Changing Relations Between Man and City

My grandparents had come to Kasi in the thirties of the last century and made it their home. In their old age they had a strong wish. They wished to die in Kasi and get moksha. Their wish was granted. they were very religious persons till the end of their lives. They used to take me with them to Kedar Ghat and Temple and Vishwanath Temple. It was in their daily routine to visit these temples and I used to be their occasional and elated companion. I do not know as many galis as they did, as deeply and closely as they did: especially my grandfather. I used to hear about the places, being mentioned along with the people who stayed there: real people, with names and identity.

My grandfather used to tell my grandmother about his plan for the afternoon ahead. He used to mention names of places and people I have never met or been to: places like Tara Temple, Shyama Temple, Kasi Karvat etc. They had a close relation with the city and its people – a kind of relation that I don’t have. It is the realization of my so very incomplete nature of my relation with my city that makes me confess on these pages that I have a very nano-partial kind of knowledge of Kasi.

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The dilution or erasure of the relation between the city and its people and my gene line started with me. My father has had close relations with the persons who belonged to his father’s circle and he developed his own circle of Banarsis. He spent the first six decades, nearly all 21900 days of them in Kasi. He used to travel too, but his base, his home used to be Kasi: the place where he always returned. Thus he could develop a close, cellular kind of relationship with his city. He does not stay there all 365 days of a year now, but calls it his home still.

People of generations prior to mine had the fortune (some call it luxury) of having a hometown that used to be the stage where the five acts of their life’s play were played. The circle of their audience used to be well known to them as they used to be old friends, acquaintances and neighbours. They belonged, I couldn’t, not while I was there. I must not blame it all on soci0-cultural factors but the shifting of employment opportunities away from the smaller towns and cities, just as the previous shift from villages to cities, must be mentioned as the main reason behind uprooting of the rooted and the state of mental un-rootedness cultivated in modern societies – more in urban ones, but not absent in rural ones too.

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The image above is of a street near my paternal house. Looking at it fills me up with a longing to be one with it. Now. That’s what the heart says. But the mind has its weapons: rationalization, erasure, manipulation and so on, weapons with which it attacks whatever is old, close and missed a lot. I live in a big city and have no relation with it. Many will ask, “How can one develop a relation with a city?” Well, it happens. It happens when a child grows up seeing the same houses, streets, galis, ghats and people day after day. It happens when he expects to see the same sights every day. It happens when all the good and bad aspects of his place have become parts of his being. It happened with me too.

I left then. Leaving the hometown is not a new phenomenon. Remember Pip’s leaving his village and his people? There were people before me and there will be people after me too: leaving their place and people. What makes my experiences unique is: nothing. They are so universal that it is not even required to make their list and explain them. I make so many degressions that the main idea is always left hanging somewhere. Let’s leave leaving here and proceed with the changing relations theme.

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These are my people: all of them. No exaggeration or generalization here. Starting from the left are Pappu Bhaiya, Laxmi Bhaiya and Shubhu of the Yakku fame. The two bhaiyas (in the beginning, this word meant elder brother and was suffixed to the name when one wanted to show respect and affection, but today, especially in and around Delhi, it’s a pejorative term) remained in Kasi and Shubhu left for Bangalore. We see two categories present between these three people: the rooted and the uprooted. The third category is of the un-rooted: those who do not belong to their hometown. In fact, they do not belong to any one place.

These categories are neither genetically determined nor genetically inherited. Among the members of my family, the feeling of uprootedness can be detected in those who were born and brought up in Kasi, i.e. among the members of my father’s generation. Most of the members of the next generation are either settled abroad or in a city that’s not their hometown. Kasi is not even in the equation. The distance between man and the city is increasing. Gone are the days when people used to get attached to their city of birth or work. Now they relate to the units like family and things like their career as they have already accepted the inevitability of employment migrations, sometimes, several times in their professional career. Most of the people fall in the un-rooted category then. But these categories may be seen in the same person with changing mindset or age, e.g. a person may start being rooted, may then be uprooted and then become un-rooted.

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