Life in the Galis of Kasi

Kasi is known for its galis, ghats and temples. The galis of Kasi have a central presence in the lives of people who are born and brought up there. Life in these galis has its own pattern and rhythm. It is fast changing, as the life on the rooftops and ghats is changing.

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So (once upon a time in Kasi) people used to spend a lot of their time: routinely available and leisure, in the galis. I remember people sitting on stone chabutras for hours at a stretch. The galis used to serve as all-season extended drawing rooms then. A typical house in a gali by or around Gangaji had certain universal characteristics. It used stone in abundance. It had, many a time, one main and one side door of wood. The side door used to give access to a stone chabutra that served as the seating space for the owners and for the people of (or passing) the gali alike. These  chabutras , and especially, these galis were not seen as belonging to an individual. They used to be community spaces. An exclusive use of past tense is giving this post a kind of hue I don’t like. So, I’ll mostly use present tense now.

These narrow galis with high buildings (some of the older stone buildings of the pakki mahaal have five to six floors) do not allow a lot of sun light reach their stone or brick floor, except when the sun is overhead. So, in winters, people go to the rooftops to avoid comparatively colder galis, but in summers, these galis become shelters. They save people from the extreme North Indian heat. The chabutras are occupied in mornings and evenings. People leave galis for the time period in which sun rays reach the galis directly and the heat is unbearable.

I remember children playing gali-cricket and the elderly persons playing chaupad on chabutras. Housewives, after finishing rounds of their chores, make time for a chat session on the verandahs. Many galis of Kasi are so narrow that persons standing in verandahs facing each other may (and do) reach out and pass things. So, a dish cooked just then may be passed on, piping hot, for the neighbour’s expert comment, or simply because it’s a daily habit. The vendors of vegetables and several other things of daily household use pass these galis on their routine rounds daily. They have their beat charted out and patrons fixed. There’s a very ingenious invention in the galis that’s used in these galis to bring the things from the galis to upto five storeys above. This contraption is very simple: there’s a sufficiently long and strong rope whose one end is tied to a basket and the other end is either kept free or tied to the railing of the verandah. The vendor keeps the required amount of goods in the basket. The basket is pulled up and then, it comes down with the money. The order may be reversed too.

I have seen houses facing each other joined by an overhead enclosed stone bridge in many parts of the old city. The sight has a mystery and a very strong pull for me. I clearly remember one such set(houses and bridge) in the gali that meets the Kedar Ghat to Dashshwamedh Ghat main gali perpendicularly right after Narad Ghat, or before Pandey Ghat, and another in the gali leading away from Bengal Typewriting Institute. What intrigued me was the question: Whether both the houses belong to the same owner/family? If not, why and how was the bridge constructed? I’ll try to get the answer by asking the more experience Banarsis. If the reader has any  knowledge of the same, please post it in your comment.

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