People make places what they are. Here “they” may equally appropriate and meaningfully mean people or places, changing the final interpretation of the previous sentence in each instance. When it means people, the sentence will allude Biblically to the people’s making places in their own image. The other case will be less hard deterministic and less idea-listic, meaning places that places are made by people. In direct contrast to the first sentence stands the geographical determinism of the purely idealistic sentence that follows: Places make people what they are [in both usages of they]. Well, which one’s the case? The reality?
Gangaji in flood and boats tied to ghats behind the sheets of rain have a magical alchemy of theirs, but different people respond to the same stimulus differently. Moreover, the only person whose responses I am deeply and naturally acquainted with has been found reacting to the same stimulus in different ways at different phases and stages of his life. So, places don’t make people what they are, in a directly controlled sense. Nor do people imagine or colour places as they are. How would such a wide range of people express awe in similar terms to the stimulus mentioned above?
People interpret places like texts, making out of their experiences new places due to some sort of chemical reaction in which both the reactants change to yield something new. Sublimity or, more plainly, beauty, isn’t experienced by everyone, nor in presence of everything. Certain objects or experiences combine with certain states of mind in certain people to create sublime, or aesthetic pleasure. The same may be said of Varanasi. I spent a more than seventy-five percent of my life there, without actually being awe-struck by its beauty.
The ghat that used to be my everyday (twice a day) haunts have changed now, somehow. I visit them now (once in two years, maybe) with the fear that it may be my last visit for a couple of years to come. An exile is some sort of pariah, or worse, an invisible, undesirable, unknown entity. He becomes anonymous and returns unspectacularly – as I did, do and probably will keep doing. These places become what they have become because of their association with my past: time, state of being and emotions. They become triggers to start a set of thoughts that flash stories to the reminiscent mind.
Take, for example, Vijay Nagram Ghat. A very common looking ghat it is, with tens of equivalents just in Varanasi. What makes it significant for me, doesn’t also make it essentially beautiful. I like revisiting it physically or mentally, not because it is special per se, but because of its association with my past life has made it a part of my life, and special.
So my experiences and sightings aren’t individual and personal at all, I believe them to be very universal, not in the sense of being present in every human being but in the sense of being generated by m/any other place/s in the people whose pasts are intertwined with them. So, I’m sure there must be many who feel like I do about their places, cutting across the four dimensions of space and time. Unapologetic I’ll remain then, totally and intimately personal, while re-living my past in Kasi through the snaps and words on them, and the stories from there.
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