B 1/185 Assi Ghat, Next to Ganga Mahal, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The front room has been made into a sort of tea-house style lounge, but seems only half complete. Cobwebs  pad the upper walls. Long bedrolls line the cement ground in two neat rows; the same soft floors that you find in jewellery shops with men that are overgrown boys sitting on them, legs crossed, fanning themselves. A line of short wooden tables separates the bedrolls. The room is enormous and breezy, providing respite from the hot air outside. Thick air that either blows or sits still in the atmosphere, willing sweat out of your skin.


Hairline-cracked walls are painted a pale orange, discoloured and chipped in places. House-shaped holes are cut into the concrete. In these house-shelves sit deities from several faiths: Saraswati and Lakshmi, communing with Allah. A scroll featuring the namaz prayer of Islam, plastic Shiva and Krishna figurines, all surrounded with burned down sticks and incense dust from Lalu’s daily prayers. Fans whir overhead when there’s power, and whir more slowly on generator power when the light fails, as it does every day.

The Yadav home is a beautiful and grand house, in one of the most desirable locations in the city: the banks of the Ganga. I was drawn to stay here because of the Ashish and Lalu and their family. Only after moving in did I discover that their family home boasts the cheapest river-view room available in the city. It’s a well-kept secret because this ‘guesthouse’ is comprised of only five small rooftop rooms, and only one of those has a balcony and river view. From that balcony, the shimmering ribbon of the Ganga is only a hundred meters down dustbrown stairs. I moved into that room when I arrived.

When you come into the house, you have to duck underneath jutting beams that stick out of the concrete ceiling. You also have to stop to admire the house doors: thick, heavy wooden doors with iron clasps as locks. The house is deep, and the deeper you go, the cooler it feels.

In the heart of the house are two kitchens (one for the restaurant, and one for home cooking) two dark bedrooms, a room for Puja, and the open heart of the house, onto which light shines from an open grate in the ceiling. A big television sits on top of a cupboard in one of the bedrooms, turning it into a family room during the daytime. The women of the house watch television on summer afternoons and pass out on the bed, napping side by side during the hottest part of the day. Lizards and rats and blind moles also make their lives in the Yadav house, behind chewed-up boxes and inside the walls. They make frequent visits to the kitchens, tasting whatever may be on offer that day.

Two small bathrooms lead off of the open heart of the house, squatter toilets and taps for bucket showers.  One corner of the main room has a drain in it, and laundry is done there. Meera sometimes bathes in that corner, and can be seen from the rooftp through the grate, sitting on a low stool and hooking her choli blouse hooks with small fingers. The rooftop houses the guest rooms, a bathroom and many clotheslines. From the edge, one can see the river, so narrow in this season, carrying all of the dreams of those who bathe in it out to the Indian ocean.


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