Friday, Oct 07, 2022
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Benares Diary

Though our PM is known more for his fasting than his feasting, he has brought his star power to bear on Varanasi’s crafts and food

Benares Diary Photo by Amit Haralkar

Wearing down an ideal
At last month’s centennial convocation at Benares Hindu University (BHU), Prime Min­ister Narendra Modi faced protests from Dalit students alleging discrimination on the campus. Unseemly as it was, it only followed a long tradition at an institution right in the citadel of Hinduism and on the edge of modernity. The inauguration of BHU, in 1916, was marked by a blistering speech in which Gandhiji chided the maharajas who funded the university for their excesses and spoke of the lack of cleanliness around the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Madan Mohan Malaviya founded BHU to help bring ‘modern’, ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’ thought and research to traditional Hindu ideas. This was evident in the campus itself, which is part transplanted from the first world, with its neatly laid out roads and trees, and part celebration of the city’s past, with gates that echo temple spires. And it may be most evident in the women’s college, where my grandmother taught and my mother graduated from. So I grew up with stories from the 1950s, of teachers who brought alive the wonders of Sanskrit literature and played tennis in white sarees, and of the first women to drive around the city.

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