It was Bacon who had written in one of his essays (was it “Of Study”?): “conference makes a ready man”. It happened with me during my interaction, through my posts, with a very perceptive reader and a kasiphile. In response to her comment on one of my my previous posts I had written: I am a loner on ghats and choose times and places to be there when others are not around. Seclusion is what I look for and get. There are some places and times in Kasi when there’s no teeming mass around. I have found that soaking in the spirit of the place becomes easier at those times.
I have known it all my life, but putting it in words needed conference with another kasiphile. I think that I was able to imbibe the spirit of the place in the time that I had the fortune of spending in Kasi. The reason behind my love for my city is my understanding (I was tempted to use the grandiose “vision” here, but refrained from its use at the last moment) of Kasi.
Kasi and crowd come together and are associated permanently in the mind of a traveller/pilgrim who has visited the city. Be it the roads, or the galis and ghats: they are all crowded for a long part of the day. Crowd, that comprises of the persons of brown, white, yellow and black skins, on the ghats of Kasi is good for tourism industry and for many local industries and persons who are related to it. For me, it has been an irksome invasive force that snatched the sacred seclusion away from me. I can recount one incident that had happened times at the ghats, my ghats, between the crowd and me to prove the disturbing power of the crowd.
It was a day like any other day and I was following my routine in going to the fruits and vegetables market at Chowki Ghat. A brief (okay, not so brief as the word means) stay at Karnatak State/Vijay Nagram Ghat while walking towards Chowki Ghat was a part of my late afternoon-evening walk. I walked through the habitual galis on the way, passed the gali that turns towards the temple at Hanuman Ghat and reached the first stop: Karnatak State Ghat.
The choice of the exact point to sit and observe the ghatscape and the river from, was made on the basis of the state of cleanliness of the steps and the sun. The sun went out of equation long before the sunset, because the tall buildings on ghats start hiding its rays once it is mid-afternoon, and the process is complete by around four. So, I reached my ghat and started searching for an appropriate place to sit. I found out that I had not taken into account the crowd. There were people everywhere in numbers sufficient to call them a crowd. They had occupied all the available space on my ghat and I had to leave in search of a better spot. Naturally, I moved towards Chowki Ghat, my final destination. I could reach my destination using other paths too, e.g. leaving the ghats at Harishchandra Ghat and completing the journey through galis. I chose to remain on ghats and try my luck once more at another adda of mine: the Vijaynagram-Kedar Ghat area.
It was late afternoon, the time when these spaces are sparsely populated and provide opportunities galore for secluded introspection: the one thing that I needed then. When I reached there, I was shocked to see people pouring in and filling all the available space on Vijay Nagram ghat, and people decorating the steps of Kedar Ghat with earthen lamps filled with oil. It was a part of the drive to invent a city of spectacles for the tourists. Searching the internet for the key word “Dev Dipavali in Kasi”, I found out that the speactaclization of Kasi ghatscape had started two decades ago. The incident being mentioned here must have happened five years after the beginning of this festival on ghats. It was probably rising in popularity then. I have downloaded an image taken on that occasion from wikipedia:
That evening, I could not find a peace inducing spot on my ghats. I felt that my ghats and peace were snatched away from me. While searching for the same information, I also got to know that they conduct a Ganga Arti at Kedar Ghat daily: one more space and time snatched away for fifty-two weeks per year. I had seen the same taking place at Assi Ghat in one of my visits. It seems that all of my regular addas have become unavailable, at least at the point of time when I was habitual of being there every day. One look at the image above will be sufficient to make it clear that change is not always good, and that this spectaclization and this crowd can act as a deterrent to many who want peace of mind in Kasi and come there searching for it. But then, there are places and times in Kasi that still harbour a chance for finding it “far from the madding crowd” (The Elegy).
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