Travellers and Magicians

The cherry blossom is beautiful...because it's temporary!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dystopia Diary

The mention of 'Teerthraj Prayag' or the city of Allahabad evokes associations of pilgrimage and piety in the minds of most Hindus. The impression I've gathered from my stay here so far, has however been holistically unholy.

Every time I walk around the streets here, my mind races in vain, trying to remember anything this filthy. On a parallel note, a fervent prayer comes to my lips that I may survive the chaos on the roads and reach home safely. With every glance, a clearer picture grows in my mind of the ideal of dystopia.

I had thoroughly enjoyed a brief stay in Benares, a couple of years ago. Benares was just a tad less, if not equally, dirtier. But the place was wonderful in the religious aura and old world charm that it possessed. Wherever one chose to look, there was orthodoxy, veneration and religious exertion. It was a place overflowing with ghats, temples, monks, priests and pilgrims. The shopkeepers, with roots unmistakably in the gangetic plain, spoke lucid Tamil and Telugu with the thronging South Indian devout. You realized that the sights you saw, had been seen by people for thousands of years. Most of the activity had the stamp of pristine time-deying authenticity. I had come to Allahabad with fond hopes of reliving that experience. I got the same filth and chaos but not the charm.

In other cities, I have often ridiculed posters glorifying cleanliness. I didn't think they detered people from littering. Allahabad city concurs with me. Its indifferent authorities and defiant people have made sure that no such public awareness poster is to be seen anywhere in the city. The people here think it is blasphemy to walk the extra yard to a dustbin. No wonder the corporation hasn't wasted its time in putting up such useless notices which would only promptly be hidden by cowdung and slime.

One rightaway notices the astronomical number of cows and buffalos on the streets here. Officegoers here must be leaving home atleast ten minutes earlier on account of the overwhelming bovine presence. With practically no traffic rules being followed, they infinitely worsen order on the roads. But you cannot complain considering that you are in the land of 'Braj'-the cowbelt of India, unless you are peeved that the price of milk here is substantially more than in chennai.

A 5 minute walk will leave you awestruck that people survive the bedlam on the streets. To me, it brought back vivid memories of a computer simulation where hundreds of randomly moving particles never actually collide with each other.

A glaring handicap is the lack of any efficient public transport system. For short distances, the rickshaws come handy. But longer distances and thrift will invariably force you into an overcrowded tempo. When you have, after great difficulty, pushed yourself to a position of stability among other occupants, an irritating song from some flopped 80's hindi movie unfailingly adds to your discomfort.

Subsequent posts will describe a few of my interesting and educative exploits in this city.


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