Varanasi in 2020
'Swachha Bharat' or 'Clean India' being Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream project, Kajari Guha, a resident of his Varanasi parliamentary constituency, takes a stroll in the temple city of the future.
||Mon, Sep 29 2014|
Photo Courtsey: Wikimedia
An Enigmatic Beauty
My many Kolkata
The lilting voice with a foreign accent made me turn towards the huge black-clad figure with a large red circular bindi on her forehead.
For a second I was left in limbo.
“Namaste.” I replied trying to regain composure after a long yet relaxed walk along the new Assi Ghat of Varanasi. She was all smiles.
“Well dear, can’t you recall our first meeting? I was travelling in an auto- rickshaw with my friend who hailed from Kerala and you ----”
“Ye! Yes, Ketty! How are you?” I said and greeted her with a synthetic smile.
I recalled the face beaming like the morning sun. She made room for me and then folded her hands. I remembered the way she had expressed her love for India.
“I know a little bit of Hindi. I have come all the way from Italy to India to learn Hindi, India’s national language. I study Hindi in Banaras Hindu University.” She had said in 'tuti-futi' (broken) Hindi.
“Really!” I had not been able to hide my feelings. “Don’t you find it absurd coming here for learning Hindi that we don’t even want to speak?” I, who was always carried away by the middle-class sentiments and wished to speak English to feel at par with the elites, was bewildered.
“Oh! No dear. Not at all! I love India. I like the people here so so much,” she replied.
“Wow! So kind of you, yet it seems the life here is very hard. How can you be happy with these broken roads, the scorching heat and the open drains! Won’t you land yourself in trouble with the unhealthy surroundings all over Varanasi? The flies, the mosquitoes and the enormous buffaloes won’t allow you to feel good.”
I tried to give vent to all my suppressed notions against the prevailing circumstances. That was at the end of 2013, just before the robust performance of Mr Modi.
Ketty could not comprehend the gestures for my own country. However, her big smile had never faded. She said, “I am just charmed by the bond you people have. The immense love and respect you share with each other are the key factor that dragged me out of my place. How easily you can understand each other! How comfortably you stay together in a small house without any grudge! I see these things and they keep me wondering.”
I felt ashamed of myself and my petty thoughts. We had reached our destination and said good bye to each other. The words she uttered were etched in my mind.
After this meeting a number of years had passed. Things have changed.
That day Ketty felt amazed to see the sea-change in Varanasi -the holy city and the spiritual capital of India.
The crowded Dashashwamedh Ghat looked neat and clean in Modi Raj. The volunteers were there to manage the crowd. Ganga Aarti was being done with more fervor. The water in the Ganges looked crystal clean.
The boats were adorned with confetti and flowers. The festive mood prevailed throughout the year. The other important ghats like Moni- Kornica, Harish Chandra and Assi had also shed their grim and messy looks.
The city of temples was surcharged with the air of sanctity and dedication. The all-evasive Viswanath Temple was no more a narrow dingy place .The temple had been renovated, the lane leading to it widened. The stalls were shifted to an open space.
The pilgrims had to book their seats for Darshan (viewing). Only five hundred people a day were allowed to take a look at the sanctum sanctorum of Baba Viswanath.
Ten separate lines were there for the pilgrims. Each one held only fifty people. Everything was controlled in a vigorous way. The milk that was poured over ‘Baba’ was stored in a huge reservoir through metal pipes. The fragrance of the flowers and the incense filled the air with pious thoughts and one was oblivious of the jibes once uttered by the opponents of Mr Modi, “Now Baba would be washed with ‘aamras’, not milk.”
Not only the Viswanath Temple, but those of Kal Bhairav, Sankat Mochan and Tulsi Manas Mandir were bubbling with new zeal .The naughty monkeys were nowhere to be seen.
Varanasi was sparkling with spic and span lanes .The roadsides were adorned with shining super-markets and high-rise buildings along with lush greenery and beautiful flower-beds. The fusion of the ethnic and the latest had made a mark in the lives of many. It was as if peace transcended from heaven.
In the early hours, one woke up to listen to the sweet notes of raga ‘Bhairavi’ once played by Bismillah Khan on his ‘shahanai ‘. The melodious ‘azan’ delivered in the mosques took one back to the past of the “Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai. Ham sab hain bhai bhai” days.
My reverie broke with the fluent Hindi on the lips of the foreigner with high regards for India.
“It is not only the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphynx of Egypt that one would love to visit. Nor is it about the Machu Picchu of Peru that was lying hidden from human eyes. I am talking about the abode of Lord Shiva, Varanasi that had been and has become more important after the historical event of 2014 in the democracy of India.
What I am proud of is the same old spirit of tolerance and ‘satyagraha’ the people here have. May Baba Viswanath save this place from the clutches of the Midas that make people run after money and lose the charm of life-----.”
Ketty was all praise for the people of Varanasi and offered some flowers to the river Ganges.
I looked at her with awe and wished I could think the same.
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Kajari Guha (Saturday, Nov 22 2014):
Thanks a lot .We are really concerned about the condition of our country.However, this time there is a faint ray of hope for changes to come .Let us keep our fingers crossed.
Ronit Sengupta (Thursday, Oct 9 2014):
This piece is an eye-opener for India. Merely claiming to be a global player is not good enough. India should strive to be a leading force in areas like public health, education etc. It seems that the Indians are only romanticising with the idea of being a global player rather than taking the necessary effort.It's not only cleanliness, public health and education are two areas where there is no social safety net for the poor and no accountability of the service providers.
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