Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Timeless Varanasi

One winter morning I was standing on the upper most steps at Dashashawmedh Ghat. This is a famous ghat on the Ganges River in Varanasi. The mild winter sun was very pleasant. The temple bells were ringing. Down below men and women were busy unloading the boats full of fresh flower and vegetables. The picture has remained totally unchanged for thousands of years. Since ages, fresh flowers and vegetables have been brought in boats and are taken to the temples and markets. I felt great pride in the fact that I belong to one of the oldest civilizations, in the world.

I looked at my wrist watch. It was 8:15 AM. I didn’t have much time for romancing with the time machine. I am here for shopping fish and vegetables. I must return home by 9:15 as the school bus for my children will come and my Mother in law will be waiting for her breakfast. So I finished my shopping and started walking out of the market place. Suddenly I noticed that a man was picking up shinning light green colored gourd (lauki) from a basket and putting it on a trolley. I stopped with my bags and asked him “Lauki kaise diya?” [What is the cost of the gourd?] Without raising his head, the man said, “This is not a gourd, these are brinjals.” “Brinjal? The size and color don’t match to that of a brinjal.” I said with amazement. Another man was sitting on a stool near the trolley. He said, “Didi, these are Ramnagar brinjals.” Ramnagar is situated on the other bank of the Ganges. Most of the flowers and vegetables come from Ramnagar. The answer of this man did not seem to be very logical. I said, “Why Ramnagar? If I sow the seed of this particular species in my kitchen garden, the plant will yield similar size brinjals or may be bigger. After all it is its genetics.” He smiled and said, “No it will not happen. It will grow upto this size in Ramnagar only. Lots of foreigners have taken seeds and saplings of these plants, but did not get desired result. Even you cannot grow such brinjals on Varanasi soil.” I was surprised as I had never seen so big a brinjal and that too of light green color in my life. I picked one in my hand and asked “How much?” The man said “20 Rupees a kilo.” I gave him the brinjal and said, “I want this one.” He weighed it and said, “50 Rupees.” I was shocked. “Why?” I asked. He said, “The weight is two and a half kilo. At the rate of 20 Rupees a kilo it is so.” I took two such brinjals and asked him again, “How come it only grows in Ramnagar. I just can’t believe it.” The man on the stool said, “I will tell you Didi.” Then he put some tobacco leaves and lime (CaCO3)on his left palm and started rubbing with the thumb of his right hand and started the story of Ramnagar brinjal.

“Long long ago, Lord Shiva came down to this place – the land between two rivers Varuna and Assi. River Ganga was flowing from north to south, but when She learnt that Lord Shiva was here, She took a U-turn and started flowing from south to north. Maa Annapurna was following Her husband Shiva, but She was a little late as Ganga had already changed her course. So she landed on the other bank of Ganga i.e. Ramnagar. The farmers were planting the brinjal saplings and Goddesses feet touched the soil. When Maa Annapurna’s feet enriched the soil of that area, how could the brinjals remain as ordinary brinjals? And the result is this - in front of you.”

I paid for the brinjals and returned home. I sent one brinjal to Hardwar to my dearest friend ‘Kabli’ with someone. Next day Kabli called me and said “Mini why did you send a gourd (louki) as you know there is no scarcity in Hardwar.” I said “But that is not a gourd that is a brinjal”. She said “Brinjal!!! I don’t belief this.”I said “This is your marriage anniversary gift from us. Do you know why this brinjal is so big?” She said “Of course it is a special genus and species.” I replied, “May be, but the story is - Long long ago Lord Shiva came…” and I went on to repeat the story that that man had told me. Once I had finished talking she said, “Amazing! Thank you for the gift and the story”.

So you know Varanasi is unchanged since time immemorial - not even the thought process has changed.