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Varanasi offers many other delights to be savoured, apart from politics

Banarasis stayed unruffled and courteous, always willing to be a ready guide to their timeless city and its age-old history.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 12, 2014, 09.34 AM IST
Banarasis stayed unruffled and courteous, always willing to be a ready guide to their timeless city and its age-old history.
Banarasis stayed unruffled and courteous, always willing to be a ready guide to their timeless city and its age-old history.
Campus Compass

Now that the campaign for Banaras is over, many places, where chaos reigned as restive workers of rival parties traded insults and punches, have gone quiet. At Lanka, the main battleground, everyone must be feeling relieved after the incessant cacophony and unceasing clamour around the black statue of Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of BHU.

But even when the nasty campaign was at its zenith, one place that promised serenity and calm was the salubrious and capacious BHU campus, which is full of open, green spaces in a city, horribly congested and dirty, that is a chronic asthmatic’s nightmare. For those who have spent time in the campus, nostalgia comes easily.

The large grounds on which they played cricket, the tree-shaded roads on which they once went gallivanting to the now-irrevelant post office, the central library that is a book lover’s delight, the gun-andgore history of rivalries between hostels, the sooty, slightly faded facades of houses in which they stayed, the ramshackle shops that sold and still sell samosas and pakoras and many other old and frayed memories that come, floodlike , to the campaign-fatigued brain.

This explains why Banaras has always been a hallowed centre of learning. After all, a city where reminiscence doesn’t come easily can’t be considered beneficial for intellectual pursuits. Ghats—and the campus—are two places where nostalgia easily flows, unencumbered by the deplorable quarrels of a campaign-infested life.

Lassi & Launglata

As high-powered netas jet around in their eight-seaters stored with cheese/chicken sandwiches and their favourite snacks and desserts, those following them on the ground sometime have to unwittingly play hunger games. From office to office, from rally to rally, from road show to road show, lunches and dinners are the first easy casualty of the grinding, heat-swamped schedule.

In lassi and launglata, Banaras offers two powerful antidotes to a food-deprived stomach. Topped with dollops of cream and rabdi, Banarasi lassi is a great restorative and then, if the hunger pangs continue, a launglata dripping, monsoon-like , withchashni (sugary syrup).

Of course, for those who believe in gym-toned bodies and have rampant cholesterolic fears always eating their souls, these two are not good suggestions. They should, like our netas, carry their tiffins and canteens with them.

Patience Personified

Banarasi patience should be extolled more than its worldfamous , Bollywood-romanticised paan. Even in the red-hot heat of elections and during days that constantly remind you of everrising mercury, Banarasis stay calm, their placidity matched by the silvery, shimmering river that flows tranquilly past the many ghats of the city.

An auto ride can become an invigorating talk of history, a lazy walk through the constricted streets can load your senses with reams of data, a quick cab journey can turn into a long yet exciting monologue on egregious corruption, a hasty snack can also sate your appetite for political gossip, a jaunty climb up the stone steps at the ancient ghats can give some edifying lessons in diversity.

Banaras stores many wonders and many Indian greats were either born or bred in the city. But what characterises the world’s oldest living city is the amazingly remarkable patience it displays when it is assaulted by elements that are not intrinsic to the city.

Netas and activists of all hues and stripes were swarming the city, media, especially TV teams with their disk-topped vans and space-eating buses, became a moving noise-emanating and crowd-gathering circus , but Banarasis stayed unruffled and courteous, always willing to be a ready guide to their timeless city and its age-old history.

Booked in the City

For a city that has produced mystics and poets whose works are still alive centuries after they have passed, it is difficult to find books in Banaras that are contemporary. The usual small-town staple, Chetan Bhagat and his numerous clones, is available, but good, highbrow international literature is hard to come by.

But for one shop, at the ghats, whose owner is a hippie and pop mystic rolled into one and is hugely popular with the foreigners who make Banaras their second home for months and sometimes for years. For Indians, especially the snobbish, chip-onthe-shoulder intellectuals who come from the capital, he has a special disregard.

Some of them have refused to enter his shop because he doesn’t allow footwear inside; some have entered and seen their books on display and have behaved like errant children getting their first chocolates; some have just marvelled at the versatile collection the bookshop offers. Through the shop’s door, you can see the luminous Ganges in the burning sun as you swim steadily in the ocean of learning the bookshop, insulated from the baking heat outside, contains.

And you can’t but agree if the generally amiable owner shows unusual cantankerousness when Delhi intellectuals demand servile, footwear-allowing respect and fawners with genes of hotrodding paparazzi.

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