It was a long time ago, in some other time/place/life/existence of mine, when I used to have ample leisure time for rumination and plain stationary movement around the world. From around eleven in the morning till eight in the evening, I could be located with accuracy and predictability at various locii between Prabhu and Raja Ghats, lying at the curvilinear ghatscape of Kasi. Some of my favourite haunts are in the images below.
What would I do there? Simply sit and let the mind roam freely wherever it wanted to. Time was not measured in hours back then: those were the days of the infancy of mobile telephone and I wasn’t a regular wearer of wrist watches. So, I’d simply sit at one locus for as long as I felt comfortable there. As my level of comfort depended (and depends) on the emptiness of the place, so, it plummeted rapidly with the entry of people on the scene. When I felt that the number of people present had crossed a certain threshold, I’d move to another spot.
The ghat nearest to my place in the galis was Karnatak State Ghat. Prabhu/Shivala/Chet Singh and Vijaynagram/Kedar/Chowki Ghats were at a very convenient proximity too. So, my normal range of movement was from Prabhu Ghat to Chowki Ghat. The cremation ghat (Harishchandra Ghat) is between Karnatak State and Lali Ghats. It’s special. No, it used to be special back then, because occasional passers-by, pilgrims and tourists used to avoid passing through that ghat. It’s not very inviting anyway, with its smell of burning human flesh and the sight of pyres and burning corpses. Sitting anywhere on the space available on the steps or benches on that ghat was simply out of question for them back then. My observation regarding the visitors and occupiers of space even on Harishchandra Ghat isn’t valid anymore.
So, I’d occupy my secluded spot upon a rusted railing, stone step or rotten wood bench and look at the slow flow of water, or of the people on the ghats: more at the water and less at the people, or vice-versa, depending on my mood of the day. After spending some time at a point, especially on crowded days, I’d move on, generally towards Dashashwamedh Ghat, and occasionally towards Assi Ghat. Why only occasionally towards Assi? Because, although interesting they are, neither the ghatscape nor the galis of that direction are as interesting and varied as that of the comparatively older quarters of the city.
Near Lali Ghat
In Banaras, the ras or the essence/extract of the spirit of the place is concentrated in the older quarters: as far as I have known and experienced. In fact, whatever they call as Banarsi is found either solely or in its most concentrated and purest form in the older part of the city that is close to the river and lies between Raj Ghat and Dashawamedh Ghat. It used to take me around fifteen to twenty minutes on feet from Karnatak State Ghat to either Assi or Dashashwamedh Ghat, and around fifty minutes to either the Fort at Ram Nagar (across the pontoon bridge) or to Raj Ghat.
Karnatak State Ghat
The steps of this ghat aren’t clean. How can they be, with cows, dogs and goats excreting regularly anywhere and any time they feel like it? People who sit on the steps don’t pay attention to the possible excretory history of the spot. They exist in the now-and-here kind of moment. The maximum they (can) do in the direction of cleaning before they sit is blowing hard so that dust/sand etc. is removed and then they sit.
Chet Singh Ghat
Not only did I use to sit on the steps of the ghats, I also used to lie down at two places: on the broad wooden at Kedar Ghat and on the niche under any of the arches by the entrance to the palace below. The bench at Kedar Ghat is only six to eight steps away from water, and the palace entrance is much higher than that. The closer it is to noon, the emptier the ghats are, especially one hour before and after that point of time. It was in that range of time that I remember having been to the ghats and having enjoyed long and nearly uninterrupted hours of solitude.
Palace Gates at Chet Singh Ghat
Having to do nothing, and just ruminating sans time constraints is a kind of bliss that those ignorant of it can’t understand. The leisure to (apparently) waste one’s leisure time is the purest of all the ways of its uses, and closest to the definition of the word. The pressure of producing results at the end of a process is a modern, post-industrialization/mechanization invention. Why is the result important? Can’t the process itself be put at the centre instead? I knew somebody once who used to do it every day, and he lived long and well enough to share his story: the story of his golden years, on this blog. Why leisure? Because the best element of the good old days and the element missing from his present leisure less life is pure, unrationed, uncontrolled and unadulterated leisure.
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