Migrants and Banaras

The equation of pure Banarsipan has many variables in it. One of its important variables, in the eyes of the jury i.e. the other Banarsis, is the length of their stay in the city: in terms of decades and centuries. Banaras has been a city that acted as an educational and religio-spiritual magnate for the Hindus of India since the time of the Delhi Sultanates. Come they would, the Hindus, to the city that rested at Shiva’s trident. The less fortunate ones would stay for a day, week or month and then leave. They were called the pilgrims.

The more fortunate ones came to Avimukta, the city that Shiva never left, never to leave. They came for Kashiwaas or Kashilabh, depending on their age and health. With these religio-spiritual migrants came those members of their family that would stay in the city either for the lifetime of the root member or even after they are no more, as independent individuals. The other kind of migrants were those who came to the city of knowledge, of light, to graduate in one of the disciplines of knowledge. Post graduation, they would either return to their place of origin or would stay back in the city of their alma mater.


My grandfather, father and uncles

My grandfather had come to the city with his grandfather and his mother back in 1938 (seventy six years ago). My uncle (the little boy standing in the middle) gave me the key information regarding my family in Banaras. They belonged to Mithilanchal in today’s Bihar. I have been to my paternal place of origin only once. It’s a village called Bhittha More in Sitamarhi district (used to be Muzaffarpur district once). It’s very close to India-Nepal border, near Janakpur, Nepal, the place where Mithila’s king and Maithili’s father King Janak used to rule from. Mithila was known as Videha in olden times and comprised of a large chunk of Bihar and Nepal, as wikipedia informs, between the rivers Ganga, Kosi and Gandak. Janakpur, its capital, is in Nepal. Maithils Brahmins have roots in Mithila and those I know keep visiting their village back home. My family’s direct link with the village had been weak for the last three decades. It’s absolutely nil now.

My father (the boy standing extreme left) and all his siblings were born in the city. Those were the times of high infant and child mortality. Tragically then, out of seven siblings of his, only five survived. They all went to the same school and then to the same university, “The University”, the Banaras Hindu University. The University itself was established just a couple of decades before their father’s arrival to the city. My grandfather himself had never attended any university. He was an autodidact who had taught himself Sanskrit so well that he could actually teach Kiratarjuniyam to a postgraduate student while having no degree in the language himself. What’s more, he had learnt the language for karmkand (rituals) and had learnt it so well that he could teach literature too. I am recognized among the Maithils of my city with panditji, i.e. my grandfather’s name and his identity as a scholar. The city’s history, and that of the family were intertwined in a way.

I have always wondered, since my childhood, about my grandfather and the years 1942-47, i.e. the years between the Quit India Movement and India’s Independence. There’s no help that can shed some light in that direction. Grandpa’s old Geeta Press pocket journals, some of which I had kept carefully in my treasure box, are all gone – eaten by termites and burnt later. It was in one of those dainandinis that I had read that my father was born on 30 January 1948 – the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom.

I don’t remember having seen any reference to my grandfather’s involvement, or even interest, in India’s struggle for independence. So, I may safely guess that my grandfather (should we call him a Banarsi in 1942 when he had reached the city in 1938?) and many people like him, those who were new to the city, were still struggling with acclimatization while many Banarsis were struggling for their independence. To be fair, it must be mentioned that many non-Banarsis new to the city had participated actively in our struggle for independence in the short span of their stay in the city. Their names include the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad.

So, the second world war and India’s struggle for independence could not alter the noiseless tenor of grandpa’s life. He was a migrant to Banaras but his children, three of whom were born between 1942 and 1947, were to be Banarsis who migrated to other cities. His story and that of his sons is also the story of the city. It didn’t take more than a generation for the time to change the city and the life of those attached to it.

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

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