It is the first break of the day, warblers chirping in the trees, the initial rays of the Sun reflecting over the waters of the Ganga, and like every other day, the holy city has begun rising up to brace the world with its unparalled religiousness and faith.
But this day is not like every other usual day. This day is filled with empty, half-demolished houses in the areas around the eminent Kashi Vishwanath temple; this morning includes people waking up with the realisation that it may be their last morning in their ancestral homes. This bleak fate of the city has followed the ambitious 600-crore kashi vishwanath corridor project which involves the beautification and extension of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, such that the temple can have a direct access through a beautiful green corridor instead of through the old narrow lanes surrounded by dilapidated buildings. The involves removing more than a hundred houses in the way of the expansion sites which house approximately forty small heritage temples.
While the settlements with the locals have mostly been reported to be amicable, the problems of rehabilitation and proper refurbishment largely stand unattended. Additionally, in the wake of this bigger and brighter picture, no one has addressed the pain and loss that the people living around the area are facing. The silver screen in front of our eyes with the dream of the ‘greater good’ will turn to dust if we go and take a walk around the area. Not three months ago, the famous narrow lanes of Banaras would have greeted you with beautifully adorned houses and bright colourful walls, happy faces of children playing around, and elders sitting outside their houses narrating mythical stories. Today if you go there, you will be greeted with dust, fallen bricks in your way, and the sounds of hammers working their way to break the ancestry that once defined the true essence of the city along the banks of the Ganga.
The lanes would also greet you with the sombre faces of the inhabitants, standing along helpless even with the money that they have been promised. However, one bitter truth which comes with this slowly disappearing past like a whiff of smoke is the fact that our community lacks unity. A local shopkeeper, Anil Singh said that even when they will need to rehabilitate sooner or later, they are being paid good amounts by the government and that he is happy to see the development happening around. In his words, “we are facing some problems, our business will suffer a backlash, but Varanasi is towards the path of development.”
On the other hand, Gopalnath Mishra, almost 70 years old, regrets the decision of the government and said that his house is more than one hundred and fifty years old, and has a small heritage temple, to which his family has looked after since generations. He also said that the lack of proper documents for his home would not entitle him to get enough money so that he can relocate with his family without any qualms. Basant Jha, a fresh post-graduate from Kashi Vidyapeeth, lives as a tenant in the area and even when he has safely relocated his family, he and his friends regularly visit the area every morning and stay there the whole day, watching the houses they once played around in their childhood turn to dust.
Along the way these days, you would stumble upon well-crafted doors, behind which all you can find would be dust and broken walls, callously thrown water bottle of a child, ripped pieces of a saree, a dust-laden torn sheet showing half a drawing of a home. But the green coloured door with brown border and the knocked down handle would still be standing there, grandiose, greeting you like a fallen warrior. This silent tussle between development and ancestry is not just a sad narrative of pain and loss, but also a resounding tale of the wiping away of the essence and true definition of a city, which now the holy city of Varanasi is witnessing.