Benares and Boom Shankar Baba
Click bellow and listen to the voice of Boom Shankar baba as he sings from the banks of the Ganga
The ancient city of Benares hugs the silted banks of the river Ganges and for the last decade it has been one of my favourite places in India to visit. Benares is a morning and an evening city, the sun seems to rise and fall more slowly than anywhere else I have ever lived in India. The reality is that because Benares is a south-facing city, a single day can seem a long and drawn out heated affair. Like most foreigners who visit Benares I always get demonstrably ill when I visit, though this never stops me from returning.
On the steps that lead down to the river, people from all walks of life bath in the holy water and it was whilst sitting at Assi Ghat that I first met Boom Shankar Baba.
On that day in November 2003 I was sitting alone eating Chick pea and Potato out of a plate that was shaped into a bowl made out of dried leaves. An old man, who only had one leg, who I had just seen precariosly leaning on to his bamboo pole that was slowley sinking into the mud whilst he tried to wash him self in the river, sat down next to me. He grabbed my arm, his grip was very firm and he said “No leg. No problem.” He spoke in a rich mellow growl. His voice was barely audible to me but I immediately knew what he meant. He meant I have no leg, but I am still working. He meant, that he was not a beggar.
He showed me a few of his post cards. I asked him how much they were to buy and he replied, “up to you”. I chose some post cards and I gave him some money, buying a few from him, he seemed happy with the amount of money that I had given him. I asked if I could take his portrait, he said yes and he stood next to the wall behind us.
Boom Shankar 2005
Assi Ghat is one of my favourite places in India to ‘be’ and I do mean to just ‘BE’. In the true ‘Hippy Buddhist’ sense of the word. Assi Ghat is the first and one of the most auspicious Ghats in Benares to bathe. Assi Ghat is always quieter than the two burning Ghats where Hindu’s are cremated, day in and day out. Assi Ghat is also a much quieter place to sit, think and relax than the main Ghat where the busy evening ceremonies are held.
I have met Boom Shanker Baba many times over seven years and we always sit and eat our lunch together. Both of us liked the same food of ‘spicey potato with chick pea’ with none of the horrible sweet source.
Boom Shankar 2006
I have sat and watched Boom Shankar Baba many times as he tries to sell his post cards to both Indian tourists and to foreigners a like. Most of the time he is fobbed off, but some times he manages to make a small amount of money. Who ever he is talking to his opening line is always. “No Leg. No problem”.
Boom Shankar 2009
I can’t imagine being in Benaris and not meeting up for lunch with Boom Shanker. Along with watching the sun slowley rise in Benares, Boom Shankar Baba is the other good reason for me continuing to return to this holy city. If the day comes when I do not meet up with Boom Shanker, then maybe I will never go back to Benares.
Jason Scott Tilley.