The stereotypical Kasi resides in its ghats and galis; the real one too. Life, as it is lived in Kasi, can be seen in its galis and on its ghats. The galis: I have always loved some of their aspects and hated some others. A lot of negatives go into the making of the life in the galis. So many, that many spend their whole life in those galis, hating them all the times. Dreaming of being able to flee some day. I have hated the galis and loved them in parts at the same time at some point in my past. Then I chose to move away, yes I “chose”. I have not found peace anywhere in any Indian city for around a decade now. Yes, I remember how my gali used to be. It still is the same, and altered. My eyes are the same and they have altered in the way they look upon the world and upon the place where they started learning to see. The galis: life there used to have a different rhythm altogether, once upon a time. Yes, despite that risk of idealization, of that imposition of sweetness on nostalgia, I will attempt to look back at my life in the galis and at the galis themselves with love.
The tall buildings in the galis, on an average four storeys in my muhalla, make the galis special in all seasons. During monsoon downpours, water flows like it does in a river in flood. The whole walkable, stone paved surface of the galis is filled with water current ankle high. Children find these rivulets very appealing to their sense of adventure. They make paper boats and float them in their narrow, temporary rivers. I have spent many a rainy hour doing the same, my brother too, and many other grown ups of my gali, who used to be children once.
Walking in the galis in those times is very difficult, whether one wears shoes or chappals they both have their set of challenges. The shoe wearer faces a surety of wet shoes and hours of hard work later in making those shoes normal and wearable. The chappal wearer who wants to avoid his feet getting wet and dirty faces miles of dirty water bringing a dilute solution or mixture of the grime and filth of the whole locality towards him. The best solution is to walk through the galis, but not on them. Chabutras make a walkable option in those times. Although they have been the same all the time, their utilization was limited to a select few who could climb them properly, maintain their balance, and get to the lower level of the gali confidently.
Summer afternoons can be very punishing on the roads of Kasi as the temperature may rise to around 50 degree celsius and the lethal loo makes it too risky to walk upon. Narrow and densely populated with houses, the galis of Kasi provide a refuge to the weary traveller in two ways. If he wants to take rest, there’s shade and a chabutra to sit nearby. I have seen people asking for and being offered jaggery and water (different tumblers for different people, based on their religious markers or supposed caste). Or he can walk on, under the shadow of the tall house-trees in the narrow galis.
Galis are narrow, nearly generally, but some of them make the very word “narrow” appear broad in comparison. I have read it in many books and in many blogs by the non-Banarsis that galis give rise to a strong sense of claustrophobia. For a kasiphile, it is very difficult to understand. These galis have always been my home. I have never felt so warmly and strongly towards any other artificial physical structure, save the ghats. The moment I enter the galis that make the dense network roughly between Dashashwamedh Ghat, Godowlia Crossing, Shivala Ghat and Mata Anandmayee Hospital, I start feeling safe. A definite and palpable feeling of peacefulness descends on me and I feel that I have reached home at last. It happens every time. Galis are my house extended. There is only one gali in which I was born and brought up. I feel nostalgic about my life back there. It is about the past times and place together that arouse nostalgia in me. Whenever I look back, I see my parents and brother with me, and I see us at our house in my gali. When I dream about my place and people, my house is in the same gali every time.
Galis are communities in themselves. I know about the galis that have a very homogeneous population, based on caste and occupation of the majority. My gali used to be different, occupation wise. Now, the caste scenario has changed too, as many houses have changed hands and the new owners are not the same that have been living there for as long as the collective gali-memory can remember. I left my gali a decade ago, and my gali has changed a lot in that time. It will change some more in the time to come, as I have the insider’s information that some of the houses are going to be sold. Urballaghology may look at this kind of change with objectivity, not me. As I had mentioned in the very beginning of the posts on change in the city, I fear change. I suffer from allaghophobia and I suspect its roots lie in thanatophobia.