“The time is out of joint”, said Hamlet, in circumstances not at all similar to mine. I feel like repeating him whenever I feel the pull of the pre-partition Lahore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Udaipur and Varanasi. The list begins with Lahore because despite being drawn towards it, I don’t think I’ll be able to visit that great South Asian city even in the present time. Varanasi comes in the end because I hope to plan many visits in future.
By the term pre-partition I mean the time period from the advent of photography to that part of the previous century that ended with the partition of India, i.e.1900-1947. The painted images or black and white photographs of the old cities, the two world wars, the streets and people and markets, they have a kind of attraction nothing else has. They arouse a kind of “what if” emotional response in people sensitive to the history of the places. A friend of mine pines for the pre-partition Punjab and Bengal; another, for the second world war Europe.
(Dashashwamedh Ghat. Source: thebenaresofjamesprinsep.com)
(Varanasi, as Prinsep saw it. Source: thehindu.com)
(Lahore street. Source: wikipedia.org)
My Lahore attachment began with my interest in 1947. With its monuments and buildings, Delhi is a history book in itself. With Kolkata and Mumbai it has been the centre of life in India for a very long time. All these cities have their own character and aura. It is said that Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. Historians may find some other such city tomorrow. My interest in the city is purely personal, and my interest in the city as it was, is because of my retrospective bent.
Looking for around thirty seconds at the front of the image above (I had enlarged it by zooming) a very strong urge to enter the street and walk past the gentleman standing a little left from the centre towards the end of the street. The houses lining the street, with their balconies, chajjas, chhatris, and overhangs invite me. This street, and many others in other times and places, bring together Banaras that I miss and the past that I miss without ever having been there.
The protagonist in the film Jumper could teleport himself into any photograph he saw. He is shown doing so with contemporary images of the places as they are in his time. What I need is the power of time travel combined with that of teleportation. If not in real life, then in my imagination at least.
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