Monday, May 18, 2015

The Blue Lassi, A Tale from Varanasi: In TNIE Magazine This Week

If I were religious, I would damn Varanasi for the grip it continues to have, years after I went there. That city, there is something very unique about that city, like it were the core of all things. Or the manifestation of many myths. It is indescribable, that feeling in that city. But if you have been there, you will know what I mean.

I wrote of an old story about the famous Blue Lassi in Varanasi for The New Indian Express. Read it here or see below for a slightly unedited version. 


This is an old story. They say that the city where this story is set was the first city of the world, that it was birthed before time began to be calculated as time. Few of the buildings and the alleyways that form the confusing labyrinth of this city are more than perhaps a couple of centuries old, to stretch the passage of time. Yet, it feels like they have always existed. Maybe it is the myth talking, the myth of Varanasi being the centre of the earth - the Hindu earth at least - of it being the oldest, once the grandest city in the world. A childhood of listening to granny’s tales of its preciousness takes its toll. But then, there is something about that city, anyone who has ever been there will tell you. It may not always be a good something, but it is one place that sticks to your itch for the rest of your living days. As it continues to do mine. And so I remember this old tale again.

It must have been day 3 or 4 into our stay at the legendary Ganapati Guest House, with its bright walls and sweet smells from various sized cigarettes on the balcony, come every late evening. Large mesh windows opened out to a swollen Ganga from three sides of our room. We would hear urgent whispers later that the guest house used to be a house for dying widows who would be made to sing the names of Gods all day. They said the wails of the fated women could still be heard from the walls at night, if you listened carefully.

One evening on the balcony where fleeting friendships that never lasted were always being made, we met J, South Korean by birth, American by citizenship, visibly overwhelmed in the event of being a first time-in-India traveller. The three of us girls got talking and quickly bonded over Asian mothers, pressures of family and such like, the usual traveler talk.

J wanted to go to the Blue Lassi the next morning, after we found our way to and out of the 150+ year old Nepali temple. We like her enough by then not to want her to get lost and lonely again so offer to go with her. Along the way she tells us that this shop is very popular among South Korean tourists to Varanasi, which takes me by surprise, not so much for its popularity, for every city has its must-gos that travellers pass on to all and countrymen, like a favourite secret. I am curious because we have not seen many Asian tourists so far, most that are chased by little boys asking for money and youths offering good bhang are Western. We follow a particular kind of footway that we are told is the one that will take us to Dasaswamedha Ghat - the burning ghat. Just at the turn of a corner is the bright blue walled Blue Lassi. There are a bunch of young South Korean girls inside, typing furiously into their phones, giggling, ignoring us grown-ups. There are dozens of photos stuck carefully on the walls of more tourists from that country, notes with hearts around them, caricatures, smiling, happy faces.

Blue Lassi dispels the myth about the simplicity of a glass of lassi being curd whipped with sugar or salt or both. There are innumerable flavours, some sounding very odd, like coconut, banana and others that have no business mixing with a good cup of curd. But defying all known principles of taste and fusion, each flavour debates with the other to emerge utterly unique and buttery delicious. I cannot remember now what we ordered. It tasted fantastic though, propped and prettied in a clay matka. I remember sipping on our drinks and watching several parties hoisting dead bodies and passing by to the burning ghats, where legend has it that Shiva himself lights the pyre. It is a common sight in Varanasi, a city where unusualness is normal, everyday, routine, even boring.

Blue Lassi is three generations of owners old, started sometime in the 1920s. Rather new and shining, by the city's standard.


Anonymous said...

Plan to visit this city soon. Good to know if this place. Thanks

Pradeep Nair said...

Hi Deepa,

I have been to Haridwar, but not Varanasi. When I go there, I will remember Blue Lassi :-) Interesting.