Banaras Dreams- by Nidhi Paneri



I was the only one included in the boy’s night. The boys who claimed to be wild wolves of Banaras, had open-heartedly made me a part of their pack. The other girls didn’t understand this special treatment, they felt that they had just about everything that I had.  The wolves loved the fact that I never fussed. They treated me like one of them, and I so loved that. They never stared at my cleavage or butts, they showed their love for me with their macho back pats.

We five girls chatted away on Meenu’s roof top. The evening Aarti chants could be heard loud and clear. Banaras evenings were epic. The pundits would practice their daily Aarti in chorus and later a grand show would be put up at the ghats. I was the listener always. The girls terribly needed someone to hear their shitty girl talk, so I was the one dragged into these girl gossip sessions. Fortunately my phone beeped.

Message: ‘At the ghats @ 9:00pm.’

I  jerked my hand in the air and snapped my fingers, finally I could be away from here. I always enjoyed male company. My intellect was far beyond the normal girl talk. “Got to gooooo,” I raised my hand for a high five. None of the girls responded. I shrugged, tied my hair into a tight bun, put on my black sweatshirt, climbed down the creeky wooden stairs much faster than any of the girls could, jumped over the last four steps and stormed out of Meenu’s home.

“You behave like a boy and I will break your legs,” mother had warned me. My mother’s treacherous firings often echoed within my head. But this was me. I couldn’t change. My father  thought I was too influenced by the evils of the western culture, my brother had strong predictions that I would land up all by myself, old and lonely, the only person who didn’t judge me was my childhood friend Raghu. He saw in me what nobody could.

As usual he was there, waiting on his antique Vespa, outside Meenu’s home. “I love you,” I pecked his cheek. “Joothi (Lair),” he replied. He told me that whenever I expressed my love for him. Raghu took me seriously on very rare occasions and that bothered me.

“Shwetu look Ramji kaka cut off his chotti (ponytail),” he remarked as we passed Ramji’s poster shop. Every home  in Banaras would have atleast one poster from Ramji Kaka’s shop. I was lost in my thoughts.

“Shwetu what are you doing?” Raghu asked, “Kya soch rahi hain? (What are you thinking?)”

“Nothing.” I replied.

I ruffled for the paper in my pocket. I was going to spill it all out tonight. He had to know how I felt for him. I took out the paper, and read it once again. I gripped it tight against the breeze.

Dear Raghu,

You are the one for me.

Love you forever,

Yours Shwetu.

It was just perfect. I had poured it all out in one single line. Raghu wasn’t much of a reader anyways.

The narrow streets were so full of people at this hour. Raghu dodged his Vespathrough the crowd, “Raghu, It’s best to walk down now, just park here,” I said pointing at Lala’s tea stall. Lala kaka would never mind a scooter parked near his stall. Infact no Banaras local would ever have any problems, they all had large hearts.

“What’s that?” he asked. He snatched the paper from my hand. “No! Raghu,” I shouted. My stomach felt funny. My heart thumped louder than ever. My mind felt foggy.  He was about to unfold the letter when his gaze drifted to a slender figure that approached towards us. She was tall, wore a lot of make up, and I didn’t quite like the way Raghu watched her. The two of them exchanged smiles and she turned to walk towards the ghat. Raghu grabbed my hand, stashed my letter into his pocket and pulled me along with him. The way he pulled me along with him didn’t feel good. The pull felt more like a push. My eyes were soggy much before we reached the ghat.

I looked up at Raghu, trying hard not to break into sobs. “Where are the boys?” I asked Raghu. I completely ignored the presence of the other lady. “Shwetu, I want you to meet Shaira,” he spoke with a radiant face. His happiness beemed on him. “Shaira? She’s a muslim?” I asked, astonished at how Raghu could have a muslim lady love. Shaira walked up closer to me. Close enough that I could see her red lipstick smudged on her teeth as she flashed her coy smile at me.

I wanted to push her into the pond right behind us. I pulled my fingers into a fist, gave a tearful look to Raghu. “Shwetu?” he spoke as softly as he could. He quite didn’t understand the look on my face.

There were children playing cricket on the side.  They stopped playing as their ball plopped into the pond water. “Oye Ranjeet, dekh ke khel ( Play carefully),” I shouted in anger. One of the boys shouted, “Shwetu didi don’t be so angry, you can bat today.”

I stepped forward, and clenched my fists tight.I looked up at the open skies. I was about to do something that was so out of my character. I breathed in deep and pushed Shaira into the pond. Raghu gaped at me for a second and rushed to help his lady love out. “Pagal ho gayi hain? (Have you gone crazy?)” Raghu shouted. Shaira’s eyes popped out, her drenched body shivered. “What kind of friends you have Raghu?” she snarled.

“What’s wrong with you Shwetambra?”

This was the first time he had called me by my real name. At that moment pushing Shaira into the pond water was wrong but it still felt so right.

“Read the damn letter Raghu, just read that bloody letter,” I said.

He took out the paper, tore it to pieces and threw it on my face. If heart breaks could be heard, mine would have been the loudest.

Everything was clear.  My brother was so right, I was going to land up all by myself,  old and lonely.  I turned away, ran to the boys and picked up the bat. It was my turn to bat now.



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