Kashi Ka Assi – Book Review and our own Reflections On Assi
Kashi ka Assi is a novel penned down by Dr. Kashinath Singh who a professor in the Hindi Department of Banaras Hindu University. The novel is written in Hindi, and explores the culture of Varanasi’s Assi area through stories of its inhabitants.
In the novel, the author says ‘जो मजा बनारस में; न पेरिस में न फारस में’।
Varanasi is a city where life is carefree and full of surprises. People here like to spend a substantial part of their days doing Tafari (doing nothing) and everyone has a bhokali (attitude). The neighbourhood of Assi is located on the southern edge of the city and is celebrated as the spot for Maujja (entertainment). Here, at a chai shop, you will find people from all walks of life – professors, students, bureaucrats, leaders, artists, religious gurus, beggars, etc. They open up at any discussion and have a strong view and feelings. These chai shops serve as a get-together point and debate battle zone for scholars of Varanasi.
The novel revolves around the life of Tanni Guru, Gaya Singh, Ramji Rai, and many more, who live along the above lines in Assi. The legendary Pappu chai shop is their hangout joint. The novel is based in the 90s with the backdrop of the socio-cultural & communal issues such as the Ramjanmabhumi, Mandal politics, increasing consumerism in the society, etc. and life of the people revolving around and affected by them.
The narrative deals with the life of Banarasi people in such a way that it will bring you joy, surprise, ease, bewilderment – all at the same time. It’s hilarious, tragic, and full of satire – and portrays the true Banarasi essence. Terms such as “baketie” (chit-chat without any real point of interest) and “Guru” give you the insider slang of Banaras.
The last story of the novel talks about the loss of laughter in today’s world of commercialization and grief. How the new generation is obsessed with earning money for the so-called necessities. How they forget to laugh naturally with friends and instead depend on gadgets for their happiness. The issue is dealt with in a sarcastic way but also with a pain that makes you realise the author’s deep connect with Banaras.
Overall, the book is a great read for anyone interested in Varanasi or good life in general! It brings you to Assi as you will relate with the characters and become a part of Assi’s culture and its Mehfils. You will find yourself sitting at the chai shop, discussing the political happenings with the gang. And that’s where the book does full justice. It takes you to Kashi ka Assi.
One word of warning though – some readers might be put off by the profanities used in the book as it describes a dialogue between the Banarasis who use curse words as an expression of love. This is the author’s refusal to tone down the language that gives the book the real feel of Varanasi
Some words about the writer Dr. Kashinath Singh.
Dr. Kashinath Singh was an Indian writer and also a professor in the Hindi Department of BHU. He was known for his short stories and novels in Hindi. He received the ‘Kendra Sahitya Academy Award’ for his book ” Rehan Par Raghu”, and also the ‘Bharat Bharti Award’ which is the highest literary award given by the Uttar Pradesh government.
Note on Assi of 2020
Even as Dr. Singh romanticized the Assi culture, he also lamented its loss with the changing times around 2004, so I thought it’d be fitting to give an update of how things have panned out. The Assi which the writer told us about was taking its first step towards globalization and commercialization. But now having been at it for a while, people are getting better at finding the balance between the new and old order.
Assi is again the most happening place in the town, where people came together to interact with each other and participate in different social gatherings. There are even cultural programs such as “Subah-e-Banaras” and “Ghat Sandhya” which celebrates the city’s culture – its music, dance, yoga, aarti, etc. All through the day and until midnight, students from BHU can be seen hanging out at Assi, playing music, and doing bakaite! On the full moon night, the place becomes all the more beautiful and brings the essence of the Assi that is romanticized in the book. Ganga joins the people in their jamming and sadhu can be seen sitting in meditation. Though Assi has changed through the course of the year it never lost its essence. It depends on the eye of the beholder how one wants to seek the Assi in Kashi. Personally, I believe it’s still a must-visit place in Varanasi and one of my favorite stops on our City of good life walking tour