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.