Monday, September 10, 2007

Bangalore Via Banaras

My grandfather left his ancestral village in Eastern U.P. to pursue higher studies and a besotted life. He harbored the desire to do graduate from Queens College in Banaras, then Benares, which finally materialized. He went a step further and did his masters from the famed Allahabad University, also known as Cambridge of the East. He then worked with the government and private firms while achieving professional milestones. In that era Banaras and Allahabad were considered the most desired destinations for higher studies, with BHU( Banaras Hindu University) and Allahabad University leading the way in U.P. However the educational shift along with the professional shift carried on. My father , who did his medicine from the industrial town of Jamshedpur, joined a public company and moved all along the state, finally settling down in Delhi. And now it is time that I carry forward this tradition of ancestral wandering, in the search of life,love and so much more.

When I had woken up from my slumber, it was a whole new experience. I had mixed feelings for the past life and a half hearted anticipation for the future. I started to experience a whole new experience, which was an amalgamation of half cooked romance, zest for work, aimless search for something and dogged determination to fight against the circumstances. Days passed by, into weeks and then into months. Nothing seemed to happen, as the only thing constant was the struggle buttered with the thoughts of doing something I would love to do, which was to be found. The aimless digging of the mental dens and caves yielded nothing. In fact I was getting sucked into the black hole of debt, expenses, frustration and shameless display of calmness, declaring that everything is going as planned.

From nowhere the dead , roasted but flavorful coffee beans came to rescue. It showed me the path. I figured out with my friend S that it is this lifeless, badgered produce of nature, which has been calling us. I found out that I am going to do something with the coffee. The most logical thing is to start a cafe with a wide array of food and other beverages, other than the coffee. Bingo!! Behold, it was not easy again. However, with the new found direction, I could see the creation of a whole life out of nowhere , centered around the burnt beans(scientifically) , rising like a phoenix.
Today I am eagerly waiting to leave this city,which gave me so much of loathing , hate, abhorrence and love for nothing for so long. It is the same process of hatred and constant bickering that has made me love one thing in this world, more than anything else, that it is compelling enough to leave the city to conquer one and only frontier. S and I aim to start the first Specialty Coffee Cafe in this country. And what better place than Bangalore. It is in the hills surrounding Bangalore that coffee revolution was brewed and served around the country. I will get back to this later on.

B A N G A L O R E. Here we come. Though this does not make Banaras any less attractive . It is just that my journey is taking me to Bangalore Via Banaras, as explained above.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Banaras Varanasi Kaashi Shivnagri ....

Mark Twain called Benares older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

Off lately I had been posting too much of personal stuff here. It was due to a combination of my stupidity as well as some misunderstood emotions. Now I am back , to post about for what I had started this blog i.e. Banaras or Varanasi or Kashi or......
Why would a city have so many names? Are there others with various names as Banaras has? And the above three are the ones which are known to the world at large. There are numerous others which are in regular use in day to day conversation by the locals.
A friend of mine ,M,who is a travel writer describes it as the hippie land of our country. If the mythological stories are dug out and read, one could easily make out that Lord Shiva was the original hippie of the world, who went on to have a massive following in the subcontinent. I swear the hippies rule the world, and they would keep on ruling it. So, it seems very logical to term the city as the original hippie land of the world.
Banaras is the anglicised version of Varanasi which is claimed to be derived from two words; Varuna river which is a small river which meets the river Ganges near Rajghat, while Assi is the last in the series of ghats, which number between 150 and 175. The city being situated between these two landmarks is called Varanasi.
Kashi ...I still have to find out about its origins. However, if I take a wild guess, it must have something to do with the hair strands of Lord Shiva, hindi word for hair is Kesh. More on that later.
I once again, welcome you all to the world of Banaras/Varanasi/Kashi/Benares.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Let us Explore

If Banaras is capable of evoking multifarious emotions in the visitors, it is also capable of imparting the most important lessons of life. It displays life and its panorama with stark candidness, which is the truth in life and truth of life. All sorts of people flock to the city.

The seekers of peace, who had achieved every thing, but the trophy of peace which eluded them ,come to the city and roam the streets, knocking the doors to find it. If they could ever know that peace, happiness and stillness are like the dew drops , which forms when the atmospheric conditions are just right, and could not be seen being formed and then bought or dug out.

Another set of people who grace the city are the tourists, who had heard about an exotic fair , a melee which never comes to an end. It is like a staged play for them, where they see a cow flirting with them, and posing for the photographs, which would form the most authentic proof of their visit to the country. How could a tourist return without clicking the photograph of a cow?
Then they had been told about the central theater where the act portrays life from the ancient times.
The rising and the setting sun, which can be seen from the ghats , has never been tired , and so are the people performing rituals. Is it not fascinating that at one ghat there are people performing the rituals for a newly born baby, declaring him to be a Hindu as per thread ceremony, sanctified by the hymns and the purity of the priest ; and at the adjacent ghat mourners are performing the last rites of the dead.
Wow! this play has been running here incessantly and it has gained such popularity that the patrons have been coming from all the corners of the world to watch it in full splendor, with the firing Canons and flashing Yashikas.

Third set of people are the people who are the central characters who are in the lead and supporting roles. These are from the rural areas surrounding Banaras. They throng the city to avail the various facilities such as medicine, shopping, and combining it with the religious and spiritual pursuits. They are the spices and the colors gracing the city's play. Their suffering, longings and demands hold no importance to the visitors and the awe struck tourists. They get sprinkled by the holy water of richness and dazzling prosperity, and go back with the buried desires in the chest boxes, only to be opened at the next visit. They neither participate in the great Indian exotic play , nor do they visit to appreciate the great show.

Last and not the least are the inhabitants of the very city which has grown beyond any comparison and dimensions. The spectrum which holds these people is an amazing one, where you find the simplest pleasures in the most difficult times and most difficult lessons being taught by the simplest of the people in the easiest manner. People of Banaras, who are also called as Banarasis , are the uncrowned kings of Gossip. They can sacrifice anything and give up all their belongings , but not the most favorite pastime . It is just not an activity, where people meet and talk and move on.
It is a ritual in its own. It has the prerequisites starting from the beetle nut leaves stuffed with flavors and the tobacco, few rickety benches or a platform to squat, sweeter than the sweetest chai , a newspaper for reference and the shining armors of the war , the gossipers. For the inexperienced the statutory warning should be posted that the seriousness and the excitement of the gossip should not be taken at its face value, as it is mostly misleading.
One headline , the most unsuspecting one will evoke the emotions, and it would seem that the place would turn into the armless battlefield. The tempers would rise, the raises voices, animated faces and the endless sips from the tiny earthen cups to fuel the fire. If someone has been a party to this discussion , the discussions happening at the parliament would be pale in comparison.
Visitors might have seen everything but if they have not been to any such debate, they have missed out one original relic of the city , which had survived . Besides there is no animosity between the people when it comes to post debate atmosphere. They would return back to their bunkers tired, but not bitter. However while going back they would not forget to take back some street food, which in itself is an institution and deserves number of posts dedicated to it, as each vendor has a story to tell about the food and its patrons.

The life, the real banarasi life revolves around these people, behind the curtains of the stage called ghats. And the spectators are rarely given a peek inside. I would try to do that , as life in Banaras is beyond the typical Indian description of life, comprising of marriages, miracles, gods, awe inspiring personalities, etc etc.
let us explore.....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cafe as Microcosm of our Society.

While I sit here and leisurely sip my cup of latte, walks in a girl, with the obvious appearances of a poor girl. She stands scared, glancing in all the directions. In the meanwhile another boy walks in, with the confidence to execute a plan. He stays inside for a while and takes the stock of the situation. Suddenly he starts to walk outside, while picking up a purse of a lady. She realizes in the nick of the time and beckons the boy, who drops the bag and runs away, while his escort ambles following him. The staff springs into action and nabs the girl.

If I have missed, the boy should not be more than ten years of age and the girl seven. The girl blurts out about the gang involved in lifting the belongings. Now, the people around, discuss the incident for a while, describing the sharpness of the boy and the girl assisting him. After a while the gossiping returns back to its old rigmarole. The whole thing is lost in the discussion of the lawlessness and lack of everything.

Does the malaise lie there or deeper and further? It is very obvious that the girl and the boy are amongst the millions of the billion blue, who are only concerned about the world cup. These millions are not the spectators of the antics of the players on the field. They watch the daily dose of prosperity visible in the coffee houses, and the cars zooming past them, and the branded clothes brandished by the wearers, and the plethora of the things visible.

Is to snatch some of it to experience and give in to the desires, and commit what the boy did, should be taken as a failure of the law or is it the failure of the society which has made it a habit to amass much more than it requires? I fail to find the answer. I am the culprit and I am the criminal, as I am part of the process and I perpetuate it further and stronger. I am so sad and sorry, as I know that I will not stop it here, and I will move on and continue. Nobody cares and so do I .

Never did I have seen a mirror so clear, showing me the truest picture of me and the millions of the blue billion. The faces of the hurried boy and the scared girl fail to go away, as they badger me with their looks in their eyes of blame and questions unanswered. I do not have any answers, other than that I start the venture, which I had dreamt about and help the girls and the boys of the immediate community, who do not have to snatch and who have a friend in our venture . Hey innocents, I am with you and I know that it is not you who are responsible,it is us.

Take care.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Banaras -An Enigma.

India is vast country, not by the land mass, but by the ocean of humanity, which explodes into countless cultures, traditions, customs and colours. It is not mere a statistic of a billion , but it's an energy latent, which flows in all the directions, with all its surreal razzmatazz . The composite culture of India is an unique example of how humans believing in different things coexist and celibrate the existence, with thousands festivals . All the thoughts which flew on the crest of ocean waves and air , have assimilated into each other , blessing us with the blend of the finest human existence possible on the planet called earth.
One thing which will always attract people , pilgrims and travelers to Banaras , is its unique quality of isolation. One can find oneself in complete isolation, in the midst of crowd, as if the crowd in itself , is insulating the individual from the crowd. Yes, the city will make you stand at a plateau and make you watch the humdrum of the city from far off Rajghat, which is one of the oldest Ghats. It is from here that you can find Mother Ganges turning into Sage Ganga, with the serenity in its bosom and peace in its stride towards its next frontier. Ah! It has many colors. Folklore says that the famous Shehnai Player, Late Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahab denied the offer to migrate to various countries, for the sole reason that he would not be near to his river Ganga Mayia(Mother).
Banaras is in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which had been bypassed by the modern development sweeping the nation. Infrastructure is failing and so is its law and order. The very river which makes it a holy city, for its northwards flow in Varanasi, has come to a state where it carries sewage and not the self purifying water from the Himalayas. Any other amenity which might make the life and journey comfortable of a resident or tourist is missing. It is a pity that there has been no change and several half hearted efforts, unworthy of any mention. And the list goes on. Despite of all the shortcomings it attracts people in hoards. It is thronged by the visitors from the Southern India , Northern, Eastern and the Western. It is a must see or rather must feel destination for many of the foreign tourists.
So, when you are soaking up in the mele of the ocean of humanity, merging into the galaxy of spirituality with the cries of prayers and the sighs of awe and wonder, you are , that very moment, connected with the ancient , present and the future, eternity in short. Eternity escorts and the man jumps out of the boat of time and space and is lost in the lap of beyond. Is there any such place? Those who feel the undercurrent stick it out instead of getting repelled by the muck and dirt around. Though that is not a justification of the situation.
Therefore it is an enigma, a mystery and a puzzle, yet to be solved and understood. Till the time it intrigues and perplexes the minds , it might attract.
Let us find out.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Life Lives or Leaves.

Sadness has a weight of its own. It has the pull of a black hole, sucking the whole being into it. It holds you, shrugs you, sways you, churns you and then when you are silent, it presses you down. The sadness about nothing is the saddest of all. Sadness about a tangible thing is plain absence of aspirational longings. What do you do with the sadness, which has no shape, measure, dimension, spectrum or cause? It has only got the effect, with the sullen, gloomy trap. However, it is the sadness which feels the being or vice a versa. It is in sadness, when one weighs oneself. It is sadness which teaches you to count the beauty of your own breath. Oh sadness! I am happy that I am sad but I have no other option, other than to run away from you. I have longings, which would never be fulfilled. I have thoughts and plans which will die without taking any shape. I have desires which will remain buried in the corners of my heart. I have visions which will have no eyes to see their own existence. When I have nothing and have lost the hopes, I will be left with the reservoir of sadness, never getting a release.
What happens next? I do not know. Those who know the answer will not tell, and those who tell , will never be right. I am sinking under the weight of sadness. And then there are remembrances of my stay in Banaras, when I have watched Ganga/Ganges flow with the serenity of a sage or seer, standing at Rajghat or the stillness of Pepul tree at its banks, assuring the goodness of life or kachauris/fried Indian pancakes, being polished off by the engrossed inhabitants of Banaras or a weaver weaving the famous Banarasi sarees lost in his own rhythm. I fail to compare and comprehend. Yes, life and the way I see it and feel it is a paradox and mystery for me.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Banaras- The Bana(Prepared) Ras(Juice)

Ustad Bismillah passed away two months ago. Though this is an ill timed obituary, I do not feel ashamed to remember him when I feel the same for his beloved and chosen place of residence. he was born in Dumraon, Bihar, near Buxar(famous for the Battle of Buxar). He had moved to Banaras as a young boy, who imbibed the teachings of music from his maternal uncle , at the doorsteps of Kashi Vishvanath Temple. He did not only learn music but the essence of it, which transcends religions, boundaries and communes. When he played, he played for the million Hindu gods and goddesses and for Allah and for Jesus and the gods to be discovered in the lap of time futuristic. He played his Shehnai and made it an instrument of solidarity with the humanity. Ustad saab showed to the world that to live a peaceful life one dos not need an intellect or an elite education , but a simple heart which feels the joys and pains of fellow human beings. His greatness was in his generous simplicity. I had the privilege to listen to him twice , where he accentuated the meaning of Banaras, that is prepared juice of life, for which one dos not need to hunt , when living in Banaras. How true he was?
Let the elixir of life called Banaras intoxicate me.....