He’s no superhero. Ravi Agnihotri is a common Banarsi who’s been places and seen many parts of the world. His heart is in Kashi, in his city and on its ghats, especially on the one he has (nearly) adopted and beautified: Rana Mahal Ghat. In this he is very much like the Kings and Princes of the old. It’s because of them that we have the majestic ghatscape of Banaras. And it’s because of Ravi that we see a clean Rana Mahal Ghat and some eye catching ornamental plants and paintings on the ghat. Where he stands apart is where he stands in the image above.
He stands by his latest work, his pride, a rarity on the ghats of Banaras: a toilet for the ladies that he cemented with his own hands a couple of nights ago and now plans to complete it by making makeshift walls all around. He actually chose to stand there and by his choice made his priority clear. He could have used one of the beautiful wall paintings that the ghat has. Interestingly enough, as he told me, the paintings have been made with washable colours that don’t harm the walls, but he stood by what he sees as a definite priority: keeping the ghats clean.
He belongs to the ghat, so he knows that pots will need packing with sand during the floods. He also knows that it’ll take more people with him to bring forth change (I mention this despite my urballaghophobia, in fact he has made me coin a new term urballaghophilia, i.e. love of the change in the city) that is positive and welcome, to make the beautiful ghats of his city heavenly. He has not received much in the form of material or human support from his city. In fact, neither the people nor the administration has been supportive enough. There are few on his ghat that understand his project and support him in his cause, yet, as I could gather from http://www.facebook.com/WallOfCreation, the non-Indian Banarsis at heart have understood him better than the Indian ones.
The first time I saw the wonderful change on the ghat was in January 2014. I was on my regular stroll of the ghats and I saw beautifully graffitied walls and a couple of pots serving as urinal for men. The idea had converted the surface of the ghat from slippery-filthy to clean, and had also provided the passers by a clean option. I admired the work and pressed on. Later on, I saw a photograph of two smiling children on a blog and it mentioned how a group of people from around Rana Mahal Ghat were trying to change the shape of things. I liked it and had decided to find out more. I went there in my latest trip to my city (kind of self contradictory as an idea!) and went asking about the persons who had developed that section of the ghatscape. People told me Ravi’s name and I was asked to come in the evening. I did so, the next day. The chai wallah at the ghat actually directed me towards Ravi and shouted out his name loudly simultaneously, and Ravi came running.
He was glad to meet me, as I was, to meet him. We talked about the ghat, his work and his life. He’s an interesting person, Ravi is. He told me about his modern outlook, his breaking free from his family’s traditional (his hint: dogmatic) way of life. He does not work at the ghats for money. He earns it from Goa where he has a tattoo shop. What’s more, he also informed me that he is a tourist guide too and friends with many who are not Indians by birth but love Banaras, Gangaji and the ghatscape as much as he does: which is much more than that in the hearts of many persons born in the city. His team – and there are many who claim to be its member now, although, I suspect opportunism in it – has put beautiful dustbins made of iron meshes, bamboo and wood at several ghats.
These dustbins have painted tin plates on them declaring the message of keeping the river and ghats clean. Ravi knows that it is very important to save the water systems from the bane of polythene. He mentioned Konia, a locality in Varanasi, that is built on land and water bodies filled with polythene.
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