The lanes and crossings of Varanasi, just like the ghats of Varanasi, provide ideal atmosphere for addas. Take, for example, the image below. It is at the heart of a place where the action of Kashi ka Assi, Kashi Nath Singh‘s celebrated novel, is set. It’s called Assi Crossing. Within the radius of two hundred metres from the tree to the extreme right there are addas that have entered legends now. Although evening is when the maximum crowd is found at the crossing and its addas, morning and afternoon are also busy there. Different kind of regulars pour in from all directions at different times and on different days, and they do mostly one thing: they converse. Topics of their conversations range from extremely personal to purely public, and from local to international.
Addas have these features in common: they arise out of the meeting of space, time and persons. The same set of persons, at the same place, comes to spend their time day after day, throughout the year, irrespective of changing seasons and inclement weather. In fact, the real test of a regular goer (read addict) to addas is whether he was there at 48 degree Celsius, at 4 degrees below zero, and when the whole area resembled a flooded plane or not.
I remember Laddu Chacha, an old bachelor, my father’s acquaintance, a regular at a specific spot at a specific shop beside the famous Kedarnath Temple, and now, long after he is gone, I add here, my friend too. At around six he would emerge from the lane in which he had rented a floor of a house for his mother and himself. He would amble at a really leisurely pace thorough the length of the lane connecting his place to the coconut shop where his adda was, wishing all his old acquaintances among the passers by, and old friends among the shopkeepers and other idlers, with a loud Har Har Mahadev!
He occupied his seat that was a folded gunny sack covering a section of a stone chabutra and stayed there for nearly two hours. (That gunny sack can be seen in the image above. It’s at the right hand bottom, just above the thick stone slab that it partially covers). He just sat there and gave company to the very busy man who ran the shop. That man happened to be one of the three brothers, the sons of the original shop owner. (The eldest brother, Pappu Bhaiya now runs the shop. He can be seen in the image above). They talked about life, locality, city, country etc. until a customer arrived. If the customer was an acquaintance of Laddu Chahcha, then they talked as the owner of the shop went looking for the thing they wanted. If not, he’d simply sit quietly and wait patiently for the transaction to be over. For as long as I was there, I’d go to the Kedar Ghat Market almost every evening, and when I passed that shop between six and eight, I met Laddu Chacha there. I stopped as I passed his seat, stood and chatted with him before I went on my way towards Dashashwamedh Ghat. He was an honest and good man who spent his life set in a pattern and did not like making alterations. He worked for his employer, Banaras Hindu University, from ten to five and lived his life after that. He was a part-time but virtuoso idler, and a true Banarasi. There were and are many like him in the city.
Teas stalls and Paan (betel leaf) shops provide ideal spots for addas in the city. Take, for example the paan shop towards the right centre in the image above. It is the heart of idling, hence conversation, in the region. The conversation, and idling is something that’s done by the regulars. In fact, it takes time and many appearances before one can start contributing to the discourse.