The Mobile Paperweight

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Ghats of Varanasi have always been sites of public activities, as and as long I have known them. They show and screen change in the city and they resist it too in many ways. They are the most permanent markers of the city’s face in popular imagination. People come to the ghats at different times of the day for different purposes. One of the most popular purposes in the morning is ganga snan, or taking a dip in the river that gives life to the city. While many take their customary dip, few chant, recite or read their shlokas or Ramcharitmanas. It’s their vocational duty, and their means of earning their daily bread too in many instances.

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The gentleman at the centre of the above photograph, the one wearing a blue-green sweater, looks like any other professional reader on the ghats. I had passed him while going from Bhadaini Ghat towards Anandmayee Ghat. I would not have clicked these images had I not marked a curious paperweight upon his book. So, I clicked away (and stole a couple of prolonged glances too) for a couple of minutes.

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It’s only by zooming in that I could be sure of capturing clearly what I could see and hear on the ghat that morning. So, I zoomed in and captured the mobile paperweight (or the paperweight mobile. or the paperweight that was a mobile or a mobile that was a paperweight?) on the holy book that he must have been found reading nearly a decade ago at the same time and place.

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The sound of the background music and the chanting wafted in the morning air. No, it was not live. The recorded chant of the book’s content arose from the book itself, rather from the paperweight on it. It’s urballaghologically important, this phenomenon, because change has permeated up to the deeper cultural layers of the city’s existence. The substitution of human voice by the mechanical one is just one instance of that change in the city.

People change; so do places. There’s nothing strange in the descent of change on to my city and its people, is there? If change is not strange, is my resistance to it strange? One of them must be uncommon, strange, or, at least they should be mutually exclusive. If both of them are natural, nature becomes some sort of game: a joke at my expense. Doesn’t it?

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