The DAD with the DUDE at VARANASI

Our trip to Varanasi had a singular objective. It was all about bonding beyond the realms of a relationship as a father and son. The idea was to discover what is missing in our relationship and start working towards reinforcing the missing links, so that we evolve as matured adults in our respective roles in fortifying our relationship. The journey started on the 9th of June, 2016. By 5.00 pm in the evening, we had packed our bags and ready to start this interesting journey.

We reached Varanasi on the morning of 10th June, 2016 and checked into our hotel.

Our hotel was located at a quaintly named, Englishiya Line close to the cantonment and the railway junction. It has remained the way since the British left with their Raj, leaving no trace of anything British, off course! The hotel has a decent review across the digital portals of Trivago, Bookings and the TripAdvisor and was fairly living up to its reputation of a 4 star user review. The breakfast (buffet), morning newspaper, travel desk, prompt room service, laundry service (same say delivery) and a fantastic line of cooks for the north Indian cuisine. The only avoidable sight was that of a huge durwaan with his mustachioed salaams every now and then, curtly reminding of the bakshish that he was entitled to, at the time of our check-out!

Day 1 was supposed to be a relaxed one but we ended up planning a detailed city tour, not wanting to lose out on anything and everything that the city had to offer.

We went to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of the most revered jyotirlings. Despite the best attempts at fending off the vulture like eyes of the notorious religious escorts or the pundits, (as they want to be addressed to) we were caught off guard and had to accost a couple of them in reasoning out with a blatant lie, that we were familiar with the temple terrain. One of the more adventurous pundits actually came within a menacing proximity to establish his right to accompany us to the temple against a fee as he considered it to be well within his rights. My reaction was a spur of the moment, self righteous defensive act to whisk him off by confronting him in a chaste Hindi, which if detailed over here implied, “take a fly, I am a badass”!

I felt reassuring with what I did, as my son clasped my hands, comforting me.

The rituals at the temple were marked with an anticipated fleecing by the shopkeepers in their invite to lodge our cell phones, shoes, leather accessories and camera in their lockers and under their custody. The actual idea was to sell the offerings (prasaad) for the presiding deity and his consort. The gimmick of monetizing the fear for God yields a handsome return for all the middlemen who consider their appointment as a coercive medium; for the hapless devotees in their atonement for countless sins that they may not have even committed. The only hope being the promise of freeing oneself from the birth cycle or to attain nirvana that most of us would want to accomplish. After the rituals, we gave a miss to an iconic landmark, called the ‘Kachouri galli’ for the want of time as we moved towards the ghats.

The boat ride was something that I wanted to avoid but for the insisting eyes of my son, that implored for and wanted a Yes!  Looking at the receding water levels I let the brave man in me, scout for a boatman and there was a bevy of them while I singled out Manoj from the crowd. I had my hand on his shoulder and while negotiating with him on the boat ride fee, I was in for a pleasant surprise when he offered me the one hour cruise on the Ganga at 50% discount to what the others were asking. I caught the silent admiration in Anweshan’s (my son) eyes.

Your hand was on my shoulder while descending the stairs, I thought you were looking for support and then you addressed me with an ‘Aap’ and you still had your hands holding my shoulder, you made me feel human”. Manoj was helping us to get on the boat, extending his hands to help us walk over the rocks while talking to us, as I learnt from him that respect comes at the cost of discounting our personal bias.

It was such an incredible learning for the father and the son!

The one hour cruise on the Ganga was near normal as an experience as we had expected it to be. After having gone through so many travelogues, pictures and the blogs on Varanasi, the Google has tapered our expectation to a state of non ecstasy. We spent the time less on admiring the ghats and the chequered history behind them but more on Manoj and his life and the times. Manoj is a father to two daughters, both studying at school. He shifts his time and shuffles his occupation between the weaving of the famous Banarasi sarees and pulling the boat, earning around 15,000 to 20,000/- a month and peaking at the rush during the October to January season. His aspirations were as streamlined as the serenity of the flowing Ganga. It was difficult to notice any turmoil or upheavals at the surface but what became evidently visible was his impatience to break free of the shackles and the bondage of living each day, as it came.

We noticed a young boy creatively ingenious in carving a boat out of Thermacol sheets and selling ‘diyas’ to the tourists taking a pleasure ride in their boats.What an incredible way to make a living out of the deeply embedded fear that many of us have for our Gods!

On our return from the ghats, we noticed that the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) was the buzz word with ‘Mutralayas’ (urinals) and ‘Shauchalayas’ (toilets) adorning every possible nook and corner of the city. Although, the city did not come across as spanking clean, it was heartening to note that the local shopkeepers were putting up garbage bins in front of their shops and asking their patrons to discard the wastes in the bins.

Varanasi city has the greatness of being known as a city of temples, a sobriquet that comes from the vastness of appeal when it comes to faith. The Gyanvapi mosque, the St. Thomas Church, the Buddhist pagodas and the Jain temples adds to its religious flavour. It is a pilgrimage for the God fearing masses learning to accept and convert into God Loving souls. A beautiful example to promote the grandeur of Unity in Diversity that was further exhibited in the resplendence of the Sandhya Aarti at the Ghats in the evening with people from almost all faiths getting immersed in the trance of Vedic chants, amidst the serenity of the flowing Ganges.

Varanasi is a city to renounce the abject miseries of faith to learn the virtues of Belief!

Day 2 was the one we had planned to make the most out of the day. We were travelling to Sarnath and Rampur fort and the on our return, make a cursory trip the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and closing the day with some shopping for folks back at home. The drive took us across the heart of the city and we were making silent notes of the dugout roads, imposing concrete layouts for the flyovers, the Momo shops, the Biriyani joints, the on-shop thanda (cold) beer outlets, the shopping malls, dozens of tolerant mannequins braving the heat and dust in front of the showrooms, the upcoming gated communities and the striking bill boards which were announcing the clout and the might of the tutorial (coaching) classes churning out IIT graduates and Doctors with the alacrity of a Robot giving finishing touches in the assembly line of a factory!

Varanasi is bursting at its seam. I could relate to the compulsive and aggrieved eagerness of the city, to prove a point. The city wants to breathe free off its fictional status, a stereotype subscribed to its mythical roots. The KFC, Pantaloons, Westside, Adidas, and Dell were shouting aloud to find an identity for Varanasi beyond the ghats and the kachouri galli. Even the new generation pehalwans, we were told, were joining the gyms and trying out the protein supplements.

Driving in the city of Varanasi requires no less of an acrobatic skill. I had heard of the bulls blocking the movement but now, the fancy electric carriages are the new age bulls, to add to the enterprise value of OLA. Imagine an alley converted to a road with concrete dividers paving the one way rule. SUVs, MUVs, hatchbacks, sedans, rickshaws, autos, two wheelers and the e- autos plying and vying for their share of the pie, on the roads! Our driver Kamlesh had a word of wisdom to offer. “If you are a bhaiyaji, a bahubali or the Ruling party's sycophant flaunting the flag in your Scorpio, you are first among equals!”

After a near comfortable ride to the Sarnath ruins and the Museum, admiring the ASI's (Archaeological Survey of India) work on excavation and restoration over the years, to help us educate about our past, we drove to the Rampur fort. We had lipsmaking chaats and lassi as our lunch for the day and then drove to the BHU. A campus that came as a clear departure from the hustle and bustle of the city, with imposing buildings as academic wings, hostels with the young students engrossed in their interpretation of a tomorrow. We came back to the hotel and after the siesta, went ahead with our shopping.

I actually, found a new reason to take myself seriously. People around were addressing me as 'sethji' and I found it very convenient to wield the new found authority crossing the roads or being offered privileges, be at the temple or at the ghats! The feeling was short lived as my son pointed to my protruding belly and a sharp near perfect Hindi diction to be the real reason behind the new found fame! After a series of technical glitches that prevented the usage of the credit card at various shops, that were sporting the Visa and Master card stickers, we settled for cash transaction to conclude our shopping for sarees, sweet meats and some artifacts. On our way out, came across this episode when a wealthy Bhaiyaji with his family was coming out of a shopping mall. The driver was late to arrive from the parking to pick up his Sahib.

"Mare tere gariya mein, dui laath (invoking his mother), muh se khoon bhakbhak phenkey marey, baap bole, beta paan chabake marr gaya"!
(Will kick your bum and you will die, spilling blood on the road. And your father will keep lamenting, my son died, chewing beetle leaf). Bhaiyaji Ishtyle!

Day 3 was the last day that was meant to recount our travel and its objective. We, the father and the son duo spoke to each other, mentioning our discoveries during the trip. My son had three distinct expectations out of the trip. We love each other but we need to give more time to the relationship by appreciating the fact that he is no longer a toddler to be directed what is next. We must be sensitive to his need for a space and privacy which must be respected and trips of such nature must be repeated once every six months. And, lastly we must help him grow up by allowing him to take decisions.

The Dad and the Dude came back home, looking at each other appreciatively much to the delight of the Dude’s mother who had an elaborate dinner spread out for them at 11.00 pm in the night!


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