Later, as we collected our shoes from the shoe stall, Shubhi asked me, ‘Papa, do we have to pay the person who takes care of our shoes?’
‘No beta,’ I said, ‘The service is free of cost and is rendered voluntarily by the people residing in the temple premises. But as a gesture of good faith, and to contribute a little to the welfare of the people involved in the upkeep of the temple, and their families, we do give a little money to the person who handles our footwear.’
This was a new concept to the children, I could see, and they took a little time to process the data.
After we had worn our shoes, we walked out of the temple slowly, skirting the monkeys. My heart was heavy with memories, old and new, and with emotions generated during this short trip to the old temple again.
We got into our cars once more and started off towards the next destination in our itinerary today – the Vishwanath Temple, VT, or the Birla temple in the University campus.
The Vishwanath Temple, or the New Vishwanath Temple, was built by the Birla family inside the premises of Banaras Hindu University, the largest residential university in Asia. The university itself was a concept child of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, a visionary and a freedom fighter who not only laid the foundation of one of the biggest Universities in India but also envisioned a replica of the original Vishwanath Temple inside the university premises. Work on the temple was started in 1931 and the temple was formally inaugurated in 1966, after thirty-five long years of work. The temple is one of the tallest in India and is a work of art, beauty and devotion. The temple is made entirely out of marble and has ‘shlokas’ or verses from the Gita, God’s song, etched on it all across its walls. Besides the Gita, the temple also has verses from different Hindu scriptures and pieces of sermons of various Hindu saints written across its walls on the ground floor as well as the first floor.
The ground floor of the temple is dedicated to Mahadev or Shiva, the reigning deity of Banaras, the immortal city. The first floor has temples of Lakshmi-Narayana and Mother Durga besides many other small temples dedicated to different Hindu deities. The temple had a sprawling campus and, at 250 ft, its spire or ‘vimana’ is one of the tallest in India.
The temple is a favorite haunt of the students of Banaras Hindu University, irrespective of the faculty they are pursuing. Being inside the campus, the temple is easily accessible, and we also used to visit it frequently during our student days at BHU.
It was to this temple that we were now headed, and several emotions started stirring inside my heart as our car exited on to the main road leading up to the main entrance of BHU, known as the Singh Dwaar, or the Lion Gate (or Gate of Lions, whichever). The Singh Dwaar is also an iconic structure and can be easily recognized by millions of people across India due to its association with the city of Varanasi as well as the famous university BHU.
The car sped along the narrow roads and soon we were in Lanka; not the Lanka of Ravana in Ramayana where Sita was incarcerated against her wishes, but an area in Banaras which leads up to the University gates. I kept peering outside the car, trying to recognize the streets, and the shops on those streets where I had spent nine eventful and formative years of my life. Every sidewalk, shop, and eatery had a story associated with it. Here was the telephone booth we used to come to, here was the juice shop, here was Kaale’s shop where we used to eat bun-makkhan, here was the shop where I got my thesis typed, here was the internet café where I opened my Yahoo account…..the memories came rushing like waves of an ocean, bringing memories with them and then taking them back like the sands on a beach. I am sure Vaishali and my other friends must have felt the same way too!
The car circumnavigated the roundel in front of the Singh Dwaar and entered the university gates; I was immediately in a different world. The BHU campus is starkly different from the city which lies just outside its gates. For starters, it is much, much greener, less crowded, cleaner and well-kept than the main city. The tree cover inside the campus literally turns BHU into an oasis within Banaras and provides the city with the much-needed tree cover that it otherwise lacks. As one enters the gates, it is easy to appreciate the sudden drop in temperature by a few degrees Celsius compared to the main city due, of course, to the green cover inside the university. As I entered the campus. I closed my eyes briefly; I did not need my bodily eyes to see where we were going, I knew the campus like the back of my hand – at least this part!
I could picture the campus of the women’s college to the left, the fenced campus of the Sir Sunderlal Hospital on the right and, coming up on the left side a little farther, the girls’ hostel of the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU; the college where we, as students, had spent so many years of our lives – jointly and separately. There was a roundel in front of the entrance of the Kasturba Girls’ Hostel and if one turned right from there one could see the Institute building on the left and the entrance of the hospital on the right.
All this and more, I saw in mind’s eye in the brief period of time that I had closed my eyes. I opened them again to actually see now what I had already revisited in my mind.
The road was as I had visioned it, as was the gate of the KG Girls’ hostel and the entrance to the Institute. I felt pangs of nostalgia sweeping over me. The car turned right and proceeded towards the Vishwanath temple, passing the Vice Chancellor’s lodge, Laxman Das Guest House, Ruiya Hostel, International Hostel and University Guest House on the way. Flashes of memories, like flashback in Bollywood movies, flooded my mind. The emotions were difficult to handle; I did not know whether to savor the sights myself or to play guide to the children who sat behind in my car – I ended up doing a little of both.
To be continued………………………………….
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