Stories from Kasi: The Wisdom of Sri 1008

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Stories are told by the chroniclers of their times and people. They tell stories because they see no better way to calm their restless mind in which dance the anthers of memories: shining in the broad and bright band of sun rays. They need audience, and they need to hold its attention, so that it listens and hopefully likes what it listens. I come from a place that is a story in itself. I come from a place that’s in this world and believed to be out of it at the same time. It follows logically, then, that I have stories. Whether I tell them or not depends on my audience. Yes, I have good stories to tell, but I don’t know how to tell a good story so that it’s heard and received as good too. Much ado about …? Here’s one from Kasi.

Once upon a time, not a very long time ago, there lived a boy in Kasi. He was a boy only chronologically speaking but was very mature in his understanding of the society and spoke very perceptively about it. If the past is made of micro level present particles preserved as their hour is over, then future is the past about to happen. People had seen the world, and they had seen this boy long enough to pronounce their final verdict about his future: bleak. They had given him many names, some of them not very positive. I used to add Sri 1008 before his name to show respect to his views that used to be practical and occasional. Later, I started referring to him as 1008, but only to myself.  He was not very good in studies and knew it. In a middle class locality like his, studies were and are given prime importance as the only sure way to worldly success. How could a sharp intellect like 1008’s accept such a definite and strong challenge to reality as he saw it?

Electric power cuts were and are very common, frequent and long in Kasi. Back then, in the inverter and generatorless sultry summer nights, the whole muhalla used to rush to the terraces with or without the ubiquitous, pre-plastic, palm leaf hand fans. Summer in Kasi with no fans can only be dreaded from a distance. Those who have to experience it can only hate it, and in their later life will remember it with horror on every mention of Kasi. By “those”, I mean those who have options other than to live in Kasi. Others, who have to live with the full realisation of their permanent relationship with electric power cuts, stop pretending being angry with their helplessness. There’s no prime time show that they get attached to, as they realise after a couple of missed episodes, attachment is the root of all sorrow. A time comes in their lives when they actually start expecting, waiting for and welcoming lampless and fanless nights because they have devised ways to escape.

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Adda was our way out. Night after summer night, we used to wait for the conditions to become favourable for our adda, and used to finish our work from school quickly to remove all possible obstacles from the path that went addawards. It was in our long and regular evening addas that 1008 told me so many things about his weltanschauung. It was in my post How to Win Friends days that this particular conversation happened. I was ready to do a lot of listening instead of doing a lot of speaking. So, while talking about the world and success in it, 1008 launched on to a very memorable line of thought. He talked about the generation that taught us values, and started by posing a question: “What’s right and what’s not?” No, he was not looking for an answer. Least of all, from me.

He had posed a rhetorical question that preceded a pause – short and tense – after which he answered: “Difficult to tell one from the other. Our elders have always taught us to tell the truth, be honest and good, respect the law and so on.”  I had no idea where he was going with all this. It was strange, to say the least, hearing such serious stuff at such a place and time. He went on: “You see, Sanaru Sardar and his ilk are fluorishing day by day. And look at the way they are doing it! He has a lot of black money that he has made through his shady dealings. The same is true about our ward representative and his nephews: all grown rich in a short span of time, usurping properties and muscling their way ahead through the corridors of politics. They are all rich people now, without wasting any time on studies or on middle class cliches like honesty and hard (his facial expression made me feel he wanted to say: stupid) work”.

Finally some sort of meaningful pattern started to emerge before my eyes. You see, our friend 1008 was neither interested nor good in studies. He was in the same school where I had studied; where his other elder brothers had studied. The name is not as important as the fact that the monthly fee of the school was less than ten rupees even in the early nineties of the last century. There’s no point in hiding the name of the school either. He was a student of a neighbourhood school right in front of C. M. Anglo-Bengali Primary School at Pandey Haweli. The books used to be very low priced too, U. P. Board ensured that.

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