San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

French hippie causes problems

I hosted a few new guests at my guest house and it was the first time when I had some problem with my guest and my guest had problems with me, my family and my guest house. A French girl contacted me for housing through my ad somewhere online. We shared a few e-mails and I thought it was okay to host her as she said that she wanted to study Hindi in Benares and had been living in India for the past six months. She seemed like an ideal guest to me because it seemed to me that she already knew India. I arranged Hindi classes for her and went to Gwalior for my tour guide training.

I asked to my other guests about her and they said she seemed a little bit hippie to them but she was not crazy. I asked her if she was feeling well at my place and she said that she was happy. But when I came back to Benares after a few days and met her in person, she seemed not happy at all. She said that I had written on my ad online that there is a kitchen also but in fact the kitchen was not furnished at all. She said that kitchens in the west are furnished and come with gas connection and other utilities but it just doesn’t happen in India.

I tried to explain it to her but she just did not want to hear anything and the second dispute was the rent. She said that the rent I had written on my ad was different than what I was asking for. I asked for Rs. 1000 per month for unlimited broadband Internet access in her room and it seemed too much to her. She said that she would not pay anything for Internet. Rs. 3000 per month for the meal (lunch, dinner and breakfast) was also too much for her. Finally I asked her to decide the rent and she said Rs. 6800 per month for room, meals and Internet. It is not something I charge to my other guests and I was not happy with it.

I asked her two times to go somewhere else if she was not happy at my place but she said everything was fine. But she had problem with everyone at my home. I have few plants in each flat and keep them under the grate so that the plants can get some direct sun light but she moved all the plants to a darker side of the flat and put her mattress right under the grate. When my mother saw it, she moved the plants again under the grate and she got mad. I don’t really know what she wanted. She wanted to stay out of home until late night and this is something I just don’t recommend to my female guests and I don’t know what people can do in the late nights in Varanasi.

There is nothing to do after 9 o’clock but she wanted to stay out until 12 or 1 sometimes. My other guest told me that she had seen this French girl drinking on a boat in Ganga. It was crazy. Finally she left after two months. After she left I went in her flat and saw a big packet of garbage. I wanted to see if she had left some clothes or some items that could be reused. I usually donate the clothes left by my guests to Mother Teresa Home. I found a bottle of Thums Up soft drink and I put it in the toilet because soft drinks are very good to clean toilets.

She left at 7 but came back again around 9 because her train was delayed. When she saw that somebody had touched her garbage, she got really mad. She did not tell me anything that time but she wrote me several emails asking why I saw her garbage. I tried to explain to her the reason behind it but she just did not want to hear anything. I don’t really know if she was crazy, but actually she behaved like a crazy person. It was my house and I did whatever I wanted. I had not seen her garbage while she was staying. Once she left, it was my house again. But her stay taught me several lessons and now I am more attentive choosing any guest.

Tawayaf culture

I am hosting a FulBright scholar, Megan,  who is doing her research from University of Pittsburgh. Her research topic is tawayaf culture. She has rented a whole flat and will stay till June 2010. We discussed a few things about tawayaf culture in Varanasi. I already knew that Lucknow was the most famous place of tawayafs.Varanasi has also been a famous center for tawayafs but according to Megan, it doesn’t exist anymore. I also talked with a few of my friends and relatives and they were telling that there are few places where tawayafs still perform.

Most of the people think that tawayaf is one other name for prostitutes but it is not true. They were highly educated women and and trained in their skills such and dancing, singing, literature and were very well respected in society. My friend Ravi told me that kids of royal families were sent to tawayafs to get training which included behavioural training, gazal writing and few other skills. The place were tawayafs used to live was called kotha and now kotha is also referred as a brothel which is also not true. Kothas were a place for tawayafs to live and perform.

Usually kothas had more than one tawayaf where one, the most senior, was the head. The head of the tawayfs was responsible for training other tawayfas. Usually kothas had a dance performance every evening where anyone was allowed to enter. They had male musicians who played different musical instruments and tawayafs were the one who performed dance. Alcohol was also served to special clients or sometimes to everyone. Sex work was also involved there but it was not like today’s brothels where someone pays Rs. 50 and sleep with the sex workers till he cums.

Tawayafs were expensive and I have heard that they had right to choose whom did they want to sleep with, so it was not like anyone could pay and sleep with them. Usually they had one special client who was very close to the tawayaf and this relationship was also not like a relationship of a sex worker and her client; it was something special. Tawayfs had children also and this special person would act as their father. Tawayafs were called at the palaces also perform and entertain the royal families. Whatever I heard about tawayfs made me feel like tawayafs were accepted and respected in our society but kothas were still a disrespected place.

There is not much information available about tawayafs but I have heard that there are a few places in Varanasi and Lucknow where they still have few kothas which run illegally. Megan’s subject is awesome but she is more interested in prostitutes now because she said that it would not be possible for her to write her thesis on tawayfas because there is not much information available about them. I want to know more about tawayfs and looking at Megan’s thesis if she writes something about them.

Research on secular philosophers and cremationists

Adam, PhD candidate, University of Chicago, came back to Benaers and stayed at my place again. This year he wanted to do some basic research about his upcoming research in India next year. He wanted to study Hindi as well but for that he had decided to go to Masoorie. Adam was interested in two subjects- labors at construction sites or Doams (the people who work at cremation place). Adam has come this year with his fiance, Megan, who is doing a research for her school, Smith college, Boston, about secular Indian philosophers. She just wants to collect some data about them.

She wants to visit BHU and see if they have any books available written by any secular Indian philosophers who existed in between 1850-1940. Megan said that she went to University of Maisoore also but could not get anything because there was no one to help her at the university. She went there several times but could not get any help and then she decided to leave Maisoore and came to Benares. She wanted to visit the BHU library and wanted to talk with some professors at philosophy department. I took help of my one friend who studies at BHU and he took us the university.

We went to the International Students Center first where we met with the officer who asked us to meet the head of the central library. We went to the central library and met with the head. Adam and Megan both were shocked to see the library of BHU. They said that BHU’s library was a way better than the library of University of Masoorie. They said that people were also very nice and helping at BHU. The asked Megan to write them a letter asking for permission to visit the library and after doing it, we were allowed to look at the books. Megan, Adam, my friend Ravi and I visited the library with few staffs of the library who were showing us around.

Megan found few books that were good for her research and wanted to get it xeroxed but actually it was impossible to xerox those books because those books were too old and pages were in terrible condition. So finally Megan had to write another letter asking them to provide digital format of the book. They asked us to come after 5 days and collect the book in digital format. After the library we went to the philosophy department and met a professor. He was crazy. He was more interested in showing his own research to Megan. He did not want to hear what Megan was doing.

He started showing the books he had written and started talking about himself and just did not want to stop or let Megan ask something about her research. Finally after hearing him for an hour, he asked what Megan needed. Megan told him about her research and he asked Megan to come next day so that he could research the philosophy department library but he had said that the library had a few books that would be good for her research. �After meeting him we came back to home and Megan said that it was a successful day for her research.

The work at BHU today motivated her to keep her research going on otherwise she had given-up after visiting University of Maisoore. I am happy for Megan’s research. Adam wanted to talk with a doam so I took him to Harishchandra Ghat and introduced him to a guy whom I had met while working with CBC’s documentary Myths and Might. We met at the Harishchandra Ghat and he took us to the electric burner where he works. I had never been to a electric burner but this time the electric burner was the place to interview.

We talked for few hours and Adam and Megan asked him several different kinds of questions about his personal life, social status, discrimination… Adam wanted to gift something to him so I asked the Doam where was the nearest sweet shop and the Doam asked us why we wanted to go to a sweet shop and I told him that Adam wanted to gift him some sweets. After hearing this the Doam said that Doams are not the kind of people who love sweets, they love alcohol. So we bought him a bottle of whiskey.

Hindi classes for guests

I am hosting a couple from the US. They had contacted me through my website. They want to stay in Varanasi for fifteen days. They had already been to Varanasi before fifteen days but they came again just to relax. They were looking for a Hindi teacher and music classes. Christina wanted to learn flute and David wanted to learn vocal. I introduced them to Mr. Deobrat Mishra who is owner of Indian classical music school. It is convenient for Christina and David also because this school is at the next door. They are happy with their music teachers. 

I was in touch with a Hindi teacher named Mr. Binit Mishra for past few months. He does assistant of Prof. Virendra Singh. I thought it would be good time for me to test Mr. Mishra’s skills of teaching Hindi and I introduced him to Christina and David. I had already read positive references about Mr. Mishra online but I did not know if it was true or not so I was a little bit concerned. But now after Mr. Mishra has given four classes I feel that I met a really nice teacher. 

Its a big relief for me because now my guests can have a teacher right in their room. Now they will not have to go here and there to find a good teacher. I asked Christina and David both about Mr. Mishra and both of them said that he is a great teacher. They said that I can recommend Mr. Mishra as a Hindi teacher to anyone. He comes everyday to teach Christina and David for two hours.

Tabla lessons in Varanasi

A student named Allen Roda from University of New York came to my guest house on the 12th. He is doing research on Tabla making which sounds like nobody has done before. He is going to write about everything about tabla making e.i. where does the skin come from, who makes them, where does the wood come from… just everything. He already knew few people in Varanasi and had already contacted them before. I thought it would be good for him to meet Mr. Deobrat Mishra. I introduced him to Mr. Mishra and Allen told me that he really liked Mr. Mishra’s suggestions. 

I wanted to introduce Allen to Mr. Praveen Uddhav who is senior lecturerer of Tabla at BHU and by chance Mr. Mishra also advised Allen to meet him. We went to Mr. Uddhav’s place and met him. Mr. Uddhav seemed a little bit concerned about Allen meeting with other Tabla makers in Varanasi. He introduced us to a Irish guy named Steve at his place who had been cheated by a tout a few days ago. Steve said that he came to Varanasi to learn Tabla. He wanted to do M.Mus. from BHU.

He met a guy named Siddharth who told Steve that he will have to buy different instruments even if he just wanted to learn Tabla at BHU. Steve believed him and went for shopping with Siddharth. Siddharth made him buy 30-40 different instruments worth $23,000. I don’t know why Steve believed him. He paid this big amount and bought all kinds of instruments that were available in the shop, even he bought western drums and other instruments. After it, Siddhrath stopped meeting him. After few days  Steve went to BHU for admission and met Mr. Uddhav. He said Mr. Uddhav that he had bought all the instruments and wanted to get admission in M. Mus. 

Mr. Uddhav asked him whey did he buy all those instruments if he just wanted to learn Tabla and Steve explained what had happened with him. He still did not know that he was cheated. Finally he came to know that he needed only a pair of Tabla to start learning which is something like $100. He went to the police and lodged a FIR against Siddharth. Police arrested Siddharath’s father because he was now not in the city. Siddhrath’s father gave Rs. 4,00,000 ($8,000) back to Steve and promised to give the rest in next few days. I feel so sorry for whatever happened with Steve but it happens in Varanasi.

I think this is the reason why Mr. Uddav did not want Allen to meet too much new people. I think it is Okay with Allen to meet as many people as he wants. I am sure he will never ever give even $23 to anyone without making proper enquiry. We saw Mr. Uddhav’s 8 years old daughter playing Tabla. She was too good on Tabla. Mr. Uddhav said that she can play all the different sounds. She just needs to boost up her finger’s speed on Tabla and she will be just like other famous players.

I think Allen met at least fifteen new people which is very good for his research. He is leaving on the 18th and will be back again for his research in June when he will spend one year in Varanasi. He wants to come with his wife, Nikki, who works for Federal Reserve Bank. Nikki wants to spend her time in Varanasi volunteering. She was looking for a organization that can give her some work related to economics and she found found one called Cashpor India. They are a micro finance trust and give small loans to poor people. I think this trust will be perfect for Nikki.

Swiss family takes Hindi class

My new guest

My new guest

It is the first time when I am hosting a family. They are a couple with two kids. Nadia is doing masters with Hindi Literature and Sanskrit from University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Her husband is an engineer. They say that it is their family vacation. Nadia goes to a Hindi teacher named Mr. Vimal Mehra. Mr. Mehra taught Hindi last year at Nadia’s university so she had already chosen him as her Hindi teacher. Yesterday I took Nadia to Mr. Mehra’s place which is about three minutes of walk from my place. Mr. Mehra seemed very nice person to me. I am not sure but one of friends told me that he teaches at Wisconsin University as well.  One thing is sure that he teaches at Wisconsin University’s Varanasi center with Mr. Virendra Singh.  

Elio's family

Elio's family

It is first time when my any guest is going to learn Hindi with Mr. Mehra.I had already heard about him but had never met. A lot of people say that he is a very good teacher. So I am not concerned about Nadia’s classes. I am sure she has got a very good teacher and she will improve her Hindi. Nadia is also happy because she says that her teacher makes her talk which is she wanted. She says that she has been learning Hindi for the past two years but never got opportunity to speak but now she is very happy with her classes.

baby Elio

baby Elio

I also like their family a lot. They are very very organized people (complete Swiss). Once Gaitano, Nadia’s elder son, threw a plastic on the floor and Nadia saw it, she immediately came to Gaitano and punished him which was very impressive to me. Gaitano doesn’t like Indian food. So we have to prepare noodles and Pasta specially for him. It seems like Elio likes our food. He eats with his parents. Nadia has brought a lot of instant food and powder milk for Elio. Elio is very cute. I love him. He always smiles. Everybody in my family and in neighborhood likes him a lot. Whenever he comes on the roof, I see other people looking at him from different roofs. 

 Paolo, Nadia’s husband, speaks a little English which creates a barrier between me and him but its okay. We understand each other. I like talking to him because I want to learn about his job. Gaitano also doesn’t speak any English but Elio speaks international language, means nothing which I like a lot. He can only say MaMa, that’s all. Nadia is planning to go to Bombay on the 20th of February after completing her Hindi classes in Varanasi and then Singapore, and then Australia.

Nadia back to Singapore

Nadia left Benares on the 20th. She stayed at my place for one month while she was doing research for her photo documentary called child of Ganga. We wandered together to different places in Varanasi along the river. We went to see all the sewage discharge place. It was an amazing experience to be with Nadia along the river. I really enjoyed my time and learnt a lot of new things and saw a lot of new places where the sewage is directly discharged to the river. 

Nadia says that she had expected to finish her research in one month but it was nothing for her, obviously people say that even one life is not enough to understand Benares.  She plans to come back again next year and continue her research. Her documentary will be showed in university sometime in the  month of March, 2009. I am excited for it. I was curious if she would give credit to me in her documentary or not and when I asked Nadia about it, she said if she doesn’t then she will be sued. 

She is supposed to write a book as well and I would like to see my name in this book. I think Nadia did something different than other researchers who come to Benares. Usually foreign researchers don’t know about the events which take place once or twice in a year like when people make a pilgrimage by going to all the major temples of Varanasi and finally drink the sewage water, actually it is not supposed to be the sewage water, they are supposed to drink the water from the place where the river Varun mixes with Ganga but in reality Varuna is nothing accept a sewage. 

We were waiting for this event but could not make it because Nadia left early. I am very much excited for the book which Nadia is going to write. I could talk her much about what she thought after spending a month in Varanasi because Nadia was always busy. I hope to see her again in future and help in her research.

music classes in varanasi

A guy from California stayed at my place for one week. He was here to learn music and Sanskrit. This trip was only to know the city and get some idea about classes. He had asked me about music classes and I suggest him to go to Pandit Shivnath Mishra, who lives next door. It was funny that he had already met Pandit Shivnath Mishra and his son in California. He met them, played some tabla with them and got an offer to play with them in foreign countries as a white tabla player.

Josh was so happy to got this opportunity. He said that he would love to be part of Mr. Mishra’s crew. He went to Bunti’s school as well where he played tabla and taught African music to the kids. Bunti said that everybody at school liked the music a lot. Josh wanted to visit Bal Ashram, an Aghor monastery. I took him to this monastery. This monastery had a British doctor giving free eye checkup to the poor people. I really liked his devotion. Monastery said that he comes Varanasi ever year for few months and work for free. 

Josh wanted to see this monastery for his friends who wanted to stay there and volunteer. I suggested him to go to Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram as well which is the mother Ashram but Josh did not seem interested. This mother Ashram doesn’t like Bal Ashram because some of Bal Ashram’s employee did some fraud with money. I know that the mother Asharm is a real ashram and I believe them. Josh said that he would visit them as well when he comes to Varanasi next time. He said he will back by first week of January.

photo documentary about Ganga

A student from Singpore is staying at my place. She had contacted me through couchsurfing. She just wanted to meet me. But when I saw that she was doing research about Ganga, I asked her if she would be my paying guest. She was also looking for home stay so she decided to rent my apartment. She is making a photo documentary called Son of Ganga which will be about people’s relation with Ganga in Benares. She says that it was her own personal research motivated by her father but when she informed her school about it and asked for leave, her school told her to do it with them.

She wanted to do her research with Sankat Mochan Foundation. She wrote them about twenty days ago but hasn’t got any response yet. I had already talked to her a lot about pollution in Ganga. I took her to a place where sewage is discharged directly, without treating, to the river. She was shocked to see the quantity of the sewer water. She said that she never thought that Ganga was this polluted. When I told her that there were more than 10 places like that in Benares alone, she just could not imagine it.

I showed her another point of sewage discharge near Shivala ghat and Assi ghat. Assi ghat sewage drain has a funny story. The Government spent a lot of money to divert this drain and mix it with Nagwa one so that people don’t see a direct sewage discharge. But now Assi ghat drain has started again. It again has a lot of sewer water that mixes with Ganga in front of people. I never understood why government spent that huge amount of money just to hide it. They could have spent the same money to built a small treatment plant.

There is an another river called Varuna in Varanasi which has become a complete drain now. The Hindi word for drain is ‘nala’ and this river is known as “Varuna Nala” by the locals. I never knew that Varuna River and Varuna Nala are samething. I just came to know about it few days ago. There is a religious walk called Antargrih where people start walking from Manikarnika ghat and cover all of Benares. One part of this walk is to walk along the Varuna River and do some rituals where it mixes with Ganga.

Most of the Muslim neighborhoods and slaughter houses are along the Varuna river. All the animal waste from more than ten-fifteen slaughter houses is dumped directly into the river. There is lots of sewage discharge also. Varuna River is the best place for criminals to throw murdered bodies because nobody wants to walk along this river. So it is not rare to find human bodies as well in this river. And it all mixes with Ganga after seven or eight kilometers.

This walk is sometime this month and I and Nadia have decided to do it. I have heard that people drink the Varuna’s water when it mixes with Ganga. They walk along the river, see all the waste mixing in it, human and animal bodies flowing in the river and a huge quantity of sewage discharge, but they still drink this same water just because of the religious reason.  I can not imagine what I will be seeing but I am so excited for it.