The Flaneur’s Heaven

What does Banaras have in store for a flaneur?

Strolling in the galis and on the ghats of Banaras has never been an optional activity for a Banarsi. It’s essential like swimming for a fish or flying for a bird. How else is a person born in the galis near the ghats of Kashi expected to survive? So, the very familiarity that breeds contempt among humans has a similar effect on the relationship between humans and their environs, if not to the same degree, then in a milder fashion. Therefore, an average Banarsi loses the sense of wonder and awe felt by a traveller or pilgrim on their first looking at the work of wonder called Kashi. It’s quite natural and human for a person to be born at a place, to become intimately familiar with the place in course of time, and to lose the sense of wonder of the kind felt by a nature worshipper looking at the Niagra Falls, or at the rising sun, for example. So, there aren’t many native Banarsis with the same sense of wonder alive in them or aroused in them, after having spent decades: morning after morning, afternoon, evening after evening, night after night there.

Most of the Banarsis pass through their galis and ghats like sleep walkers passing through the places they neither see nor feel. It takes a change of perspective that can only be effected through a jolt of the magnitude over 8.0 on the Richter scale. Such jolts are rare and very few old landmarks remain intact, if any at all, at their place after that. But when such a life changing event does happen and a person gains the insight into the spirit of the place, the third eye is bestowed upon him through which he is able to see the city eternal, the abode of Mahadev.

He drifts through the same galis and ghats after that, but the place is totally altered for him, as he perceives and understands it differently. To that changed person and to the chosen few outsiders is revealed the mystery and magic of the city of death and life. For them, the city is an essential condition for existence. They, the kasiphiles and kasilogists par excellence, form the cream of the set of people who deserve the epithet: Banarsi. A Banarsi has intimate relation with the lifeline of his city and his people – his Mother Ganga. He also has roots in his galis and their culture.

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