The dense maze that the alleyways (gali) of Varanasi make in the old city makes it necessary that their detailed map is produced. As far as I know, it has never been attempted. So, I will attempt its pico- version here. No, not in the visual map form but in terms of its psychogeographical effects. The area taken for such attempts must not be very large. The one I make here centres at Karnatak State Ghat that forms the point from which a semicircle-ish map is made with Gangaji as its base.
There are many parellal galis in the area enclosed by Gangaji Shivala Road, Harishchandra Ghat Street and the broad gali that joins Shivala Ghat and Road. The galis intersect with one another to make a grid like structure. The zone coloured yellow, with a star in it, is intimate zone for me. The one in creamy brown is the zone I am the most ignorant about in the map. There are reasons behind the intimacy and the ignorance both: reasons I became aware of simultaneously with the awareness of my ignorance.
One look at the map will justify the river-gali and the network of the galis being referred to as a labyrinth or maze. This area is much recent in its construction in comparison to the pakki mahaal, otherwise, the maze would have been denser and more confusing. With garbage and refuse strewn all around, the galis aren’t very inviting for the outsiders. No, I’m not going to launch into a “my filth is better than your flowers” mode. The galis aren’t for everyone.
In my default dreaming mode, I am always in my city, mostly on ghats and galis. I can actually be there and not know its difference from really being there until I wake up, because the feel is right. It’s not the exactness in the visual field that makes a dream of my place credible. The exactness is required in the area of emotional responses involved: responses to the place. It’s as close to the text book definition of psychogeography as it ever would be, in real life. I don’t see as much as I sense and feel my place; my haunts. The galis are constructed in my mind itself. The basic elements are all there. They have been there since my childhood days. I had imbibed most of them much before reaching my late teens I think.
I have started losing my way in my galis nowadays. It has happened both while dreaming and while in fully lucid state. Why to go far? It had happened while I was drawing the map above. The creamy white zone denotes the area whose galis I don’t remember with even low degree of surety. The yellow zone is the one I will never forget: not until Alzheimer’s takes it all away and wipes it clean. It’d be interesting to study longitudinally whether it can erase the memories of one’s strongest feelings and emotions, and places and people that arouse them, or not.
I know a lot about the Glorification-of-a-remote-past Syndrome. I may have developed it of late. It may be a folly, but, what a glorious folly it is! It gives me another plane of existence – something like an addictive endocrine secretion inducing phenomenon. Marx’s “alienation in the modern cities” idea was very much right, but we can’t escape it even after recognizing the juggernaut and knowing its plans and effects fully. Can we?
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