Sometime ago there was a slogan IGNITE THE CHANGE given from the Times of India for the people of Mumbai and Delhi immediately after the bomb blasts in Delhi. And Mumbai being a metropolitan is entitled to throw tantrums like a spoilt child– “Mumbai is tired, impatient and very angry” because of the pot holes on the roads. But it is forgotten that so are the other cities of India –tired and impatient but perhaps not so angry because suffering in silence has become their identity and we have become so used to these things that nothing ever disturbs us. In Varanasi on the very day of the bomb blast, the night arti at the Sankat Mochan temple was performed with stoic gusto—a mysterious gift to Banarasis from the Divine for whom Death-in –Life is no different from Life-in-Death . But small towns like Cain bear the mark of the curse of backwardness on their foreheads and forever despised.
Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. The glory of Babylon, Arabia, Egypt can be imagined only through the books of history but Varanasi is still vibrant and reverberates with the melody of Khan Saheb’s shenai, Kishan Maharaj’s tabla and Girija Devi’s thumari. It still captures the rainbow colours of Nature in the warps and woofs of its world famous carpets and silks. But we are treated like second class citizens by no other than our own Indians If we can make the dreams created by Bollywood a part of our lives why can’t they weep for the sorry state of Ganges in Varanasi? After all we both make India. Mumbai is the ‘dream destination’ of the world but so is Varanasi. If they visit the famous ghats with handkerchief on their noses, would the stench not tear away the gossamer membrane of the dream of Mumbai and the two antithetical aspects are coalesced into one entity as filthy India? What image of India are we going to project before the world–a glamorous pretty face with the rest of body infested with sores oozing pus? It is painful and absurd and lacking in political imagination to talk about the rights of the people of Mumbai and Delhi only. Like the people of Mumbai we too wish to lead a dignified life so that no Kareena kapoor can disparagingly say that her films do not cater to the needs of UP. She must know that people here have much more refined and mature taste than she could ever imagine. We are backward not culturally but in civic infrastructure- because of bad roads, terrible traffic jams, dirt all around, hours and hours of power cuts, -something which is beyond the control of common man .We suffer with the stigma of backwardness because of the apathy of selfish political leaders. In Europe and America people of small towns enjoy all the facilities of big cities minus their glamour. A small town- Darmstadt- has a Kaufhof and a C&A and other big shopping malls and all the civic facilities as the near by Frankfurt has. The small towns of USA have everything for the comfort and dignity of their people which Los Angeles or Miami could offer for their people and plus each one has its own local bewitching attraction – a pattern Japanese term as dochakuka –adapting global outlooks and practising local conditions. A nation is like human body. For the smooth functioning of the body all the parts have to function smoothly. To set the matters of India right we the Indians have to combine our efforts in pressurizing the central government for the same infrastructure for the entire India, protection and safety of our elders and children, and clean environment for all.
It is heartening to note that the ugly social reality has stirred the collective consciousness of the nation. Yes ignite the change but not for pockets only. After all as Emily Dickinson feels, sky and sea are one, blue to blue, the one the other will absorb as sponges. We must reformulate and redirect our efforts in bigger and secular terms so that we could help create a more stable, less hazardous, and a glorious India. We were one at the time of Quit India Movement. Let us be one again in igniting the change for the whole nation. Let us say amen to the dream of Rabindra Nath Tagore who envisioned India and Indians as one:
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls …
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
This is an appeal to the people of Varanasi too. Let us stop taking the slap of backwardness on our face. We are proud Banarasis. But at the same time let us accept, in these two decades or so Banaras has gone from bad to worse. We have become loud and noisy and insensitive and complacent and vulgar. People from far and wide come to feel the serene presence of Buddha in Sarnath but we disturb the peaceful ambience by the full blast of ‘biraha’ coming from the outside mela .We call Ganga our mother and still wash all our dirt into it knowing fully well if it is gone as it has left Kanpur, Banaras would no longer remain Banaras. The stairs of world famous ghats still reverberate with the ‘chaupais’ of Tulsidas and the footsteps of Kabir only if we attune our ears to that celestial sound but there we are busy saving ourselves from the attacks of stray four- legged -fellow -beings and we are amused when tourists call our Banaras an animal- friendly sacred land. We barge our cars right inside the shop and boast of having visited ‘phoren’ country where they have seen people being fined for wrong parking .Right at the entrance of the Vishwanath temple instead of being awakened in the meditative mood we are distracted by the crude behavior and loud chatter of madam and sir policewallahs. In public concerts we shout like wild at performers and at times disgusted they are forced to leave. The clubs wash their dirty linens in public and people call them elite. We take pride in violating the rules everywhere still we say Varanasi is a seat of learning.
The irony is the Banarasi culture has yet not forsaken us completely. The greatest of musicians and dancers consider it to be a blessing to get a chance to perform at the feet of Sankat Mochan or at the ghats and appreciate the terrific sense of homour and the developed taste of music even in the common Banarasi .In order to become the proud heirs of a glorious past we have to be the initiators of a new, golden dawn. We just have to have a burning desire for a disciplined, clean, Banaras. India is changing fast and shining bright –let Banaras be a part of that. There is still hope. Our young people should come forward and ignite the change. In Laddakh a sixteenth century monastery like a phoenix is coming alive again not because of the Government but because of the efforts of the natives. And YOU CAN DO IT. It is your Banaras now.