The film Masaan spoke far more eloquently what I often say to the educated fetish of history. A sort of 'so what' question. So what if thousand year old ghats of Benares adorn funeral pyres and harem pants and sindoor float about in search of moksha at the tender fold of a timeless river. The people incarcerated in such futile timelessness must necessarily say the 'so what' question. As expectant sexualities of Facebook drip into young hearts via obsolete computers of a cyber café. The internet is cautiously encased in cell phones as a precious, fleeting and forbidden taste of the world far away that is not so bound. Bound by tradition, bound by architecture, caste, religion, silt of the river. Life slips away every minute in an accepted suffocation. Even the dead are not free here. Skulls wait in line to be broken open into a final fire. This is the brutal margin of modernity. A necessary frame for the glow of Bombay Delhi and New York to be thrown in relief to. Commodity comes with a powerful provocation. That those that bind you can be shoved aside. The commodity can heal. The commodity can bring love. The commodity can shield the dead.
I visited Benares in January this year. With my partner who studies medieval Christianity. We bore witness to the quiet murky river against the roaring flames of the pyres. He was deeply moved by communal display of the dead. It's daily conversation with longtime. An ancient, already eulogised geography speaks from the inside, in Masaan. And mocks all that is already written and recorded about Benares. It does not feel all that well to be shackled next to a sacred river, hunting for jobs all the while. A layer of dust floats over the film. Much like other parts of north India. Mundane pollution, muck and the hope of a government job shape life in the waiting room of urban modernity. As if trying to wrestle out of the chains of a river.