Indian Cities in Images: Benares

Everything you see is wild, grotesque, unnatural, forbidding, utterly wanting in verisimilitude, an refinement, with nothing to purify and raise the people, with everything fitted to pervert their tast and lower their character -James Kennedy, London Missionary Society

Benares is holy. Europe, grown superficial, hardly understands such truths anymore. I feel nearer here than I have ever done to the heart of the world; here I feel every day as if too soon, perhaps even to-day. I would receive the grace of supreme revelation…the atmosphere of devotion which hands above the river is improbable in its strength; stronger than in any church that I have ever visited. Every would-be Christian priest would do well to sacrifice a year of his theological studies in order to spend this time on the Ganges: here he would discover what piety means. – Count Hermann Keysering  visiting Benares in the 1920’s.

So those are…two feelings about Benares. I don’t know that I share either of them. But I do know that I saw Benares, like I see many Indian cities, from the back of a car. That’s not to say I don’t walk, because I do, or that Benares isn’t walkable, although it’s really not, but the concept of a city being walkable, being a nice place to walk, being walking oriented, is not, to my knowledge, apparently part of the concept of an Indian city. Which is ironic given how many people must walk, how many people can afford nothing else.

When people ask me about India, the thing I always end up talking about is the contrast, the proximity, the claustrophobic and troubling quality that sees slums next to million dollar properties next to temples next to schools next to bars next to sewage. In the West we hide our poverty, it is true, and our poverty looks different, and our middle class looks different, and there aren’t quite so many things in between, but here there are no words that I know of in English to describe each rung on the social ladder, each incremental step that separates people from each other. But the separation between many people and me could not be clearer, it’s the glass of the car I’m in as I watch the city slide by.

The photos here may look, you might feel, cliché, like all the photos people take when they go to India. And that’s totally fine. Because these are the things you see in every Indian city I’ve been to so far, and that’s why I photographed them.

I usually spend a lot of time on this blog, and all my blogs, talking, but this time I will duck out early and leave you with a lot of photos. And if they are cliché, at least I know they will be used by many people when googling india+images, so…I’m basically famous already.

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