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STREETS OF BANARAS FROM EYES OF A 7-YEAR-OLD GIRL

Apurva Singh

All tired of work, I returned to my flat, tied my hair into a bun, made myself a coffee, and sat in the balcony after changing. Man, it was a hectic day!! I left my phone in the bedroom purposely so that I don’t have to attend anyone and I can gaze stars all by myself for a while. For a moment I looked from the 22nd floor of my building that Bangalore is so beautiful and so lavish but a girl like me from a city like Banaras, it will always be a strange place.
I lived near Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Lanka precisely. I remember gazing stars and waving byes to airplanes now and then from my terrace. There used to be a frequent power cut so it was very normal for us to have candlelight dinner, star gazing and sleeping on the terrace and running down the stairs half asleep if it rained in the middle of the night. You know what the best part of Banaras was; there were three best parts actually – Ganges Ghat, Banaras streets, and golgappas near BHU!!!

Just a thought of it made my mouth watery and brought a big wide smile on my
face. I was born in Banaras in 1996 and homeschooled there till 2004. I had to be sent to school at some point so I did. My grandpa was the person responsible for my love for Banaras streets. You just get up in the morning of your grandma (Naniji) melodiously singing prayers, brush your teeth, freshen up, put on a beautiful frock and go out with your grandpa (Nanaji) to buy veggies every single day. We used to walk around a little and I was bribed into samosas and pretty pink hairclips for keeping it a secret that Nanaji ate one too.
I wonder how people who lived on streets survived. Life was one day at a time for those people. They juggled, performed stunts, sang songs, mimicked just to earn enough pennies to get through the day or save some for emergencies. I saw other girls in my neighborhood waiting for the school bus and here I was roaming around with my nanaji. Life was so simpler back then when all we had to do was to go to school. I had tried every golgappa vendor near BHU and I was such an honest customer I never ate golgappas anywhere else! They knew me too and made sure that I ate well before paying them with money. This particular vendor, he always smiled and said “study well and go to the moon and take your family with you too!” There was a temple on the roadside and every morning I saw a lady who walked barefoot to that temple and then fed the stray dogs nearby. Later I came to know she lived on the streets too.

A snake-charmer was always to be seen here or there in that area. I wonder if the snake he had was real or not! Then came the traffic on the road and oh it was hilarious. Bullock carts, auto, tonga, people going to offices, students rushing out to get into campus while priests on their way to temples nearby. It was magic that so many activities were going on altogether that you blink and you miss a climax movie scene. Roadside salons were a thing back then and my nanaji went to one too. The barber there, he was such a good man that he gave up his shop and sat on the streets so that he can give haircuts to at least 5 people everyday without charge. You could hear trucks honking, few old people sitting under a banyan tree, and talking so seriously as if they had the entire country to handle. But it was amusing too because there was a tea shop nearby which was barely a shop but I bet no cappuccinos or Mocca of any famous brand can beat that taste. He served tea with samosas and jalebi all in just 10 rupees. Nanaji told me that tea vendor was a soldier in Kargil war and he used to sell tea because of his sole motto “chai ke sath baatein nahi vichar aur bhavnayein nikalti hain!!” (translation: You don’t just talk while having
tea but you express your emotions and views – it sounds better in Hindi!). There were balloon vendors and it was my sole responsibility to buy one heart shape
balloon every day from one of them. You could see religion was in temples nad
mosques nad church but on-street they were just Banrasis. Every other day you
could find kids dressed up as gods and they performed acts to make money for the day. It was beautiful for me on those days but now I think about how it tore their childhood apart. Their smiles were genuine when you gave them a lollipop or even candy. There was a music band shop where the whole band used to rehearse every day for wedding seasons. Kids were so brave that they flied kite even in the middle of the road unaware that it was inviting danger. Childhood knew no danger, no toxicity, and no selfishness either. It was pure love and in modern-day we call it “high on life”. Even women in the veil could be seen buying veggies from vendors and fighting over 2 rupees with them. Banaras is a place with a huge percentage of the foreign population. If you ignore the skin tone, they were so well adjusted in that place. Listening to Bollywood and folk songs to using slangs everywhere needed. I remember my ears were pierced on Assi ghat and that I had to walk barefoot from temple to that jewelry shop where he pierced it. It was more of a tradition back then and I wasn’t forced to do it but I did it out of my choice. Coming to festivals, I can say Banaras streets were more magnificent and crowded than your home full of relatives. People buying rangoli (colored powder to make patterns), diyas (earthen lamps), fire-crackers (I never liked them), sweets, and gold jewelry. I never bought jewellery but going out on street a week before Diwali and coming back with your slippers intact was a miracle. It used to be crowded and more dramatic than at any time of the year. Holi was always the festival of Banaras and you could see people playing Holi on streets and no one, absolutely no one was supposed to stop until you are out of breath from dancing. My mother used to cook good food and dry sweets especially for people on the streets. I with my nanaji would go and play Holi with them and their kids. There was no parameter of rich and poor when it came to the festival and help. We were just a bunch of kids throwing balloons full of water at everyone who crossed streets and after a few hours, it was almost impossible to recognize our faces. Festivals in those days were just a day where everyone met and hugged no matter if they had fought a day before. It was way beyond modern day politics and poisonous religious beliefs. It was something that I observed in my 7 years of life in Banaras. When we talk about incredible India, its those streets and those people we talk about who treated everyone with love and religion was never a boundary.

With a smile and growl in my stomach, I realized I missed Banaras more than I
thought I did. For people like me Banaras is much more than just a holy city, its an art, its an emotion. I came out of my memory book and went back to the kitchen wiping my tears off to cook food. I am sure Bangalore has its charms but Banaras has been in my heart and my heart stays in Banaras.


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