The archaic gate of Banaras Hindu University looks down somewhat unconcerned over the stretch in front. This old gate symbolises the great divide between the two worlds; the intellectuals inside the high boundary walls and the commoners present in the daily din of Banaras outside.
Some so-called malls have sprouted sporadically from the haphazard conglomeration of small shops and eateries that mark every road and lane of this ancient city, which many think is the cultural hub of Hindu India. On both sides of the road, western burgers and eastern Pakauri-jalebi live side by side.
You may call it the peaceful co-existence of cultures. And the same is true of BHU, settled calmly and uncomplainingly amid the squalor and filth of the Varanasi lanes snaking round the great centre of wisdom and knowledge, established by Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya. The image of BHU surrounded by Varanasi is somewhat reminiscent of the ruling deity of the city, Lord Shiva and the snakes round his neck. Shiva with his eyes half closed lives on in an eternal trance and so is his city. But despite its state of trance and choking traffic, numerous activities go on side by side and the road from the Lanka gate leads, willy-nilly, directly to Sankat Mochan, the famous abode of Lord Hanuman, made more famous by the terrorist attack a few years ago. Nestled on the famous Sankat Mochan campus, there is a small roadside eatery, popularly known as Chachi’s ‘kachauri’ shop.
If you are looking for any signboard, then you cannot discover Chachi’s shop. Just ask anybody. It is known to almost every Banarasi, male or female. Chances are he/she would volunteer immediately to escort you there. “Mouth publicity” as the most ancient means of advertisement, has spread the reputation of Chachi far and wide. Human generations change in a span of 20 to 25 years but when it comes to a campus, it takes only two to three years. The anecdotes about Chachi and her kachauris have formed a nostalgic chapter in the memories of BHU alumni for the past 50 years or so. But there is something peculiarly ‘Banarasi’ about her reputation.
Whenever the shop was open — and it was almost always open — the slim old lady of medium height and fair complexion could be seen doing some chores, serving kachauris, abusing customers with all seriousness or instructing her assistants who were mostly her own children or their offspring. Every product is known by its producer.
Chachi was known for the kachauris she sold but she was known, more primarily, for the classy and typical Banarasi abuses that she distributed free of cost with the kachauris. People enjoyed the kachauris but they enjoyed the abuses even more as these came from Chachi. Full of slang, slanderous, vitriolic, vituperative and enriched with the local Banarasi tongue, chachi’s tone was never afraid of anybody. But there never was a real anger behind those words that might have caused a war had someone else spoken like that.
BHU students, scholars and teachers used to visit Chachi’s shop as if to get some relief from boring artificialities of the sophisticated behaviour they were expected to put up inside the intellectual walls of the university. Sometimes, Chachi was silent and serious but her customers would not have it. They would intentionally do something to irritate her. She often understood their mala fide intention to provoke her. She would try not to break or budge but a typical Banarasi knew how to play the game and ultimately, Chachi would lose her patience and her tongue as well.
A silent Chachi would suddenly blast at a simple request for serving kachauri fast. She would blast the heckling customer who, with a naughty smile, would then heave a sigh of great satisfaction. He would hear her vitriolic reaction with great pleasure. Perhaps she was the single shop-owner in the civilised world who could afford to treat her customers with such a stream of blunt abuses and still they would flock around. You can get kachauris anywhere in Banaras but where else would you get that prolific flow of ‘desi gaali’?
‘Gaali’ (abuse or swear words) is an essential part of the typical Banarasi culture. A Banarasi feels indigestion if it is already a day and he has not given vent to a few original abuses and slangs. gaaliAn exchange of gaali is a must and sure sign of closeness between friends and relatives There have been many who could show their ingenuity and originality in the art of coining new ‘gaalis’ but none could excel Chachi. So she was most lovable in her own way.
Banarasi kachauris are prepared with spices mixed with urad dal and served with curry in a leaf-made dona. You may add jalebi, if you want. There was no space inside or outside the shop to sit. You have to eat the things standing by the street. Whoever you are, you have to stand there like a commoner and wait for your turn to come. In this, Chachi was a great leveller.
Many celebrities from different walks of life used to visit her shop to enjoy her original Banarasi gaali. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, the famous music maestros, regularly haunt Chachi’s shop and Manoj Tiwary, in one of his hit songs, promises his heroine a treat at Chachi’s if she accepts his invitation to visit Banaras. Chachi was never awed by any personality whoever he or she is. When someone introduced a celebrity to her, her response would be something like, ‘B…..wale hain to hain badkaa. Achha ta hum kaa Karin? Khaae ke baa ta khaa na ta jayen saar bhaad me.’ (Let him be whatever he is. How does it concern me? If he wants to eat something, let him eat and get lost.) Her outbursts which usually started with ………but leave it aside.
Once Smriti Iraani of Saas Bahu fame came to the shop. Chachi served her kachauris but did not say anything; did not abuse her. Smriti asked Chachi to give her some ‘gaali’, Chachi smiled back with affection and said – ‘You are my daughter. I will not abuse you.’
One may think that she was either mad or it was her style. In fact, neither Chachi was one of those rare samples among humans who are never fake and who never bother to feign suavity to please anyone. She could see through the facade of the so-called civilised manners. She bothered for none and was not impressed ever with appearances and positions. She was bluntly honest in her behaviour to everybody — and affectionate.
She never perhaps knew that she was an important and undeletable image in the nostalgia of BHU alumni. Her memories are cherished by many in India or abroad, for many of them had seen her benevolence, hidden behind the mask of her vituperation. She, perhaps, was a living revolt against the general cult of suavity.
Now Chachi is no more. On February 3 last, she passed away, leaving a resounding silence behind. Kachauris are still being sold in her shop with the same spices but the spice of life is lost.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Arya Mahila PG College, Varanasi. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org)