23 05 2011

I have been criticised – no, that’s a little harsh, it was simply a comment – because despite all the hints and promises when I started this blog I have in fact posted little or nothing on India or yoga or philosophy. Also, my colleague at Medieval Mysteries, M.B.Gilbride, reminds that I promised ages ago to do something on Indian comics.

So let me kill at least two birds with one post by reviewing an unbelievably good Indian comic, actually a graphic travel book, published by Indica Books for visitors to Kashi, otherwise known as Banaras, Benares, Varanasi. Anyone remotely interested in the real India should head for Varanasi (that’s what I know it as) at some point during their visit to the sub-continent – and by that I suppose I mean at some point during their lives.

The book is called, appropriately, A Pilgrimage to Kashi, Kashi, the City of Light, being the original name of this Holy City, believed by all Hindus to be the oldest city in the world. It is designed not just for foreign visitors, not even primarily for foreign visitors, but for Indians coming on pilgrimage to Kashi from all over India. Remember that India is home to a billion people who, never having suffered under a totalitarian government – unlike the Chinese – still speak many different languages, and that publishing a book in English is one way of making it accessible.

As you see, it is subtitled “HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY AND CULTURE OF THE STRANGEST AND MOST FASCINATING CITY IN INDIA” and that is how it begins – look at the first page, here.

But it manages to combine this with the story of a typical Indian family visiting Varanasi from their home in Bombay (Mumbai) – see the page where they are introduced, here. Notice the different attitudes, especially the daughter’s, which is all too common in India today.

Then we accompany these four people as the uncle, who lives in Varanasi, shows them round the old city and the ghats (the steps leading down to the river) and tells them the myths, the legends and the history. Most of the ghats are ‘bathing ghats’ but two are ‘burning ghats’, where bodies are burnt. You see all this in the book, but one of the best things about it is the way different viewpoints are presented: here the boatman, a poor man, argues with the uncle, a holy man.

We learn about the traditional silk industry, for instance, and the even more traditional courtesans, and much, much else.

I can think of no better introduction to the Eternal City. After reading this – and read it twice, it is ultra-easy-reading! – everything will seem familiar to you the moment you arrive. And that is wonderful – like reading a book set in the Middle Ages then having a time machine to take you there to experience it for yourself! But will it last? Yes, if it is left up to the people of India, but outsiders might destroy it – the Emperor Aurangzeb, a fanatical muslim, came close to doing so once (the story is in this book), and look what the Chinese are doing virtually unopposed in Tibet. They must never be allowed to press down into India. 




One response

22 08 2011
THE TARNISHED CHALICE by Susanna Gregory « Kanti Burns, Book Reviews and more

[…] London or Varanasi. And speaking of medieval Varanasi (aka Kashi, Benares – see my post on Kashi) did you know that India was way ahead of Europe in medical knowledge at this time? Unlike the […]

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