Poets and writers have their own way of saying things. They can make even the commonplace appear special. It’s possible that what a Ghalib or a Loti saw and showed in Banaras is not what others, the residents and visitors to the city, actually see. And then, it’s also possible that what millions of resident Banarsis and visitors get to see and what a select few who love the city see, are not the same. What may be the reason behind it?
Words denoting a concrete entity (like Banaras) have one fixed meaning and they can’t be redefined, can they be? What does the word “Banaras” mean? It’s a city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It’s situated on the banks of Ganges between 82° 56’E – 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N – 25° 23.5’N (Singh, Rana P.B.). It is also known as Varanasi, Kashi etc. All these facts define the city objectively. A lot more can be written about the city in the same manner, but that does not make its meaning clear. A gap remains: the gap between definition and satisfaction.
“Subjective is to objective what poetry is to prose”.
There are some who like poetry better, and then, there are some who love prose. Similarly, there will always be those content with the objective delineation but there also will be those who venture in the realms of subjectivity in search of meaning that satisfies their appetite. The persons who feel hungry even after having consumed the objective answer will remain dissatisfied. They must learn to be content with their state of aporia and enjoy sinking in the quagmire of absolute subjectivity.
The ideal/subjective Banaras is in the minds of those who experience it in any way: positive or negative. The concrete-objective things mean nothing in the last count. It is only the subjective, existing in the mind, that matters. So, those who love the city (kasiphiles), or those who hate it (kasiphobes), do it for their own personal reasons. The city is a construct – a text that belongs to the reader-creator. That being the case, why can’t one just revel in the subjective and marvel Godlike, looking at one’s own creation?
The first response to the word “Banaras” can be anything ranging from filthy to picturesque. Those who respond with “filthy” may be the ones who have lived in the city all their life or the ones who have come to visit for a few hours or days. Interestingly, the persons using the terms of the other type can also be described in the same words. So, there’s no set “type” of persons who like or dislike the city. They simply do what comes to them as a natural or learnt/programmed response. Now, amongst those who find the picturesque ranging up to the sublime in the city, shall we find those who call its morning unique and amazing.
What exactly do they find sublime? It is difficult to ascertain. To each his own, as it’s said. There’s something about Banaras that makes me look at my city and then declare with Yeats:
Dropping from the veils of the morning …
Peace is the thing that defines Banaras for me. But that point is totally irrelevant here because I experience peace at any time of the day at the ghats of my city. No, it’s not a hypothesis to be tested but a proved theory. Thus peace gets out of the list of the unique qualities of subahe Banaras. What else may be cited to prove the point in a better way then?
Singh, Rana P. B. “Varanasi as Heritage City (India) on the scale the UNESCO World Heritage List: From Contestation to Conservation”. <www.sasnet.lu.se/EASASpapers/46RanaSingh.pdf>.
Yeats, W. B. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172053>.
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