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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Banaras: A Bitter Memoir

I was reading a Jug Suraiya's column : Atheism is the best worship recently. I sunk deeply in the memories of city that I detest heavily. That city is Varanasi, notorious for touts. I will quote a paragraph here for the context :

A French sociologist has likened personal prayer and the giving of votive offerings to bribery. He has noted that in countries where the tradition of personalised God-worship is most entrenched –as in India, and in Roman Catholic Italy – the incidence of bribery in everyday life is also proportionately high. If God himself is a Babu who can be bribed to do your bidding with a prayer and a few diyas or candles, where’s the harm in slipping some currency notes to a bureaucrat or politician or policeman to do what you want done? Doesn’t God himself teach us to bribe? In which case, how can bribery and corruption be bad things, if they’re God-given?

Varanasi is the city of the old people and orthodox practices. There are lot of peoples with power and money without any sense of future. They live with same aura of timelessness that has surrounded this city from long times. The traditions and orthodox habits are only adapting comforts and avoid any drastic social changes in the veil of cultural preservation.

The scoundrel priests who extort money from the pilgrims & tourists with a blessing while reading few Sanskrit hymn and dab of powder on the forehead needs more than a few coins in return! These will be starters on the menu while main course of fraudulent nature appears gradually. One has to give up the baggage of tourist and interact with the people as of their own neighborhood to understand the minute details of the ruthless face of the town. This city always looks backwards for hope and stories. People here will always go into memories when they were somebody, who were loved and honored. Only saving grace in the city is BHU campus full of natural beauty and young students.

It is too overwhelming to see the sunsets and sunrise on the Ghats. What I found most amazing is our quality to ignore the desperate beggars, widespread poverty and flies swirling around atop a garbage heap on the edge of a river. The ancient traditions of this city fly in the face of modern rules of sanitation and public health. The filth of the daily life practices and prevailing hypocrisy in rituals in this holy city of Hindus reflect real condition of Hinduism. A religion filled with great philosophies and discriminative social culture at the same time.

It’s not the Ghats, the water or the spirit that is most breathtaking, but the corruption and deception. My stay at Varanasi is not the story of vanished moments. It is a mad tale of people asking for 'Moksha' and bribes in the same breathe. Amid chaotic and overwhelming city environment, the college life was full of relief.

In this tourist city, foreigners arrive with a certain image of India in mind, then only to have it shattered by teenage youths at the McDonald’s counter. Cultural shock for them ! A tip to pilgrims is popular as proverb in local culture.

Hindi Proverb: रांड़, सांड़, सीढ़ी संन्यासी। इनसे बचै तो सेवे काशी।।
English translation: Be on your guard against prostitute, bulls, stairs(of temples, bathing places etc., which may be very steep and dangerous), ascetic person but often a mendicant and then you may worship at Kashi (Varanasi).

I loved my college with the appreciation what life has to offer in various ways. In India when people want to die, they go to Varanasi to live there and to die there. No old man can believe that the days are good now – they were always in the past, the golden past, the good old days when things were like this and that. I also remember college days when everything was good. Now, I have become an alumni, the whole college world seems to be old and golden. But the world remains the same, only we go on changing. That I learned from that old and damned city.

Things to do in Varanasi:

1. The Sunrise along the 84 riverside ghats
2. Take a hand pulled boat ride down the Ganga River
3. The evening Ganga Aarti ceremony at Dasashwamedh ghat
4. The Burning Ghats at Harish Chandra and Manikarnika ghats
5. Ram Nagar Fort Museum across the river Ganga
6. Sarnath Museum, Ashoka pillar & Buddhist Sites
7. Chill out with students near Vishawanath Temple in the Banaras Hindu University campus.

I have seen many picasa photo albums and photo blogs of Varanasi. Best of all is : Visions Of Varanasi.

No tour of Varanasi is complete without Benarasi Paan. In the words of a foreign tourist : Be prepared to face the devastating power of Banaras Paan, a local betal nut product wrapped in a edible leaf and filled with molasses, rosewater, tutti fruiti, licorice, cloves and poisionous lime paste. Enjoy!


  1. Welcome sir, Its great honour for me to have you here on this blog and appreciating the post !



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