I have made two trips within a fortnight to the world’s oldest living city, Banaras. The city as usual inspires me, takes me back to the roots of Hinduism, but sometimes also disillusions me. On my last visit I landed on the Maha Ashtami during Navratras, and the whole city was doused in the religious fervour. Banaras is indeed a City of Temples, one can literally find a temple in every corner – on every nukkad or chauraha, on the side of a road, below peepul trees, near a pond and of course, on the ghats of the Ganges … in all sizes, of various deities.
While it is called Shiv ki nagari, people celebrate every festival, pray to all Gods… And as we travelled from airport to BHU, through the city, we saw all temples decked up with flowers and lights, offerings of fruits and sweets in their decorative patterns. Devotees thronged not only the puja pandals, but the temples nearby as well.
And while people went on going around celebrating and worshipping, one could not help observe the nonexistent roads, power through gensets, debris strewn across and the piled up garbage. The administration in its efforts to widen the roads had also razored parts of the bundling on the sides which had resulted in not only the debris but mud and slush. A good monsoon season and the non-stop rains post Phailin cyclone further exposed the crumbling infrastructure and administration of the city. Being one of the important destinations for not only Hindus, but also for Buddhists and Jainists – the town is a major tourist place. And the city plays host to plane loads of tourists every day post monsoon season.
It makes me wonder that the infrastructure in this ancient city must have been exemplary in the past to cater to tourists from all over the world. The city has been talked about by lot of travellers, poets and other historians. Infact, the city I remember from my childhood days was a lot cleaner, unpolluted and traveller friendly.
So who takes responsibility of making this city habitable for its residents as well as the visitors? In the election year, what promises will be made by the political parties and what will be delivered? Will the city ever gain back it’s grandeur or will it perish in the years to come?
It is a valid concern. We are asking the same or similar questions for every city in the nation….we really need to come to terms with cities and put a lot more into making them livable! For Benares and other places of heritage, this becomes a more nuanced and complex task. Communities and citizens need to be aware and engaged for governments to act, I feel.
The non- existent roads, the potholes, the chaotic traffic makes me dread venturing out of BHU.
The individual human tendency is to keep your own house clean, and let others manage the public spaces. So the change needs to begin by us and push community, administration and governments to wake up and clean their acts.