Friday, April 25, 2008

Course 4: Cultural Geography of Varanasi

This was my fourth course here in India, and it was rather moving. I had the privilege of working with Dr. Rana P.B. Singh, about whom I wrote earlier in the blog. He is an excellent writer, and of course a great friend. We did not meet as many times as I would have liked to over the course of my stay here in Varanasi, but the times we did meet were very fruitful. I am honored to have gotten to work with him.


This course was all about exploring and writing about Varanasi. As you know, I have written a lot about Varanasi already here itself in the blog, but this course had a different motive. It was not simply to observe and then write about what I saw, but to observe, relate what is going on in the present to Varanasi’s history, and then react and write about everything. So I started by first trying to decide what to write about (I’ve never been in a situation where I have complete freedom to write about whatever I want)! I couldn’t decide what to write about for the longest time. Finally I realized, after a meeting with Ranaji, that lots of western authors come to India, and specifically Varanasi, and write about what they see, with a very shallow understanding and ultimately end up destroying the image of the scene. This frustrated me quite a bit, as you can imagine, and I decided to rectify a few of the misconceptions created by these authors in the west.


I identified several “problems” in India that western authors wrote about, distorting the true meaning behind the acts of the Indian people here. Then I went around as often as I could, observing the true situation, interviewing people, and then understanding what the true significance of the circumstance is. Finally I wrote as much as I could about what I found. It was a moving and changing experience, to say the least, but there is not much more I can say. Kashi is such a vast city, and I knew from the start that I would not be able to do it justice in just two months of writing. People in the past have researched it for over 10 or 15 years and only then began to write about it! Who am I to contend with such dedication and hard work? Varanasi has, indeed, given me a lot in the way of spiritual uplifting and self-development, and I only pray that I can give back even a fraction of what I have gained here.

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