Club Karma

A heartbreaking autobiography about India, East and West, love and death

Author: Saskia Konniger

Published by Thomas Rap

1st print May 2008

Club Karma can be ordered at:

In 2005, the thirty-year-old Dutch journalist Saskia Konniger left for India, planning to report on modern life in one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Before she knows it, that life has swept her up in all its intensity: she lands a role in a Bollywood film, explores the illicit gay scene in Bombay and travels to Pushkar, a destination for religious pilgrims. Amidst the squabbling Brahmins, she meets the charming camel-driver Arun. During a trip with him around the region by cart, Konniger experiences first hand the hierarchical relationships of the caste system, which still permeate the Indian way of life. Her love for Arun provides a sharp contrast to this world.

Back in the Netherlands, Saskia takes up her old life again, but her Indian prince on a camel stays on her mind. After a few months have passed, she decides to go back and look him up, but shortly before her departure she receives shattering news. Should she still go? And how much does she really know about Arun?



Fire bed (Prologue) 

    ‘But I don’t even know you,’ I said. ‘I want to speak to someone I know.’
    ‘Manu’s standing right next to me,’ the strange voice replied. ‘You know him, right?’ 
    A loud crackling. Then a deep sigh breathed into the receiver.
    ‘Manu? Is it true?’
    ‘Yes, it is.’ Manu whispered. He sounded nearby, not at all like he was calling from another continent.
    ‘Is Arun really dead?’ 
    ‘Yes, he is. He died last weekend in a moped accident. We had him cremated yesterday.’
    A vision of my Arun on a bed made of branches invaded my mind. Flames engulfed him, assaulting his body violently. The heat blackened his arms, pulling his limbs into distorted shapes. The fire ate away at his face.
    ‘I’m going to be sick.’ I dropped the phone and ran off.

Chapter 7 Mad sadhus and quarrelling Brahmins

If I’d been told that Pushkar has the world’s highest density of holy men per square metre, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The streets are dotted with their orange robes. The way their faces are painted indicates which order they belong to. An outsider would think the men came to Pushkar straight from the madhouse. I suspect that, by Western standards, many would belong there. 
    These sadhus seek nirvana, liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, by going to extremes. Thus they attempt to transcend their bodies and attain their ideal through solitary meditation sessions in caves, lasting for years, and extreme deprivations such as holding up one arm for twenty years. Traditionally, holy men also spend much of their time gathering and transmitting knowledge. Many therefore have a group of disciples. But because knowledge can now be transmitted much faster and further through modern media than via the ancient oral tradition, the sadhu way of life is eroding. And while an ascetic lifestyle, a life of abstinence is a precondition on the path to salvation, for many of today’s sadhus marijuana has become a popular tool for getting to a higher plane. The knowledge they then transmit is nothing more than fuzzy babbling.
    The sadhus in the streets of Pushkar resembled circus performers more than holy men. Some tried to earn a bit by posing for tourists’ photos. Others induced a cobra to emerge from a basket for a donation. Two good-natured sadhus were especially popular: one tourist after another wanted to take pictures of them. They made funny faces and clowned around with each other, to the great delight of the crowd. I curiously gazed at a sadhu presenting a holy cow covered by an orange cloth. For a few rupees, he lifted up the cloth so the spectator could glance at the ‘miracle’: a fifth leg.

Chapter 13 The smell of camel pee and fresh-baked chapattis

The well was concealed in a small, white concrete structure located at the junction of two deserted dirt roads. Arun and Ouled released Babu from the cart and parked him by the trough at the side of the building. Behind the well-house was a marble Taj Mahal-style grave monument. On the base, which measured about three square metres, four pillars supported a cupola, with a decorative point reaching upward. I walked around it with curiosity. Surely it was built in commemoration of some Rajput prince, though there was no inscription giving any hint of its origin. I stepped on to the base and looked up. Only a few remnants of paint were visible on the inside of the cupola. The painting had all but disappeared.
	While Arun and Ouled assembled the cooking utensils, I inspected the well. Fortunately, the cover wasn’t sealed. The well looked clean, including the bucket for hauling out the water. I gathered my toiletries and concealed myself behind the concrete wall to undress.
	Just as I was about to take off my trousers, I heard a voice behind me.
	Oh, no... not another visitor? How can it be? A minute ago this area couldn’t have appeared more desolate.
	I turned around and found myself eye to eye with a man with an enormous handlebar moustache. His eyes breathed fire, and he angrily said something I couldn’t understand.	
Arun rushed up. ‘Sorry, I didn’t see him.’
	The man started to wave his arms vehemently and repeated his words. After Arun heard him out, he looked dismayed.
Chapter 15 The offering to Ramdev

    ‘Arun, have you ever heard of the Kama Sutra?’
    Arun shrugged. ‘I never came across it in my village. I’ve never heard of it.’
    ‘It’s a famous Indian book about love. It was written more than sixteen hundred years ago. In India lovemaking was one of the arts. The Kama Sutra describes precisely how not only men but also women can get the most pleasure out of love-making.’
    Uneasily Arun rearranged our blankets. ‘Why are you mentioning this book? You and I don’t need a book like that, do we?’ 
    ‘Of course we don’t,’ I replied. ‘But I was just wondering. Earlier you said you never knew that women were able to enjoy sex, just like men do, right?’
    ‘Before I met you I never knew that was possible. But let me tell you, it’s only true for Western women. Maybe hundreds of years ago it was different, but Indian women have no desire for sex. They’re built differently. It’s not possible for them to have orgasms.’
    I knew my attempt would be of little avail, but I couldn’t repress the urge to educate. ‘I am sure that Indian women are also capable of enjoying love. Perhaps they never get the chance, because they have rotten marriages.’
    ‘I don’t know where that book comes from,’ Arun remarked cautiously. ‘India is another world these days.’