Banaras: The Picturesque and the Filthiest – 2

My blog, as far as I know about it, has never presented the filthy face of the city. It has acknowledged a couple of times that my city is filthy, but has then always drawn the attention away from the fact by presenting something more interesting the very next moment. It has been largely unconscious: the process of my subscribing to the stream of “Banaras is beautiful ” discourse. Now, I confess and bring my cards out to the realm of consciousness. Yes, I have been contributing, in my own manner to the “Banaras is beautiful” stream and will continue doing so. The gallery above is another endorsement of the stream I keep contributing to. There’s one more reason for my not putting the filthy Banaras on display: when it comes to clicking, I tend to gravitate towards the picturesque and away from the filthy. hence I don’t have much filth to show.

That being established, I can proceed to my account of my city’s filth and my reaction to it. I have always hated filth from as long back as I can remember. I used to hate drizzles as the below saturation amount of rainwater reaching the surface of the galis and streets would then make a thick colloidal solution kind of thing with dust, dirt, garbage, cowdung etc. That solution did not feel good on the skin of my feet protected only by a chappal.

I hated walking barefoot to Baba Vishwanath’s darshan not merely because the whole gali-street combination leading to the entrance of the famous Vishwanath Gali used to be dirsty. It was because  the gali then entered and specially the stretch after Annapurna Temple gateway would be filled with grimy and sticky suspension and I used to hate that sensation on the soles of my feet.

In Banaras, cow dung and dog’s poop are strewn liberally all over the walking surface of the galis (and streets). Banarsis who have personal problems with an exposure to that kind of material, i.e. the non-resistant Banarsis, acquire the habit of putting their steps forward very carefully. I am one of the non-resistant variety and even after my taking extra precaution my feet used to tread upon cow dung sometimes. Whenever that happened I used to search for the nearest source of water supply to wash my feet and slippers. The feeling of walking with the sticky dung makes me uneasy even today, as it not only affects the body but also the mind. It’s a kind of minor trauma for a NRB. [Note: Bull’s excreta is stickier and has the power to affect the victim up to at least the level of his soul]. Add to that the garbage thrown on to the galis where it stays for twenty-four hours minimum, and its subsequent removal for storage, as an intermediate yet long duration step, at some open front and roof storage space situated in densely populated parts of the city.

Are we evolutionarily programmed for repulsion from filth, just as pigs are for attraction to it? Has there been any historical/sociological/psychological study related to the field? What explains the modern man’s hatred of filth, apart from its being unsanitary of course. The theory and practices of the Aghori sect may help us understand the phenomenon. The following quotation may be a good point to begin at:

           The gurus and disciples of Aghor believe their state to be primordial and universal. They believe that all human beings are natural-born Aghori… human babies of all societies are without discrimination, that they will play as much in their own filth as with the toys around them. Children become progressively discriminating as they grow older and learn the culturally specific attachments and aversions of their parents. (161)

(Source: Barret, Ronald L. Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in Northern India. Oakland: University of California Press, 2008.)

I find it true, as far as my observation is concerned. It’s probably the process of socialization that introduces human beings to the hatred of filth. The concepts like nakedness or hatred of filth are acquired while growing up. The process is mostly unconscious on part of both the society and the individual. Moreover, there is a wide range in the tolerance of filth varying from one culture to another, and from individual to individual. The Banarsi culture, it seems, falls towards the comparative higher level of tolerance, albeit with individual variations. Or, probably, my essentialization is incorrect.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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3 thoughts on “Banaras: The Picturesque and the Filthiest – 2

  1. Wow Rajnish great piece of writing. I think you blog are very unique and different from other blogs. I particularly liked this one because of the way you have shared the story of Banaras with us. I would really love to read more stuff from you.

    • Thanks a lot.
      About the uniqueness: it’s in the city from which the writer and the writing arises, and that’s reflected in the writing. This blog is about Banaras, so I can predict (!) more stuff of the same type will keep appearing.

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