Later, as we exited the temple, Appu and Sutanu pulled my leg that I had myself become adept at delivering sermons and that maybe I should consider a switch of professions. I took the friendly jibe as a compliment. Yes, I had lately become quite interested in religion and religious literature. For several years now the occult had pulled me towards it, and the pull was strong. Sometimes, I felt like taking a long vacation or a sabbatical and spending it in reading, writing and contemplating God.
But then a small voice inside me would tell me that this was not the time. And thus, I had spent more and more of my time reading our epics and other scriptural texts, in a bid to understand what it meant by being a Hindu. Who was I? What my culture, my religion, my history meant. The questions had become more and more pertinent, important in fact, as time went by, and I had found myself immersed in studies of such books like the ‘itihasa’ and the ‘puranas’ of the Hindu literature as well as other metaphysical texts like the ‘Bhagwatam’ and the ‘Gita’.
The campus of Banaras Hindu University is shaped like a half moon with the main gate, the Singh Dwar, at one end of the arc and the hostels and other teaching faculties along roads which run parallel to the semi-circular boundary of the university campus. The roads and interconnecting streets were laid out in a pretty planned manner and if one kept the general layout of the campus in mind, it would be impossible for one to get lost in the campus, however big and covered with foliage it may seem. It was along one such road which ran parallel to the semi-circular boundary, that our car sped, moving deeper and deeper inside the campus, away from the main gate. When we had nearly reached the end of the road, the cars turned right and exited the campus through another gate, which, if I remembered correctly, was called the Hyderabad gate.
Now, the Banaras Hindu University was built entirely on donations, and Pt Madan Mohan Malviyaji, or Mahamana as everyone called him, ensured that people remembered the donors who had helped build the university. Hence, he had named all the hostel buildings and housing colonies (yes, BHU is a residential university with the residences of faculty and staff and students inside the campus) after the names of the donors. The gate we exited from was located in an area of the university known as the Hyderabad colony. It served as the residential area of the faculty and staff of the university, and hence the gate was also known by the name of Hyderabad. There was an interesting anecdote about how the Mahamana secured the donation from the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad for the university; but of that sometime later.
Our car exited the campus from the Hyderabad gate and turned left towards an area known as Karaundi. When I had come to Banaras, almost twenty-five years ago Karaundi was just a rural extension of the urban sprawl of Varanasi. The BHU campus was almost as far as the city limits extended. However, in these two and a half decades things had changed and had led to the urbanization of Karaundi. ‘Avinash must have built his home here’, I thought. When we were studying in Banaras, he had lived in an apartment near the Durga Kund temple.
I peered out of the window with curiosity; the locality had changed. There were several big houses and the roads were nicely paved, though still narrow. After several turns, by which time I had completely lost my way, the cars turned into a narrow lane and headed towards a large iron gate at the end of the lane. The gate opened to reveal a huge driveway inside, which could easily accommodate five or six large vehicles.
As our car stopped inside the gate and the children filed out of the vehicle one after the other, Meethi remarked, ‘Papa, is this Avinash Uncle’s home or a resort?’
I smiled, ‘It is his home sweetheart.’
‘He lives in a resort,’ she exclaimed, unable to believe that the place was not a resort.
I did not blame her, the lawns in front of Avinash’s house looked like a children’s park. It had an artificial waterfall, a man-made stream with several over bridges running along the area and a large lush green lawn dotted with several trees. At one end of the lawn several tables had been laid and covered with tablecloth. Several small round tables with assorted chairs dotted the lawn, for us to sit on. Even though it was biting cold that day, the sun had come out and we enjoyed sitting out in the sun in Avinash’s lawn while liveried servants scurried about serving hot snacks.
Shweta, Avinash’s wife was there, greeting everyone and making sure they were comfortable. Several months ago, when we had started planning for the reunion, several WhatsApp groups had sprouted as offshoots of our main group, with spouses making their own groups. This was the reason, I thought, that all the women were familiar and comfortable with each other’s company.
Shweta chatted with the women and the children while Avinash ordered the staff to prepare for the lunch. Me, Appu, and Sutanu stood around idly chatting about the day’s events and about how magnificent Avinash’s house looked.
Shyam stood at a distance with his son and his wife Kanchan, and Sridhar sat down with his family at one of the tables. Soon steaming hot lunch was served, although it had gotten too late for lunch and was already early evening. But all of us were hungry and cold, and the food smelled delicious. So, we gorged ourselves on the delicious food that Avinash and Shweta served with love, and soon we were all full to the brim with all the tasty food that we had eaten.
Our lunch done; we went inside the house to pay our respects to Avinash’s parents. Avinash’s house was large and luxuriously built, and he and Shweta showed us around lovingly. Having paid our respects to his parents, we exited the house quickly; all of us were tired by now and were feeling sluggish after the sumptuous meal Shweta had served us. A short nap in the hotel would do us good. Tonight’s dinner was at the Banaras club, a short drive from the hotel. Several other friends would have arrived by now and we could expect a bigger gathering in the evening. Several performances, especially those of the children were also lined up. Tonight, would be the first formal meet of our batchmates after a long, long time!!!
To be continued………………………………….
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