morning they served chai and fresh homemade bread and butter made from their cows' milk.  S and Mandakini are talking about herbal medicine and Erin's astrology reading for S.  A new woman keeping a vow of silence has arrived, named L, and she's wearing a shirt that says Omega.  I tell her how my father was a sort of acquaintance of Stephan, the founder of Omega and how we used to attend retreats there when I was a kid.  We get up, and she hugs me, which is a surprise, and I hug her back tightly.  I give her some of my neem oil, and she silently says thank you.  I'm hoping it will rain soon.


Today,  I went out to sit and read Pilgrim by the steps to the path to the Ganga.  A band of monkeys came and hopped past me.  A and S were going to the River, so I followed them.  On the way, a herd of cows, apparently led by no one, were crossing the River…  probably twenty of them waded in and about halfway they would begin drifting, over their heads, diagonally toward the other side.

The current would carry them quite far, and then they each reached the bank and would begin walking again.

The river was rushing pretty fast, so we found a spot where it was calm, and some Indian guys about to go swimming pointed out a snake in the water.  I was scared, saying "Om Namha Shivaya", but crossed this little tributary behind S anyway.  We waded into another part of the river and it was incredibly refreshing.  A couple of young guys asked if we would take a picture with them, and I really didn't want to but feared it would be very rude to say no.  "One snap?" they said.

A. took a picture with them, and then it seemed to be our turn.  They waited an awfully long time for us.  I sat in the flow of the river, imagining what these guys would do with their picture of them standing between two white women in wet clinging clothes.  We very gently said we'd prefer not to.  Ok they said, and it was a relief.

S. decided to go back, and we followed her.

On the way, A told me a joke:  "There's a swami, and he goes to Rome to meet with the Pope in the Vatican.  They talk about God and spiritual matters.  'Dis gold phone  hotline for God?' 'Yes,' The Pope says.  'I talking God?' The Swami speaks with God for a minute, hangs up, very happy.  The Pope says, 'That'll be $3000.  We have to pay for the calls… it's long distance.'  Some years later, the Pope is in India and meets the Swami at his ashram.  The Pope sees the swami's phone, says, 'God call phone?' 'Yes.' He talks for 30, 40 minutes, and swami says, '20 pace.' The Pope says, 'Only 20 pace?'  The swami says, 'Local call.'"

The plane to India

The plane to India

I'm sitting inside a giant piece of metal and plastic hurdling through the sky to visit a distant and exotic land.  I hope the pilot has had more sleep than I have.  Times in my life have been more meditative.  I don't sit and meditate every morning these days.  Turbulence rattles the wings outside like a floppy plastic toy.   Flying on the big taxi to India is a 5 hour trip to Newark plus a 14 hour trip to Delhi.

I love how the wings are aligned with the horizon and the wing tip tones match the sky and the clouds.  The clouds above blend into the water below as if there is an active process of transition between aqueous and gaseous forms occurring.  We've just traversed some body of water I can only assume to be a great lake..  As if all lakes are not great, but anyway.

Gazing below at the patches of red, beige, and various shades of green, seams dotted with cars, the land shaped like the "crazy quilts" they make in fabric shops and display at quilt festivals.  These crazy quilt landscapes are more likely sewn by men.  Bedazzled with streetlights and swimming pools.  The trees and forests look like fluffy feltish material.  I want to know that moment when everything changed.  The tipping point.  The constructional pivot point at which there came to be more land cultivated or paved or bulldozed or housed than there was land with those fluffy tree things.

I imagine a unified effort throughout the country to radically change the way we buy products.  A partnership between the community and the company, whereby both parties step up to the challenge of sustainable living.  A growing awareness that all life is really one life.

Eat, Pray, Laugh!

Eat, Pray, Laugh!

Roar of the Crowd

Audience Reviews:


“Brilliantly serious (I went to India 40 years ago – can you believe it?)  Very very helpful for me in many ways, spiritually, as well as being so unbelievably genius.  I was amazed at every single line – her timing, acting, nuanced humor, profound points, the FACES she made!  And that chanting after the boooooring vipassana.  We were repeating lines all the way home.


Eat, Pray, Laugh! is easily as good as Eddie Izzard (probably the funniest man) and he has a cult following and sells out theaters.”

-Katie D.


This show was HILARIOUS and profound. I love funny and smart adventure stories, and this show is a LIVE form of that. It’s official, i’m now an Alicia Dattner fan. I can’t wait to see her next show! If i can see this show again i will! I was bent over laughing at times.



“I saw this play last night and totally recommend going to see it, non-stop laughs! I am still giggling over some of the gems e.g. “per my parents influence (they’re: Jewish…Dad, atheist Mom), I wanted to meet a doctor who was good enough for me but I didn’t believe he existed”, Ha!”


-Audience Member


“Alicia Dattner…a hilariously talented performer full of pizazz, ebullient heart and irreverence! Poignancy & urbane indignation we can all relate to…You’ll love this quixotic quest for enlightenment…India and Alicia beckon!”

-Audience Member

“Fabulous. A lot of fun and laughs. You don’t want to miss this one.”

-Audience Member


Eat, Pray, Laugh! was hilarious and enlightening at the same time! Her miming of the men’s eyes was uncanny. And even though I have studied hiduism and practice kirtan, I liked that these things were explained clearly and easily for others.

-Audience Member


“I’m indian and dating a jew. She really gave you the funny, adventure of India. India is such a comedy if you don’t take it to seriously. So much easier to laugh about it afterwards too. We laughed so hard because we were reminded of our own experiences there. Bravo to you, Alicia!!”



“A great one woman piece, very intimate and very funny. One of those rare comedy shows where you come out of it having not just had a good laugh, but also feeling as though you’ve learned something about life and what it means to be human.”

-Audience Member


“I’d give this a 3.5 out of 4 star rating, and I am a very tough reviewer. I took two women, one an avid fan of “Eat, Pray, Love”, and the other determined to spend a year in India, and both loved it. Alicia puts herself out there and describes the good, the bad, and the funny of her adventure. 

-Audience Member


Alicia was absolutely AWESOME! Saw her show last night and my facial muscles are still contracted :D they kind of hurt too by the end of the show… it was just a WONDERFUL time, around a bright, witty, cool girl (the great vibe of the audience didn’t hurt, either).”-Audience Member

“The chai she made for the audience, along with her openness, sociability are just as addictive as her comedy. Go see her and ENJOY! This show will offer a heartwarming experience… if You are open to it :)”
-Audience Member

“How wonderful it was to finally see you perform on stage…I can’t believe I waited so long. You are brilliant! Your show is fantastic…it’s funny, honest and authentic. What courage to bare so much of yourself and to bring everyone along for the ride. My favorite moments are when you give yourself over to silliness (the yoga poses, the leg spreading, the funny faces). You have incredible presence during those times. As your character evolves throughout the course of the show, so does your performance. Becoming more and more authentic, more and more intimate until that Alicia that I know is just shining through with love and light. And I don’t think it matters if an audience member knows you…because you are just right there in all your glory! Your accents are great, your bobble-head is right on. You pregnant pauses are perfect. I loved it and I’m so glad I went! In fact, I was having a somewhat crappy day and all wrapped up in myself and then I read some helpful stuff on the way down and saw your show…what a smart thing to do! You turned my day around! Wow there are a lot of exclamation points in that paragraph! 

“Wonderful to see your show in Northampton!! Deeply moving – inspiring – belly laughing – compassionate – passionate – sexy – spiritual – ALL of Life was there with you! Great to enjoy your company with the Performance Project folks – hope you return to Western MA – you were a HIT today!!”
-Audience Member 

“My roommate and I decided to go see Alicia’s performance randomly because we needed a “cheering up” this past week. We really had zero expectations but we were absolutely blown away by Alicia’s clever and amazing wit. Her performance was by far the funniest female stand-up act I have seen… and she isn’t my friend so I am not biased :-). If you are looking to laugh for an hour and a half straight this is where you need to be. In fact she was so funny, we are taking a bunch of our friends to see her next week! She really made our week!”
 -Audience Member

“I have been to India twice and could definitely identify with many of the hilarious encounters Alicia had along the way but I also think anyone could identify with parts of this universal search for meaning and purpose. Kudos to Alicia for keeping the performance alive and fresh!”

-Audience Member


“Very funny and insightful. Great impersonations. I laughed alot.”

-Andrea K


“Loved Alicia’s bubbly personality. She transported me to India where I felt a part of her adventure!”

-Audience Member


“The show was hilarious!! My cousin and I were completely absorbed by her comedic storytelling skills..perfect for such an intimate setting! I would watch her again in a heartbeat :) Alicia – thank you for sharing and bringing laughter to our night!”



“Alicia’s show was a spiritual experience! The perfect combination of heart and hilarity!!! And Josh says: “your show ‘out-Buddhas’ the best of them!” 

-Theda H.


“This “serious” comedy presentation is not only hilarious, but thought-provoking. Avoiding cheaps shots, Alicia comments on the process of spiritual seeking with balance, great humanity, and a sense of the absurd. Her delivery is amazing and her pacing held my interest for the whole show. 

Her willingness to reveal herself to an audience is awe-inspiring. The gifts of chai, sweets and kirtan (chanting) are a bonus feature. I would highly recommend this to anyone remotely interested in India or spirituality. Or interested in novel applications of humor.”

-Dennis E.


“I have been to India twice and could definitely identify with many of the hilarious encounters Alicia had along the way but I also think anyone could identify with parts of this universal search for meaning and purpose. Kudos to Alicia for keeping the performance alive and fresh!”

-Audience Member


“Going to India I’ve found is an experience quite hard to describe but Alicia makes it funny, moving and thoroughly enjoyable. I brought 3 friends who all found it very entertaining and unique.”



“Your show was really funny and REAL!”



“I had just arrived in S.F. that day from the east coast, so, even though I was already three hours ahead of the local time, I loved (and stayed awake) for every bit of Alicia’s hilarious, heartfelt and honest performance. The stories she lived were so hilarious that you just knew they were drawn from real life. Alicia knows how to connect with her audience. Maybe that’s from her experience in the sometimes brutal trenches of live, stand-up comedy. Bring this show to New York please! And Edinburgh’s Fringe Fest! So when will the rest of the country get to see this show as a special on Comedy Central, Showtime or HBO?”

-Clay C.


“This chick is awesome! Love her show!”

-Audience Member


“Alicia is a very funny stand up and calls on here experiences in India and in life, trying to find herself. She was great, i am surprised i never heard of her before.”

-Carole D. 


“I laughed until my belly ached, tears streamed from my eyes, and I was gasping for breath. And … I was deeply moved by Alycia’s soulful expression and radiant smile. Her energy on stage was electrifying. “Eat, Pray, Laugh!” was really quite brilliant.  I had invited three friends to join me and each one loved it! We drove 2-1/2 hours to see the show. It was worth it and then some!”

-Jennifer A. G. 


“Energetic, warm, reminded me of my travels; she is charming, funny and lovable.”

-Elizabeth H.


“I am just amazed how you managed to keep the audience captivated for 75 minutes  Despite having heard of it 3 times already, I still found some jokes funnier, and some situations worth reflecting upon..


The basics were all covered: good use of center & down stages, awesome voice modulation, well paced show with clever variation of tempo to keep the audience hooked, and well crafted transitions. You have a cool stage presence and the body language was too good.


What I found special about your show is that the there was this common thread throughout the story (unlike typical stand ups where they just put together disconnected stories) and it was very satisfying to travel through the range of emotions, situations, skills, and personalities you effortlessly took us through.”

-Thilee S.


“OMG!  Eat, Pray, Laugh is a spiritual experience!  I was enlightened at least three times.  In fact, I may have died laughing.  I wanna do it again.”

-Boston B.


“I often find myself quite self-consciously speechless after a great show, and this was the case after Alicia’s show. I felt a healthy range of emotions and was moved my her unbridled exuberance and brilliant writing. Alicia is in the right line of work, the way I see it.  boy… it is stunning! Every show of hers I see is richer and more cathartic to watch. Effin’ funny stuff.”

-Karen S.


“Not sure if you know this feeling, but I am sure that many of us who are not stand-up comedians do. You leave a show (a comedy show) wanting to repeat jokes you’ve just heard to the friends you went with who just heard the same jokes. That in itself is odd, since you’ve all just heard the show, but the jokes struck your funny bone so that you want to retell them. And they were so funny that you can remember a few. Which is unusual, since you usually can’t remember any! <—note judicial use of exclamation mark. Then jokes start coming back to you (because they were so funny!). And to your friends. Then, for twenty minutes, you and your friends are having a great old time with, “Yeah, and remember the one….” You’re laughing all over again. You don’t get the jokes exactly right, but since you all just heard them, the clumsy reprise makes everybody laugh anyway. And appreciate the mastery (myriad of accents, contortionist-crab-walking) of the original teller. (Alicia!!) <—- Oops. Two exclamation marks. That is never tolerable.


You’re also appreciating having had your thinking bone tickled. And your spirit lifted. And your heart caressed.  That’s how dessert went around the table at Max’s at the corner of Geary and Mason after Eat, Pray, Laugh!”

-Steve B.



“Great show; Alicia is very talented and inspiring.”
 -Beth F.



“Beautiful work from this woman. I r-e-a-l-l-y enjoyed it. She made me laugh for an hour straight. THAT’S talent!!!!”
 -Aaron K.

“Great material and a charismatic delivery, the show would make a great introduction for a first time audience member to become familiar with the Fringe format.”

-Audience Member


“A friend and I saw this show last night. What a wonderful experience! Her writing is so sharp, better than most comics’ I’ve seen. Her timing, use of space on stage, wisdom and wit combo, impersonations of different nationalities, and overall genuine humanity wowed us. I hope she’ll be appearing in New York soon–or at least The Marsh! Seems like it would be perfect for that venue. She should be so proud (and so busy as more people and more are fortunate enough to see her work.) Truly great work last night.”


“Eat, Pray, Laugh! is a comedic retelling of a three month excursion to India. It is not a mere self-indulgent travelogue that one might expect based on the tile’s reference. Alicia offers wit, insight, and indeed her own somewhat off-kilter enlightenment and new-found inner strength from a journey were she met a variety of people who ultimately were no more “exotic” than you or I. Also, Alicia is very funny.”
“I took my hubby to see Alicia’s new show tonight, because last year, he missed it, and I wanted him to see just how funny she is. This new show is refreshing,very funny and she sparkles in telling her story of her trip to India. Her yogic chanting was the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time, and impressions of various men she met along the way, were hysterical. I can’t wait to see where she travels for next year’s show! You go girl!
-Mrs. T
“I grew up on Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Mel Brooks, so I’m skeptical about young comedians, but I am completely sold on Alicia Dattner’s wit, presence, physical grace, timing, and dazzling mimetic mastery of a wide range of accents.”
-Bob L.
“She kept us on the edge of our seats with suspense, laughter and titilation (which should be “ta-ta”lation which will only make sense after you see the show, so see it!). Alicia is a gifted story teller and comedian with dead on impressions and whole body (and spirit) dedication. There were several laugh out loud one liners as well. There’s a good message in this too: Don’t take yourself (and your “journey”) so damn seriously!”
-Liz G.
“Alicia Dattner has a wonderful way of turning adversity into humor and comedy. Whether or not you have or have not been to India, her adventures and misadventures will leave you hungry for curry and coincidentally, there are are several excellent Indian restaurants in the Tenderloin, near the Exit Theatres!”

 “Ms. Dattner, you light up the room! Your storytelling is colorful and aromatic, your sentiment is golden and your genuine sense of humor shines.”
-Theda H.
“If you’ve ever been to India, done yoga, or even been around someone who has done either…this show is for you. Alicia’s story telling and comic expression left me laughing long after the show was over.”
-Ryan D.

“I laughed from my belly hearing alicia…  I could relate to so much of what she was saying…  She finds the humor in the mundane and brings it out in a way that I find myself howling…grateful for the laughter alicia brings to my belly and heart…”
-Sasha R.