Flooded Memoirs Of My Small Town

Edited by: Aditi Jain

 

I finally managed to make it back to my hometown after four months. Having lived in five different cities, the strange longing to return to my hometown was odd because I have never felt such a strong urge to revisit a city once I’ve left it behind. My hometown, Varanasi, is said to be one of the oldest cities of the world. As Mark Twain puts it, "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together". Every year thousands of pilgrims make their way into Shiva ki Nagri, Kashi, looking for peace, especially nirvana of some form. Living in South Delhi is fancy and having your home just two hours away from university is convenient, but the second I landed there, I felt a kind of comfort and warmth which had been alien to me, until that moment. The sun was shining pleasantly and the air smelled of winter and festivity. From the airport to the place I was staying, we crossed about 13 jhankis of goddess Durga; the colors were bright and borderline tacky for my taste. Despite this, I felt right at home, amidst all the tacky shades of lights and loud bhojpuri and hindi songs. The traffic I despised every time I left home somehow didn’t annoy me anymore. Believe me, I am not romanticizing my experience, but I felt like I had reached my destination the moment I landed. The distance to be covered from the airport to my abode no longer mattered because, in my head, google maps had already announced, “your destination is on the left/right”. To some extent, I do believe it was the nostalgia and months of longing for this homely feeling when everything that once annoyed me somehow seemed pleasing.

This city that I started calling my home was badly flooded, until a couple days before I arrived here. It was a mess in every sense, but I was relentlessly loving it for some unknown reason. I visited the Assi Ghats one day. My favorite bhel puri stall wasn’t there anymore because the water of the Ganges had climbed up the stairs that harbored the stall in its place. Every slightly-depressed area in the ground was filled with non-romantic remnants of stagnant monsoon water. Infested by mosquitoes and sometimes filled with small fish, the collected water gave me an icky feeling. That's not all. Driving on the roads felt no less than sitting on a broken pendulum. On the day of Dussehra, it took me 35 minutes to cover 100 meters of a perfectly fine road. The reason for the flooded roads was not water, but thousands of people who were pacing their way towards the biggest Ravan of the city. Compare this to the clean and posh roads of Lutyens’s Delhi and tell me, why anyone would want to miss such an inconvenience of high-degree? Is this some sort of improvised version of Stockholm Syndrome? Memories of this city kept me captive and now I find comfort in them. So, yes, I could probably explain it that way. For a moment, I asked myself if I was losing my mind, or if I had changed. 

My mind paced back 4 years ago when I first came to the city and how I thought it was inappropriate to even term it anything bigger than a small town. Earlier, every time people talked about the city’s innate peace, I wondered how anyone could find peace in such a chaotic mess. My head was flooded with memories of the rush I felt every time a holiday was near. The warmth of homecoming I felt from about 800 km away from here felt odd in the nearing cold season. The transition in the air was evident, though.

Life slowed down everywhere with the ascend of autumn but in Varanasi, it did a tad more. For a city which was used to living a slow and laid back lifestyle, transitioning weather almost felt like relaxation; for me, a break from the regular fast paced life of Delhi colleges. The mornings turned foggy and cold, but it made me feel warm and giddy in my stomach. Early morning boating was the paramount of hangouts. . The air is usually clear on the ghats in stark contrast to the opaque smog of the capital, nevertheless it permeates with the smell of fog infused with saffron gendas (of the holy offerings and the broken garlands), and the (in)famous cannabis being smoked by the  saintly-spiritual-babas (ironically!). The serenity in the early morning quiet of the river gets pleasantly disturbed by fluttering of the wings of Bar-headed geese, migrating all the way from Siberia to the city where people come looking for peace. Seven o' clock in the morning would expose us to serene, mellow, and muted spiritual music emitting out of Subah-e-Banaras. Although, when I went there today, Subah-e-Banaras was mashed in wet mud deposited by the heightened Ganga. But did any degree of this messiness make me want it any less, especially now that I had seen the posh-ness of pristine Lodi Gardens? These memories kept me hooked and there’s no other place I’d rather look for peace, warmth and for the small-town charms.