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Column: Not Much Has Changed In Shiva’s City

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: For the last few years I had been hearing about the ’ positive ‘ changes the city of Varanasi, part of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, has undergone since he began representing it in the parliament. My classmates from Banaras Hindu University (BHU), some of whom still live in the city and others who had the opportunity to visit it in the recent past, spoke about it quite convincingly.

No wonder I arrived in the city of Lord Shiva last week with great expectations. I was sorely disappointed. Barring a few areas where roads appear to be wider and cleaner Banaras is still terribly crowded and dirty. The approach road to Dashashwamedh ghat, the most iconic of the ghats on the banks of the Ganges, is in a bad shape. With eroded top and no footpaths, it is one of the worst roads in the city.

The crowd is unbelievable and you encounter a variety of obstacles including the omnipresent bovines on your way to the ghat which witnessed a huge gathering every evening for the ‘Ganga Aarti’. It is quite popular and a grand spectacle loved by tourists many of whom hire boats to watch it from a vantage point. Hotels around the ghat take advance from visitors to book seats for witnessing the aarti.

In my days as a student in the city, there used to be no ‘aarti’. This is a later development. I think they have copied it from Haridwar where it started long back. But it has added to the city’s appeal and become a good source of revenue. Boatmen, chaiwallahs and priests, they are all making a kill, thanks to Ganga aarti.

Godaulia, the heart of the city and it’s an intellectual hub, was always crowded. Roads in the area continue to be as narrow as they were. I was happy to spot the famous ‘Mishrambu’ thandhai ( a drink often laced with bhang) shop which I used to visit often during my student days. Lanka, which is the entry point to BHU, was as chaotic as used to be in those days. Now the crowds have swelled and traffic snarls have become more frequent. I could not locate the Shivam cinema hall. Someone told me that it has been demolished and a shopping mall has come up in its place.

The famous Vishwanath ‘Gali’ (alley) continues to be claustrophobically narrow with the collective press of the crowd making it scary at times. The biggest wonder is that local youths cut through the melee on their mobikes without a care in the world. Vishwanath darshan was fine but we had a much better ‘darshan’ of Lord Hanuman at the storied Sankatmochan temple.

Sarnath, the famous Buddhist centre on the outskirts, is a big relief after the crowded roads and alleys of Banaras. It is not only less crowded but also cleaner and quieter. Of course, it has expanded a lot since my childhood days when we used to visit it almost every time we came to Banaras.

But crowd and dirt notwithstanding I felt nice visiting Banaras after a gap of nearly 38 years. There are certain things we don’t want to change and certain things about the city, fortunately, remain the same, the most important of these being it’s spirit, what we call ‘ Banarasipan’. However, I would definitely want the city to look cleaner with better roads and better crowd management.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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