I stand at the Assi Chowraha in Banaras
with my vendor’s open cart;
equipped with a cylinder of LPG gas
and a stove over which stands –
an iron karhai with steaming cooking oil,
also a square wooden board and staff
to roll out the puris I serve.
I also have some vessels on my cart –
in one I store the damp-cloth wrapped puri dough,
another holds the rose flavoured sweet syrup
into which the piping hot jalebis I ladle out.
Then there’s a big basin of the subzi –
of potato and peas in thick gravy,
with liberal dashes of soya beans and paneer:
as I believe, breakfast is the most important meal –
that I serve with utmost care in paper bowls
with the four pieces of puri per paper plate.
You cannot miss my presence at this chowk,
along with my friend who assists my work –
as I’m here from eight in the morning till noon,
always wearing my Chennai-checked apron:
for it’s after a compulsory sacred Ganges bath
that I’ve applied sandal paste on my forehead.
My skills at my work I’ve honed with my father –
who at Kachowari Gali Chowk had his setup;
on whose demise I set up this cart,
that I nurture and serve at, with all my heart –
which people of the locality reciprocate
and passers tend to stop by, taste and promulgate –
on seeing people sitting with their plates at doorsteps.
This morning when you first passed me by,
I noticed you hesitated to stop and try –
the first batch of my puffed puris and jalebis
peeking out of the vessels they were contained in,
even as a few people had started to stand around
for their helping of traditional Banarasi food.
But after a walk of our neighbourhood – you returned,
though street food isn’t your preferred patronal:
and with my warm smile and gracious encouragement
you hesitantly took a seat at a nearby doorstep –
on which I’d spread plastic runners for my patrons.
After a plate of four puris, you savoured two jalebis,
and seeing your face glowing with a deep satisfaction –
from its rose essence transporting you to heaven,
I offered to get you a cup of curd from the lassi shop
with which like us Banarasi’s – you relished more jalebis.
Then much to my satisfaction, a deep pride in my occupation,
you asked me, after a brief and casual conversation –
“What do you do once you close this shop”?
“I go home at noon”— I cheerily blurted,
“as I’ve to be early at the evening’s arati at the ghat –
for there I play the dumroo – that’s closest to my heart”.
You then attributed all this to my sensitivity and warmth –
the smile that never fades serving even in a rush,
and the passion I have for my simple mundane job,
yet in the evenings forgoing good business from this shop –
as my entire life is dedicated to Shiva – My one and only Lord:
But drowning his head with milk doesn’t appease my soul –
It’s through serving people I actually serve my inner God!
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
— Pablo Picasso.
PS : I told you here, that I’m working on a book of poems on Benaras that these series of last poems will go into soon…Yet I have no qualms in sharing it all here…there’s a deep satisfaction in giving away what you have to give…And no, I’m not crazy…just try it! 🙂
Wishing you all a very Happy Maha Shivratri!