Recently I completed reading a work of fiction, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
by Geoff Dyer. I cannot say that I liked the read but parts of the book remained with me long after I put the book to rest. I must confess that I purchased the book after reading some glowing reviews of the book. I wouldn't say that the purchase went awry for the book is an impressive hard-bound one with a colourful jacket that is quite a sight in my shelf of books! So much so for the appearance. I remembered the phrase, "Appearances can be deceptive" from Shakespeare. Let me go on with the post.
The first section of the book talks of the protagonist's experience in Venice and the second half is his experience in Varanasi. Apart from the Vs, it so happens that both the cities have many similarities that only the discerning traveller can spot. The protagonist Jeff does not see much similarity between the two Vs and treats each city according to its special flavour.
Jeff is sent to Varanasi for an assignment and even after he completes his assignment, he prolongs his stay in the holy city. When Jeff first lands in Varanasi, he seems like any other tourist complaining about the dirt and squalor of the city and questions the 'holiness' of the river Ganga. But as time goes on and Jeff grows tuned to the city and its ways, he experiences a spiritual transformation. But believe me, the spirituality is what I perceived of the change but Jeff does not think so. One fine morning when the sun is just about rising and there is a chilly weather, Jeff plunges into the Ganga for a dip. The previous thoughts of dirt, grime, dead bodies and other things no longer niggle his mind. This particular passage struck a chord within me. I began to meander as to what is this disgusting feeling with dirt and shit? Everyday while passing the roads one encounters so much garbage, shit, and an assortment of waste materials but inspite of all that we continue living and in a way all that on the road becomes a part of our daily existence. Even though we despise squalor, we cannot leave the place looking for a place which is benign. We live on. And Jeff discovered that when he decided to take a dip in the infamous 'dirtiest river in the world,' where corpses float and animal carcasses rot. Nothing bothered him. At that precise moment when realisation struck Jeff, he became someone who valued the sanctity of the river and respected the intrinsic value of the Ganga.
Reader, does this post strike a chord with you. Tell me . . .