The Real Banaras

Ramu was nearly ten years junior to Bhaal, but that did not become an obstacle in his becoming a friend and the guide to Varanasi’s ghats, galis and culture. They were not equals back in the early sixties of the previous century. No Sir,  that was a time when caste divide went mostly unchallenged; a time when people assigned to the higher castes only could enter Baba Vishwanath’s temple.Ramu felt a natural pride in having acquired such a friend, and showed him off to the people of his muhalla for the first few days of their acquaintance. As they became friends he showed his friend the real Banaras.

Bhaal had taken only two circuits to understand the ghats and their relationship with the galis. He could also reach Baba Vishwanath’s temple without losing his way even once (Sankatha Maata’s temple was not so easy to reach), but he had failed to comprehend the roads and paths of Banaras Hindu University. He could ride his bicycle confidently only on the road that ran from the main gate to the central office, via the Central Library. He would lose his coordinates on any other road, even on the radial ones. His natural zone of comfort began and ended at the ghats and galis of Kasi. Somehow, and very strangely too, he felt at home there.



There was one more place where he felt at home – his uncle’s temple – or, to put it exactly, the temple where his uncle was the second assistant priest, although he had some ownership privileges. He used to go there, often with his uncle and sometimes alone. He would just sit there through the afternoon, on the afternoons too stifling and prohibitive to remain inside the house. One sun, at its maximum activity level, is enough for the earth. His house had one and a half. His mother’s ire was for her two sons, and that of the post-disillusionment Lopa was reserved for him only. His failure at the professional front had emasculated him in his wife’s eyes in a manner even he was not aware of.

They kept producing sons alright, but his wife would never allow him to claim the status of the man of the house. She had kept that status for her sole use, just like she had acquired his mother as her own. Kirti and Lopa made his staying inside the house impossible. He only went there to sleep. For his first eight months there he tried to emulate his uncle and went to give home tuition. After that, all the pretense at an honourable life was immersed in Gangaji along with the idols of Maa Durga.

Banaras became his home. He would spend his whole day, and few nights, on the ghats and at various places in the galis of Banaras. He stopped shaving his facial hair and started resembling the various sadhus, fakirs and madmen who roamed the streets and galis of the city. As he was a new face so it took his eighty two rounds around their locality to actually establish his identity and to choose between the three possibilities. He was finally awarded a semi-madman status: of a man who has not reached that state but is sure to turn into it some day soon.

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