Your Neighbourhood

The address of NIRMAN is N 1/70 Nagwa. Nagwa is one of the many mohallas or neighbourhoods in the ward under the Police Station, Lanka. The road on which NIRMAN is located is a main road that goes from Sant Ravidas Gate (an actual gate) to Samne Ghat (the river). Coming from the city, the railway station or the airport, just after the gate is the Police Station on the left, and about 200 yards down is NIRMAN on the right. So, the best landmarks to tell a taxi, auto or friend-driver bringing you to NIRMAN are a) Ravidas Gate, or b) Lanka Police Station, or, simply c) Lanka.

You cannot say “Nagwa” because the driver will then turn in from the main road towards where the dense neighbourhood of Nagwa is located. To increase the confusion, there is a “Ravidas Park” inside this neighbourhood, and if the driver does not hear clearly, he could mistake “Park” for “Gate,” both being named after the venerable saint Ravidas.

So, although NIRMAN’s address reads ‘Nagwa,’ your neighbourhood, if you live, work or study at NIRMAN, is actually ‘Lanka.’

Lanka, if you didn’t know, is the name of the city of Ravana, the demon king from the epic Ramayana. Lanka is a fabulous, glittering city, but Ravana is evil and has dark ambitions. So, our name has mixed connotations if you want to inspect it. The name was probably given because different scenes from the Ramayana are performed in different locations over the month of Ashvin (September-October), and the scenes set in Lanka must have been performed in the place called Lanka today. A little space still exists that is kept for the Ramayana performance and crowds attend the scenes being dramatised there on the fixed days.

Lanka is otherwise a market street. It extends roughly north to south. In the north, there is a fork, the westward road going to the railway station and the airport, together with many important localities, as well, such as banks, the court house, officers’ offices and bungalows, and shopping centres, as well as three malls. The eastward road is more interesting and runs parallel to the river, with lanes going off every few yards to the river. The further north you go, the older the city is, and the more convoluted the lanes—truly an experience for the person on foot. All this, and indeed the whole city, is described in a pedestrian-friendly way by Nandini Majumdar in her book, Banaras: Walks through India’s Sacred City (Delhi: Roli Books, 2014).

At the north end of Lanka market is a proliferation of fruit and vegetable sellers. Banaras has one of the nation’s richest areas in agricultural production. Most of the produce is organically grown, looks wonderful, and tastes delicious. It is sold either by farmers themselves, or by retailers who go in the early morning to one of the wholesale produce markets of the city and buy from villagers. These shops are all on carts or by the wayside. Fixed shops include milk treats, such as lassi, rabri and dahi, and more utilitarian shops of everything from mobile phones to garments.

As you move southwards there are several book shops, and stationary shops, usually called “Drawing Emporium” and shops of everyday needs: dry goods, clothes, fabric, footwear. There are many chemists’ stores and many, many eating places. This is all because we are next to the University, with its Hospital and patients, and its thousands of students, faculty and staff, and everyone has to shop. That is also the reason that there are one or two good, quiet cafes, Flavours, and Southpoint Cafe itself, but scores of bustling cheap street food places. No matter how attractive these look, if the food is off an uncovered table by the side of a road and all around it is uncovered garbage, flies and moving traffic with its dust, that food should be looked at longingly, but strictly avoided.

At the southern end of Lanka market you reach the statue of Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University, and then the massive gates of the University itself. The gates are open and traffic flows freely through them. It is a nice campus to walk in, and of course, to attend university events in. There is a temple at the heart of it which is a place of social congregation for students and has more fast food shops. Opposite it is the Central Library of the University.

Lanka also has a large hospital with outpatient facilities, used by NIRMAN for its visitors. Lanka has several tall apartment buildings. It has auto rickshaw stands with three wheelers that can take one to anyplace in the city and even outside. It is dense with traffic and in the evenings often features traffic jams, in which the music consists of everyone blowing their horns. In the middle of cars are cows, cyclists and pedestrians. If you wee critical, you would also notice that the sides of the main Lanka Road have uncovered drains that are often clogged with garbage.

But the great thing about Lanka is that you can buy literally anything, and eat anything, there; walk north or south into nice areas, south to the university campus, north to the riversides of Assi and the whole city beyond; and that then you can retire into the NIRMAN campus, which with its great guards, the dogs Manna and Rafi, its nice cafe and outdoor spaces, its plants and trees, should feel like a haven.