Indian Summer 2019: Author reveals links between Allen Ginsberg and long-time Vancouverite Ashok Fakir Sarkar

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      Vancouver has long been a Canadian capital of poetry.

      George Bowering, Fred Wah, Evelyn Lau, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Rachel Rose, and Brad Cran are just some of the wordsmiths who've given the city this reputation.

      But few Vancouver residents are aware that one of North America's most famous beat poets, Allen Ginsberg, also played a role in Vancouver's emergence in this area.

      In 1963, Ginsberg was invited to teach a three-week course in Vancouver after a 15-month journey across India with his partner, Peter Orlovsky, and some of his American friends.

      That trip is the subject of a critically acclaimed 2008 book, A Blue Hand: The Tragicomic, Mind-Altering Odyssey of Allen Ginsberg, a Holy Fool, a Rebel Muse, a Dharma Bum, and His Prickly Bride in India.

      Written by Deborah Baker, it reveals that Orlovsky wasn't happy about Ginsberg's decision to go to Vancouver.

      "Peter had accused him of selling out; in accepting the invitation to Vancouver, he had broken his vow of never reading poetry for money," Baker wrote.

      This evening, Baker will speak at SFU Woodward's about Ginsberg's spiritual and sometimes drug-fuelled search for wisdom as part of the Indian Summer Festival. (Disclosure: I'm moderating this event as a volunteer.)

      Ashok Fakir Sarkar was a long-time Vancouver resident who befriended Allen Ginsberg in Calcutta (now Kolkata).

      There's another Vancouver connection to Ginsberg's trip to India.

      While visiting Calcutta (now Kolkata), he became close friends with Ashok Fakir Sarkar, who toured him around the city and later to the town of Tarapith.

      Sarkar was a multitalented writer, actor, musician, and documentary maker who moved to the United States in 1967. While living there, he hung out with Ginsberg, Alan Watts, and other philosophers.

      In 1971, Sarkar moved to Vancouver, working for a while as the Georgia Straight advertising manager, as well as a translator and president of a film company. After a lengthy career at Pacific Press, Sarkar retired in 1991 and died in 2009.

      There are many colourful anecdotes in Baker's book about Sarkar, who's referred to by his Bengali name "Asoke" in the book.

      In fact, Baker described Sarkar as "Allen Ginsberg's guide to all things holy and Bengali", even taking him to the burning ghats.

      "Fully stoned, they would sit and watch the stream of corpses arrive on charpoys bedecked with flowers, the pyres roaring around them," Baker wrote. "Tuesday night was [the Hindu goddess] Kali night. People would come to sing choral hymns to the goddess, passing the pipe."


      The Indian Summer Festival posted a video on YouTube of Deborah Baker's presentation. You can see it below.

      Video: The beats in India, with Deborah Baker.