Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Benaras Journal, Oct 24th 2011

I think this place got the sweetest cows and bullocks I have ever seen till now. This writing of mine is going to cover a lot of ‘khichdis’ (mixtures) that I ve experienced in the recent months which I didn’t ve enough time to reflect upon, but I should have.
The Durga Puja of Benaras was an extravagant affair. All the ‘Bengaliness’ came up inside me. Though I didn’t know any Bongs here, it was anyways great to go around the gullies and streets in and around the ghats where the idols are extremely close to you. There are gullies in Varanasi where 2 person cannot walk parallely, forget about having ‘pandals’ and 5, 6 idols. These fellows here adjust it accordingly with all sizes, big and small. There is a place called “Bangali Tola” where most of the Benarasi Bongs reside. I heard my mother tongue being spoken by so many people after a long time. It was an unusual happiness. Usually I would get nervous in such situations. But that day was exceptional. There was one puja in ‘Beniyabagh’ which had electronic show where Anna Hazare pops up near Goddess Durga and shoots an arrow at a Politician and says, “Bhag Bhrashtachari Bhag” (Run you corrupt fellow). And to fine tune it with the story of “Goddess Durga” slaying “Mahishashura”, they give her back vocals where she calls the demon a “Bhrashtachari” (corrupt). I have heard this story of Mahishasura being evil and all but ‘corrupt’ was a fine addition actually.
Saw the birth places of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Kabir Das, saw Tulsi Das’s hangout spot in the ghat. Saw where Buddha gave his first sermon. It’s hard to believe such ugly changes that have taken place in the very place where such great philosophers were born and had spend their time. When I was passing by the birth place of Kabir, random sayings of his started hitting my mind; “When Kabir was born, the world laughed and God cried… Such were his deeds that when he died God smiled, but the world cried”. That place today is filled with ‘filths’, ‘dust’, ‘population’ of competing human beings who like to respect the past but can’t afford to get stuck in that dimension.
One tiny temple of one 'Baba Badal Bir’ in a gully called ‘Khojwa’. There is a full grown adult ‘peepal’ tree above the terrace beneath and across which are its roots that are spread. Mind you it has not touched any ground.
Baba and Julie went for a bicycle ride few days back. She was a happy monkey that day. That day  when I sat at Assi for the Ganga Aarti, couple of Goats happily sat beside me. Every animal including Dogs, cats, Monkeys, Cows, Bullocks etc.. except Bulls seems to be very friendly, sweet and humble. Makes you feel like patting every one of them. As far as the Dogs are concerned, they are good as I said, except the ‘Man eaters of Harishchandra Ghat’. They like flesh. They are what I would like to call the Aghori animals of Benaras.
Yesterday, 11th Oct, I went to Ramkrishna Mission and witnessed the ‘Aarti’ after perhaps 10 years. Blur memory of the lyrics, but undoubtedly the flow of the music is awesome, takes you to a journey actually, if you are a music lover. These gies add a last line to their ‘Aarti’ which other missions don’t; “Bolo Kashi Bishonath Onnopurna Gonga Mai ki Jai”. While walking back home, since my hindi reading has developed quite exceptionally well, I managed to read an inscription on a temple wall saying “Gouria Math”. I could hear a voice over a speaker. Without giving any thought, I entered the premises. One saint was talking about the 4 varnas and the four stages of a sanyasi. Didn’t get that part cause I entered mid way. What I did get was; “Chaitanya Gaurango says ‘kirtan’ happiness is more precious and far greater than the happiness you expect in heaven”. This followed by a couple of ‘kirtans’. It was not the best I have attended till now, but certainly singing ‘Hori Bol’ this time felt much better than my childhood days.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Benaras Journal, Oct 17th, 2011

Well I came to this place in the name of work, thinking I could make a difference to the lives of the people who are in need. Women Empowerment is what I am a part of here. Yesterday I head back home in an auto which accidentally touches the back tire guard of a scooty like a feather touching our skin. Our ‘mahila’ riding it says: “Benchaud, dekhke nahi chala sakta saale bhosri ke, iska paisa kaun tera baap dega madarchaud…” and she keeps on going. Finally the auto driver says “Madam galti hogayi I am sorry”, she shouts back “Its Okay”. I have no further words to describe my thoughts on this matter.
Anyways, there has definitely been interesting drawbacks and drawforwards regarding office works. What is more important to mention is about the 20 Women Producers who I work with. They have been trained in camera handling and stuffs to monitor the NGO’s works which have been funded by UNDP via IKEA. One of my friend said before I left Goa, ‘village women will remain village women’. I obviously do not consider my work as a bad one. It lets them earn some money and they like it. But yes, it does feel like burdening them with some sort of totally alien technology which most of them, well I bet almost all of them wouldn’t have done had I offered them some kind of a job related to milking cows or weaving baskets at the same price. Many will be utterly disappointed to hear this from me, but hey it’s a genuine feeling. They are already good at something and have skills which I and many other people do not. Who am I to dictate terms and tell them shooting camera is more cooler and lucratrive than milking cows or weaving baskets. Philosophically it is safe to say that yes there has been progress. Women here now ride bicycles and go to market on their own, start their own business etc. I say its not enough, they are still dumb. The ones who are so called empowered are dependent on their NGOs. It’s less learning and more ‘thopofying’ (forcing) coz the big ones at the top needs ‘RESULTS’ within a ‘time frame’. Now that’s the blunder.

Benaras Journal, Oct 10th, 2011

The conflict is just too much to bear. It’s difficult to explain; the difference in religions, beliefs, trust, favors, returns. The complication just gets more complicated and there is no escape route even if you decide to head back to an empty egg shell and close it for a long time. They say you then come out as a new man, but then again; Bullshit!
The conflict in Benaras for instance. Modernity up surging, trying to get established by glorifying it through places like Benaras Hindu University and other fuckers who came back from other states after completing their fucking studies or other business shits. Business fuckers trying to hit the jackpot by feeding products to people that they need! Few things that cannot change of course are the gullies, the pundits, the wild faith and the way these gies swear at each other. As if one can use this place as a brilliant example to describe the country India as a whole. The mixture is right there in front of your eyes. Frame your vision in one corner of any street near the ghats and observe for 5 mins, you’ll get it; a saare showroom with a signboard having a picture of the holy sacred cow. Go inside you will find the same thing there. ‘A white cow inside a saare showroom’! Aarti at evenings and pub culture at nights. Where exactly are we heading? Doesn’t really matter does it? Culture has been something where I guess change and assimilation are just synonymous.
The ‘Bander wale Baba’ in Assi… His monkey’s name is Julie and she bites. I see him who spends his life roofless and will obviously live and die in Benaras. I also see a ‘firang’ who has denounced the pleasures of life, wearing saffron robes and walking around ghats. A business guy quite ‘modern’ thought wise, born in Benaras, wants to die here as well.
I am not sure if we should call this a place where you find all your answers or a place where you start asking too many questions. In my case, I guess only time will tell.

Benaras Journal, Sep 25th, 2011

It rains and it rains unendingly terrorizing the olds and overjoiceing the young’s. The ghats once again gets covered under Ganges. She says, “You have fed me with enough shits, time to eat your own shits you earthly morons”. Streets, gullies, highways all filled by her. Never have I seen so much of rain anywhere before, never have so the people of Benaras. The ‘Bander wale Baba’ of Assi Ghat still savours his favorite spot. She missed him by an inch. Nevertheless, he and his faithful cannot escape the rain either. I walk past ‘Pilgrims Book House’ through the same gully which usually takes me 5 mins. Today it takes me half an hour, fighting through the water level which only kept on rising. I had to catch a train to Goa, but I can always rely on Indian railways for its timing. 5 mins it has been that I got out of my house with a bag pack and a stranger says “Aall trains cancelled wa”. I smile at him and keep moving on carefully throwing each step knowing very well that it could be my last, for there are unending pot holes which will lead you straight down to hell. I look up for a moment to see the wet monkey Brigades flying from terrace to terrace staring at me with weird smiles saying “Sucker”! A 6 yr old kid comes out of his house in ‘chaddi & banyan’ holding 2 notes of Rs 10 each trying to get down on the road obviously with the intention of buying something somewhere. As he tried to get down the steps, I prayed so that he would go back, for I knew that even if he was the son of the soil, this angry woman will drown him today. He went back and I carried on. The 5 mins walk was finally over and I was on the main road.
I reach the railway station relying on the timing of our faithful Indian Railways. It was late === 16 hours ===. Although it was undoubtedly the longest wait comparatively to other trips, it doesn’t feel annoying anymore. What if we didn’t have Indian Railways at all? Perhaps my travel saga would have never even initiated. Rich or poor, I am always going to be a faithful customer, riding in Sleeper Class observing people, fields and states for hours unending and when bored, flipping pages of books at the speed of light. Trains are definitely the best place to read books.
I escape the treacherous rain and head for Goa to get a cultural break, bidding goodbye to that unforgiving day of 24th Sep, 2011.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Benaras Journal 11th Aug, 2011

Never has this place seen so much of water on its streets for the last 30 years. So much of attempts, yet an uncertainty. A ‘drowned city’ and a drowned ‘Assi’.
They say Assi is the name of the sword which some ‘Devi’ used to slay a demon and then threw it on the shores of the Ganges. They say its Assi because it’s the 80th and the last ghat on the ghat lines of Benaras.
I finally found my new adobe near Assi as I wanted and now it’s rediscovering the breeze everyday and understanding and somehow reliving the stories of Kashi. Mystical talks, chaos…
So many attempts, yet failed. Failed to find the truth; the truth of the universe. Is anything wrong with the words? Nay, the bosom of Desdemona as Gogoi says is the most filled with lust, denied of expectations, eventually; denied of rights. None caresses here, none bothers.
An adobe in its most purest form. It is difficult to understand the concept of achieving ‘moksh’ within the circle of Kashi; Kashi and not Benaras. So, “I” stay in Kashi!
Why should anybody believe? What is the punch line? You die here and get rid of the cycle of life. Do you care? Will your soul know that you are rid of the cycle of life? And that it is going to live a splendid eternal span in the heavens?
I see desperation everywhere. Humans desperately trying to seek a reason to spend their time frame on specificity. Desdemona’s lust has many directions, for I understand that her meditation does not bear any fruit, I understand that she has accepted the truth of the universe more than any other living souls.
They also say, “Benaras ki subhah aur Lucknow ki sham”. One shouldn’t miss it! Woke up 5 o’clock in the morning to stall the gullies. Fresh shits, dungs everywhere and bundles of plastics flying over my head right in the middle of the road. Beautiful…
I forced my boat over thy river, when I couldn’t understand you from the lines of any ghat. Tried my sort of attempt from Assi till ‘Mayawati Park’, another beautiful lady, yet it didn’t bear any fruit.
Desdemona shall always remain a mystery and all the questions and challenges will only succumb to the silence of thy river.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Benaras Journal 24th July, 2011

Sawan ka mahina (Monsoon) or Bol Bham season. Assi ghat is now getting covered under the shadows of our dear Ganges. The ‘Bander wale Baba’ (Monkey Sadhu) has lost his favorite spot but he still powders his monkey with ponds every day. Saffron clad men and boys everywhere on streets of Benaras, ek hi bol: “Bol Bham; Bol Bham”. They have their own style of having open air DJ nights. Huge loud speakers on streets, playing devotional songs, the tune of which sounds very familiar to any bollywood or popular Bhojpuri songs. What is the difference? I ask, Isn’t it all the same? Who cares which music you like as long as you want to dance and lose yourself. ‘Bol Bham’… ‘Shiva’ is a celebrity when it comes to partying in pubs, clubs or temple streets. How should I say it; He ROCKS!
This Sunday I decided to walk the straits of the innumerable ghats. Not that I regret it, but it was a painful walk inside and outside the ‘gullies’. Bulls are an exotic addition. Dodge them and you reach Kashi, get hit and you know where you will land up. A poor little guy got a head bump from one Mr. Bull while he was trying to overtake it. Don’t be surprised to find exotic restaurants amidst a lane full of cow dungs and bull shits. Firangs like to see ‘hungry India, poor India’ and so we have proper rest points where they, I mean we, can indulge in some continental food and mocktails for a change instead of paratha and lassi.
Also, for the first time I witnessed manual scavenging outside the television. Sunday was a cleaning day for the city streets as well and the dalits would enter the narrow holed drains to collect the filth. I was excited to see someone do it. Not that I do not pity them and stand against the concept of manual scavenging itself, but somewhere it does make you feel secured that there are men who still clean these hopeless gutters and drains of India. Holy texts that brand the ‘Shudras’ as the lowest caste are practically the mother of the entire society who takes care of her children best by keeping it clean, or in this case of our country with the most notorious and unobedient children, 'TRYING" to keep it clean. 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Benaras Journal 20th July, 2011

My colleague, Asst. Trainer Kanhaiya, and I were en route to Assi Ghat once again to sit and do nothing at one of his friend’s boat. Just then as usual, his super Bike CBZ’s clutch got jammed. He managed to fix it temporarily amidst a crowded road but we had to ride back to one of his favorite mechanic workshop. There I met an old man who they say is the Chief Pujari “Mahant” of the famous Durga Kund Mandir in Varanasi. He was the owner of the workshop “Indra Motors”. It is better known as “Guru ji ka workshop”. He made us sit, “aiye baithiye”, and I said to myself, “another long unnecessary conversation is unavoidable”. The first mistake he made was a very common one. I said “I am from Shillong”. “Oh Ceylon”, said he, “I have a coin from your country”. Once clarified, he took me into his memory lane, sharing some of his own stories when he was in “North East”. This man has been in so many places in the region, places, names of which even I haven’t heard of myself.
 I got one part right, he did speak for a pretty long time, but not that any of it was disinteresting even for one single moment. My guess was he would have been 62 years old, but it was generous enough from his part to clarify that and say “I am 82”.
This man was a retired Engineer in the Army. He went to North East in the 60s. At that time there was no sign of any Bhramaputra over bridge. He explained how in those days they would have to get aboard a big ferry to cross the mighty Brahmaputra. He has seen tigers and elephants safe and untouched, tribal people who would walk naked and eat raw meat, mountains so beautiful that would boast the very essence of the Himalayas and forests as thick and green as… I don’t know… Dabur Amla Kesh Tail. I tried hard to identify the names of the places that he told me of. It was easy to catch the states, but not all the exact locations. He was posted in Faro Hills, I said “No dadu its called Garo Hills” – “No”, said he “Faro Hills” moving on, explaining me the scenic beauty of that place. And I kept on wondering where on earth did Faro Hills come from in Meghalaya? Anyways all the praises of North East continued and I kept on hearing on about more unidentified places. He said “These ‘virodhis’ stayed in ‘jhopris’ which was very well maintained and clean”. Well what can I say? When he went there it was obviously a tensed region with wide separatist revolution going on at that time. Even my grandfather was in the police and came under heavy firing a couple of times with the Naga rebels in undivided Assam.
“Ghummne phirne ka shok tha”, said Guruji, “aur waisa hi naukri mila”. He used to get a salary of Rs 650 and now gets a pension of Rs 25,000. He took an early retirement to come back to Benaras and open the workshop, “Indra Motors”, where we were sitting at. His was the first motor workshop in Benaras and it is he who has trained the local boys in “mechanic works” and helped them open their own workshop across the town. “Socha apne logo ke liye bhi kuch karu!”
Very enthusiastically he continued to share with me his knowledge on the customs and culture of the region where I come from; the matrilineal society, the boiled food and the rice beer; all in a ‘vidwan’ (intellectual) tone.
Kanhaiya’s super CBZ got fixed and it was time for us to leave. We bid adieu to the ‘Mahant’/ ‘Guruji’ who then blessed me in his own way saying, “Khub aage jao aur logo ka bhala karo”. We then rode off to Assi Ghat and I said to myself “This man made my day”. How often do you get 82 year old people sharing their super cool adventures in life?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Benaras till now

What made me think would be the most exciting thing to do in life turned out to be an excellent opportunity to feel exactly how a ‘narrowed’ life can look like where the entire earthly human life seems to have been converged into a single platform called Benaras. Here one can not only understand but experience the real meaning of congested. The infamous or rather famous gullies in Benaras is a heart throbbing experience. Whether you walk or ride a bike. For me both of them seems like you have been inserted through a pen drive in some cosmic 3rd world created video game where you need to play ‘Dead or Alive’. It is complete madness and at the same time amazing to see the level of proximity that every vehicle gets compressed into and still manage to avoid accidents. Every place be it Hyderabad, Delhi, or even Goa is now a failure to me in front of Benaras. Here I can see 1 out of 100 girls in jeans and top, people wearing sun glasses even after dark, I can see the pride that every man holds in running even the tiniest of shop in any of the gullies in Benaras, with big I mean BIG photo frames of their parents and grandparents.
Finally the Ghats… Suddenly the weather is so good in Benaras that it just doesn’t stop raining. I had to go to the ghats even if it meant reserving an auto which I eventually did. I decided to take a walk to the left route starting from Dashwamedha Ghat. After crossing few of them, it was just emptiness. Except a few strollers and firangs there was not much of a crowd one would expect to see here. I figured that perhaps the weather was really bad and to add to that, it was a Sunday after all. Still I continued my strolling and probably reached Manikarnika Ghat. I say probably because there was just no time to search for any inscribed name. It was just like the movies. My eyes instantly became a camera dollying and panning the madness that lay before it. 3 burning pyres beautifully arranged in a symmetric order. Since I couldn’t dare to pass that ghat, I entered the gully to find another way out and whoa piles and piles of woods stashed at every nook and corner of that place, making you realize that those are the holy wet woods that would easily absorb you anytime they want too and you are nothing but a tiny spec of life which is worthless, worthless I say. Life seems miserable and confusing at the same time when you see all kinds of activities happening around you. Dogs howling to the tune of the crying sons and relatives, men happily gossiping on public interest issues near pan and tea shops and few of them even having a peaceful nap amidst all this chaos, and please note all this is happening at a space that is 4ft in breadth.
Go a bit beyond the Ghat of the dead and there are more gullies, gullies and gullies… Temples after temples and families here and there in tiny little houses, but predominantly gullies.  It was just too much of Hinduism for one day. I belong to a very chaotic religion and I could no longer deny it after being there.
Assi Ghat has now become a common venturing place for me. I have been searching for a house with not much of luck. But it feels quite cool to sit on a boat for hours staring at the ghat and the Ganges and doing nothing. Last weekend, while I was on my way to Dasashwamedha, I witnessed a man getting electrocuted right in front of my eyes while fixing one electric post. All kinds of thoughts crept my head; the man must have had a nice breakfast before going out for work promising his wife and children to return soon. And there he was dead, another body waiting to travel to Harishchandra or Manikarnika Ghat. Well he died in Benaras where they consider everybody to go to heaven. We all Indians live in a very oblivious society and life here is very indispensible where every day we people have to play dead or alive. There is yet a sign of joy and happiness. Amidst all these chaoses there are also people who avoid all their surroundings as some omniscient place and treat the world as their own. I met a man in a busy road full of strollers and passersby dancing to the tune of some mehbooba song at some random chai shop. It’s high time I get a place near to Assi Ghat so I can begin with a better life there. By the way an apple here costs Rs 25/- each.