I come from a city that is ‘twice older that history, tradition and legend all combined’, in the words of Mark Twain.
Yes, I come from Varanasi.
Varanasi’s that ‘oldness’, something that the American writer was trying to express, is an eternal benchmark of the city, its hallmark – but with changing times, has become a time-specific sore point as well.
Because of the people who are supposed to manage its affairs. They exploit the city’s antiquity but have deliberately left it devoid of an imperative modernity.
Any Banarasi is proud of its history, tradition, culture and existentialist ethos. And I am a proud Baranasi.
But a realist one. The city is a living mess now, pushed to a civilizational oblivion by its policymakers, the officials of the state government.
Its fame as being the spiritual-religious capital of India and one of the oldest living citadels of the Indian civilization has failed to catch up with the needs of the changing times.
And when I say of ‘the needs of the changing times’, it’s not about its society or its spiritual-religious of cultural heritage or its academic legacy, it’s about its crumbling infrastructure. The unorganized growth has not yet met its balancing ‘organized growth’ counterpart. It has failed so far in any of its effort, efforts that are all half-baked.
Often, the shabby state of affairs create interesting anomalies to pause, to look at, to stare at, to think, to muse, to feel bad, to feel satirical, to get irritated, to feel pushed to express, or to laugh it off with a frustrated smile.
Varanasi is, technically, a metro city now for many years and the basic civic amenities that should be for a metro city that is also a global tourism attraction – piped water, piped gas, 24-hour electricity, a proper city transport, an efficient administration for health and educational facilities, a modern airport – these basic requirements are a far cry for the city that is one of the major contributors to India’s tourism earning; a city that is educational, spiritual and cultural hub; a city that is one of the very few places in the world having seen the shades of human civilization since the human civilization began.
The city is crumbling under the pressure of administrative and political apathy that has pushed the city’s infrastructure to the ignominy of being a Ganga city where the water of the Holy River is not fit for the Holy Dip.
That is why Varanasi vote en-masse for Narendra Modi because they saw in him the best chance for the city’s revival to emerge as the heritage capital of India – an aesthetic blend of religion, spirituality, culture, tradition, antiquity and modernity. Throughout his campaign, Modi pushed for an extensive vision of making Varanasi a world class city, that we believed the country’s prime-minister and the development-oriented administrator will deliver to us.
My last Varanasi visit this March was after a long time, some 20 months. I was tied up here and there and missed the city I grew up in.
So, when I went there this time, after 10 months of it electing Narendra Modi, I tried to assess the mood in my conversations with the people, from different walks of life, from academicians to administrators, from ghat-dwellers to people living nearby its airport outside the city’s urban limits, from students to rickshaw-pullers and so on.
While my first-hand account didn’t find the situation in line with the huge expectations with which the city voted for Modi, it was in sync with the reality-bound thoughts that Modi needed time to deliver given the decades and administrative and government apathy the city has seen.
Also, a basic need is the change in the mindset of many of the residents who take the city for granted, adding to the garbage dump the city has become synonymous with, giving it bad name.
Though city’s mess is basically due to the insensitivity of the state governments, the city residents have compounded the city’s problems by irresponsible acts. Modi had rightly reminded the city during his first visit as its elected representative that it needed to change its course to get the city cleaned. His ‘paan and spit and stains’ anecdote is a universal problem of Varanasi that sums up how its inhabitants have contributed in giving the city a bad name.
Good days not are yet here – but Modi is still the best hope for the city.
And the Banarasi spirit says – the day will come – till then, we will manage with it – with the ‘travel’ alternatives available.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/