“what forgiveness” said T. S. Eliot, “After such knowledge”? Theory tarnishes (or, according to a softer view: informs) permanently. Unlearning mayn’t be complete in most of the cases. That is definite and true in my case. While thinking about my city, I stumbled upon what I recognized instantly as a grand narrative, rather, the Grand Narrative of Banaras.
I value my city only because it’s mine. There are other people and their cities too. I don’t claim any objective kind of superiority for my city. Yet, subjectively, I do. It’s my right to hold and uphold my views. Isn’t it? Someone has said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (wasn’t it Voltaire?). So, I’m sure others will defend to death my right to say it, even when they disapprove of whatever I say!
In a more sober and serious vein, why do people attempt to lend objectivity to their subjective observations and views? Why is there one whole section of Skand Puran on the grandness and significance of the city called Kasi (Kasi Khand)? Why do the Hindus (I’m one too) of at least India look at the city as holy? Why do they need it? And, one of the more important questions: what came first, the central position of the city or its various minor mahatmyas in their sung, written or printed forms? I can’t even attempt to answer any of these questions, except the first one.
Legitimation is the technical word for the product of the process that lends objectivity to subjective observations. So, people feel the need to convert the abstract into concrete, because then it can be looked upon and held with a self-assuring certainty. Be it a geocentric solar system or a Kasicentric world, the basic idea behind the creation of the centrality must have been the same: to give sense, security and certainty to the otherwise chaotic and indecipherable world. No, I’m not attempting any epistemic re-visioning here, but question I must.
I am trying to question the absolute kind of essentialization that my city has been subjected to, through ages. I don’t have any objection to its centrality. I have problem only with the kind of centrality gained through, what I call, a soft deceit. It’s due to the insidious process of essentializing propaganda that the image has now obscured reality for most of the people looking at or towards the city.
I have read about my city, have heard about it from others and, most importantly for me, have spent nearly seventy-four percent of my life there. For me, it is the only place where I have been successful in finding peace, even if for few moments. So, imagination and the metaphorical band may be stretched long enough to call it anandvan. Strangely, Lord Shiva, his son Skanda/ Kartikeya and the sage Agastya: Kasi is literally anandvan for them, as the Kasi Khand of Skand Puran says. The puran infuses the element of divinity into the idea of the city of Varanasi, thus raising it above the material plane into the realm of ideas and abstractions.
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