Varanasi Tales - Seeking Peace In The Chaos

6:52 PM Naina Madan 2 Comments

It is quite an irony that one goes to Varanasi or Banaras to look for peace when the city is anything but that.

The narrow bylanes, the busy ghats, the quest to find an original Banarasi saree, the coexistence of chaat and cafes, the boat ride on a calm Ganges early morning and most importantly, the celebration of life and death, everything that Varanasi is, it is anything but calm and yet, there is an odd sense of belonging that one feels there amidst it all.

A typical day for a visitor starts well before the dawn breaks. As you wade your way through the city roads and streets to reach the ghat to board a boat, you look around. Even in deep sleep, the city has a distinct vibe.

There are newspaper vendors sorting the stacks on the corner of the streets, there are chai stalls setting up their shops to feed the city, there are a couple of autos and taxis crossing you by, with more tourists who have just arrived in the city and then there are cows and dogs to keep you company on the walk to the boat.

Through the day, there are crowded markets like Thatheri Bazar, Godoulia, Chowk and Dashashwamedh Gali with shops of Banarasi sarees,old and popular sweet shops, the quintessential lassi and Banarasi paan stalls, fancy cafes and temples.

Once inside these bazaars, you will hardly be alone. There is not a moment of silence and yet you find quietude by soaking your eyes to this treat of colors and smells unfolding in front of you on every bend of the road.

The evening Ganga aarti brings with it another color of the city. For the first-time visitor, you must take a good (preferably front) seat in one of the many boats parked on the banks of the river to see this grand spectacle. In perfectly synchronized movements by the seven priests, the aarti is nothing short of a theatrical performance witnessed by a sea of crowd.

There will be hymns, the music, the chants, the flash of many cameras and you will find your own sweet spot, your comfort zone when you will be a part of that whole scene, that performance like a protagonist and yet, you will view it from afar and alone.

And the biggest, most striking contrast in the city fabric is that life and death coexist in a harmony. On your way to the ghats, or through the narrow lanes, or while on the the boat in the Ganga, you cannot miss the dead bodies being carried towards the Manikarna Ghat, also known as the burning ghat. For that moment you cannot help but take notice of how this city has the start and an end to the life and all that exists between. That feeling leaves you humbled.

Amidst all its chaos and madness, new and old, traditions and modernity, ghats and bazaars, there is no denying Varanasi will give you your ‘aha’ moment.

Been there? What was your moment?


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16 First Impressions Of Mumbai On A Delhi Girl

11:20 PM Naina Madan 3 Comments

Now if you came here wanting to read a juicy Delhi vs Mumbai piece, I am sorry to break it to you that this isn’t one of those. No, sir. In fact, let it be known once and for all that I absolutely love Mumbai. Yes, I am from Delhi and my heart beats for Delhi but my love for Mumbai is growing too.

I have been visiting Mumbai for some years now but let me tell you that visiting and staying in a city are two different things. I always liked coming here and wanted to stay and work here for a bit. And I am not complaining.

Now having been here for some months now, here’s how Mumbai looks to me, a Delhi girl.

1.  Everything ‘Chalega’
Usually said with nodding the head, in an affirmative, as a reply to anything that warrants you to say an ‘okay’ or ‘fine’. I asked a friend, ‘agar nahi chala to?’ and he said ‘to chalana padega’.
So my dear, chalega tumko??

2.  Samosa pav, you underdog!
Because big brother ‘vada pav’ is the unquestioned, reigning king of Mumbai street food! But one bite of samosa-pav, and I knew I had found my carby-soulmate.
Samosa? Yum. Pav? Say aye to the carb overdose. Chutney? Add some more! People, please tell me what’s not to like in this little bundle of joy?!

3.  Kanda, batata, pani puri, mach-mach, kich-kich
As much as your tongue twirls and twists saying these words, believe me they become a part of your life sooner than you realize. True story.
And yes, water tank is called ‘taanki’. I think it’s quite cute.

4.  Rickshaw ride at night, anyone?
Back in Delhi, last I would take an auto is around 10pm. After that it’s always cab. Look around the metro stations at night and that last mile distance to home seems a lot unsafe than travelling around the whole of Delhi.
But here? Last I have taken an auto (or rickshaw) is at 4am. And not even once felt uncomfortable doing it. And that’s big for me.

5.  Hello, why isn’t anyone staring at me??!!
Yes people, yes. Get over yourself. Nobody got time here to give you those long, judgmental glances, neither in trains nor on roads. The thing is you will realize the whole city is working against the clock, from running after locals to beating the traffic. There just is no time to look around and pass a comment. Believe me, it was so refreshing!

6.  Auto meter runs (and maybe faster) on a signal
And this can give a serious run to your heart beat. You just pray for clear roads and no signals. Well, almost.

7.  ‘You just wait for the monsoons’
I reached Mumbai in March and I am not sure how to put it, but heat of Mumbai was so much different and surprisingly unbearable. But everyone had a consistent reply. ‘Oh, just wait for the monsoons’.

8.  When it rains, it pours
When they taught us that Cherrapunji gets the most rainfall in India, I think they need to revisit it. Because here in Mumbai, it just never stops raining. And excuse me, there is no concept of drizzle. It just starts raining and then it’s pouring! And it pours all day long.

9.  Nothing stops because it's raining. NOTHING!
I remember I had to go on a date and I asked my Mumbai friend on should I change what I had planned to wear because it was raining. And she said, ‘no bro, rain is gonna be here. Don’t change your plans.’ Noted. Dates, interviews, random visits to town. Nothing stops here.

10.  Umbrellas, raincoats, shoes - the accessories of the season
You cannot survive a day in the Mumbai rains with your suede shoes and kolhapuri chappals. I have never been so thankful to my faithful pair of Crocs.

11.  Freedom forms the Mumbai fabric
I have always had that freedom when it comes to family. But there was always some holding back when it came to Delhi.
Mumbai gives that freedom, that space to grow and explore life which is just very liberating.

12.  There is always sea to go to
Everyone has their favorite – Marine Drive, Bandstand, Worli Seaface. My go-to spot is Marine Drive and sit there and think about what all is wrong with my life (not kidding). I love how sea is everyone’s go-to spot here. You cannot just miss it.

13.  Oh my coin purse is overflowing!
Auto driver goes by the meter and returns the loose change. Thank you sir!

14.  Please follow the queue, ma’am. Yes, ok.
Auto, bus, train ticket, there is a queue for everything and boy, people respect it here.

15.  Go ahead, ask for that XL size top in street markets
Back in Janpath, asking for anything my size has always been a trip to embarrassmentville. ‘Aapka size nahi milega’ is what I am used to hearing.
‘Haan madam, aapka size hai na’. That’s Colaba Causeway for you, my Delhi wale, plus-sized friends. And proud I shopped.

16. A city that never sleeps. First-hand experience.
And yes, at any point of time, there are people eating out or chilling by the sea or on a drive or selling chai. The day seamlessly makes way for the night and nothing changes on the roads of Mumbai.

Vikas Swarup has very beautifully captured the emotion I have for Mumbai:
‘Mumbai may not be my city. But it is my kind of city.’

Did I get those right, Mumbai people? The lovable first impressions? Do tell me!


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