Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Benaras Journal, Oct 24th 2011

I think this place got the sweetest cows and bullocks I have ever seen till now. This writing of mine is going to cover a lot of ‘khichdis’ (mixtures) that I ve experienced in the recent months which I didn’t ve enough time to reflect upon, but I should have.
The Durga Puja of Benaras was an extravagant affair. All the ‘Bengaliness’ came up inside me. Though I didn’t know any Bongs here, it was anyways great to go around the gullies and streets in and around the ghats where the idols are extremely close to you. There are gullies in Varanasi where 2 person cannot walk parallely, forget about having ‘pandals’ and 5, 6 idols. These fellows here adjust it accordingly with all sizes, big and small. There is a place called “Bangali Tola” where most of the Benarasi Bongs reside. I heard my mother tongue being spoken by so many people after a long time. It was an unusual happiness. Usually I would get nervous in such situations. But that day was exceptional. There was one puja in ‘Beniyabagh’ which had electronic show where Anna Hazare pops up near Goddess Durga and shoots an arrow at a Politician and says, “Bhag Bhrashtachari Bhag” (Run you corrupt fellow). And to fine tune it with the story of “Goddess Durga” slaying “Mahishashura”, they give her back vocals where she calls the demon a “Bhrashtachari” (corrupt). I have heard this story of Mahishasura being evil and all but ‘corrupt’ was a fine addition actually.
Saw the birth places of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Kabir Das, saw Tulsi Das’s hangout spot in the ghat. Saw where Buddha gave his first sermon. It’s hard to believe such ugly changes that have taken place in the very place where such great philosophers were born and had spend their time. When I was passing by the birth place of Kabir, random sayings of his started hitting my mind; “When Kabir was born, the world laughed and God cried… Such were his deeds that when he died God smiled, but the world cried”. That place today is filled with ‘filths’, ‘dust’, ‘population’ of competing human beings who like to respect the past but can’t afford to get stuck in that dimension.
One tiny temple of one 'Baba Badal Bir’ in a gully called ‘Khojwa’. There is a full grown adult ‘peepal’ tree above the terrace beneath and across which are its roots that are spread. Mind you it has not touched any ground.
Baba and Julie went for a bicycle ride few days back. She was a happy monkey that day. That day  when I sat at Assi for the Ganga Aarti, couple of Goats happily sat beside me. Every animal including Dogs, cats, Monkeys, Cows, Bullocks etc.. except Bulls seems to be very friendly, sweet and humble. Makes you feel like patting every one of them. As far as the Dogs are concerned, they are good as I said, except the ‘Man eaters of Harishchandra Ghat’. They like flesh. They are what I would like to call the Aghori animals of Benaras.
Yesterday, 11th Oct, I went to Ramkrishna Mission and witnessed the ‘Aarti’ after perhaps 10 years. Blur memory of the lyrics, but undoubtedly the flow of the music is awesome, takes you to a journey actually, if you are a music lover. These gies add a last line to their ‘Aarti’ which other missions don’t; “Bolo Kashi Bishonath Onnopurna Gonga Mai ki Jai”. While walking back home, since my hindi reading has developed quite exceptionally well, I managed to read an inscription on a temple wall saying “Gouria Math”. I could hear a voice over a speaker. Without giving any thought, I entered the premises. One saint was talking about the 4 varnas and the four stages of a sanyasi. Didn’t get that part cause I entered mid way. What I did get was; “Chaitanya Gaurango says ‘kirtan’ happiness is more precious and far greater than the happiness you expect in heaven”. This followed by a couple of ‘kirtans’. It was not the best I have attended till now, but certainly singing ‘Hori Bol’ this time felt much better than my childhood days.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Benaras Journal, Oct 17th, 2011

Well I came to this place in the name of work, thinking I could make a difference to the lives of the people who are in need. Women Empowerment is what I am a part of here. Yesterday I head back home in an auto which accidentally touches the back tire guard of a scooty like a feather touching our skin. Our ‘mahila’ riding it says: “Benchaud, dekhke nahi chala sakta saale bhosri ke, iska paisa kaun tera baap dega madarchaud…” and she keeps on going. Finally the auto driver says “Madam galti hogayi I am sorry”, she shouts back “Its Okay”. I have no further words to describe my thoughts on this matter.
Anyways, there has definitely been interesting drawbacks and drawforwards regarding office works. What is more important to mention is about the 20 Women Producers who I work with. They have been trained in camera handling and stuffs to monitor the NGO’s works which have been funded by UNDP via IKEA. One of my friend said before I left Goa, ‘village women will remain village women’. I obviously do not consider my work as a bad one. It lets them earn some money and they like it. But yes, it does feel like burdening them with some sort of totally alien technology which most of them, well I bet almost all of them wouldn’t have done had I offered them some kind of a job related to milking cows or weaving baskets at the same price. Many will be utterly disappointed to hear this from me, but hey it’s a genuine feeling. They are already good at something and have skills which I and many other people do not. Who am I to dictate terms and tell them shooting camera is more cooler and lucratrive than milking cows or weaving baskets. Philosophically it is safe to say that yes there has been progress. Women here now ride bicycles and go to market on their own, start their own business etc. I say its not enough, they are still dumb. The ones who are so called empowered are dependent on their NGOs. It’s less learning and more ‘thopofying’ (forcing) coz the big ones at the top needs ‘RESULTS’ within a ‘time frame’. Now that’s the blunder.

Benaras Journal, Oct 10th, 2011

The conflict is just too much to bear. It’s difficult to explain; the difference in religions, beliefs, trust, favors, returns. The complication just gets more complicated and there is no escape route even if you decide to head back to an empty egg shell and close it for a long time. They say you then come out as a new man, but then again; Bullshit!
The conflict in Benaras for instance. Modernity up surging, trying to get established by glorifying it through places like Benaras Hindu University and other fuckers who came back from other states after completing their fucking studies or other business shits. Business fuckers trying to hit the jackpot by feeding products to people that they need! Few things that cannot change of course are the gullies, the pundits, the wild faith and the way these gies swear at each other. As if one can use this place as a brilliant example to describe the country India as a whole. The mixture is right there in front of your eyes. Frame your vision in one corner of any street near the ghats and observe for 5 mins, you’ll get it; a saare showroom with a signboard having a picture of the holy sacred cow. Go inside you will find the same thing there. ‘A white cow inside a saare showroom’! Aarti at evenings and pub culture at nights. Where exactly are we heading? Doesn’t really matter does it? Culture has been something where I guess change and assimilation are just synonymous.
The ‘Bander wale Baba’ in Assi… His monkey’s name is Julie and she bites. I see him who spends his life roofless and will obviously live and die in Benaras. I also see a ‘firang’ who has denounced the pleasures of life, wearing saffron robes and walking around ghats. A business guy quite ‘modern’ thought wise, born in Benaras, wants to die here as well.
I am not sure if we should call this a place where you find all your answers or a place where you start asking too many questions. In my case, I guess only time will tell.

Benaras Journal, Sep 25th, 2011

It rains and it rains unendingly terrorizing the olds and overjoiceing the young’s. The ghats once again gets covered under Ganges. She says, “You have fed me with enough shits, time to eat your own shits you earthly morons”. Streets, gullies, highways all filled by her. Never have I seen so much of rain anywhere before, never have so the people of Benaras. The ‘Bander wale Baba’ of Assi Ghat still savours his favorite spot. She missed him by an inch. Nevertheless, he and his faithful cannot escape the rain either. I walk past ‘Pilgrims Book House’ through the same gully which usually takes me 5 mins. Today it takes me half an hour, fighting through the water level which only kept on rising. I had to catch a train to Goa, but I can always rely on Indian railways for its timing. 5 mins it has been that I got out of my house with a bag pack and a stranger says “Aall trains cancelled wa”. I smile at him and keep moving on carefully throwing each step knowing very well that it could be my last, for there are unending pot holes which will lead you straight down to hell. I look up for a moment to see the wet monkey Brigades flying from terrace to terrace staring at me with weird smiles saying “Sucker”! A 6 yr old kid comes out of his house in ‘chaddi & banyan’ holding 2 notes of Rs 10 each trying to get down on the road obviously with the intention of buying something somewhere. As he tried to get down the steps, I prayed so that he would go back, for I knew that even if he was the son of the soil, this angry woman will drown him today. He went back and I carried on. The 5 mins walk was finally over and I was on the main road.
I reach the railway station relying on the timing of our faithful Indian Railways. It was late === 16 hours ===. Although it was undoubtedly the longest wait comparatively to other trips, it doesn’t feel annoying anymore. What if we didn’t have Indian Railways at all? Perhaps my travel saga would have never even initiated. Rich or poor, I am always going to be a faithful customer, riding in Sleeper Class observing people, fields and states for hours unending and when bored, flipping pages of books at the speed of light. Trains are definitely the best place to read books.
I escape the treacherous rain and head for Goa to get a cultural break, bidding goodbye to that unforgiving day of 24th Sep, 2011.