The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s sumptuous buffet spread, we made our way to the BHU (Banaras Hindu University) campus in our own car, ditching the common transport arranged for the guests by our hosts. Today’s program was the official alumni function inside the Institute building, followed by lunch and hostel visits. We already knew our way around the BHU campus, and, in the day time, could also find our way from the hotel to the University campus, thus the public conveyance was superfluous. Travelling in our own vehicle would also be beneficial in the sense that it would give us privacy, mobility, and freedom to move around when and as we wished.
As the car snaked its way through the familiarly crowded streets, I tried to jog my memory to see if I still remembered names of places and their association with our past, our lives in this city; it seemed like another life now…..
The streets were as crowded as I remembered them, but the roads were less ‘pot-holed’, so to say. Also, the quantum of garbage lying around the streets was minimal, considering the fact that the Prime Minister of the country represented the city in the parliament. There were several one-way streets which also helped to keep the traffic under some semblance of control.
Winding through the streets of Varanasi, the ancient city nestled on the western bank of Ganga, we finally reached Lanka, the area of the city where the entrance to the university was situated. Lanka is the quintessential ‘students’ market’. The street is lined by shops, restaurants, roadside eateries, public phone booths, photocopier stalls, and outlets offering desktop work for students; these were all tuned to the needs of the thousands of students who resided inside the gates of this university, one of the largest residential universities in Asia.
Driving through Lanka was like entering a time machine. I and Vaishali had spent countless hours on these streets, buying clothes, buying books and stationary, eating chopsuey in our favourite Chinese restaurant, waiting in queues outside phone booths for our turn to call home (yes, those were the days before the advent of mobile telephony), drinking mango shakes and espresso coffee, and having our Sunday night’s dinner at our favourite dhaba (roadside Indian restaurant) which measured only 15 by 10 feet, and could accommodate only 6 to 8 people but served finger-licking, lip smacking delicious food……..
For us time had almost come to a standstill, (or at least moved in slow motion!) as we drove through those streets again, albeit in a different vehicle, and with children in our tow. And of course, we were around twenty five years older than when we lived, and studied, and loved, and married here. Our vehicle back then was the quintessential Indian transport of the 90s, the humble scooter. Initially we used a borrowed vehicle, (borrowed from a friend by pleading, bullying, cajoling, arm twisting in equal measures), and then later, when I had passed out of medical school and was doing my internship, our own vehicle – our very own LML Vespa, a shining, glistening, metallic grey Vespa, which I soaped and washed every weekend and took for servicing every six months…..
To be continued…….
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