Banaras

30 Oct

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September 2012.

Me, to a friend living in another city: “I hate Varanasi. The city is covered in filth, the roads are dotted with potholes, and don’t even get me started on the people! They are a group of uncouth barbarians!”

October 2013.

A friend living in another city, to me: ” I hope you are okay over there, I have heard that the city is strewn with rubbish and the people are very gawaar.”

In the span of thirteen months between these two conversations are tucked away hundreds of instances when the same dialogues have been repeated over and over. Sometimes in the form of tears of self pity to my parents, sometimes woven into a telephone conversation with a sympathetic friend, and sometimes as a silent wail of anguish in the middle of the night, the echoes resounding through my mind, rendering the difficult task of falling off to sleep, close to impossible.

Having spent the last three years in the capital city of the country, studying in one of the best colleges in the country, making the transformation to a small city caught in the terrible confusion between turning into a big city and at the same time holding on to its small town roots had the impact of a huge culture shock on me. Suddenly the people around me started labeling me as a snob if I conversed in English, I developed rashes on my shins from being covered from head to toe even in the sweltering heat of North India and I had tears of panic leaking out of my eyes every time I stepped out of my house, out of fear of the menacing troop of monkeys loitering around like the gali ka gundas.

As I wallowed in my grief of being away from my friends and no longer having the freedom to wear shorts, I had no inkling of what was in store for me. I learned to embolden myself to venture out of the house the very next day after I witnessed the bizarre scene of a naked man with a tortured expression on his face turning in small circles in the middle of an empty field I cross everyday on my way to the university. The absurdity of the scene was such, that even today, it makes me doubt its reality, my mind suggesting that I might have conjured it up. I also learned to clean my own bathroom and wash with my bare hands the slimy algae off the floor of the water jar. I battled with rats nibbling away at my food and sometimes new clothes, setting traps and spreading poison around the house, eventually learning to go to bed with the knowledge that a rat might dare to jump up on my bed, run up my leg, and in the process get entangled in the blanket and stay there till I free it with a cacophony of my shrieks in the background. I also learned to develop trust again in rickshaw walas, after one tried to take me off to a deserted place, replying with more furious pedaling to my continuous appeals to him to stop.

After all these incidents and more, I found myself praying for a miracle that would magically shorten my remaining months in this city to minutes. I seemed to have sworn an unspoken oath to myself to never give this place a chance to woo me, not after all the terrible scars it left on me. And so, I was surprised at the words that flowed out of my mouth with ease, when a friend of mine told me to be careful of the city and its people after about a year of having endured Varanasi. My words seemed to be trying to convince him that women are in fact treated with polite courtesy, be it about the seat in an auto, or getting an urgent work done in government offices, and that one or two rare cases of eve teasing or molestation happen everywhere. There was a dissonance in my head, as one part of me tried to stop my words and agree with my friend’s opinions, as I had been doing for the past one year. In that moment, I realized that somehow in the one year, the relentless lover named Banaras had discovered a tiny gap between the doors to my heart, and pushed and edged its way inside, covering the walls with wallpapers of its love, keeping them skillfully concealed under a dark cloth, until that day. The day when the cloth slipped off, and I found my heart painted bright red.

Maybe it happened during the times I fell sick, and I wept, touched with gratitude as a friend came over everyday to nurse me, armed with food and medicines and big smiles, fluffing my pillow and fussing over me. Maybe it happened when a friend took me out and made me meet new people on days I wanted to lock myself into solitude, and turned the throes of a shattered heart into stomach cramps from delirious laughter. Or it might have been the times I had a glass of mouth watering thandai and bhaang with a friend, and spent the next few hours giggling and laughing over things as mundane as the dropping of a pencil. Or maybe, it happened over the evenings at the ghats, with a cool breeze playing around with wisps of my hair, the faint ringing of aarti bells and the intoxicating smell of dhoop in the air, as I gazed far off in the darkness, a serene contentment settling over me.

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8 Responses to “Banaras”

  1. He Ha October 31, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    🙂 Beautiful. I believe that people in smaller cities are more genuine.

  2. Srishti Jain November 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    thumbs up

  3. Piyush December 17, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    agree with you on most of the negative points of the city.

    But.

    I have but one advice, explore it. explore the ghats, rather.
    You won’t find it very enthralling – dirt, dung, narrow spaces, uncouth people – but once you do it, you will find yourself opening to it. I can’t tell you the exact way or the procedure to do it, because it will happen to you in as unique a manner as it did to me, but it will. I agree its a bit difficult with the BHU system and the banarasi people, being a girl makes it unimaginably different for you than it was for me. But, do it nonetheless.

    I have lived for 5 yrs in the city, and now i spend all my time yearning for it.
    For a glimpse, read this: http://romanticpiyush.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/banaras/

    I guess it will also give you some places to try out! 🙂
    Hope you will find the Banaras in Banaras, in all its glory and magnificence! 🙂 🙂

    • catharsisforsoul December 17, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      Your post is beautiful. 🙂

      Yes, initially I was thoroughly disgusted by the city, but slowly, the ghats, pizzeria and its apple pie with ice cream and a few other ghar-side cafes, the serenity, the sunsets at Assi Ghat and so much more have definitely won me over. 🙂

    • catharsisforsoul December 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

      Ghat-side*

  4. Nicholas May 12, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    the irony these days 😀
    basically, ny place becomes a part of u given tim nd a fair chance … ^_^

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