Culture & Society

The Abode Of Alice Boner In Varanasi

Unlike the bustling Harmony bookshop nearby, which draws attention effortlessly, Alice Boner’s abode stands quietly at Varanasi’s Assi Ghat, a testament to patience and discernment, awaiting those with a keen eye and a yearning heart.

Alice Boner on the terrace of her house in Varanasi
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Nestled in the heart of Varanasi, amidst the timeless rhythm of the Ganges, lies a hidden gem that eludes the casual eye — the Alice Boner Institute at Assi Ghat. For decades, this haven embraced the Swiss scholar and artist, Alice Boner, in its tranquil embrace, yet its allure remained a whispered secret to many, including myself, until I stumbled upon it in search of a venue for my book launch.

From the moment I laid eyes on the institute, I was enraptured. Its elusive charm, akin to a captivating work of art, beckoned to my soul, stirring a longing to explore its depths further. Unlike the bustling Harmony bookshop nearby, which draws attention effortlessly, Alice Boner’s abode stood quietly, a testament to patience and discernment, awaiting those with a keen eye and a yearning heart.

Approaching the building, one is greeted not by a grand entrance, but by a verdant balcony adorned with potted plants, hinting at the hidden treasures within. The unassuming facade belies the rich tapestry of history and inspiration that awaits within its walls.

Crossing the threshold, the air is heavy with the scent of nostalgia, wrapping visitors in a warm embrace of familiarity. A tiny courtyard, open to the heavens above, offers respite from the chaos of the world outside, its rough stone floors cool beneath bare feet, reminiscent of the ancient Ghats that line the sacred river.

Ascending the spiralling staircase, darkness gives way to the unknown, leading to corridors that open onto the tranquil waters of the Ganges, a sight that never fails to stir the soul. In the monsoon season, the river’s embrace draws near, reminding inhabitants of its timeless presence and the cyclical nature of life itself.

Within the institute’s walls lies a sanctuary for artists and scholars alike — an air-conditioned library bathed in the soft glow of yellow lights, where ancient tomes line the shelves, whispering tales of ages past. Here, amidst the silence, one is invited to ponder, to create, to become lost in the magic of the written word and the beauty of the imagination.

In the words of Alice Boner herself, penned in her diary on a February night in 1936, the house on the Ganges is a place of solace and inspiration, where the world unfolds before one’s eyes, and the simple peace of a monastery envelops the soul. It is a place of fulfillment, of warmth, of love — a gentle stream where one finds refuge amidst the chaos of life’s currents.

(Vivek Nath Mishra is the author of two short story collections and a resident of Varanasi. Views expressed are personal.)

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