A letter to Banaras

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Dear Banaras,

I’d like to thank you for the last five weeks. You’ve been beautiful, life changing and inspirational. I’ve felt both the saddest and the happiest I’ve ever felt here. You’re a place of extremes, and for that I love you. I’ve seen with my own eyes that religion isn’t always a bad thing – the inner peace here is entirely down to faith.

When I came here I was told it was filthy, chaotic and disturbing. But what I found was a place where physical reality and surface level appearances have been transcended, and this is one of the reasons I’ll always consider this place home.

In Banaras, animals and humans of all shapes and sizes live side by side in harmony. The monkeys might steal your food, the dogs might make you feel guilty enough to give it to them the beggars and the touts might try their luck, but they’re just trying to survive like the rest of us. We all survive to the best of our abilities and in fact, the better your ability, the more damage you’re capable of causing. So I’ve learnt to have respect for all life forms in this world and accept them as myself.

In my guest house, there were four puppies, one of which I came to know and would often invite in to my room. One night, she was very ill and I woke to the sound of her vomiting on my bed. In an act out of my character, I completely lost my composure, screamed at her and kicked her out of my room. The following morning she passed away.

This affected me deeply and the guilt I felt tainted my last days in the city. But this was also a steep learning curve in acting compassionately towards all life forms that I’ll never forget.

Banaras is a place where the art of patience is something you must hone to survive. This city is far from perfect and there is as much corruption as in any other human settlement, but there is an energy here that resides far closer to the truth of our existence. It might take a long time for the first time visitor to understand, but with practice and patience, they will see it.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some very special people who inspired me in ways I could never have perceived. I’ve had the chance to explore my writing in more depth and realise I’m capable of more than throw-away journalism. In fact it’s been so good that I don’t want to leave, but I know more Indian magic awaits, and there’s that money thing that is slowly trickling away.

I’ll miss the sound of celebrations and ceremonies resounding through the city every night, I’ll miss gazing at life and death floating along the Ganga and I’ll miss Munna’s house where everything about the travelling experience was crystallised. But most of all, I’ll miss feeling like I belong somewhere.

But nothing is permanent, and impermanence is something I’ve started to come to terms with during my time here. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, places, people and objects all fade into the past eventually, and only when we accept this can we find true peace. The things that truly matter will stay with us forever.

I’ll never forget the night I spent by the burning ghat when the power went out. Left alone in the dark with only the glare of the open human cremations to shed light put any worries I had previously into perspective. Watching the bodies dissolve in the flames as newborn puppies obliviously played with each other, I felt profound peace in the presence of life and death.

And even after five weeks, I still feel like I know nothing of this place. So I’m leaving feeling extremely humbled by my experiences, and I hope I’ll be back in the future with more to offer.

Namaste ❤

 

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