The Gali Puran

The galis of Kasi have been compared to a labyrinth in various places. I have called them fluvidrome, network, maze and many other things. Some have hated them for their ubiquitous filth. Some have passed their whole lives in those galis with their problems and hatred. Some have loved and lived there for their whole lifetime. And some have lived sentenced to stay away for their whole life span, yearning to return. The question is of perspectives.

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These galis perform the function of joining. In the old city they join the river with the city and one part of the city with another. Taking the broader and more voluminous end as the beginning, the galis originate at various main roads, as in the image below that was taken from inside a gali. The cyclist is going towards the main road that begins at base of the pole to the left and ends at base of the wall of the houses in front. Another gali begins after the wall. It goes towards Hanuman Ghat, crossing Oudh Garbi, Chipi Tola and Hanuman Ghat mohallas. The gali covers a long distance and empties its contents in Gangaji between Karnatak State and Hanuman Ghats. It crosses eight more galis before actually reaching Gangaji, and in gali terms, it’s a rather short gali. The longer ones go on for two to three kilometres without breaking onto main roads.

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The galis are slippery for many reasons. People of the galis are  fond of regular application of the ritual purity of water on the stone or brick surface of a certain radius facing their house in their gali. The waste material and the remains of the food etc. of the houses are thrown at definite intervals at some unhappy corner of the gali. That corner, I remember the various corners in various galis very clearly, stinks so permanently that the stink remains even when the place is cleaned occasionally. Then there is the permanent clogging of the sewer lines problem. One gali or the other in the network will always have an overflowing sewer line: private or public.

Cows and bulls, as it is well known, are found in abundance in the city of Mahadev and they roam freely in their domain. They are sacred and aren’t scared of anyone. I’ve seen bulls attacking fruits or vegetable stalls and seizing something from the target: a cucumber, a melon or some bananas. They are chased away, pushed or given a blow or two with a stick, only to return and repeat the same process a couple of minutes or hours later. They know the limit to which a shopkeeper can afford to use violence with them. So does the shopkeeper.

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There is a close relationship between the galis in the old city (that I call Kasi) and the ghats and the river. These galis must have begun acting as arteries bringing fresh water to the city and, at the same time, as veins carrying all that needed cleansing to the river. Not long ago, people around lived a life that depended on Gangaji. Their habitations were connected to their lifeline through the galis. Kasi, where the sacred intermingles with the common in such a way that it becomes difficult to differentiate, gangajal has always had a place of central importance. People living around the river used the galis to reach it: day after day, year after year. Their lives were spent centering on the river and the galis. The time has changed now. So have people. This change has affected the relationship between the people and their surroundings.

The water that they needed to carry home every day is now supplied through pipes. The clothes they needed to wash at the river (I know it pollutes heavily and modernization has brought in a good change here) are now washed at home with the same supply water. But with the good change came the bad one. Their relation, material and emotional, with their mother-river was broken. Urballaghology must focus on this duality of change, of how good accompanies bad with certainty.

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The galis themselves have changed a lot. As a child, I saw them first paved with bricks, then with brick shaped stones, and finally with square, larger stones. Some broader galis The galis paved with bricks or smaller stones tended to slope strangely and the cracks between the unites used to create a very uneven surface, not good for bicycle rides and prone to deposition of filth and grime. The square stone surfaces started replacing the other kinds around a decade ago and are now predominating in Kasi. The squarer stone slabs are joined with cement mixtures. Therefore they are definitely cleaner in comparison to the previous ones, even after rains. The improvement in this aspect of the gali can be admired only by those who had become habituated (forcibly, that is) to walking either barefoot or in the common chappals at all seasons, and by those forced to walk on the precarious stretches filled with inches of the mixture of dirt, cow dung and other refuse even while wearing shoes.

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Of course, there are sections of galis in some parts of the city whose surface can never be seen as it’s always covered with a layer of muck composed of water of various origins, cow dung, house wastes in various stages of decomposition and dirt. Even old kasiphiles will not go there until it becomes absolutely essential. Even then, they will try to take some bye-lane or make a detour, e. g. there is a specific turn in the gali ending at Kshemeshwar Ghat, passing Kedar Ghat Post Office, turning left at the temple in front of it and then walking for ten metres, that I try to avoid.

Till now, the post has been critical of the galis for some length. It has focussed on some of the stereotypical points that make these galis so notorious. The coverage does not  include all that’s to be feared of. There is a lot more in those icebergs that meets the eyes.

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