Kashi, the religio-spiritual magnate that attracted Hindus from all over the world, had once been a city of thriving commerce, as its history tells us. Dharm, arth, kaam and moksh: all have been adequately, abundantly and surely available to the dweller of the city. Of course, moksh came into the equation once a person had reached a certain age, i.e. the stage of life called vanprasth. The first three objectives have always been in play behind a migrant’s decision to reach the city and settle there. That remained the case until the first few decades of the previous century. The story of the city, and that of its people, changed with the changing economic and cultural geography of India, and the world. From what used to be one of the major cities of the state, as far as commerce is concerned, Kashi became its backwaters.
The ten years, somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, i.e. the decade after India got independence, brought more change to the city’s socioeconomic structure than the whole century preceding that time had seen. Of course, the economy and the government of the country had changed, so, the fates of the people naturally had to change. Urballaghologically speaking, the change was going to shock people in a very slow and belated manner.
The contrast between the pristine past and the present plastered with muck, and blaming it on modernization and mechanization, has been a strategy adopted by all the Luddites through ages. That’s not what urballaghology does. It does not aim at spreading panic and destroying things. Its aim is balanced thinking and preservation: preservation of whatever was good, whatever worked well for the people and was pushed aside by the new without a proper hearing. Banaras, and the world, have always been changing as change is the only unchangeable thing. Urballaghology doesn’t aim at opposing change with the purpose of arresting the flow of time. That isn’t possible. The idea is to protect what has been at the core of life and identity of the city and its dwellers. Recognizing the factors causing change and the factors that may alter its rate, and then doing things to counteract its negative effects.
Migration of talent and youth to the city of Kashi had been the popularly observed phenomenon that also finds place in traditions, oral and printed literature. Migration away from the city was something new. In the beginning, when the phenomenon was still new, people could not fully realize what was happening to their city. There was one more reason behind it: the large number of people descending upon the scene from the nearby areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Thus, the influx counterbalanced the out-flux and the city did not become deserted. Those born in the city, after having secured their degrees from its (then) world class university, left it for the greener pastures. What else could they do? They were the ones who worked, not the ones who created employment opportunities.
And then, there were those who believed in:
चना चबेना गंगजल, जो पुरें करतार
काशी कबहूँ न छोड़िए, बाबा विश्वनाथ दरबार.
[My translation: Whatever little the Lord of Kashi gives you, be satisfied with that. Never leave Kashi that is the abode and court of Baba Vishwanath.]
The true believers remained in their city. The more materialistically inclined left, only to look back and think about their good old (dawn, morning, afternoon, dusk, evening and night) = days of Kashi. Those who belonged to neither categories, i.e. they remained not because they chose to but because they couldn’t leave, such persons stayed back and hated each day of their trapped existence in the city of filth. For them there was no city of light, as both the cities are one. Proving the laws of space in Physics wrong in its own way, Banaras is two cities at one time: the city of light and of filth, and a person can either see both and live in one or see one and live in it. The Kashi one sees is the Kashi one gets.
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