A city you will find life and death together. People come here to forget his past and become a saint. People come here to close the last chapter of their life. I have stayed two nights in a hotel inside the alleyways of Bangalitola, Munshirghat for only Rs400/- a night. They even haven’t registered my name, address, mobile number, anything. Officially I did not exist for two days.
Now, I am writing this while waiting in Varanasi Station for Bibhuti Express surrounded by abrunch of countrywomen. They are singing their folk tunes. The melodies bring them a little homely evening away from home. To me, a little bit of India. Varanasi is a place where you will find every culture, every religion existing together but never mixed with each other. You can distinguish every flavor of India in ease. You have to just listen, see, and more importantly feel those flavors.
Years ago, when I was a child, mother used to sing lullaby so that I would go to sleep quickly and peacefully. Here, in another city, alone in a station, waiting for the train, this late winter afternoon brings back the lost tune of those lullabies.
I have boarded on Bhuvati Express from Howrah station. It was safe to assume that the night will be long and chilled. I took my protection against the cold monsters. However, the late night wind and the almost zero temperature of Bihar region exceed my imagination. Simply, I cannot sleep that night. The train journey was monotonous and as usual, two hours late. I have already informed the hotel. It was inside the famous Bangalitola lane of Varanasi. A riskaw took me there for Rs 50/-.
The afternoon was foggy and dull. Therewas not so many tourist but the kite runners of the ghat, the boatmen always looking for customer, tea with extra milk as Varanasi style, the birds and pigeons, the beggars of Dashaswamedh Ghat , and the ghat-cricket set the stage for a great evening.
Though the eternal flames of Manikarnika was aroused but was not enough to make the body warm. The flame and the heat of the body of deaths fail to heat the body of living. Times passes, history becomes history, but the flame never dies. The pride of become someone special, the pride of rich, the pride of become wise fades away staring at the timeless flame of Manikarnika.
The Aarati in the evening is always a spectacular show to watch from the Ghats of Varanasi. I was sitting in front of VIP seats. To me, this is the best place to view Aarti. The ancient and traditional chants during this time send you to the age of Aryans and you will be oblivious to modern civilization.
Chat is one of the specialties of Kashi. When it comes to chat, it is always Kashi, the name lord Shiva gave during its foundation. I was in front of Kashi Chat Bhandar of Godhowlia Chowk. The menu was written in Hindi and once again I cursed myself for my incognizance of reading the language of state. A middle-aged man standing beside me was having some greenish mixture. I asked shopkeeper to give me the same. The shopkeeper smiled at me and asked me to have one plate of Tikia Chat. It was hot and OH man! I have never tasted such mixture of curd, hot potato, dal and some unknown delicious edible substances. I have finished it within minutes and the taste of the spices lingered in my tongue for sometimes. The next item was Panipuri with dahi. The curd was thick and will melt in your mouth. That chilled weather, the busy and noisy street, the interminable chants from the old corners of city set the perfect condition to consume chats of Kashi. Next destination was a milk bar. Yes! A milk bar it is. Do not verse your memories through the milk bar of Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange. It is an old-fashioned gloomy milkbar where the elderly, the saints and the strangers sit and have their milk with sweet, khir and paneers. Varanasi runs with milk. You visit ever alleyways and will find the big cows and big jars full of milk. The milk of the milk-bar comes with sweet and khir. It is so thick, the color turned yellowish. In Varanasi, inside the cow belt of India, you should complete your desert with milk.
The most interesting part to see different people from different parts of India is when you look at their feet. Some feet are with shoes with different colors and shapes, some shoes are new, sporty, and some are torn. Feet are without shoes, feet with ornaments of silver, feet with cheap metal, or feet are just naked. Some feet are fatigued and old walking for years, some are young, running vigorously for new destination. I was following those feet. It was like I was following India. They sometimes come with their flags of the clan or cast. I was talking with Keshwar Singh. He was with naked feet. He came with his wife, along with his forty-three other village-mates including the village head with shiny shoes from a remote village of Punjab. He was telling his story of crops, his youthful age when, one evening far away from here in a village near Peshawar, he first met his thirteen-year-old wife. While telling the story of his marriage, his eyes glittered under the dull and smoky sky of Varanasi, his eyes matched with eternal sadness of Harischandra Ghat when he was talking about the stories of partition. We all know the story, the killing, the bloodshed, and the despair. But we cannot relate ourselves with the horror of Keshwar Singh felt. We are living in a different India.
I cannot relate. I have grown up in a peaceful village of Bengal with love of my mother and in a wealthy family. The story of hopelessness, the story of fear, the story of losing your only child by the hand of insane murderers is a distant dream for me. I cannot relate, so as modern India. The story of Keshwar Singh comes to oblivion. The stories of our forgotten ancestors.
The alleyways become narrower and narrower in Varanasi. Sometimes you will be lost in the infinite mazes created by the alleyways and the essence of Kashi cannot be tasted unless you lost yourself in smelly, ever happening alleys of Kashi. Sometimes your path will be blocked by the sacred bull of Biswanath, the husband of the earth herself. In Varanasi, abusing with sweet Hindi to a normal person is absolutely normal but you cannot force a bull to give your way. You have to come down at his level and beg him for a little passage. Sometimes, the rustoms of the city breaks the silence with their 350cc bullets. I somehow managed Manoj to give me a ride for half an hour. It was a crazy ride. I was about to reach my breaking point when he phenomenally bulldozed among two bulls, plural number of dogs, another bike, and unknown number of living mortals carrying a body of their fellow mortal. When the ride was ended, I realized that it is a thousand times better than any amusement park’s joyride, an experience of lifetime.
You should not leave Varanasi without tasting the Kheer. It is cold and smooth. You cannot realize its coldness until the Kheer comes to end. Suddenly you will realize a throat sore. A good Kheer is so cold that make your throat freeze.
The beggars and Bengali widows are inseparable part of Varanasi. Generations passed, you will find the widows begging in the shadowed, mossy, narrower than you can imagine, alleyways of Kashi. They were sent here in their young age after the death of their old husband. Many of them are from elegant families. I was speaking with Madhurima Devi. She is in her eighties. She is shy and do to want her photo would be taken. She cannot even remember the face of her husband. She was talking about the sounds of Sanai of her marriage night. She was fifteen and like every little girl in her adolescence she was dreaming about life after her marriage. One month later, her husband died of Cholera. She has no children, no heritage. She came to Varanasi with six rupees in hand and was wearing a white sari. She has spent many winter evenings in the Ghats of Kashi hearing the story of Ram, the true ruler of the world, Shiva, the almighty, Barambah, the creator. She heard the story of a fair world, where the devil will be punished, and truth will be victor. But no-where the fairness of a widow was uttered. The widows are the face of unhappiness and hopelessness.
Special Thali is something you should have when you are really hungry. It comes with a price of Rs 170/- in Keshari restaurant contents one missi ruti, two butter nun, one bowl of basmati rice, paneer with cheese, fried dal, alu with matar, salad, papad, and the enormous curd. After forty-five minutes lovemaking with nuns and paneers and curds, I cannot even walk properly. Walking a few steps too and fro I took an auto and leave for station. There while waiting for the train, I had returned to my childhood hearing the lullaby of those countrywomen. The fogs and little lazy sunlight made the station an opaque place. A place to depart from Varanasi, the oldest living city of the earth.