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
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
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