Beete huey din.. wapas nahi aate
I am due to arrive in Varanasi in just half and hour; I know, because I can see DLW from my train window. My train, superfast as it is; still stops in Maduwadi. It is a scheduled stop and I curse myself for not having anticipated this. A drive from here to campus would have been so much shorter.
But, I have reception at the Varanasi main station– and it is too late to change the arrangements. And, who knows? Perhaps, the station would bring memories flooding back. As it happened, it did. Not the station; it remains as chaotic and as crowded as ever. But, the drive from the station to the campus was worth every additional minute spent.
This is the first time ever that I have been driven across this maddening city in an air-conditioned SUV; to get into the spirit of things, I consider getting in a shared auto- but, schedules beckon. I content myself in drinking in the sights from the windows. And, surprisingly (or not), I recognize the city as if I never left it.
The first big jolt is when the car enters Lanka, just near Pahelwan and I am first re-assured that tales of Pahelwan’s demise are premature. But, beyond that, and till the BHU gate, the Lanka of our time has changed.
The shell of La-Bela exists, the faded and peeling signboard the only remnant of what was once the weekly haunt of many years ago. I idly wonder, what would be the price of a plate of American chop-suey today, if it opened for business again. Mayank, my guide can’t help; La-Bela closed down before his time. I left this place, much before he was even born. There are huge multi-storyed residential complexes on both sides of Lanka road. I leave all this behind and enter the gate; asking the driver to slow down as I click. Camera on the ready, I am itching to click the Women’s College and the Hostel next- my grey hair/ lack of hair hopefully an insurance against the perceived “letch”. Then, somehow, the finger refuses to obey and the car turns right on the hostel road.
I protest. I ask the driver that he should go via the Mandir road instead. He relents; drives past the VC lodge and turns left to catch the Mandir road. A drive past Min-Met, then the Chhatra Sangh, the Library and the Mandir. And suddenly, I am home. After 25 years. The enormous campus with its sheer number of departmens, workshops, signboards- did it seem quite so imposing when we were here? Did we realise how lucky we were when we were here?
But, who are those that I see? Girls? And, so many? Having chai and samose at Limbdi cafe. On bicycles and scooters heading to the institute. Were we born too early? The car turns right, leaving EcE department to the left and behind and proceeds towards the De corner (no, I shall never call it the Limbdi corner) and drive between the De and Limbdi Hostels a short distance to the IT guest house.
In half an hour, I am at the G-11.
Twenty nine years back, on a bench about 20 rows deep from the podium I sat next to a boy I had never met before; both busy filling up our registration forms. He had probably finished a little earlier and wanted to strike up a conversation. He asked, “what are you doing?” by way of a conversation starter and I snapped at him, irritated at being interrupted.It took us more than a semester to break the ice from then on. But, we were twin souls after that. And, if he was not there, with his class notes, last minute “crashers” and with his loud laughter and wide toothy smile, I would probably never have left BHU with a degree.
The audio fails and I want the audience to join me in a chant of “Auuu-diii-ooo”; but, this is a gentler generation- more polite than ours. The benches have been replaced by bucket seats- so, no thumping to show your displeasure as well.
We have lunch at the TBIU; bang opposite the Ceramic department- and it’s more food than I can have- or should; but, I don’t refuse the gulab-jamun. I excuse myself after the lunch and walk out to take some pictures. The bank extension counter is now a full-fledged branch. The statue of Mahamana is still there in the Ceramic department entrance and the corridor in Chem is every bit as long as I remembered it to be. Next stop, the Swatantrata Bhavan. More work; some reviews. By the time we are done, it is almost 8pm and I am dead tired.
But, I have to go to the ghats. So, I walk out, refusing the offer of transport and set out to look for a cycle rick and walk to the Mandir. No cycle rick. I trudge all the way to the Chhatra Sangh and finally get a rick to the gate. Finally, a shared auto! To Godowlia.
What can I write about Godowlia that you have not experienced? It is still as mad, as chaotic and just as we had left it. I head to Mishrambu for the obligatory glass of Thandai (minus the weed) and get myself clicked. Then to the ghats. I walk to Dashashwamedh and when I get there, I am pretty much the only tourist. The boats are moored in the darkness. Some boatmen come in and want to strike a deal; but, I am not game. I just park myself on the wooden planks, suddenly wishing I was not wearing shoes but rubber slippers so that I could have taken them off for a feel of the stone steps. Lots of memories. Of boat rides, of watching the burning pyres in Manikarnika from the boats when a chance power failure had left the ghats in total darkness. I pull myself up; head to the Vishwanath Gali, enter and then exit through the Chowk side and walk down to Godowlia.
To those that still care, Kanhaiya Chitra Mandir still exists- it is now called Spice KCM. On the night I walked past, it was showing Tanu Weds Manu. From Godowlia I take a cycle rick back to Lanka; stop at Pahelwan and have a Laung-Lata. And then, since there was no wife watching, I have another. I promise Mr Pahelwan that I shall be back tomorrow.
Next morning, I am up early and after breakfast at the guest house, I head out on foot towards the Mandir. I locate Tyagi-ji and his lassi was just how I remembered it. I am glad I am walking around; the extra calories need to be worked off. After the Lassi, Tyagi-ji and me almost get into a fight- he does not want money and I insist on paying. So, finally I escape by promising I would be back in December. “With family?”, Tyagi-ji wants a promise.
The day passes in a blur; meetings, running from one venue to another and then many scheduled and unscheduled meetings with students. Finally, at 8pm, I am in a small car, driven by a student (fancy that!) and heading towards Bhelupura. I want to check out Kerala Cafe.
But, the Bhelupura of my time has changed; Kerala Cafe is now a small shop in a big multiplex of shops and I lose my appetite. I ask my host and his friend if they would care to eat somewhere else; anywhere.. I assure them and they take me to a nice AC vegetarian restaurant where we hog and hog and the bill is still less than Rs 350. I leave a generous tip and we head towards Pahelwan. Tonight, it would be Rabri and for good measure “sandwich sandesh”. Glad, wife is not along on this trip.
Back to the hostel, I tag along to see the hostel room in Vishwakarma and the 3rd yearites are double-seated. After the two beds, there is space for just one table and one chair. LAN cables run from room to room; I hear horror tales of staggered mess timings and class timings so that students can attend classes. The batch strength is now 1100 (up from 300 in our time). The Chem Department students of 2nd year are sitting on the floor and attending classes. Most rooms I peeped in had students immersed in their laptops.
Would they have friends like we did?
I remember the time I got ragged repeatedly by the then 4th Mechanical gang in Vishwakarma and I am almost sure the 3rd EcE now stays in the lobby what used to be 3rd Met in our time. I remember coming back to the 4th Mech lobby after the ragging time in search of a Thermodynamics book and one of the seniors, among the so called “vicious raggers”, took more than an hour off his time to hunt out a Ballaney.
Exam over, I went back to return the book, only to be gently chided, “Did I ask you to return this? Keep it and for your juniors. Remember the honour system, never sell this”.
Do they have seniors like this anymore?
It is time to head back to the Guest House. I walk back; accompanied by my hosts of the evening and on an impulse I decide to check out Mochu’s shop. The gate has closed; it is past 10 pm. The university admin does not want the students to venture out at night. And Mochu is closed too. We are challenged by a the security guards sitting near the gate; and I decide to go ahead and chat with them. Chat over, I head back to the guest house and fall into a dreamless sleep.
Up early next morning, I walk out and head towards Mochu’s again. Exit the small gate behind De, walk along the cobbled pathway along the walls. It is already busy with traffic. I reach Mochu’s.
The bhatti is gone; a gas stove has taken its place and no raised platform where Mochu was lord. There is now a small dark room where students still gather as in days gone by; tucking into plates of maggi and drinking coffee and smoking.
I introduce myself to Mochu’s son and ask for a coffee; the coffee is in disposable plastic cup but, still strong and sweet. I chat with him. A customer sitting alongside pipes up; “Google ke CEO bhi yahan aaye the”. Really? You mean Nikesh Arora? Yes! “Soona hai, unko 500 crores ka package hai?” I confess I do not know. Mochu’s son puts it all in perspective. “Kya pharak padta hai? Woh yaad karke aaye the, itna hi kaafi hai”. Did you meet him? No, he shakes his head. The shop was closed that day. But, “aakhbar mein is dukaan ka naam chhap giya tha”- the day after.
I offer to pay and am refused. Mochu had told him not to. “Jinke naam pe itna kuch hai, mere babu-ji; unko main kya jawab doon?” Suddenly, after 2 days on campus, I feel tears coming in my eyes. In an effort to shrug off the awkwardness, I ask him to pose for a picture. He does, gravely. A strong young man; carrying forward a legacy.
On the way back, I drop into Visvesarayya Hostel- the sign inside the gate still reads “Go out and serve your country and countrymen”; I walk in, am challenged by the man at the gate and then he literally jumps up when he hears I lived here in 1986. I pat him and walk up the stairs. My room; where is my room?
The current inhabitant of 141 is pursuing an M.Tech and is single seated. He is happy to welcome me inside. The rooms all have the names of companies stenciled on them- presumably where the inhabitants have been placed. Clothes hang from the lines; the corridor is not as clean as what I remember as. The hostel has now added an additional floor. As I leave “Vish”, I am reminded of the day I left 25 years back; in uncontrolled tears which did not stop till the train had reached Aligarh. I left a big part of me behind in this campus.
Back to De corner; a stop at Limbdi Cafe for chai and samosa (Rs 5 for 2) and as I wait in from of De; remembering Bechan who is, alas no more- no one knows where is family is either- a cycle headed the other way suddenly takes a turn and screeches to a halt in front of me. It is Manoj, my Dhobi from 1982 onwards; for the 3 years I spent in De.
He looks the same as he did; but I am conscious that I do not. I ask him how he recognised me and his answer blows me off my feet. “Sir, hum log kapda pehchan jaate hain; aadmi nahin pehchanenge?” We chat, pose for photographs; he asks for my card.
My host Prakhar is arranging for a car to drop me to Swatantrata Bhavan. Finally he gets impatient, asks me to get behind him on his motorcycle and carries my suitcase on his lap as he rides with me to SB. Salud! Still a few engagements to geth through.
It is time to head back to the station. As the car picks me from SB and drives across the campus, past the King’s pavilion for one last time, he sees my face in the rear-view mirror and gently tells me: “Sir, beete huey din, wapaas nahin aate”- memories are sweet. Let them remain.
We are in a hurry and the driver takes a route I have never taken before; through DLW, in front of St John’s school, across the “level crossing” and over a newly constructed flyover.
Goodbye! Fare thee well. My campus, my city.