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Looks can be deceiving, especially in a sultry twilight where the greys and the blues blur the edges of one’s face. The evening was wearing off, welcoming the night sky with all the ardour of a jealous step-sister. The cab had dropped me off earlier in the middle of a busy marketplace. As far as my eyes could see, everything was covered either in dust or in dung. The stench of decay was protruding from every nook and corner in that forlorn city. I was 500 miles from home, dusty and tired. I turned to face the fancy-store (in India, a shop selling bric a brac) and all of a sudden I wondered what the hell made me come up with such a crazy, impulsive plan to visit the oldest city of India.
A quiet little place by the river banks, the shop was shaded by a humongous banyan tree, the dense foliage hiding dark secrets under its covers, the roots extending to the very bank. The place exuded the musty smell of cheap paperbacks and fake trinkets. The man at the counter scratched his arms as I asked him to look for a jazz record. As he slowly shuffled through the dust towards his collection, I realized my chances of finding anything in this god-forsaken place were quite dim. Faintly bored I was turning back when I heard the shopkeeper say, “Here is a copy of Monk’s Dreams; if you want I can give you the Schubert at a discount, but not Morrison.”
Here was I, standing in the oldest city of the world, among the dusty ramblings of a quaint little souvenir shop and bargaining rare discographies with a bald, pot bellied sweating Indian who was rattling off the name of western composers as if he had known them for his entire life. The irony of it all made me smile and I asked him to show me his collection. Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Miles Davis, John Coultron, Brahms, Jimi Hendrix, Don McLean, Slash, Chopin – they all stared down at me in happy chaos.
“You are not local, are you?” I vaguely nodded my head.
“First time in Benares! How do you like it here?” he asked. Sensing my discomfort, he gave a toothless smile and remarked, “I guess you are too young to be in this old city”. I smiled, stuttered and looked away, suddenly mesmerized by the sombre branches of the tree that roofed us.
“This tree is hundred years old”, he said, “the Tree of Life. Can you count those rings?”
I tried, they were innumerable.
“They say it is the wisest one out there. Do you know why?”
“Because it is the oldest.” I said.
And in that profound moment I realized that the city was like that banyan tree, giving shade to all, enlightenment to some, sustenance to others and growing stronger by the day with its tiny roots.
T is for Tree of Life! And today’s blogger is related to one of my other passions – travelling!
Today’s protagonist is the lady with a wanderlust – Sukanya Ramanujan, the explorer with an eye for detail and a passion for history. Perhaps instead of “history”, I should write “story”, because her pictures definitely says a thousand words and a lot more.
Visit her blog to rediscover the seemingly common landmarks made refreshingly new through her words. The way you can rediscover as old a city as Benares time and again, in the same fashion her stories too weave a mystical experience for the Traveller of Life.
To give you a sneak peek, find an excerpt from her blog here: Bayon – the serene mysterious faces