I know nothing of the city that is. I had known it as it was, for a span long enough to generate the delusion of continuation in my mind. Today I want to take the critical distance required from my own self, because I am going to generalize over some sociocultural elements, based on my personal observations. I know that the project is doomed. I knew it before I began – as I have neither the expertise required nor the means to conduct the kind of survey it would take. I only have the will to put forth what I think, and an urge to prove it objectively.
Before we launch onto the journey, I must mention how it began. I was standing near a shop on a not-so-busy street on a Saturday. It was the afternoon. Two couples arrived there on two motorbikes assembled near the shop, not far away from where I was standing. They were totally oblivious of the surroundings and the Puritan in me was flinching at their Public Display of Affection.
I had to resist the whole time I was there, the strong urge to tell the owner of the shop: “It doesn’t happen back there, in Banaras”. I also kept thinking of the shrewd and insidious process of marketing of the mythology of love and the intimate relationship between the vaguely defined term that love is and the clearly and strongly known and felt libido of the insatiate. But these other thoughts should not interfere with the main idea. So, I created a polarity based on the presence and absence of PDA. Then I assigned positive and negative values to the poles, in accord with my cultural code assimilated in a small city, or, as Freud would prefer to call it: superego.
A kind of public display: Khajuraho (Source: Wikipedia.org)
I don’t know my city as it is today, for I have been away long enough to be considered a thing of the past. I can’t compare the city I live at present in, with the city I lived in my past because I have not known my present city in the past. Actually, I was wrongly comparing a city congealed in the year 2003 with another in 2013 with a kind of time-travel fallacy. In fact, the fallacy has started growing upon me. It’s interesting. So will be the results obtained.
I have been getting shocked (the exact word for the thing) of late by the public display of affection by heterosexual couples in the age group of 16-26 in Delhi and a couple of cities around it. The courtship behaviour on the streets and other public spaces in these cities did not “shock” me as I had been exposed to it in my Kolkata visits in the past. Even there I had not seen the display of screened or naked libido right on the streets & c. Yes, I had seen it in a Management Institute in Pune long before I had seen it in Kolkata. I tend to forget aberrations it seems. Hope it’s not intentional, and there aren’t/weren’t any aberrations that slipped while I had been discussing my old city on these pages.
In the Varanasi I knew, adults of the opposite sexes not in nuptial relationship aren’t/ weren’t expected or encouraged to appear in public spaces as a couple. To get an update, I called my friend Mr. Rishi Vohra there. He told me that in his three years and eight months since his return from his “pursuit of happiness” phase, he had witnessed only one such display in public sphere: at Ravidas Park, at around eight in the evening. So, the city remains as I had left it. That’s very reassuring, an effective antidote to my urballaghophobia.
So, Varanasi is nearly the polar opposite of Delhi-NCR even at present. I can safely guess that the people of 16-26 age group from Varanasi and the whole Purvanchal, when they come to Delhi-NCR, gel well with their counterparts, and they start to look and behave like the people they model themselves upon. When they go back to their hometown they revert to their old ways while they are there.
Cable TV and media have exposed even small cities like Banaras to the whole wide world. I don’t think that the polarity will hold for long. Changing demographics will not leave culture untouched. Older ones will keep perishing and the generation in power will gradually change the once popular and prevalent norms, and also remove the taboos from their seat of power.
Nepali Temple, Lalita Ghat (Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh)
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