City of Chaos 1 (Welcome to Varanasi)

Welcome to Varanasi, the city of Chaos.  Sun was swaying hand with his scorching heat. People used to call this city Kashi, Benaras, City of Light, City of Knowledge and so on. But I love its chaos. It’s chaos reminds me of our chaotic being. The city in which I see myself. I was standing thirty kilometers away from banks of Mighty Ganges where lies one of the oldest city of the world, Varanasi.

Unlike 2013 the year of darkness, in which I was totally nocturnal, working only at nights passing the days by sleeping or under-shade, this year 2014 has been a year of light. Yeah, I mean it both metaphorically and literally. The degree to which my skin had tanned will bear witness for this. Wherever I went sun had followed. I’d spent my days under southern heat while winter fell in North and in northern heat during southern monsoons. I’ve visited north only in winters. That was first time to experience the plain’s heat and dryness. I had taken 4 hour flight to Varanasi escaping salt and sticky Chennai through perplexing Delhi.

Why am I here? What’s the reason?

I usually have no reason behind my travels. I travel for the sake of travelling. But this trip wasn’t like that. I’d many motives behind. But I shall not reveal all as I’m subjected not to. The causes are noble so let them be hidden.

One of reason was to learn Hindi. Don’t laugh. Don’t ask me like every instant question framers ‘Don’t you know Hindi being Indian?’

Just 60 years before my region had joined Hindi speaking India. During British, English was official language. And the swords of Indian emperors never reached far as my region. To say more precisely I’m from extreme south of India, from southern Tamilnadu. South was spiritually connected to the mainland yet no commercial cord throughout the past. South India had established its own commercial empire with islands of Lanka, Malaya and Indonesia. From the past, my tongue Tamil had served commercial purpose of the region. Tamil holds national language position even in today’s Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Maldives. So, Tamils have no need for Hindi. They choose overseas in place of Indian mainland.

In mid twentieth century soon after Independence of India, central government tried to introduce Hindi into non Hindi-speaking states. Most states accepted Hindi next to their regional languages. Thus Hindi gained its potential to be the common language of India. But the scene in Tamilnadu, my state was different.

Tamilnadu has been a language conscious state atleast from the British era. The national patriotism was brought to Tamilnadu simply through language loyalty. Even today political parties base their standings on the Language of ‘Tamil’. This is the only state you will find Government buildings holding slogans ‘Thamizh Vaazhga; Thamizh Valarga’ meaning ‘Long Live Tamil Language’.

Tamils protested against Central Government’s ideology of introducing a foreign language into their state. This Anti-Hindi protest successfully kept Hindi at the bay on the other hand allowing English to invade shores. One can observe this with south Indians, especially Tamils being well versed in English usage.

Let me come to the story. I was from such state where Hindi is not known, but I had opportunities. I had Hindi as my third language since kindergarten. So, I had no problem in understanding Hindi but I had no fluency as Tamil or English. For a long time I had been yearning to learn Hindi under proper instructor. Yet I had no chance. This time chance knocked my door.

Through my friend who is not a native Hindi speaker I came to know about Hindi institutes of Varanasi. He suggested me long ago to make a move to Varanasi if I’m serious in learning. This time I was free, serious and had some works around Chennai, Delhi and Varanasi. So, I took an escape.

Actual problem with me in learning Hindi is lack of interest, I will say. May Hindi be fourth largest spoken language of the globe, who cares? ‘I know English, I know Tamil, I can handle Dravidian languages, I’m learning Arabic and I could read understand and make a basic conversation in Hindi, then who the hell needs it’, this was my mind set. But still in an interview with ‘The Hindu’ newspaper, I expressed my curiosity of writing in Hindi and Arabic.

I planned myself to tear my mindset apart. I need to learn Hindi to represent my country. Without Hindi it’s impossible to stream along the Indian Creed, I resolved. I mailed Binit, Hindi instructor from Varanasi expressing my wish. He asked me to join him the very next month.

And here I am in Varanasi. Varanasi lies in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP). If UP would be a separate country, it will only be third to China and Rest of India in population. That much populous this state is. Men with cuffed full hand tucked-in shirts chewing tobacco in sweating weather can be seen all around. Compared with my state, UP is poor by all means. But still I love its crowd, chaos and Indianness which I would never feel in southern states.

Even now, the airport is 35 kilometers away from the city of Varanasi, only means to reach city is through taxi. In south, taxi is a mode not so popular since we have best transport systems nourishing the terrestrial veins. I took a prepaid taxi and guided him to guide me to Benaras Hindu University (BHU). He took me through the poverty striven roadsides.

That was parliamentary election time. World’s largest democratic country was making itself ready to elect its Prime Minister. And the PM candidate Narendra Modi contested for election from Varanasi constituency. So, Varanasi was busy and busty with campaigns.  Due to some political party’s meeting which as a rule takes place in heart of the road, taxi left me all alone to cover remaining distance by foot.

I reached BHU’s gate after informing Binit about my arrival. Binit arrived covering a white cotton head scarve ‘Gamcha’ (Later I found the fact that these Gamchas and other cotton clothes are imported from Tamillnadu) in his Kawasaki bike.

‘You are Baba?’

‘Hi. Binitji’

‘Get yourself in the Bike. Let’s ride home’

He took me through narrow street ‘Gali’ which had no rubrics for sanitation, settlement, smoothness. Never before in my life had I been into such maze. I was amazed with the chaos.

The city of chaos welcomed me with a wide smirk.

(To be continued)

Baba Pakurdheen A

Anthropologist, Writer, Traveler, Journalist and ultimately a Simplite.

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