And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
It all began with the coincidence, or not, of one of the most famous places that serves choicest bread in the city of Varanasi, deep in the heartland of northern India, bearing a name that comes straight from the Bible. The owner Mr. Ashish Chakraborty, is a Hindu and an Indian, and the name of the bakery was given a long time ago and a Christian friend of his. I know of at least two more places in Varanasi that bake well but this bakery is in a league of its own.
Mr Chakraborty’s story is not very long and it’s unique only towards the end. His story is half-common, with an uncommon post-mid part. As the only, and the eldest, son of the family there was the responsibility of carrying on his illustrious father’s name over his shoulders. The beginning of his story, like that of many of his contemporaries and juniors in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is simple: one solid postgraduate degree from one of the best universities of India, i.e. Banaras hindu University, followed by a long and dry spell of preparation for competitive examinations for jobs in the public sector. He spent a golden fraction of his youth preparing for a job he could never get, and finally, decided to be self-employed. He started the New Bread of life Bakery and Restaurant (NBLBR) and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, he gives jobs to many.
How does one reach the New Bread of Life Bakery and Restaurant? Google Maps helps:
What’s the specialty of the bakery? They bake and sell the finest range of breads (remember the name!) and bakery products there. Take a look:
That’s not all. They serve meals: Indian, Chinese, Western and Continental, and are open from 11 AM to 10 PM.
Their platter has food that satisfies taste buds, and their range is wide. They serve vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, snacks and bakery items. Their prices are reasonable and ambiance just like home’s. The owner is almost always around and his smile a definite add-on to the welcoming embrace of this place.
Ganga Silk and Art Gallery is a sister establishment of the NBLBR. It’s in the same building as the bakery and specializes in unique silk and gift items that bear the scent of the soil of Varanasi.
My detailed knowledge of Mr. Cahkraborty’s life and work can be explained by the fact that he is my uncle. Wait. Did I say he is my uncle? Yes I did. “Ah! That explains why he’d write this post on him!”, say you. Well, not actually. Long before I decided to write about the bakery, it was praised and recommended by many independent players, with real customer reviews too:
Varanasi, the City of Lord Shiva, celebrates the days associated with the birth of Vishnu’s incarnations Ram and Krishna with love and devotion. [I’d love to to know whether Shiv Ratri is celebrated in such manner in Ayodhya and Mathura.] The first celebration (Ram Navami) comes in the month of Chaitra, and the second one (Krishna Janmashtami) in the month of Shravana of the Hindu Calendar. The main attraction of Sri Krishna Janmashtami celebrations, the one that leads to a visual spectacle, is the main theme of this post.
It’s said that Varanasi is on the trident of Lord Shiva. There are three hillock like ascents in the city and the one with the steepest gradient has its summit located at the place called Bans Phatak near Adi Vishweshwar Temple. It is for around two hundred metres on both sides of the summit that one may find hundreds of small, road side, temporary stalls that sell materials that go into the making of the spectacle of Janmashtami. They mushroom (and during monsoon!) just a day before the festival and vanish once the celebrations are over for the day. Although, the marks remain on the city for nearly a week. The distinguishing landmark of this place is the facade of Satyanarayan Temple (image below).
The stalls run from that temple downwards up to the Bans Phatak branch of the one great Varanasi traditional institution called Ksheer Sagar, and upwards nearly up to Chowk Crossing, near Chitra Cinema Hall that’s closed now (image below), and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (http://www.mlbd.com/).
Now, that I’ve fixed the central location in your mind, let’s look at the stalls, and also talk a little about what they sell and what is done with it then. Gods and goddesses wear clothes: rich, little, beautiful and colourful clothes. Lord Krishna likes yellow clothes, it’s said. The range of colours from which his devotees can choose start from blue, goes to green, yellow, orange and red and then to silver and golden. Small skirt like clothes with shining border are displayed all over the region.
Now, that our Lord has worn right kind of clothes, he must have the right throne to sit at. As our lord is a little child many a time, he is given a cradle instead of a throne. He is rocked in that cradle during worship. The cradles may be made of plastic, wood, mica covered with metal foil or various kind of plated metals. The place for the baby Krishna to lie upon is generally covered with velvet or some kind of soft cloth.
There are two very important elements of Janmashtami decorations in the images below. The gentleman wearing a newspaper hat is selling coloured saw dust (called burada) in sacks, the same thing in sacks and packets is what the lady in sari sells. What is done with the coloured sawdust? It stands variously as green grass, sand, black street, or multi-coloured floor of a palace or jail. The green grass is for cows to graze on, and Krishna to do raasleela with his gopikas, the sand is for wrestlers to practise on, the black streets coming from four directions and more come to meet at a strategic point where a traffic signal and a crossing are decorated. The palace and the jail are for Krishna’s parents. The second important thing is the black pumice like thing (called jhaama) in heaps extreme left. It is used to construct a temporary hill that’s taken as Mount Kailasa on which Lord Shiva lives, around it a steam engine may chug, dragging compartments behind.
The foundation of my love for this literally spectacular festival was laid in my childhood. In fact, I believe that’s the age when the foundation of love for all festivals are laid. Who has time to let the spirit of a festival enter their system and lead them and their subsequent actions by the rhythm of seasons? Shri Krishna Janmashtami, the festival that celebrates the birth of a god as child is celebrated most enthusiastically by children. The rituals and worship are for the elders of the family. Children decorate a room, or one corner of a room in house with clay, wooden and plastic toys.