Varanasi is not carefully preserved like those towns in Tuscany that have become art theme parks now. The very changes I saw in 2009 showed me that Varanasi is timeless, constantly changing like Hinduism constantly changes. I sniffed at Shivas with baby faces and cuddly-toy Ganeshas I saw on desks at work in Gurgaon, but these gods had evolved with a tangle of add-ons and redefinitions. Now I guessed they reflect the new Indian middle class. There was even an animation on TV of Krishna’s childhood, very much like Walt Disney’s Jungle Book!
Varanasi now has ads for tourist restaurants and hotels painted on its ancient walls. But those signs are fading; they’re spat at, urinated on. Varanasi simply absorbs them. But I was upset to learn of plans to convert a derelict maharaja’s palace bang at the centre of the ghats into a luxury hotel. But money talks and always has done in Varanasi.
I found the paving to Dashashwamedh Ghat being re-slabbed by masons manually dressing the stones on the spot. I could see the surface I’d walked on in 1972 subducted beneath an identical but pristine new surface; and underneath that old surface there are probably others, then the original sand bank depicted on 18th century etchings of the ghats; those sand banks were still to be seen here and there used by boatmen and squatters, cows, crows and dogs, clothes washers, sadhus sitting round fires, idlers, urinaters and defecators as ever at Varanasi.
Varanasi is still a highlight of my wonderings. I set my GPS so anywhere in the world it can show me the kilometres to and direction of the Dashashwamedh Ghat, perhaps so I can touch base with a part of me that I dread will fade as I age further.
Tagged: , India , Bundi , dhobi , bald , water , ghat , step , washing