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?