It was a warm morning, almost Spring. It was sunny and exhausting, the journey to our tiny hostel. We trudged through the narrow lane, up the stairs, found our space, and set ourselves.
This place needs some time to settle inside you. But that’s the beauty of Benares.
Ma would talk about going to Kashi from time to time. My head would nod sagely, hearing her declarations of suddenly discovered late-life piety. But she doesn’t know what this place is. She doesn’t know it the way I do, because she’s only dreamt of Kashi. Only thought of Kashi. Only wished for Kashi.
And I have been to Benares. Or Varanasi, if you want to be politically correct.
There’s no method here – the city is chaotic, disorganized, and a madness waiting to happen to you. The scene doesn’t impress at first – the narrow lanes often blocked by six different cars and bikes trying to cross at the same time, or the ritual of dodging errant cow dung on the streets, or the incessant chatter and voices everywhere – its strange how at first it would not make you feel welcome. In fact, you might be downright intimidated.
But slowly, it creeps in. It might not happen at all, mind you. It might be that you would be totally underwhelmed by the place. And when you return, you would be talking about this over-hyped little place you went to, filled with tourist traps and pretentious people who were trying to do a fake soul-search and getting high.
But then, it might just do what an old, slightly scratchy comforter does – it wraps itself around you, so that once you get used to the mild itch, you realize the warmth it provides, and suddenly, somewhere, in a tiny corner of your tired soul, Varanasi makes a little space and settles down, like the old uncle who comes to your house for a visit, and over cups of tea and hot samosas, tells you story after story which fascinates you to the point where you never want him to leave, because if he does, he takes the tales away, leaving you empty and wanting more.
And that’s what this place is to me. A city which you build inside your head and play out in your mind, just the way you like it to be, because it is all part of your private dream. This city grows in your head, engulfs your soul, and at times when you least expect it, suddenly makes you re-live the journey.