The street-river falls from its origin at the central plateau of Kasi: the Gyaan Vaapi-Adi Vishweshwar Axis. Its wetness, and the relative emptiness, can be attributed to a heavy rainfall (I’m not sure, as I was not there). The street that appears to be ending at some point near the perspectival centre of the image actually does not. It turns and goes on and down to Chowk. I had become a regular traverser, not stroller mind it, of this street when I joined Anand Sir/Uncle’s Coaching Classes. Later, I got my bicycle and started riding to and from my coaching.
Riding bicycle up and down the Bansphatak slope during the peak traffic hours is an experience that can’t be compared to anything else. It’s a very steep slope for the last hundred metres of the ascent. When it is empty, it’s possible to keep the momentum of one’s bicycle within the comfortably rideable limits. The moment the factor of a choked artery is added to the problem, maintaining momentum becomes impossible. Rather, not becoming stationary becomes very difficult. From the left hand corner of the street to the centre line of the street, the whole space is occupied by vehicles of miscellaneous kind in the three dimensions.
There’s no way to navigate through it. One has to enter the very narrow zone of the centre line and then to try to overtake others who are trying to overtake everybody else. I remember my right middle finger colliding with the handle of another bicycle coming down the slope and blood coming out in the slow motion. Going down the slope is a different kind of experience. Here momentum brings risk, and the need to have good brakes that can be trusted. And they must be tested too, for it is no slope for the weak braked.
It was on this very slope that I had discovered a treasure, an ocean of a treasure in fact, from which I could carry only a few drops home. I had kept my personal treasure carefully and safely in a place of hounor; the place where I used to keep my comic books. I hadn’t the wisdom of loss. So, in the future that I used to visualize then, I used to see my treasure with the person who belonged to it: me.
Look at the boy in the image above. I must have been the same age too at the time of discovering my treasure. I don’t know whether he had gone to the stall for actually buying the toys (yes, no figurines or idols, the word used for them all is “toys”) but I am quite sure that he was not bored in spending his time looking at them. And what a visual treat lies before his eyes: Raas Leela, Naag Nathaiya, Traffic Control, Vasudev crossing Yamuna, Pootna, Wrestlers in two skin colours, Policemen in two kinds of uniforms, Dahi Bade Wallah, deer, elephant, Snake Charmer and a rider on his horse. I had them all and some more in my treasure.
I had my treasure at its usual place for around fifteen years. After I had left my old times, house, and treasure, back in Varanasi they all remained as they were for around three years. Then I got the news of someone’s removing all my Janamashtami decoration stuff from my house. It was probably thrown out. After all, what value could toys of clay have for the practical sort? It was simply occupying valuable space in the almirah: a space that could be used to store more practically useful things.
The pain that I feel whenever I think of my lost treasure is more physical than emotional. The worst part of the loss is that I could never reach my city and the slope of Bansphatak during those couple of days leading to Janamashtami, the days on which the toys stalls appear there, even after my wanting it so strongly, my yearning for it, for nine years now. I have more money in comparison to what I used to have back then, but whatever money I have can’t buy me the pleasure of buying those small things for the small drops of happiness they use d to bring with them.
They don’t have any official holiday for this very important festival. This festival, that we used to celebrate with so much of gusto (here “we” means the people of Kasi) is not celebrated in the modern world any more it seems. Or, probably, big cities tend to homogenize and de-identify people, damage their sense of continuity with the past life of theirs to such an extent that they become something poor and strange in comparison.
(All the photos: Dr. A. P. Singh)
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