Friday, October 07, 2011

Why I am averse to the city of Varanasi


Why I am averse to the city of Varanasi
Recently I sailed with a person who was from Jaunpur,Bhojpuri by his language,a Brahmin by caste but a complete sailor by his behavior.  No, it was not him who made me averse to the cultural attitude of the city of Varanasi, rather he helped me discover why we both had our aversions for the city and its culture, “Apne taraf aise hota toh…” (“If this had happened in our countryside, then... “)
I shared a lot of common observations about ‘Apni taraf’ (‘In our region..’), our common cultural attitude. He was not so high educated , but in my thinking , had enough sensible mind to observe an event impartially, to make an unbiased comparison. He had managed to liberate himself from the grip of common beliefs by asking ‘Why’.  Yet, in all these ‘why’ he has not lost the balance of his mind, but kept himself working to search the answer by himself alone.
In some previous blogs I have discussed about the low IQ rating accorded to the Indians.  Some people may treat it typical of me to accept anything that subsidies the Indians, but then my practices of Objective bahviour tempt me to make a personal observation into the matter to help me choose my stand. 
And when it comes to the city of Varanasi, I see it as the nerve centre of the religion and culture of India, Hinduism. It’s history is what shapes the culture which is practiced by most of us people. Therefore It is from here that I make my personal inquiry.
For quite some time now, I have held that the cause for the backwardness of any community is often sowed in the religious beliefs it holds. Richard Dawkins awards Religion to the root cause of all evils prevailing in the modern world.  I am not so much against Religion, although I show no mercy to it.
One grand reason for the poor outlook held by people of the Cow Belt of Uttar Pradesh is the history of Linguistic jumps. Bhojpuri is the original language of the region which in the modern cities is perceived as the language of uneducated. Bhojpuri is something similar to Hindi, although not technically belonging to the Hindi Family of Languages ( I read that on Internet somewhere). There is a big article provided on Wikipedia on this language. In summary, this language evolved as the language of masses while the higher tasks of writing of religious literature, poetry, Kabir’s doha  which all happened in the city of Varanasi, –  happened in other languages. Clearly, superior knowledge was preserved in a different language which the inferior men spoke a different tone.
As the language of the elite made jump to Urdu, things became more difficult for the common Bhojpuri speaker. Many words and the concept described by those words decanted away leaving a distasteful tonic behind, to be gulped down the throat and preserved as Shurti—a vocabular knowledge. People hardly understand the concept contained in them; they use the words merely as a proper noun. An example of it could be simple to observe on, say, a railway station where a rural woman might just ask you ‘kaa ho, ee passenjar gaaddi ba?’ (sir, is this a passenger train??), pointing to a train where humans are already transacting. (!). Perhaps the nation held by the rural woman is that a ‘passenjar gaaddi’ (a passenger train) is the one which goes to the destination which she is headed for.
The issue is just not about illiteracy alone, the issue is also about the cultural wisdom held with the speakers of the language. Since the word ‘paasenjar’(passenger) is not a Bhojpuri word, it is difficult for the speaker to know the common noun meaning of the word. They all tend to treat it as a proper noun, to be memorized with some efforts. And it is not so just with the English word alone, it is so with Urdu dialect too, whereby a ‘Tahseel’, ‘Kachehri’, or ’Zila’, ‘Gavarmant’ (the government), and “Sarkar” -- all are preserved as a proper noun, the conceptual description already drained away.
It is such linguistic predicaments which further sow the seeds for other range of religious and political dysfunctions. Like, most of the administrative system started by the Moughals was in Urdu language. The position of Bhojpuri speaker eventually became that of a  tribal person who was hardly aware of the concept , meanings and purpose. He simply learnt to grow up fearing those bulky terminology.
The jump from Urdu to English made the situation even worse for even the speakers of standard Hindi language. Now, not just the administrative work, even the common medical , natural science, business and commerce, and many other logics was held in much more alien language. It all left no choice but to push the native speaker into more of idiocy, making him an even bigger fool than before. The terrified , befuddled  speakers passed their half knowledge into their children in the half that they can, and many generations later only a residual knowledge is left over in these people.
Administrative field is not the only field affected. Knowledge of medicine, infant care, care of sick, disease and treatment of sick,- all are affected. I often hear the rural people describing their medical problems in very confusing and incomprehensible terms. The eating habits are rather more mystical—milk cannot be consumed after oranges, dry fruits are ‘hot’, curd is ‘cold’, banana is ‘stomaching clearing’; cow milk is the best meal- most nutritious, cold-hot cause fever; cold drinks are not to be consumed in winter season; ‘cold’ (the influenza) is always attributable to the last known cold item consumed (Influenza is otherwise known to be or Viral nature); so on and so forth.
Every culture has its own unique beliefs, but sometimes it surprises me when the doctors also diagnose a trouble in terms of common understanding. Most of the people carry their own personal medicine box, self-medication is very common, and some even like to prescribe their kind of medicine to others who have same type of symptoms.
Scholastism is a missing attitude. Infact the thin count of research scholars, even when the under-graduates are in thousands (India has one of the largest population of college graduates) explains our outlook towards gaining a cultural knowledge.
In my personal case, my own scholastic attitude is often looked with contempt, “… har cheej mein reaserch karne lagta hai”, (‘…has the habit of digging deep into issues’).
The problem of city of Varanasi and its cultural woes begins with another string as well. This one comes out from the religious codes which this city is a birthplace of. Tulsidas’s version of Ramayan was composed in this city. The renowned ‘Geeta Press’, which is earliest known publishers of Religious Books in  India are branched from this city. Varanasi was the place where regular discourses on religious theme happened, Shastrartth (was debate on topics from Vedas) was a common event. (Wikipedia source states that the Maithli Brahmins are suppose to the most intelligent group among Brahmins because they have won the Shastrarth held in the court of Maharaja Benaras maximum number of times). The famous Nayay Sutra, the principle of evidencing a claim, is supposedly constituted in this city. Philosophy, as proper academics, is better available in the Benaras Hindu University (the BHU) than most othet big brand colleges. Dr S Radhakrishnan, the first Vice-President of India, was the vice-chancellor of the BHU just before his appoint as the vice-president of the country.
Argumentativeness, thus, is a part of city’s culture. To win the day-today arguments is to prepare for the bigger victory in the formally organized Shastrarth event later. Problem  comes to fore that most, or maybe all, the arguments proposed by any Varanasi dweller is likely to be of theological nature. The debate of Science versus religion will almost always be won by the religion –side. Simple, it is, to understand that the scientific outlook of the people is very low while the religious quotient is very high.
The lack of scientific outlook just does not end at the misery of shortfall of knowledge of natural sciences. The bigger result is its effect on rational thinking. Since many of the rationale are sourced from religion, the public’s disposition towards an event as being ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ itself becomes a basis for judging the arguments to be rational or not. Example could be that- since Freedom implies , among other things, freedom to have liquor or adult entertainment, both of which (the liquor consumption or adult entertainment) are perceived as bad by the larger public, it is generally accepted that unrestricted Freedom is bad. ( This above proposition explains why many of the Asian countries are averse to full liberty in their political theory on  democracy.)
The more recent event example can be--, since Anna Hazare’s team is likely to see a split, or if Mr Bhushan or any of the Team Anna’s member are under investigations on wealth amassment, their full anti-corruption campaign and demand can be rejected as political gameplan. The common man’s rational to derive the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ of a thing, basis certain other thing shows their lack of knowledge of how to rationally co-relate event A with event B. (Just because Anna’s team member might have huge wealth does not amount to mean that the Anti-corruption campaign is lost away because the leaders are themselves not clean. So long as the demand is clean and logical, the campaigners personal actions should be exempted in the endemic problem as corruption).
Another example of it is -- It is imperative on a believer in non-violence to be labeled a Gandhian, and further it is necessary for a Gandhian to be averse to alcohols.
Returning back, the religion based public outlook further results into the shaping of their outlook towards some deeds , which they deem as highly sinful. Drinking, smoking, gambling and adult entertainment are not just amoral, they maybe sinful ! Las Vegas maybe the hell on earth for them, never know, because all these amoralities is what  the Vegas is known for.
My shipmate expressed his biggest aversion to the culture of Varanasi for its disposition to alcohol consumption.
The inter-personal relationship is another thing which is tendered by religious thought. The father-son relationship, the teacher-student relationship, --all carry the undertones of ideal set by Ram in Ramayana. Therefore, the ‘bad’  is automatically assigned to the one who is first to violate the standard practices, or in the event where this first defaulter is untraceable, to the junior rank between the two parties involved.
Such errors in people’s behavior are likely a result of generation of sublime acceptance of what is good and what is bad. People have forgotten or refused to re cross-examine what should be good and what should not be. The changing environment, increased knowledge source-- these have not affected as greatly  the people as a whole. Individuals may show acceptances, people may show acceptance individually, but larger conduct of the group is unaffected over the years. Like, the case of alcohol consumption- one Varanasi-ite may be a consumer, some among a group of varansi-ites may show positive acceptance of alcohol consumption, but neither may still be able to affect the conduct of the group towards Alcohol-consumption.
In short, a strong attachment to the goods and bad as decided generations ago, and refusal to keep reevaluating it ever onwards makes Varanasi-dwellers the outdated thinkers.