Sunday, October 27, 2013

To the Eternal City ...

I have made two trips within a fortnight to the world's oldest living city, Banaras. The city as usual inspires me, takes me back to the roots of Hinduism, but sometimes also disillusions me. On my last visit I landed on the Maha Ashtami during Navratras, and the whole city was doused in the religious fervour. Banaras is indeed a City of Temples, one can literally fina a temple in every corner - on every nukkad or chauraha, on the side of a road, below peepul trees, near a pond and of course, on the ghats of the Ganges ... in all sizes, of various deities. 

While it is called Shiv ki nagari, people celebrate every festival, pray to all Gods... And as we travelled from airport to BHU, through the city, we saw all temples decked up with flowers and lights, offerings of fruits and sweets in their decorative patterns. Devotees thronged not only the puja pandals, but the temples nearby as well. 

And while people went on going around celebrating and worshipping, one could not help observe the nonexistent roads, power through gensets, debris strewn across and the piled up garbage. The administration in its efforts to widen the roads had also razored parts of the bundling on the sides which had resulted in not only the debris but mud and slush. A good monsoon season and the non-stop rains post Phailin cyclone further exposed the crumbling infrastructure and administration of the city. Being one of the important destinations for not only Hindus, but also for Buddhists and Jainists - the town is a major tourist place. And the city plays host to plane loads of tourists every day post monsoon season. 

It makes me wonder that the infrastructure in this ancient city must have been exemplary in the past to cater to tourists from all over the world. The city has been talked about by lot of travellers, poets and other historians. Infact, the city I remember from my childhood days was a lot cleaner, unpolluted and traveller friendly. 

So who takes responsibility of making this city habitable for its residents as well as the visitors? In the election year, what promises will be made by the political parties and what will be delivered? Will the city ever gain back it's grandeur or will it perish in the years to come?

To Banaras...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guha decodes Gandhi

To many of us common man, whatever we know about Gandhi comes from what we read in school or what we saw in Richard Attenborough's film on Gandhi. And we leave it to historians and scholars to weave their way through the realms of biographies and writings on and by Gandhi, and present us with the finished portrait.

Ramchandra Guha's new book Gandhi before India has done precisely that albeit with a focus on deciphering Gandhi before he became Mahatma. A simple austere ceremony to release the book on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti itself symbolised the Gandhian way of life. A stage bereft of any decorations except a podium, small red carpet with two chairs and a table, Chiki Sarkar introduced the book and the author. The author then went to talk about his obsession with Gandhi, his plans for two more books on the subject given his voluminous research work.

Ram Guha talked about Gandhi as one who talks about oneself, as if he had observed Gandhi in action. He attempts to portray characters - family, friends and foes who influenced Gandhi to understand the making of the man inside. He peppered his talks with revelations on how Muhammad Ali Jinnah corresponded with Gandhi in 1897, 50 years before the partition of India. Would history would have been different if the two would have become legal partners? Or would Gandhi would have been a different man if South Africa hadn't happened to him?

As Guha cautions not to emulate Gandhi as a father or a husband, he believes that understanding of Gandhi's vision for modern, inclusive and tolerant India is still relevant for the change that we want to see in the world... 

October 2, 2013