It’s October 2016 and I am in Varanasi. I am doing what I spent most of my time doing in this city: wandering. Varanasi is a city made for wandering. The city is thousands of years old and filled with interesting stores, food shops, temples, and wonderful people watching. I have been here for five days now and I feel as if I could spend my life wandering these streets, talking to people, drinking chai and snacking.
In the old city where I have spent all of my time, the streets are extremely narrow. On the busier ones, two people holding hands could touch the buildings on either side of the street. These streets are shared by people walking, on bicycles, and motor scooters, dogs, cows, goats, and sometimes monkeys. It’s too small to fit even autorickshaws or cycle rickshaws so most folks just walk. On the smaller ones, you might only be able to fit a single person and if you meet someone else you’d have to turn sideways to let them pass.
Generally speaking I’m looking for lunch but I’m not in any rush. When I get to an intersection I turn whichever way looks more interesting and continue. I don’t even need to worry about getting lost. As long as I can find my way to the Ganga river, I know how to get back to where I started.
Eventually I pass some kids around 4-5 years old playing ball together in the street. I turn down a narrow street next to them and walk another few metres. And then I see it.
There is a big cow in the street. She is tall enough that she can almost look me directly in the eye. And she is standing in a shady spot just where the street narrows. There’s no room for me to pass by her. And so we stand there looking at each other. I stand there for a good two minutes waiting for the cow to make a decision but she’s happy. She’s going nowhere.
And then I hear a sound in the distance. A scooter is coming from the other direction. And soon it’s on the other side of the narrowing of the street. They’re not as patient as I am, though, and honk their horn and rev their engine. This upsets the cow and she starts running – right at me! I look quickly for somewhere to run and see there’s only one spot – an open doorway to someone’s house. I dash in and the cow follows me part way in until it gets too narrow for her to comfortably continue. She backs out and then heads back to her spot in the shady narrow part of the road. I am in the same position I was before.
Not wanting to be chased in to that stranger’s house again (thank goodness nobody was in the room!), I give up on this direction. After all, I’m just randomly strolling. I’ll just choose another direction. When I get to the children, though, the smallest one, no more than four and barely taller than my waist, stops me.
“Kya hua?” (What happened?)
I mumble something about “bari gaay yahan hai!” (There’s a big cow there!)
The boy walks back toward the cow. He sees me standing there and says “Aaiye” (Please come) and I follow him reluctantly. He ducks in to the house I hid in and comes out with a big stick as tall as he is and as thick as a baseball bat. I’m a little worried what he’s going to do but I needn’t have worried. He lifts the stick up and drops it on one of the paving stones, making a big thump. The cow begins to move and the child thumps his stick a few more times. Soon there is space for me.
“Chalo” (Go on) he says.
“Dhanyavaad” I reply – Thank you.
I continue on to other adventures.