Book Reviews

Banaras in its True Shades

I have written a review of the book ‘Chai Chai’ on train travel in India by Bishwanth Ghosh about the unsung yet popular major connecting junctions of the Indian Railways. I shared that review on FB in the year 1995 but not many takers for that post except a few.

I recently thought of him and made a search which landed me on his recent book ‘Aimless in Banaras’. I became curious as the author is good in two areas; describing the place and the people over there; succinct with a thread of humor. Ghosh here recalls his trip to Banaras where he performed the last rites for his mother who passed away in Banaras. He performed the rites at the famous Manikarnika Ghat where according to Hindu belief the soul gets salvation.

This event seemed to have triggered Ghosh to make several visits to Banaras later to study the holy shrine and its geography, demography, and people and their beliefs. He roams in ghats and galis, sails in the cool breeze of the Ganga walks aside the heat of funeral pyres.

Feel strange and sick?

Yes. It is in some places and also interesting, informative, disgusting, hilarious, horrifying, and engaging ultimately in some way. There is no storyline but there are innumerable incidents, and characters one can meet through his facile and interesting description.

The undaunting ‘faith’ in salvation in the minds of the Indians and surprisingly how Banaras attracts even foreigners. One can get to know the most popular litterateurs from Banaras to the boatmen to pan shop owners apart from those who work in the ghats and help the mourners in the final rites. Though not all tales are engaging but provide the reader an insight into the lives and beliefs of this inimitable holy city. Nevertheless, the city seems to be developing drawing both positive and negative comments but keeping its special features still intact.

Not a book one can finish in one sitting; yet keeps the readers’ interest alive as it travels and meets the locals with Mr. Ghosh. The mixed group of people from a littérateur to a ghat man to rich and poor locals and foreign visitors also.

I had been to Banaras only once a few years back and posted my views and pictures (November 2019). Varanasi, India’s holiest city intrigued as well as disappointed me for many reasons. You can check it out if you want to know what I wrote.

But after reading ‘Aimless in Banaras’ I stand vindicated and not interested in visiting the place again. Because Bishwanath Ghosh had almost brought the holy shrine’s landscape through broader strokes on a bigger canvas in its dark, grey, and bright shades.

22-Jun-2024

More by :  G Swaminathan

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