Dead in Banaras: An Ethnography of Funeral Travelling 0192864289, 9780192864284

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Dead in Banaras: An Ethnography of Funeral Travelling
 0192864289, 9780192864284

Table of contents :
Transliteration, Translation, Kinship Names and Notations
1. Following the Dead: Corpse as Multiple Social Condition
2. The City Multiple: Place-Names Play Dead
3. Good, Bad Death: Family Necrology and Hospital Sojourn
4. Crying and Listening: Forms of Mourning and Community
5. Conversation of Pyres: Seen and Unseen Passages of Crematorial Aesthetics and Ethics

Citation preview

Dead in Banaras

Dead in Banaras Ethnography of Funeral Travelling R AV I NA N DA N SI N G H


3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Oxford University Press 2022 The moral rights of the author ‌have been asserted First Edition published in 2022 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2022934443 ISBN 978–​0–​19–​286428–​4 DOI: 10.1093/​oso/​9780192864284.001.0001 Printed in India by Rakmo Press Pvt. Ltd Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.

to the halt house Rauza

Contents Acknowledgements  Transliteration, Translation, Kinship Names and Notations  Preface 

1. Following the Dead: Corpse as Multiple Social Condition  The City  Bio-​medicine  The Corpse  The River  Polythene  Bacteriophages  Funeral Travelling  Dead as Multiplicity  The Banaras of Fieldwork  A Brief Genealogy of Death and Desire as Thoughts  Postcard Bookmark  Sighing Speech  Domghouse  Anecdote  Circumstances 

2. The City Multiple: Place-​Names Play Dead  Visiting the Place-​Name 

Take the Train  Take the Bus  Take the Plane  More Than a/​One Name  Irony Lives in Place-​Names 

ix xv xvii


2 3 3 3 4 4 5 5 7 8 11 12 14 16 16


24 24 25 26 27 29

A Talkative Landscape 


Temple and University  Playing Dead 

43 51

History  Tradition  Legend  The Time of Before and the Time of Now 

32 34 39 42

viii Contents

3. Good, Bad Death: Family Necrology and Hospital Sojourn  Unfolding Itinerary of Funeral Travelling  Father as a Relative  Father as a Dying Relative 

4. Crying and Listening: Forms of Mourning and Community  Father as a Dead Relative  Dead Father as a Relative  Father’s Dead Relatives 

Father’s Father  Father’s Mother  Father’s Youngest Daughter 

5. Conversation of Pyres: Seen and Unseen Passages of Crematorial Aesthetics and Ethics  Eco-​Aesthetics 

Seasonal Variations of Hindu Civilization  The Language of Environmental Pollution  Complexion of Pyre and the Complexion of the River  Polythene and Ganga Ji as Mirror Concepts  Forms and Formats of Crematorial Architecture  Bacteria, Virus, and National Microbes  Ganga Aarti, Pyre Show 

53 55 61 71

81 82 88 97

97 98 101


106 106 110 114 116 118 122 125





Dead as Multiplicity  Dead as Maati (Clay) and Body  Touching and Handling the Dead  Dead as Madh (Cadaver–​Carcass-​Carrion) and Laash (Corpse)  Cremation Ghat to Aghorashram  Dead as Murda (Not-​living, Dead)  The Dead as Irreducible Surface of Names  Remains of the Dead 

Notes  Bibliography  Index 

127 127 131 131 134 134 137 138

141 155 161

Acknowledgements The ethnographic and the autobiographical colours involved in the making of this book run deep. I will limit myself to some hues that illuminate aspects of its making. The anonymous funeral travellers at Harishchandra ghat who came with their respective biers make the ambient milieu of the book. The unspoken pact of not talking, not interviewing began early on and gradually settled into a listening to their presence that deepened over the fieldwork years and emerges in the book, in turn, as ‘sighing’ speech. The funeral workers at the ghat, often too busy to sit down for a talk, helped in making alternative connections between the dead and thought. Let me recount one lesson, I learnt from you. Let me not reveal your name, as you wished. Also, as the adage of the place goes: secrets are more powerful than revelations. Early on in fieldwork, pursuing the several men working with the pyres, I approach you one day, timidly, for an interview—​wanting to know more about you, the community, the neighbourhood, and the families living at the ghat. I stutter: I am seeking to study death. You gaze down with anger and retort: why must the truth of death lie with its workers? Go where they come from. Chase them, seek them. True, I thought, why it must? I left, dithered, and after following the dead all around returned to the same place once again. Retrospectively, I see that you made these new ethnographic maps a question of thought before they became actual journeys. Let me recount one more lesson. I am on a different side of the city, closer to Rajghat, observing the cremation work being undertaken by a small group of workers in the Khadak Vinayak neighbourhood. Hardly a few kilometres away from Harishchandra and Manikarnika—​the two always aflame, busiest cremation ghats—​a lone pyre burnt here with a few funeral travellers in tow. Why? The question became a limerick amongst the small mix of workers and travellers as the solitary pyre burnt. Another day, at the same place, a young apprentice handed me the answer without a prod. Dead bring their own dead. That’s how names and places live and flourish. Our place is forsaken. I acknowledge this illumination that came

x Acknowledgements my way through the young voice. I also acknowledge the darkness of my failure to include this sombre and solitary cremation place in my ethnographic map. We return to Harishchandra Ghat. I offer my sincere thanks to Rajaram ji (Postman Baba) for revealing with tact only as much as he thought was protective for an apprentice like me who was innocent about the gateways to transcendence through the dead. Few ghats away, my heartfelt thanks to Mahant Ji (Veer Bhadra Mishra) for taking time out from his busy schedule for what became a rather long interview on a blistering hot day. Many more lessons were learnt as I wandered in and around the city. I am grateful to the Kabir ashram for their generosity in hosting me and offering to teach me more about their Kabir, death (nirgun) and the city. The Ravidas temple at Ghasi Tola patiently engaged with me at a difficult time of loss when of one of their revered saints was assassinated in Austria. The Aghorashram, famously reticent towards researchers, allowed me access into their premises and were exceptionally welcoming. Rajaram Ji, an in-​house sevak resident, meticulously described the different places and practises within the Ashram on multiple occasions. I thank Hospital H for identifying with research and respecting my sociological version within the fabric of their busy organizational practises. I remember with gratitude, Anil and his scooter that we used for our gambhir ghumna-​phirna. Rakesh and Harmony Book Shop are never out of my mind: those Cohen-​Shrimati ji anecdotes, the books, the stories and that gentle smile (even when the shop at the ghat is ready to drown in some wilful monsoon episode). I owe a lot to you and the book shop, Rakesh. My sincere appreciation to the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript. Your affirmative and nuanced comments have shaped this book in both visible and invisible ways. Susan Visvanathan has trained me into a sociology that I have only begun to recognize and comprehend. I owe my world to her acumen and sensitivity. An earnest thanks to Bettina Baümer for her magnanimity in offering her residence and her exquisite library (Samvidalaya) during my fieldwork stay in Banaras. Her generous counsel and intellectual directions for my research continue to be an invitation to think with texts. Roma Chatterji and V. Sanil have taken upon themselves, over the last

Acknowledgements  xi decade, to tend my work into new directions; without their counsel and engagement this book would have never happened. In the same vein, my gratitude to Deepak Mehta and Sanjay Srivastava. After hearing me speak at the Friday Research Colloquium at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi, Deepak prompted me to publish in Contributions to Indian Sociology. The writing of the essay threw me into an orbit that has come full circle with this book. There is more to that story. Sanjay sat down hours, meticulously commenting on my draft submission. Saving that track changes file, I have used it as my guardian editor ethos to subsist with the work that followed for this book. Many thanks to Yasmeen Arif for her humour and sensitivity towards thought and for her ways of drawing me into collaboration through conversations, research inputs and workshop discussions. I cherish the exchange. To Sumbul Farah and Saumya Malviya for reading the draft version of the manuscript and sharing our special kaam-​ra-​derie. To Saumya, an additional thanks for providing his copy of Gangatat. I thank the departments of sociology at Delhi University, IIT Delhi (Humanities) and Shiv Nadar University for inviting me to present my work at their respective research seminars. The numerous comments and suggestions received have shaped the texture of this book. No amount of acknowledgement can capture the contribution of these interactions and my gratitude for them. I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues at the sociology department in Hindu College for their collegiality and care. A big thanks to Shalini Suryanarayan who facilitated a short, advance earned leave, during her in-​chargeship, for me to finish a crucial piece of writing when I had exhausted all my other leaves for the same purpose. RTL (Ratan Tata Library) has been the island, the loci of bookish transformation, between D School and Hindu College for all these years. The UGC Research fellowship came at an opportune time, providing much relief and enabled fieldwork. Big thanks: Farhat Parveen Ji at the publications Division, GOI, for handing over her only copy of Aajkal (Kashi Visheshank) for me to photocopy. Zenia Taluja and Shajeem Fazal for coordinating and procuring Kalpana (Kashi Ank) from Hyderabad. Pravisha Mittal for gifting me a copy of Mahajani Saar (indexing how Banaras is notated in the traders’

xii Acknowledgements language of North India). Dr. Arvind Kumar Sambal for directing my attention to Hans Kashi Ank and Hans Aatmakatha Ank. Sincere gratitude to the NK Bose Foundation. Specially for the fact that the access to the foundation’s archive was topped with a homey welcome and delicious food. Yann Vagneux, with whom my friendship started next to the pyres at Harishchandra ghat during fieldwork, has very kindly allowed me to use one of his images (of pyres with iron platforms) in c­ hapter 5. Thank you Saubhagya Pathy Ji for allowing me to use your Baba’s (Late Dinanath Pathy) painting as the cover image. In the early days of fieldwork, Bettina ji, had sent the postcard image to me from Austria with a note saying that seeing the painting she thought of me. It is fitting, after so many years, some of the ethnographic colours that overtime got impressed into my work find a way to the cover. The five elements laced in the grim orange of fire, the childish doodle of the manly wrestler pose against the death scene and the cosmic ouch of Kali and Shiva: Banaras colours. To Chandrima Chatterjee at OUP for commissioning the book and her encouraging reassurances. To Moutushi Mukherjee for following it up and seeing it through at OUP. To Nandini Ganguli, for the final rescue act. To Praveena Anbu and team for the production work and their patience with last-​minute requirements and delays. To Suneethi Raja for the index work. To my parents for giving us children all of themselves. A difficult gift to receive and one impossible to return. To Dad and Ma for all their love and support: suitably, the last draft was finalized at the Jaipur house just before the inaugural lockdown season. To Mumma for her ninetieth birthday concern: ‘and, when is the book coming?’ To Sonu-​Sher for their good will and supportive presence through the life of this book. Nana-​ Nani for handcrafting a world for me that has protected me from my own nightmarish fate into the subject of death. To my sisters, for their, largely undeserved, adulation. To my maternal uncles-​aunts for their love and nurturance and for sending me out, in good time, to be independent. To Geetika: you will recognize our twenty years in this book. All my death work, the diminishing it has caused and soul scratching it has effected have run through you as the holdfast. To Uday, for your days of being joy incarnate and becoming the jocular in-​charge in a house

Acknowledgements  xiii where the parents are mired in death and sudden death (marriage); Gita’s joke: meet Ravi (works on death), meet Geetika (works on sudden death). To Gita and Sushil: Family is to eating what research is to play. To Uday’s question: Can your dead return back as my dead do (respawn) in Minecraft creative mode? One part answer: they do return.

Transliteration, Translation, Kinship Names and Notations The author has used the conventions prevalent in Indian English for transliterating words from Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Urdu. Non-​English words are presented in simple form without any diacritics and added emphasis of special characters. However, in the spirit of standardization and for reading convenience, all non-​English words are italicized. The exceptions here are proper and common names. All translations in the book are author’s own. In places where existent translations have been used, they are duly acknowledged. In c­ hapters 3 and 4 standard kinship notations are used in tandem with positional names, names of endearment, names of relations and proper names of the relatives to create a mixed use. This is done to striate the kinship descriptions with both anonymity and personalization in the narrative. For convenience, at each descriptive juncture, the mixed notations are repeatedly evoked for ready reference.

Preface As the final draft of the manuscript was being handed over we entered into the covid-​19 topsy turvy. Indeed, in the interim two years a different working sentiment of the book, true to covid times, had come into effect: Dead in Banaras and not feeling well in Delhi. As I write this preface, we are perhaps into a reassuring end of a duration that has brought upon waves of death and collateral suffering. The layers of these deaths and social suffering will certainly unfold into our future and we would be forced to think of the covid dead with our unique anthropological affinity to such matters. This book draws out a minor instance of what such an anthropological affinity to the dead might look like. Although, evidently, it speaks from a different ethnographic present—​the first two decades of twenty-​first century Banaras. The present-​day Banaras, at first sight, is a new place. Rightly so, the baton must then pass on to an all new chronicling of the place. Yet, a connecting link, as always, may come into play, between this book’s time and other times of Banaras. Let me give an example of what such a connection might look like. Jonathan Parry (1994) in his classic Death in Banaras laments in the preface to the book that he could not incorporate the coming in of the electric crematorium in his descriptions of the funerary organization in Banaras. Two decades later, into my fieldwork, I found that it is, in part, the efficiency of the open-​air, manual cremation that Parry so effectively captures in his book that explains how a promising symbol of industrial modernity, the electric crematorium, falls short from the typecast. In the years between his book and my fieldwork, the electric crematorium sat lonely and was sparingly used against the cheer of the always-​on, busy, manual pyres whose flames continue to dot the scene of the ghats in a contrasting relief. In this above sense, I believe, Parry already provides us a portrait of the electric crematorium’s social imaginary in Banaras. The question of the shift from wooden pyres to electric cremation is then not about competing technologies but that of ethics with which the dead are tended to amidst the assemblies of funeral travellers. Having said that, I do not mean in any

xviii Preface way that my ethnography stands in comparison to Parry’s work or can establish and withstand such an enduring connection. In my own assessment, there is a different dimension to this ethnography that may enable us to see and make new connections: a devotion to a genealogy of funerary Banaras involving the ephemeral and the nomadic aspects of the dead and death. Readers can navigate the book, old school way, cover to cover. Here is a key for the new school reader. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the ethnography, so old and new style readers are both invited. Chapters 2 and 5 are not in any alliance with each other and can be read separately. In contrast, the middle chapters, 3 and 4, are narratively unified and must be read serially. These two middle chapters carry the visceral account of an autobiographical funeral travelling aided by necrological narratives. They are laden with the experience and thoughts of the mournful. Any reader having been in such an unfortunate circumstance will be able to gain a reading momentum with a griever’s ease. An uneasy ease, of course. Other readers may use their discretion before venturing here. Chapter 2, in my view, is the most affirmative chapter of the book. It is about the simple fact that the city—​and this is the speakers and users contribution, no doubt—​can be almost simultaneously invoked by its many names. I pitch this affirmativeness as a form of city-​names ‘playing dead’. By some standards that may not be very affirmative but that is how far I have been able to go. Chapter 5 is an attempt to show how the environmental, religious, medical and the crematorial come together in the making of a funerary Banaras that involves the river Ganga Ji amongst other cultural acts, artifacts and microbial facts. This chapter too carries an affirmative register, that of parvah (care), but the field did not allow me to cast parvah as an imperative and infinite responsibility. Overall, going into fieldwork, and subsequently going through the endless revisions in the writing of this ethnography, I have been possessed by many ideas and versions that have gradually cut loose. What is the ‘riverrun’ (pravah) of the book then? It is multi-​sitedness and an earnest sincerity towards recording the mise-​en-​scène of the contemporary. I use the word ‘riverrun’ in the sense in which James Joyce (1939) uses it to open his ‘Finnegans wake’—​that in fact I had started translating in Hindi as Finnegan ke tiye ki Baithak before realizing that I would need to spend a lifetime to create an Irish-​Hindi first—​as the onomatopoeic

Preface  xix spirit of the book. What I have suitably added in this ethnography to the idea of a changing mise-​en-​scène of Banaras is its bluey (parvah), mise-​en-​ abîme double. Finally, few words about what is it that I am saying in this book and what has inspired me to write such an ethnography. Anthropology and sociology tend to oscillate between thinking of death as a natural social event par excellence and death as an inauthentic event into modernity. Natural social event of the textbook life-​cycle ritual act. Inauthentic because into modernity it is never death truly, it is rather a lack of timely intervention, medical aid, care work and community vigilance. Concurrently then death is not death but is an effect of biopolitical letting die, neo-​liberal abandonment, collateral damage, extermination and fatal marginalization. There is an unspoken pact of knowledge that living would die rationally and use all means available to extend their longevity. Now, it is true that life divided by death is not a plain, even and symmetrical return to the social. In fact, the event of death, accentuated in certain specific ways into the contemporary, has an intractable remainder of the thymotic—​guilt, remorse, rage, despairing relation to thought—​ for the surviving community. Yet, drawing from this ethnography one may say that just as the living have a biosocial authenticity, in our times, so do death and the dead. The imagination attached to the infrastructures of hope and saving must not stop us from seeing that people also die within these infrastructures. And, they do not die as pure accidents but rather that is how death finds a way with the living. Do people need help to live rather than die? Will they always be helped into living, even if it is by degrees? Can we build and contribute towards the hope of a reasonably dignified death by socializing medicalization to the last person? Can people be saved? The answer would be a ‘yes, please’ to all of these when we think of these terms at the level of abstract categories such as people, help, dignity and saving. But an emphatic No, to the hope that once these ends are achieved—​in imagination, thought or practise—​the last person would die beatifically. Death is untimely and the living die in chaotic ways. This is an ethnography of the simple fact: how people die in contemporary Banaras. How is death received, hosted and served by the mourner? The descriptions here move with the affect that death as an ‘event’ cannot be turned into a pure truth of the mourner’s grief. Rather, the book shows that like all other things death and the dead come to settle

xx Preface into the ordinary. Their truth, as it were, comes in parts and is never an adequate ground for the mourner to articulate that I could grieve with satisfaction. This might explain the mourner’s rage. The rage at not being able to keep one’s dead within a clear and everlasting gaze in a place illuminated by grief. Summing up, and responding to this conundrum from the end of the living, I would go to the extent of saying that when the times comes, even betrayal of the dead becomes practical—​a practical, ordinary ethics that enables living. The ethnography is autobiographical, based on my father’s death in the ‘field’ and is much inspired by mourning resources of North India. Such resources are plentiful in North India or so a mourner might come to recognize. A small sample of a possible assemblage: Birha, literally meaning lamentations in Bhojpuri, is a folk genre of sing-​and-​tell rendition of death or deathly events. Shok upanyas, the genre of grief novel in Hindi, for example, Manjushima (1990) by Shiv Prasad Singh on his daughter’s terminal illness and death. Santaap kahani, the sick with sadness story, one of the searing ‘new’ Hindi story forms that rages against the genre of the tragic story, for example, Kshama karo hey vats (Forgive me my dear child) (2010) by Devendra. Milni/​bhet, the crying-​meeting of grieving and wailing women. And finally the sighing speeches of the funeral travellers at the Harishchandra ghat. In spite of these existent resources, the ethnography did not spring naturally from the fount of the local and the autobiographical. It rather arrived at these resources through the labyrinth of transcontinental philosophy and the ethnographic ‘eye’ rather than the ‘I’ of this apprentice ethnographer.

1 Following the Dead Corpse as Multiple Social Condition

This is a book about the dead. The dead as tangible, material entities but also as images, ideas, practices and affective social surfaces. In other words, this book is an attempt to make explicit ‘dead’ as multiple social condition. The Hindu dead is its central character. This becomes self-​evident as a good part of the book deals with their funerals.1 The ethnography is based on seeing, listening to, and locating the dead across many sites in contemporary Banaras, North India.2 I use seeing, listening, and locating to convey the ways in which a social surface of the living and the dead becomes gradually present to me as an ethnographer—​a mixed surface of images, voices, gestures, activities, stillness, the spoken, and the textual. I also use seeing, listening, and locating in the ways in which a heightened capacity for such receptions is granted to a mourner. It was during fieldwork that my father died in the same city and the middle of this book is based on that episode. While the setting is clearly that of the Hindu dead, the book switches between a Hindu world of funerary Banaras and a shared, dense, mixed humanity of the city. The dead as compass guide us to the scenes that are empirically far and near to them. The empiricisms dealt with here include the city, hospital, amputated leg, cremation pyre, the river, polythene, bacteriophage, and other emergent phenomena. Three ideas motorize the discussions of the book. One, borrowing from Gilles Deleuze is the idea of multiplicity as a substantive rather than an adjective.3 Deleuze pitches multiplicity as a substantive emergent relationship rather than a pre-​given unity. It is in this Deleuzian sense that I am using dead as multiple social condition and not conditions. Borrowing the same logic, other multiplicities discussed here are those of corpse, city, and names. Two, I focus on dead as multiplicity rather than death as multiplicity, because dead as a relation allows me to locate the continuing inherence and disappearance of death. I also wish to displace the

2  Dead in Banaras privileging of death as a pure, transcendent social event by showing how this event gets imbricated with the ordinary.4 Here I am inspired by the work of Veena Das (2006). Das shows how the dead and the living make and remake the ordinary. That reparation from catastrophic violence involves inheriting the dead and their deaths is ineluctable. However, the reception of this inheritance does not involve a method of transcendent passage into the ordinary. Rather, the dead and their deaths become diffused into the social in a way that they create the rough texture of the ordinary. This rough texture contains both self assured normalcy and an untimely, surreal presence of the dead and their deaths. Indeed, seen this way, ordinary can be viewed as a regenerated social but not regenerated from and against death but through, with and in it. My own work, unlike Das, is not tied to any direct site of extreme or chronic violence but is rather invested in showing how dead as social condition comes to inhabit the ordinary. I take from the philosopher Cora Diamond the idea that one way to critically approach the ordinary is to recognize the moral and the ethical in this unlikely realm while simultaneously paying attention to the very world in which this recognition might unfold.5 Although this dimension imbues the overall descriptions of the book, it forms a key discussion in ­chapter 5 where I make a case to think of environmental pollution through the shifting matrices of crematorial technologies as a moral question. Three, I use my father’s death to personalize the symbols involved in accepting death. Going back and forth between his dying at a city hospital and an extended necrology of his and mine patriline, I hope to add, through this personalization, another perspective, in the shadow of two exceptional ethnographies on Hindu funerals in Banaras: Death in Banaras (1994) by Jonathan Parry and Forest of Bliss (1986) by the filmmaker-​ethnographer Robert Gardner.6 With this let me provide short descriptions of the key participants in this ethnography. Here is a brief glossary anticipating the main themes of the book.

The City The North Indian city, Banaras, is also referred by many other names such as Benares, Varanasi, and Kashi amongst others. I obsessively track

Following the dead  3 how these names are used through an ethnography of popular, academic, and testimonial literature. I arrive at the conclusion that the place lives in its various names, and operates as a sheltering system for its different residents.

Bio-​medicine Apart from being the funeral capital, Banaras in the ‘local moral world’, to borrow a well-​known phrase from Arthur Kleinman (2007), exists as a hospital metropolis of emergency care for the vast and populous North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. One way in which the hospital finds expression here is through a comparative frame of how home and hospital expose the limits and possibilities of care in mutual contrast and continuity.

The Corpse The site of the contingent, the revenant, and the remnant matter of corpse is approached through the surface of names. We will see an illustration of the well-​known anthropological fact of a person becoming a corpse by losing its proper name for another set of contingently used generic names. The acknowledgement of the dead as a loss to the survivors is simultaneous with the loss of the self through the temporary expunging of the proper name from the corpse. Further, we will see how the corpse becomes impersonal, common, and general when it shifts through different names which allude to the divine (shav), ex-​living (murda), animal (madh), and the unnameable in a complex flow of funerary dissolution.

The River The river Ganga, addressed as Ganga Ji, with Ji as an honorific suffix, is experienced by the people at the ghats as a living watery spirit running through Banaras that must accept and contain the remains of the dead in order to metabolize uncertainty and danger as well as offer regenerative blessings to the personal cosmologies of its people. Yet, the river affected

4  Dead in Banaras by environmental pollution also exists as a new contingency of dark water with its own uncertainty and danger. Indeed, the moral problem of the river in the contemporary is precisely one of how to ‘see’ and ‘say’ this pollution or to even recognize pollution as diminishing the river’s spirit.

Polythene Polythene is the ubiquitous modern object that pervades the social life of Banaras as a polymeric fold of life and death. In its Banarasian usage, it finds a parallel with how the river acts as a metaphysical and phenomenal social solution to all concerns of human dangers inherent in the morally imagined world. These dangers are far ranging. They may include worn-​out or expired idols, bone-​stumps saved during cremation, hospital bio-​waste, aborted female foetuses and animal carcasses. Then, there are entities like unfiltered sewage, industrial waste, and polythene that endanger the river and their redressal involves an upturning of the very moral understanding of the river. All these dangers that reach the river are equally reflected in the social fact and form of polythene. So in a way the river and the polythene become two hosts that can contain such dangers. How does one begin to understand such a natural-​chemical continuum? The answer may lie in a reiteration of Cora Diamond’s perspective: what is involved in following polythene at the ghats is that as we recognize the moral and the ethical in this mixed realm of the river and the polymer we must simultaneously pay attention to the very world in which this recognition might unfold.

Bacteriophages Bacteriophages are living parasitical contact zones of viruses dependent on bacteria. They double up as one dynamic continuum of life and death, where the virus predates the bacteria but also replicates itself in that life–​ death process of the bacteria. Discovered in Ganga’s water as a biological purifying agent in the late nineteenth century, the bacteriophages have returned into the contemporary environmental struggle against bacteria as biological control. In this instance, the parasitical contact zone

Following the dead  5 becomes triadic when human experimentation actively joins to project a viral–​bacterial organic anabiosis.

Funeral Travelling Finally, the binding thread of the book is the affective register of locating funeral travelling and cremation as an intersection of various emergent encounters. Translating shav-​yatra as ‘funeral travelling’ opens up two dimensions in the said English phrase. One is of a personalized, religious grieving that drawing parallels from pilgrimage is tied to ritual practices and symbolic states. Second is of a journey that draws from the domain of travelling. The latter involves reflection and transformation in the face of aesthetics of death and cremation in Banaras. Very often, the second journey thrives on the death of the anonymous rather than that of one’s own. Both these senses prevail in the funeral travelling described in the book; however, given that it is narratively grounded in the anthropological tradition, it tends to privilege the meanings attached to ritual practices and symbolic states. Let me return to the question of death and dead, this time, through a genealogy of thought on the subject.

Dead as Multiplicity In foregrounding the idea of ‘corpse as multiple social condition’, I use condition not only to refer to the physical and material state of the corpse but also to show an affective multiplicity that reveals and hides the relation between the dead and the social. This project is then devoted towards a searching of multiple conditions of the social in relation to the dead that are organized in the forms of material, conceptual, and the onomastic (names) in contemporary Banaras. It is well known that in signposting death, the twentieth century has produced exhaustive oeuvres of knowledge including that of public grieving and collective mourning in response to the unparalleled and crushing violence that it unduly hosted. Amidst this acknowledgment, the book sets on to locate the interstitial spaces of funerary observations,

6  Dead in Banaras highlighting grief and mourning that coexist with the heavy rhythms of the ordinary in the everyday social world of Banaras. The low thresholds of life that border on the asthenic are taken into account and made manifest here. Which is why, I say, I listen to the corpse. What is implied in this listening is an affective observation that is different from arriving at representation of death rituals and their corresponding Hindu meanings. In this proposed listening, I have treated corpses, cremation, fire, and river as sights and sounds unto themselves and in relation to each other rather than collapsing them into one uniform, metaphoric funerary complex that is activated only in human voice. This by no means implies that I have cancelled out significations of speech, acts, and gestures. While I acknowledge that owing to the methodological shift, first person accounts of the cremation ghat are both constrained and thin, rather than padding them up I have pared down that field account even further to the social usage of certain names and words alone. This is to convey that even at its barest, at the level of a set of words, pravah (river run) and parvah (funerary care), there is no social usage, without an entanglement of remainders of differing usages. The organization of chapters mirrors this methodological shift. I switch in tenor between the chapters. Some have minimal field narratives, while others are thickly textured. One such thick texture emerges by bringing together the separated domains of the textual and the spoken in Chapter 2. I use the textual and the spoken side by side, for the simple reason that Banaras, a great centre of learning, writing, and literature, allows this complex traffic into conversations. Instead of dissecting how text bears onto the practices, I serve them here in a cooked-​together meal. In a similar gesture, I offer my father’s death in the form of an autobiography of a funeral traveller. This also brings us to, the dead centre, of a crucial question: how may we relate the dead to death? A short answer would be: in life. What one means by life here are the different conditions of the social that enable one to recognize the repetition of death as an intrinsic contrast. I am thinking here of Deleuze’s (1988) discussion on ‘fold’ in his book called Foucault.7 Staying with Deleuze’s reading of Foucault and his works enables one to see that death creates a multiplicity of interior–​exterior within life and not outside it. We can even say that it is the dead as social condition that bring about folds into these topologies of the interior and the exterior. For sure, these folds can be equally brought about by love, desire, and such. In fact, what

Following the dead  7 we gain by posing death as a dividual and dispersive event is a continuum that allows us to use the planes of the ordinary with respect to mourning and recovery. Although the accounts in this book switch many forms and rhythms, the ironical relationship between life, death, and the dead holds this perspective together. The irony of the relationship is precisely that while both language and meaning are under tremendous strain in recognizing death and the dead, the life lesson drawn from the field seems to be that we must indeed turn to language in order to affectively recognize the triad of life, death, and the dead. On this note, let me introduce you to the place and time of my fieldwork.

The Banaras of Fieldwork Banaras, even by the local North Indian standards, is quite unique in putting it all out in the open when it comes to corpses and cremation. There are two cremation ghats in close proximity to each other, always at work, operating with a seemingly simple but excessive sensory semiosis of fire, smoke, sight, and smell amidst other routine river-​edge human activities. The places are well known as Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats. My work is primarily based at the Harishchandra ghat because the said ghat has both, electric ovens—​or stoves (chullah), as people call it locally—​ along with the regular, manual, wooden cremation pyres. The same complex houses a multi-​storey hotel, overseeing the electric and manual crematoria, catering largely to young backpacking tourists from around the globe. Abiding with the idea of multi-​sitedness, I use Harishchandra ghat as the central station and follow the corpse to different places (Marcus 1995, 2001). One may already notice the ironic brimming of life around the dead. We can see this irony emerge in different transcontinental social spaces that are marked by the double, zigzag presence of tradition and modernity, global and local and their ever-​renewed forms. In an extended inspiration from Marcus (2001), I also highlight an irony that tends to emerge out of objects, subjects, and things which continuously recast the idea and meaning of social relations. It is in this latter sense that the dead operate as ironic to life and death on one hand and to language and meaning on the other. That is, even as the dead operate as human signs of ironic meaning, they are simultaneously wound up

8  Dead in Banaras in the empiricisms of the contemporary biopolitical linked to the dead as municipal facts as well as continuing markers of ethicized, subjective meanings. The initial fieldwork was carried out between 2005 to 2009. From 2011 unto the present, I have been periodically following different elements of the field, for instance bacteriophages and crematorial technologies, in Delhi and Banaras. I have also included materials from a brief ethnography of crematoria in Denmark (2011) in Chapter 5. More importantly, I have used the interim time to move from my earlier conceptualization of the ethnography conceived within the abstractions of a pure event to that of multiplicity and the ordinary.8 I now present a brief genealogy of how anthropology and philosophy have responded to death in their midst.

A Brief Genealogy of Death and Desire as Thoughts The usual pairing is that of life and death and the living and the dead. Anthropology, to an extent, has helped shape this equation and most certainly has reproduced and re-​enacted it. Once articulated, it became an autonomous binary frame and since then it has been an imperative that anthropology responds to this equation. The responses to this framing, from the ground of anthropology, are varied and this variety may very well be unique to the discipline itself. I will not attempt a chronology here but instead re-​create a brief genealogy to underscore some of the ways in which the discipline has responded to this equation. An enduring anthropological engagement has been on the question of organization of society and death of an individual. The lasting image, in my view, is in Emile Durkheim’s (1995) discussion on the subject in his opus—​The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. As we move into the book from Durkheim’s rather neatly classified definition of the sacred—​as a definite, separated zone distinct from the profane—​into the discussion of the negative cult, we encounter the unstable and contagious sacred. The discussion on piacular rites posits this ambiguity of the scared alongside a parallel ambiguity of death as a symbol. This idiom of death is that in which the dead not only radiate out unmoored threats of potentially rupturing the immediate survivors and the extended community from their social anchors but,

Following the dead  9 significantly, also rupturing the invisible and otherwise barely remembered social structure. Ritualistic communitarian observations reassure a return to normalcy but this dark potentiality hangs onto the social horizon till it latently recedes into the background with the passage of time. In this image, dead and death conjoin against living and life. This image was slightly recomposed by other anthropologists in two altered sketches. Robert Hertz (1960) detached death from the dead and attached it to one symbolic side of the human body. The left-​hand side of the body is seen as a negative, asymmetric, and countervailing force to the right-​hand side of life and regeneration. In Hertz, the corpse returns as a social materiality that both unsettles established symbols and also inaugurates symbols of its own—​the corpse in itself being such a symbol par excellence. A yet another enactment of this equation was to harp on the sociological maxim that individuals die society does not. Radcliffe-​Brown (1952) writing in the middle of the Second World War may have outlined the most optimistic but bone dry conclusion about the twentieth century in his essay on social structure. This idea was already domesticated in kinship studies to show that the given trope of birth, marriage, and death on a loop may operate as a social-​structural cycle in which structural life and the social remain a constant. For all its profound validity, this was and is too simple a disavowal of death as a negligible and empty process in comparison to the obduracy of social structure. One may only look at Rodney Needham’s (1954) mourning essays on the Penan to see how death of children complicates this story in terms of thinking through the relation between the newly dead and the survivors as both a periodic and a protracted question for the community. A more ingenious statement of this cycle where Hertz and Radcliffe-​ Brown seem to come together was to think in terms of the dead itself participating in its own regeneration into social life through a parallel symbolic enactment by the affected survivors. The fact that from Hertz onwards a mutual presence of death and sexuality could be readily shown in empirical funerary observations gave way to scholars like Maurice Bloch (1982, 1985), Jonathan Parry (1982, 1994), Metcalf and Huntington (1991) affirming and substantiating this link. With the symbolic association of fertility and regeneration firmly on one side, on the other side the link between death and sexuality acquired sideways support in psychoanalysis and cinema, giving rise to a new post-​war corpsely mise-​en-​scène.

10  Dead in Banaras In cinema, the snuff, mondo, and documentary combination of rumour, stranger’s corpse, and visceral graphics depicting death, dead, and the sexual typified an aesthetic that simultaneously alienated forms of death from their embedded communitarian settings and activated these alien forms of dead with desire (see Kerkes and Slater 1995, 2016). Meanwhile, in psychoanalysis, Freud’s tortured efforts to delink and restore sexuality and mourning, Eros and Thantos had led to a complex formulation in Lacan (2004). Taking Freud’s formulation further, in Lacan, the link with death was not that of desire but a drive, alluding to a repetitive, hauntological, continuum that relies only partially on the biological. For George Bataille (1986), who returns to the Durkheimian and the Hertzian contributions, the link between sexuality and death is that of a unifying excess. The tender contrast between Lacan’s drive and Bataille’s excess is that drive comes to be hosted in bodies and thus is an immanent-​ concept while excess is a transcendence-​ concept. Returning to Durkheim, what is important in this genealogy is that the Durkheimian dark potentiality, which could never be fully rounded and averted and thus held the social structure as stricken in degrees, comes to be the rather stable idiom in this intense career of death as a twentieth century concept. Dismantling this privileging of death as a concept we find in Gilles Deleuze (1988) the remaking of life as a concept, if at all it can be named as a concept in the traditional sense of the term. This idea of life is different from the anthropological legacy of life cycle. And what may this life as a concept be? A possible response is that life for Deleuze is a halting continuum of relations, territories, and substantiveness that shift in intensities, conceding to the repetition of death but always within the folds of life, moving from one threshold to another. Deleuze’s well-​known criticism of psychoanalytic plexus of desire and sexuality stops us from seeing that he also undid the structural split, showcased in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, of sexuality (desire) and death (drive). While the psychoanalytic split brought in the admission that the truth of death is different and higher from the truth of sexuality, Deleuze brought desire and death into the same orbit, and death never becomes the transcendental site in his work over and above life. From a different vantage point, Veena Das arrives at a similar affirmation of desire and death sharing common grounds rather than separated

Following the dead  11 by any fundamental split to make two absolutely distinct realms. Ranging through her large body of work and variegated engagements with different linguistic materials, the formulation emerges in her early work (Das 1983) in an analysis of sacrifice within the Hindu ritual imagination. Extending this proposition through Wittgenstein and readings of Indian grammatical contributions (Das 1998, 2015a), she arrives at a privileging of language as life rather than language in life.9 Thus, we find a gradual acknowledgement of death and desire on the same side, and similarly, we come to witness how language and life share a form of vitality. To use Deleuze’s terminology, we come to understand how death is interiorized in life and is not external to it. In this sense it seems to me that death can be recorded in its uneven scattering and ambiguous obscuring within the narrative continuity of the ordinary rather than in an unambiguous abstraction of an event.10 And, as argued earlier, the dead as multiple social condition can be the compass to guide us. On this note, let us consider another snapshot, the site of my fieldwork, the funerary complex of Harishchandra ghat.

Postcard Bookmark Back in Banaras. The spatial architecture of the ghats in general is such that although they have their mainland and borders, they are not physically bound and restricted and thus hold out an open sensory access to anyone who may visit this part of the city.11 I invite you to hold this small description of Harishchandra ghat as a virtual postcard into the rest of the discussion when you need to pause, ponder, and mentally return to the central station. While you flip this postcard in and out of your mind, remember that the basic irony of the dead as a surface is that through the contingent repetition of death, it also provides a continuum with life. This is a text then dedicated to discerning and showing what that halting continuum may look like. You can set your eyes on a burning corpse and a strolling tourist in the same field of vision. Yet, funeral travellers, the people who accompany their own dead, on their arrival to the ghat are stunned and transfixed by the place and its proceedings, as if they are seeing the dead being cremated, up close, for the first time. The dead, in plural, lying wrapped in shrouds, on the floor, on the bamboo bier, at the

12  Dead in Banaras edge of the water, set on a pyre, burning on pyres, burnt and waiting, arriving on shoulders of men down the staircase are absent and present, human and ex-​living, one and too many. For the funeral travellers, they hold power like nothing else possibly can. You can see that a melancholic affect is intensely at work here as it emerges as thought, concept, and a living materiality. This affect is articulated in this aesthetic setting through what I call as sighing speech.

Sighing Speech Take out your Harishchandra ghat postcard. If you gaze long enough you will notice that not all funeral travellers and certainly not at the same time are under the spell of the scene. Nor is the effect one and the same, some go inordinately quiet and some are overtly boisterous. In the evanescent time period of being stunned by the dead’s presence and being distracted from it, this spell (the living transfixed on the dead) is received as an affect. We see this affect mirrored in people’s sighs and speech at the ghat. In my decade long multi-​sited fieldwork in Banaras and several re-​runs to the ghats and other crematoria, I have attempted writing several reconstructions of the field. It is in these writings that these sighs became very conspicuous. Notwithstanding the dazed presence of some funeral travellers at the ghat, there is noise, sound, speech, and milling around as many others spread themselves around in small groups. Some huddle together to play cards while others chat over chai. One notes the mix of languages spoken at the ghat: Bhojpuri, Hindi, Urdu, and occasionally English. A careful observation would further enable one to note the mix of forms of speech. Sighing speech is one such instance. It is not a genre like funerary dirges (Khari Birha) or economic bargaining (Domghouse—​ a Bhojpuri slang-​name for the practice of soliciting as much as one can get through an unceasing asking) that are performed at the same ghat by different sets of participants. Sighing speech, to the extent that it is not generic, stands in contrast to some of the other speech activities of the funerary, crematorial, and corpsely ambience. There are two kinds of utterances in sighing speech. One is of enchanted desire where the onlooker utters loudly in a first person imperative: ‘I will also burn like this, majestically, with the pyre flames joyfully leaping and the body splitting

Following the dead  13 and cracking’ (ki hum hoon khoob barab aisainhi dhoo-​dhoo chat-​chat kar ke). The other, more common, sighing speech is uttered as an imperative in third person plural and it is both self-​directed as well as to everyone in general: ‘Eventually, everyone will be here.’ A common Bhojpuri version goes as: sab ke ghum-​phir ke aihijuge aa vey key ha. The Hindi variant goes as: ghum-​phir ke, sabko, yahin, aana hai. Although directed to the self and the world it is uttered in reciprocity to the dead as a general entity ambiguously placed between human and non-​human, as an object and as a subject, as one absent and as one present. The emphasis on ‘eventually’ is mine to highlight how a scepticism is introduced between death and the desire for it. While the first half of sighing speech makes it appear as if the funeral traveller might jump into the pyre, the second half of sighing speech intervenes to express that desire differently, that while one has to come here, it will be at an eventual time. This funerary speech varies from the obituary or the memorial service narratives, and thus, how the dead, self, community, and the world enter into a significatory relation in this case is worth considering through a closer analysis. The phrase itself is one of the most mundane sayings within everyday parlance in Banaras with contextual, varied, usage. It evokes an ironical, playful but law-​like wager to the hearer about how the social works. You will return to this setting-​ situation-​scene-​speaker-​subject-​ground zero, while you may not know now, when, and how? At the face of it, the desire to ‘burn majestically’ and ‘returning here as self ’ may appear exclusive to a Hindu crematorial practice. For sure, such a vertical dimension of meaning can be read in conjunction with what Veena Das (1983) describes in relation to the Hindu sacrifice as desire.12 At the same time, we notice quite remarkably how an everyday phrase of Banaras comes to aid the funeral traveller in both accepting and explaining death’s logic to himself and the world. This is, of course, a very terse ground and without the narrative continuity of a mourner’s relation with the specific dead but it does give us a hopeful way to think through how the ordinary returns in an uncanny way, even mimicking death’s own logic in language, to make comprehensible and acceptable that which appears as an absolute encounter with life’s alterity. With this background discussion of the sighing speech, it is easier to bring to life the empirical scene within the fold of this speech. The dead at the ghat, who I refer to as the newly dead, showcase this scene. I am concerned here not so much with the empirical condition of the dead but

14  Dead in Banaras the dead as social condition. And, it is the empiricism of this multiplicity of social condition that we are after. Consider, the case of the dead at the cremation ghat. It may seem obvious that these are the newly dead in the chronological sense of those who have recently died. True, except the fact that the background to the dead at the ghat is made by the complex contemporary link of hospital, home, and morgue, a link that I explore in the following chapters. Allow me to describe this social condition of the dead at the cremation ghat to enable our understanding of the sighing speech.

Domghouse Domghouse, in Bhojpuri, is a slang name for the economic bargaining that funeral workers undertake at the ghat which involves a relentless asking for more than what the funeral travellers may initially offer. Jonathan Parry, in his classic monograph Death in Banaras (1994), has exquisitely shown the social and economic organization of funerary work at the cremation grounds through caste and lineage-​based heirship. He shows how the work of cremation operates through devolution and rostering and how a non-​ standardized format of seeking cremation fees is operationalized by the practitioners. This format is indeed of a painstaking and time-​consuming bargaining between the funeral workers and the funeral travellers. How may we view Parry’s discussion in light of the fact that this mode of bargaining is an ethicized practice equally used in varied other social contexts, for example, bargaining for dowry or bargaining for paying less than the quoted fare in daily commute. We notice that there is a name for it and that it is a performative practise that continues beyond the cremation ghat into everyday social relations. The name is ‘Domghouse’. The prefix Dom in this case is the caste name of the community associated with cremation work. The participation in the economic bargaining entails an active involvement from the funeral workers and in response a gradually intensifying reciprocal participation by the funeral travellers. Visualize with your postcard, the high heat of June at the ghats. More people than usual are dying as they do in extreme weathers. Most dead are old people. The ghat is full of colourful biers. The biers of the old are decorated to honour their good death and auspicious exit. Crowds of funeral travellers are congregating and dispersing. A new corpse enters the scene. The funeral travellers find

Following the dead  15 a place to keep the bier on the floor and a few head to the funeral-​in-​charge (Dom raja/​Chaudhary). Questions are asked, information exchanged. True to their higher control in the bargaining, the funeral workers ask key sociological questions to weigh the auspiciousness of the death, stature of the dead and the place from where the funeral has travelled. Like any other occupation based on behaviour observation and fee improvisation, the funeral workers are mostly spot-​on in profiling the funeral travellers. A quote is made for the sacrificial fire by the senior funeral worker. The funeral travellers balk. They quote back a much reduced sum. The funeral worker says the day is exceptionally busy and he does not have time for haggling. He gestures, wagering, go, go. Time is passing. More funeral travellers join the bargain. The bargain resumes. The senior funeral manager does not talk directly to this set of funeral travellers. Instead, he gestures and directs his workers to get busy with organizing the pyres for which the fee is agreed. The funeral travellers express agitation. Some senior members chide the young and the inexperienced, asking them to stop speaking out of turn and plead their counterpart senior funeral workers to get the whole thing going for a reasonable sum. The senior funeral worker complies and quotes a new price. Then pauses, and adds two quintal grains to the quote. Another uproar amongst the funeral travellers. Never mind the grain sacks. A new price is quoted to counter the funeral worker’s quote. A senior member points at the bier on the floor and urges everyone to wrap up the bargain. A new urgency settles in. The bargain is in its closing rounds, tempers are high and then something snaps. It has to be resumed again. By now, it is a topic of parallel conversations amongst the funeral travellers. There is slapstick marvelling and laughter. Then someone announces that it is settled. A young Dom is allocated to oversee the pyre. Meanwhile wood is weighed and bought. The worker who sets the pyre is different from the one who gets the sacrificial fire. The latter enters into another round of bargaining. Then the worker who sets the pyre and does the work of cremation enters into another bargain at a final ritual stage. What makes this practice feasible is that it is generic and it activates its own sustained continuity. The marvelling over the bargain while the dead is lying on the floor may appear remote to comprehension but its sensibility arises from the activity itself and thus it is not unethical or cruel to the participants. Jonathan Parry evokes ‘shares and chicanery’ (1994: 75–​118) to make sense of the whole proceeding but when looked the

16  Dead in Banaras way outlined above it appears as a self-​referential terrain of dramaturgical practice with its own communicative rationality. Sure, variations make the bedrock of the continuity of the generic. The grain sacks are suitably pitched among a host of other desirable things like TV set, bicycle, land, refrigerator, mobile phone, bottle of rum, and so on. In contrast, the electric crematorium, on the side, has, in municipal theory, a flat fees charge. But our concern is, how do we think of the dead in this transactional relation.

Anecdote Let me narrate a small anecdote from Harishchandra ghat. The protagonist is called Postman Baba (PB), who you will meet in c­ hapter 5. It is adequate to reveal here that in the day PB distributes postal mail and at night he is at the cremation ghat gleaning wood from the final stages of the pyres for what Ron Barrett (2008) calls as ‘Aghor medicine’.13 PB exuded and helped constitute the awe of the cremation ghat in local lore. Even the funeral workers thought of his work at the ghat as daunting, not to speak of his colleagues at the post office. In one of our early conversations, pointing to the burning pyres, he told me that this ‘here’, the cremation ghat, is a place where you once arrive, you forget worldly matters. That, that is the truth of death. It is the only reality. Then after a long pause, breaking our mutual spell of gazing at the pyres, he said citing a proverb in Bhojpuri: ‘the moment you start climbing the stairs away from the cremation ghat, one, two, three, steps, all you are thinking, already, is how to rig your weighing scales so that you can sell the quarter less than one as quarter more than one’ (jab le aie jug bada, ee hey sat ba, mood la, seedhi dhaila, ek, doo, teen, ki hum kaise teen pao ke ser bhar ka ke baichab). As an eventuality is being realized on a pyre, we notice that a new ‘eventually’ of life has sprung afresh and it is in this contingent fluctuation of intensities that the halting social continuum lives.

Circumstances The enactment of the dead as multiplicity makes the spirit of this book and the chapters are lined in a cadence of descriptions based on my following

Following the dead  17 of the dead in Banaras. I initially drew the concept of ‘circumstance’ from Robert Gardner and Ákos Östör (2001) as described in their conversation on the making of the ethnographic film Forest of Bliss (1986). The duo use it in relation to the ideas of chance and intention. Subsequently, I found the Italian counterpart circostanza. The Italian ‘circo’ is similar to the English ‘circum’ but ‘stanza’ in Italian has an architectural reference, meaning a ‘room’, a ‘standing and stopping place’ or a ‘waiting and resting place’. I borrow this evocation into the English circumstance to refer how the movement of circum blends into the contemplative stations of room, waiting or standing. The book develops this idea further with the help of ‘rest post’—​an architectural shelter created in the city for funeral travellers to rest before resuming the travel with the bier on their shoulders (see ­chapter 3)—​as a site of contemplating with the ‘dead’ in between. The chapters of the book use the circumstances described as their ethnographic stanza or as rest-​posts of language and death. A brief summary of the chapters follows. Chapter 2 is on the city of Banaras. Much has been written about the city, in fact, it is one of the most researched city in North India. This long-​ standing interest of scholars can be better understood if one imagines the city, one of the oldest in the world, as potentially instantiating a direct continuity between age old civilizational Indic forms and the archetypal Hindu world. Deep into their subject studies, however, most scholars realize that this was a lure and they were played by the city. That the city is such an active, playful, partner in the making of knowledge, such a recognition further fuels the interest of scholars. This, in turn, may explain the life-​long association of innumerable scholars who are harnessed to the place while plugging away anywhere in the world. I admit, going through, the same rites of passage. But, isn’t this a character of any city? Of course, it is. After all, ‘the city’ is a fetish before it is a character and as a character its fetishes are all too real because they are walking and breathing epistemes. Consider Banaras as the city of lights (of spiritual illuminations) or the city of liberation (from re-​deaths). Consider it publicly exhibiting open mass cremations turning the place into a death town but also enjoying the epithet of the holy city of Hindus. Consider it Hindu for the temples and the lore, the traditional and modern Sanskrit learning centres, and the meditative cows as street pets but then you have the Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Theosophicals, Kabirpanthis, Ravidasis, Catholics, Protestants,

18  Dead in Banaras Sikhs, Vaishnavs as dwellers and owners of the place. Consider it the industrial town of saree weavers and wooden toys, but then it also has a vibrant market for sex work. One of my field sites, a local archive, N.K. Bose Foundation run by city sociologist Baidyanath Saraswati was instrumental in providing me a good halt.14 This chapter was conceived through a feverish engagement with the N.K. Bose archive and later grew substantially in conversation with other texts outside the archive. The key concern of the chapter is to locate the city in its many names. In noticing that the city is simultaneously referred as Kashi, Varanasi, Benares, and Banaras, in the contemporary, the question worth pursuing is what are the implications of such a pluralized place–​name usage? Is this one city known by many names or it is many different cities in its many names? If the latter is a possibility then what kind of social relation these names and these cities may have for the speakers, imagined audience, and different publics? I show in the chapter that the different names play dead and they do not unite into any one place but rather the maintenance of difference becomes a sheltering system. Chapter 3 unfolds the chronology of my initiation into fieldwork in Banaras that coincided with the death of my father in the same city. As it turned out he was hospitalized and cremated at the places that I eventually went on to do my fieldwork. I had already decided upon Harishchandra ghat as my central field site, much before his arrival in a private city hospital. Harishchandra ghat, as I have remarked earlier, houses both the manual and electric crematoria. The sociology of this mixed premise held promise given that manual cremation has been studied rigorously by Jonathan Parry. The hospital ethnography described in the chapter emerged through my stay by my father’s side at the hospital. Unlike the cremation ghat where post father’s cremation I could still persist doing fieldwork, in the case of the hospital, it involved a series of failed attempts at sustaining it as a field. This is the reason that I do not have an extensive account of the hospital morgue as I would have liked. These aborted attempts were early signs of the field forcing me to find alibis to my intended places and modes of study. I have made the jaggedness visible through this chapter. You will notice that in some cases I have managed to prevail and in others have tellingly failed. Take the following instance. In my initial rounds at the cremation ghat, I did not take extensive notes or use a recorder for obvious disciplinary reasons of trust and rapport building.

Following the dead  19 When I returned to the field after my father’s death, I simply could not bring myself to ‘interview’ the funeral travellers. I was not helped by the fact that funeral travellers are a mobile population and in transit. While it may appear, with the general conviviality of the place, that one can easily enter into a conversation about death, the few times I tried I accomplished awkward impasses. So, I work with few individual voices of the funeral travellers. There can be no substitution for this lack, although through a different meticulousness, I participated in a method of listening to the place through close observation of patterns, speeches, and practices at the ghat. I do think that these descriptive accounts can be a critical contribution if we are ready to expand our understanding of phenomenology of death and the dead. Let me return to the moment of my father’s death that constitutes the substantive description of this chapter. I must confess that in its strange logic, this return to the same set of places where my father died and was cremated has been the reason why this account had seemed impossible to write and also why it eventually got written. Initially, I was thinking of this ethnography by excising his death out of it or by including certain details that I could not help but write. As I re-​ wrote, his death found more and more space in my writing. His presence in fact called in a host of his and my dead relatives into the descriptions and the result is this chapter on such a necrology. An autobiographical accent in anthropology may seem to diverge from the classic, consensual scheme of methods and expectations with which aspirants are sent to the field. However, it is perhaps a testimony of the same discipline that when it sees damaging consequences of its textbook research methods it allows you to bend the inherited knowledge so as to register, record, and archive this damage too. After all doing fieldwork is one form of doing of the social. In this sense, I think of this chapter as staking of the autobiographical rather than strictly auto-​ethnographic.15 Chapter 4 can be read as a necrological account of the dead as kin. In his little great book, American Kinship, David Schneider is tellingly asked by some of his interviewees, as he notes in the chapter on ‘Relative as a person’, if he wants to know about ‘the dead ones too?’ (Schneider 1968: 69). This chapter can be read as both saying ‘yes’ to that question and also instantly turning around like a miming joker to provide an elaborate response to it, becoming that surveyor and becoming that respondent in turn. The social condition of the dead that emerges here is

20  Dead in Banaras that of recursivity—​in the ways in which the dead congregate around their kin and also how that congregation builds an anticipation that the living are going to die the same death as their dead, with a different mise-​ en-​scène of course. We see in this chapter that the foreshadowing of one’s own death and recognition of the dead as hauntological extension of ourselves do not necessarily cancel out or diminish potentials of life but sustain a low echo of permanent mourning into the everyday as invisible linings of that potential. Perhaps, that is the reason why potentials can be recognized but never fully realized. Having followed the corpse to the hospital, morgue, and home, we return to Harishchandra ghat again, as our postcard settles into a still life. In this final chapter, an ethnography of the word parvah is attempted. This is how local funeral travellers describe the process of cremation compared to how the municipality names the process at the ghat. The municipality uses terms like ‘shav-​dah’ (burning-​the-​corpse) and in regular parlance, terms that connote last rites or burning include antyesthi, sanskar, jalana, and phookna. The metonymic standing for the metaphoric is not an ethnographic surprise but the fact that the name of the process is a multiplicity has parallels with other silent shifts that have come about in relation to how river Ganga is now affectively reimagined and used in Banaras. That is the reason I treat parvah not so much as a metaphor but as a minor language that in visualizing a relation between language, death and the dead also leads us to circle back to the relation between the river and social collectives through very different metonymies: bacteriophages, polythene, Ganga Aarti, cremation pyres on one hand and the link between Bhojpuri parvah and its two companion words, Sanskrit–​Hindi pravah and Urdu parvaa/​parvah on the other. The attempt here is to discuss the terms available to think of the river, owing to spectres of industrial pollution, in a language of plain mortality and cosmic immortality. It is here that Banaras as a city and civilizational topos comes in for a sociological comparison with some of my findings from a brief ethnography of crematoria in Denmark. I undertake this comparison through what I call as a ‘conversation of pyres’, an idea that I borrow from the river’s poet Gyanendrapati (1999: 69). It is also here that I show how Banaras, the enduring stone motif of Hindu civilization, undergoes a periodic renewal when the river swarms with floods every year. Finally, in showing the usages of parvah pervaded by Sanskrit, Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Urdu semantic

Following the dead  21 imports drawn collaterally from pravah and parvaa/​parvah, I return to the concern of multiplicity of names. In case of the side-​shadowing of Banaras, Benares, Kashi, and Varanasi, we find that the sliding of the city names provides shelter to difference. In case of parvah (Bhojpuri), pravah (Sanskrit/​Hindi), and parvaa/​parvah (Urdu), the same difference is obscured within a funerary canvas of language and death. The chapter also builds upon the classic discussion in anthropology about dead and their names. While earlier chapters already ground this concern, it is here that we witness not just an ontology of how proper names are lost at death but also how the corpse comes to occupy different generic names as it moves form one threshold to another. The sociological matrix of funerary work, municipal handling of the dead at the electric crematorium and other associated concerns find mention here. The study of these generic names come closest in exhibiting a potential in which the dead can be recognized as collective subjects and objects. This register is different from how the dead as kin is seen as a relational subject. The dead who returns home as a name is different from the dead who remains in between the ghat and the river. Different social imaginations are invested onto these two different entities. Anthropologists have rightly approached the meaning of death by following the route of the funeral, from the cremation ghat to home. I have done the same in this chapter, but I also do the converse. I stay at the ghat after the respective funeral travellers are gone, and I record their dead, like any other dead, as social relations of remainders. The remains of the dead in Banaras come to occupy multiple names: clay (maati), dead animal (madh), divine body (shav) and the inanimate (laash and murda). However, as is perhaps evident, the names of the dead run parallel to that which is unnamed or unnameable amongst the dead. This brings us to the centerstage of an important ritual associated with cremation in Banaras, that is, immersing the saved (through the process of cremation) bone-​stump of the dead in the river as the conclusive endpoint of any given cremation at the ghat. This bone-​stump does not have a name. However, this unnamed bone-​stump is unmistakably recognized as the person of the deceased by its respective funeral travellers. This affective recognition sustains the continuity between the deceased person and the remnant bone-​stump saved for parvah as of the same person. The bone-​stump (referred by the funeral workers as ‘it’ of

22  Dead in Banaras parvah) is then immersed into the river, marking the end of cremation. However, this impoverished materiality of the person returns as a social relation in the form of the name. The name returns, haltingly. The dead person lost her name when her corpse came to the ghat becoming the generic maati, body, shav, murda. But when the funeral travellers go back to the dead person’s home after immersing her bone-​stump (as her person) in the river, it is her name that they regain through the remaining death rituals at home. It is the same name that would act as the affective substance in the rigorous time-​bound mourning rituals at home. Here we go back to another classic question in anthropology—​how may we imagine the idea of community with respect to the name as the substance of the dead? Concurrently, there is another line of enquiry that runs apart from the community question and that is tied to the non-​home presence of the dead. How do we begin to think of the unnamed remainder immersed in the river after the funeral travellers are gone? What registers of human can be evoked to think of this space between cremation and the river Ganga linked with the archive of these remainders? A hint of an answer lies in recognizing that cremation is a process for Hindus in Banaras not the name of the process of last rites. The name, lost amongst other names that equate it with the process of cremation or burning, is the Banarasian/​ Bhojpuri word parvah. The word parvah in its everyday usage in Banaras alludes to a gesture towards remembrance and care. Thinking of this as an alter-​name for cremation in Banaras, I venture into the final chapter to locate a link between language and death to reveal how care is involved in the funerary imagination with which the unnamed remainders of multitude of dead are left in the sanctuary of the river Ganga in a time of industrial pollution.

2 The City Multiple Place-​Names Play Dead

Some ethnographic customs involve simple routines. One such routine entails that the place of study is indicated at the outset—​and for good reason too. Like other routine practices, such a practice conveys a sense of the real co-​ordinates in the reader’s mind. The fact that this place is on the map, in the atlas, in this world, and can be identified as a dot on the globe or more intimately seen and felt through a google search harnesses the descriptions into an ascending sense of the real. Similarly, those in the business of anthropology must locate their study within the matrix of prior studies of the same place, and any such new study is weighed word by word, image by image, argument by argument for a greater approximation to that same old place. This is the case even when sensitive accounts conjure up a fictional name for their local sites of research while retaining the real name of the broader location. This holds true in the contemporary where places and people may be tied up with many equally real, virtual locations. Part of the reason for this practice to have become a stable custom is because place-​names, even as they tend to have changed over time, are considered with the unilateral function of designating an overall physical setting within which identifiable social actions take place. Now, could it be that like other proper names, place-​names may also have a complex social relation with what they are supposed to designate, the place? Could it be that place-​names may enact very different places, including places other than the physical locality with which they are associated? Could it be that place-​names like the dynamic places they refer to may have their own dynamism? Could it be that place-​names may create and sustain their own realities rather than be strictly reliant on the physical boundaries that they are supposed to refer to? And finally, how may one answer these could be questions when we have more than

24  Dead in Banaras one place-​name simultaneously designating the place of study? Or, even further, how about when each of these place-​names highlight difference within the place, but may also evoke, when needed, common referentiality of the lived and the living? Welcome to the ancient–​contemporary city of Banaras, Kashi, Benares, and Varanasi. You are invited here to turn the looking glass called place-​ name into its own mirror. While keeping sight of the enduring custom mentioned earlier, allow me a slight change in this ethnographic itinerary as I take you to visit the place-​name(s) as our first stop in the journey to the postcard place. Let me evoke the different itinerant ways in which the city is reached and experienced.

Visiting the Place-​Name Take the Train Imagine taking the train from New Delhi railway station to the city. The travelling ticket will tell you that you are going to Varanasi. The train you will board could be the ‘Kashi-​Vishwanath’ or the ‘Shiv-​Ganga’ express. Both these overnight trains have hand-​painted plaques inscribed and installed on the first and the last coach with their respective names, train numbers, and to-​from destinations. The destination plaques would officiously read as ‘New Delhi to Varanasi’ in both English and Hindi. Once comfortably inside the train, and on your seat, a co-​passenger is likely to ask you gently: Are you going to Banaras? Your reply, of course, would be, yes. In the morning, the train nearing the destination city, some co-​ passengers, always up before you, would wake you up with their early morning gushing at the sight of familiar landmarks. You are likely to see and hear someone exult and say: here we are, back to Kashi nagari! Once at the destination station, you will notice a new shiny steel hoarding with the words ‘Varanasi Junction’ beautifully hand painted in black letters against an amber yellow backdrop in three different languages—​Hindi, English, and Urdu in that respective order. Venturing towards the exit gate you will be greeted with a small wave of voices: Welcome to Banaras, hotel, city tour? And then through your stay you will have these names,

The city multiple  25 Banaras, Kashi, Varanasi, and occasionally Benares, bidding you to the place, the place you would really like to go to while you are right there in the city.

Take the Bus You have had enough of the city and want to explore the nearby towns. You are directed to the bus terminal—​there are, in fact, two. One is a private-​run inter-​district terminal that operates on the efficiency of an art form that can be called as commuter snatching. The operation is very simple. The bus that fills itself first with passengers snatched from a crowd of potential travellers goes first. On the other hand, the staid, state-​run bus terminal is its absolute contrast. Once you have occupied your seat in the private-​run bus, you will notice that the destination is inscribed on the front windscreen glass with white chalk. Into the journey you will realize that the other descriptions like ‘non-​stop’, ‘super-​fast’, and ‘luxury coach’ inscribed alongside the destination were actually white chalky lies. For the return journey in the evening, it is likely that the same bus will be waiting for you with that knowing bus-​art smirk about your return to the city. The commuter-​snatching bus ‘conductor’ will be shouting, ‘Banaras’, ‘Baanaraas’! The front windscreen glass will have, the same white lies—​‘non-​stop’, ‘super-​ fast’ ‘luxury coach’—​etched on it with the same white chalk alongside the name of the destination ‘Varanasi’ in Devnagari script. Now suppose you decide to take the staid state bus instead of the private-​run transport for the return journey. Your bus will have a small, cozy, permanent hand-​painted strip lodged into a slot at the forehead of the bus stating that it belongs to ‘Kashi Depot’. The ticket in your hand will have Varanasi inscribed on it in dot-​matrix print, along with a mystical looking icon of the state bus transport service. The conversations you will overhear through your commute back will have ‘Banaras’ in it, smattered with great enthusiasm. ‘Banaras’ this, ‘Banaras’ that, ‘Banaras’ like no other ‘Banaras’. Once back in the city, you will like it more than before. But, decide now, which place you wish to go to? Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi, Benares?

26  Dead in Banaras

Take the Plane A short flight from Delhi would take you to the Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport that caters to the city. Like the railway station and the bus terminal, your official destination is Varanasi. After landing and once inside the airport, you will see big, laminated Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) maps positioned inside the waiting area. These maps belong to a genre called ‘sacred geography maps’, and right at the top you will find embedded in bold font the words: ‘Courtesy INTACH Varanasi’. The maps will typically have prominent temples and ghats of the city marked with small spinning top signs matched by a short description of the sites on the side margin. The right side of the map depicts the city river Ganga ji. Towards the lower end of the river you will find inscribed the words ‘Banaras’ in Roman and Devanagari scripts. Above the inscribed names is the depiction of the river goddess, seated on her animal vehicle, the long snouted Indian alligator, Ghadiyal. Outside the airport hall, with your luggage in tow, you will come across a ‘photography/​selfie corner’. The corner will have a well-​known miniaturized motif to represent the city. Sample this motif—​a row of ghats and the river Ganga ji running parallel to the ghats with its numerous temples. A small marble slab pointing to the tableaux of the city reads as follows: ‘Ghats of Benaras: Reverberating with life, colour, culture, tradition, spirituality and religion, the essence of Varanasi is best felt among its 87 ghats. The prominent Ghats of Varanasi are Dashashwamedh, Manikarnika, Assi, Maan Mandir, Scindia, Harishchandra . . . and many more.’ Amongst the prominent ghats you will find a mention of the Harishchandra ghat, and you are here, to our postcard place. Be that as it may be, what is common to taking the train, bus, and the plane is that you will be bound to, rephrasing Annemarie Mol’s coinage of the ‘body multiple’ (2002), a city multiple.1 I do not mean here that the plurality of the names make it a city multiple.2 What I wish to bring to your attention is how the names enact a multiplicity in their usage. From the preceding account, it is likely that you might think of the city as a unique wonderland. But that may not hold true because most of what is described above tallies with the anthropological knowledge of how place-​names are indeed used as proper names. To identify what might be slightly unique in our case,

The city multiple  27 let us encounter how proper names, including place-​names, have been understood within different domains of social life.

More Than a/​One Name It is a well-​known signature of human socialities that often enough more than one proper name come to occupy the social scene very deftly. Relatives are known by their social positions and formal names, but the same people are also known through names (or more general terms) of endearment and avoidance. School and work socialities are typical little factories that produce alternate names for peers and characters endlessly and are by no means alone in such social productions. Similarly, terms of endearment used amongst kin, be they conjugal couples or (grand) parents and children, are known to anthropologists as a human universal. In a sombre essay on mourning names, Rodney Needham (1954) brings to the fore the case of death-​names being used amongst the Penan. Claude Lévi-​Strauss (1966) systematized Needham’s findings in his essay ‘The Individual as a Species’ to arrive at a universal scheme of classification as a social and cultural fact of human existence. Based on Lévi-​Strauss’s systematization of Needham’s discussion, every Penan can be described as having at least three kinds of names at different junctures of his/​her lifetime. First, autonyms, names of the self. Second, teknonyms, names that are descriptors of a certain dyadic kin relation, usually between parents and children. Third, necronyms, names taken up at the time of death in the family. Amongst the Penan, on the occasion of death in the family, the autonym is shed and a name describing death of certain specific relative is adopted. Similarly at a new birth in the family, the teknonym and the autonym are reconsidered and contextually readopted. Following from the brief imaginary passages on the train, bus, or the plane, our interest here is more in terms of the usage of proper names. So we will not dwell on Lévi-​Strauss’s strain on classification as a universal human faculty and human product but glean what may be useful to our discussion. Allow me to paraphrase Lévi-​Strauss’s own conclusion that is disapprovingly directed towards the common, analytical proposition of proper names becoming, through their signifying function, unfailing pointers of things. He says that it is rather the case that the ‘passage’ from signification to

28  Dead in Banaras pointing is not unidirectional and is ‘in fact discontinuous’. He further states that the limits of this discontinuity are a cultural matter that sets the ‘thresholds differently’ (Lévi-​Strauss 1966: 215). In other words, we must tap and hear each name—​Banaras, Benares, Varanasi, and Kashi—​to find out more about the discontinuous collective that they make and what and how these thresholds stabilize and improvise. Let us call this a maximal approach to an understanding of how each name makes the passage into a discontinuous surface of history and myth. I call it maximal because it invariably relies on the seemingly endless narrative labyrinth of myth and history. For the sake of clarity, let me divide the discussion into two parts. The first part discusses the question of place-​name through existent studies on the subject, while the second is a long discussion on the social relation of history, tradition, legend, and myth to each of the names, Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi, and Benares. Meanwhile, from Needham and Lévi-​Strauss it is possible to visualize that while one aspect of the social usage of proper names depends on a one-​to-​one referential correspondence, the same names also operate as rich sites of intertwined reflexive usage that allow different names to slide and substitute each other under different contingencies. Importantly, the latter social usage does not include only the continual living link between the name and the named entity, but it also involves a reference to the absent (erstwhile named entity). In this sense, Needham’s original discussion in his Penan essays goes well beyond the tenet in anthropology about a dead person losing its name to suggest that names, in fact, constitutively, carry the dead as a social condition. To theorize this process where names perform this work of social sliding, we can find some help in Alf Hiltebeitel’s (2001) discussion of the epic, Mahabharata. In his discussion on the narrative techniques used in the epic, Hiltebeitel suggests that apart from fore-​shadowing and back-​shadowing, it is ‘side-​shadowing’ that ‘allows the shadow of an alternate present to fall on the episodes’ (Chatterji 2012: 264).3 We see that this ‘side-​shadowing’ enlivens a contingent and complex possibility of social outcomes while providing different potential chances to characters and social situations. Borrowing from Alf Hiltebeitel, let us use the term ‘side-​shadowing’ for the ways in which the social usage of names Banaras, Kashi, Benares, and Varanasi enliven the city multiple. This enlivening contains the aspect of dead as a social condition because, as we shall see through this chapter, the idea of history of the city into

The city multiple  29 the contemporary is predicated on how certain names were discarded and new ones were adopted. What is at stake then in such a place-​name sliding and ‘side-​shadowing’?

Irony Lives in Place-​Names Keith Basso in his Wisdom Sits in Places (1996) wonders about what is sensorily entailed in Apache Indians’ ‘place making’ with ‘descriptive names’ and whether the process has anything more to do than having a ready-​ to-​hand referential distinction of one place from another. He argues for a linguistic position where ‘meaning’ is seen as perpetually ‘emergent’ in specific utterances and ‘particular’ usages (1996: 76). Substantiating the idea that place and name may have complex mediation through historical narratives, cultural pedagogy of morality, notions of personhood, sensory affiliation, idioms of death and the dead, he notes that there is an ironical way in which referentiality itself gives way to a multiplicity of relation between a place and a name.4 In fact, borrowing from T.S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney, he says that place-​name as a shorthand can operate as ‘resonating ellipses’ (1996: 77). Following Basso, we see that a relation of excess binds the place-​name and its referential capacities and such is the paradox that they may have an equipoise only in ironical stances. Diana L. Eck’s later writings (1999, 2012) focus on this cryptic association between place-​name and the place. Rejecting literal readings of sacred geography, she argues that instead of indexing the city as the ‘Hindu’s holiest city’ in the vein of Mecca and Jerusalem, if one begins to see it as an ‘imagined landscape’ then a whole different social constellation of registering and feeling the world of Hindu beliefs can be productively brought to the fore. In that case, one will notice that Kashi and its sacred geography must not limit us to that particular empirical place in North India. In fact, the stories can actualize the place Kashi in very different regions than the North Indian city. This is how one must approach the well-​known mythological fact that Kashi exists in all four directions: east, west, north, south. And, at each place, the respective Kashi is tied into local stories and sacral and non-​sacral socialities. Eck succeeds in showing that the North Indian ‘city of light’ cannot be equated to Jerusalem and Mecca, without deep qualifications, as a singular empirical location. Rather, the city is

30  Dead in Banaras portable through its name at the collective and the individual level. The place can be actualized where the place-​name is invoked. Let us see two contrasting instances of the usage of the place-​name Kashi to understand Eck’s delineation better. One, recapitulating Eck, if the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, west in present day India have their own Kashis’ then how do we think of Kashi as an actual empirical place? Two, how do we make sense of the strict South Indian ban on the utterance of the name ‘Kashi’ during auspicious occasions? The name Kashi, it is believed, should not be uttered since such an invocation might actualize an inauspicious death-​event because it is the name of that death pilgrimage place in North India.5 We note in these two counter-​ instances two different properties of the invocation of the name Kashi. It is unmistakable that while both Basso and Eck are illustrating that social usage of place-​names are tied to irony and imagination, they are also showing that the same names have strong referentiality. In Basso’s case, the place is indeed sensorily moored into an empirical location, but the place-​name operates with multiple designations. In Eck’s case, the place-​name has such a strong referential performative capacity that it can effect the empirical place wherever that actualization is carried out. Deepak Mehta (2015) in an essay on another North Indian city, Ayodhya, makes an aspect visible that is not considered in Basso and Eck’s versions. He asks: how does one begin to understand not just the enlivenment of place-​name essences but also the deadening of some of those elements of the name. He argues on the lines that just as the usage of names bring about the ‘activation’ of the polythetic texture of a place-​name, similarly the (non/​mis)usage of the names can ‘de-​activate’ that living capacity so as to circumscribe the referential limits to a restricted symbol (2015: 14). Indeed, discovering that such a deactivation or deadening is realized within the juridical context in Mehta’s reading of Ayodhya and its namesake sacral complex, we should not be lured into thinking that it is only within the realms of political renaming of places that such a deactivation might happen. That said, my sense with respect to Banaras is that such an activation and deactivation are integral to the everyday usage of place-​names. It is precisely this aspect that I wish to bring to our attention here. Compared to Basso and Eck, what we gain from Mehta’s discussion is undeniably the question: what restricts and limits the spiralling relation between one name and another?

The city multiple  31 And, if one were to pose this in the context of Eck’s illustration of the city Kashi as portable, the questions that her account does not ask are the following: How do we think of the significatory relation between Kashi, Banaras, Benares, and Varanasi? Is Kashi equivalent to Banaras, Varanasi, and Benares? If it is not, which clearly seems to be the case, how do we begin to think of this empirical place called Kashi that is also Banaras, Benares, and Varanasi? Basso, Eck, and Mehta’s descriptions help us notice two important distinctive features to which we turn now. One, it is not one-​on-​one place-​name and place reference but a competing set of place-​names referring to a place-​multiplicity (real and virtual) that is our case. Two, we find that as the names in their social usage slide, they bring about not a double referencing that may thicken the referential connection but in each instance they rather introduce social difference. Anticipating this feature of difference and its social potential, I have introduced Alf Hiltebeitel’s (2001) idea of ‘side-​shadowing’ adapted to our case. With this background, let us enter into a suitably long discussion about how we may understand social difference and its side-​shadowing in the usage of Banaras, Benares, Kashi, and Varanasi. I present an ethnography of diverse textual material to showcase how the city names are implicated into a narrative multiplicity while acquiring major and minor characterizations. This approach to studying names can be thought of as a maximal approach because it does something counter to the very ease of usage of names where the simple fact of using names is precisely to abbreviate (or even side-​step) the expanse of past into a ready-​at-​hand designation. The ease of usage and name sliding is what we wish to understand but to be in a position from where that can be apprehended we must go through this exercise of the maximal approach. My efforts here are not centred at representing the city but in deepening the other side of names where we see names inaugurating a generative surface of perlocution.

A Talkative Landscape The American humorist Mark Twain (1897), after visiting the city in the late nineteenth century, wrote about ‘Benares’ that it is ‘older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old

32  Dead in Banaras as all of them put together’ (1897: 480, emphasis added). On a good day, the sarcasm about the ‘looks’ in Twain’s quote would be outwitted by the local humour of the city. However, in present day Banaras, the alliterative sentence plucked out of the original text —​much like the ghat–​temple tableaux mentioned earlier in the imagined plane journey—​is displayed at several prominent places in the city. In this receptive celebration, perhaps it is the allusion to the grandeur of the olden old that touches a chord with people. Or maybe it is something even simpler—​the endearing idea of discovering value of self through the love of another. Following this present-​day reception of Twain in the city, let us use his reverse chronology of history, tradition, legend, and the time of before to put together an assemblage of the city multiple through the surface of its names.

History In his locally celebrated text Kashi ka Itihaas (History of Kashi), Motichandra (2003 [1962]) laments that the city is primarily tied to associations of Hindu pilgrimage and several other indices like that of industry, economy, architecture, knowledge, art, succession of rulers, and variegated religious cosmologies are flattened out in such accounts (2003: 1). He thus echoes a common refrain often asserted in the late twentieth century about the ‘orientalist’ construction of the city as the paramount place of Hindu pilgrimage. Motichandra’s lament is equally about the local indifference to ‘history’ as against the supposed readiness to identify with myth. In his own account, the alterity of history and myth is registered to claim that the city, as the earliest records show, was not called Kashi, and was not of any religious significance, least of all in Hindu terms, as it is known in the contemporary (2003: 25). This is one story of the beginning of the place that stands in sharp contrast to the much-​adulated account of the fish-​shaped place Kashi aligned atop lord Shiv’s trident and thus protected from an ominous future time of destruction and crises (2003: 2). A close reading of the text, however, shows Motichandra cautiously pitching his account adjacent to these two originary idioms. He is sceptical of the radical claim of either. The book is self-​consciously written in post-​colonial Hindi, with the author declining the publication of an English translation (2003: xvii).

The city multiple  33 A rich tapestry emerges in Motichandra’s account where the familiar twentieth century, city of his own time starts resonating with names, images, and practices from that of the long past. This long past is interpreted using varied sources that include archaeological findings, Vedas, Puranas, Jatakas, oral testimonies, anecdotes of acquaintances, fieldwork, and museum records. The repetitive trope of city names utilized to do the work of narration in the text emerges in the following way. The book is supposed to be based on the History of Kashi. We notice gradually that the name Kashi recedes in the backdrop as a sign post. Instead, the newly emergent names of the city corresponding to the rapid succession of kings and kingdoms find their way into the text. As the ‘first’ name of the place, Kashi, is under severe contest, Motichandra posits, with some scepticism, the name Varanasi as older than Kashi. Kashi, nevertheless, lurks in the narrative background as a projected metonym of that olden place. The most distinguishing aspect of his account is that the actual descriptions are held under the citation Banaras. Banaras is activated as that intimate, one’s very own, endearing, relatable, place. Here is how the history of the city is put into a narrative order through the device of place-​names. The relatively ‘fixed’ reference to ‘Kashi’ as the olden, originary place of myth and cosmogenesis is what he uses in the book title but the substantive textual discussion is sceptical of that claim suggesting that it is in fact not the olden name of the place. That olden name is Varanasi. Curiously, what sustains the historiographic narrative consistency of the text is a name that is neither a contender of that olden, original name nor is the one that is quoted in any of the early sources he cites in his discussion. That name is Banaras. Thus an accent on the actual usage and a history of present wins over the rigour with which Motichandra tries to instil a sense of true history to his readers. The name Banaras wins here just as it does in the local moral world of the city. We find in Motichandra’s account an instance where all the four names, Kashi, Varanasi, Banaras, and Benares, make their appearance. You may wonder how is Benares present when it is rarely mentioned in the main text? Benares in fact is the very spectral name that Motichandra sets out to disband in his post-​colonial adoption of Hindi and in using the name of endearment, Banaras, as his intersubjective companion. In narrative terms, Motichandra relies on the template of colonial historiography describing successive reigns of kings, dynasties, lineages and summaries

34  Dead in Banaras of areas conquered, lost, and regions conceded to opponents. Yet, the text is also marked by an authorial signature that unmistakably decentres the colonial template. This decentring comes not so much through an incorporation of the Sanskrit, Pali, and Apbrahnsh accounts alongside archaeological evidence, a template, that was also stylized within the colonial oeuvre of historical writings. It can rather be assigned to the powerful intersubjective presence of the name Banaras as the affective register that makes people of the place recognize it as their own history. We will see this name-​sliding later in this chapter within the mahatmya or testimonial literature that encompasses scriptural citations, commentaries, place-​praise digests, astrological formulae, and cosmo-​sacral events. Let us turn to tradition for further directions.

Tradition Aajkal is a monthly journal of literature and culture (sahitya and sanskriti) run by the Government of India since 1945. The journal is published in both Hindi and Urdu, each with its own exclusive content. Because of the Government patronage, it is available even after fifty years of its inception at a nominal cost of ten rupees a copy. The Hindi edition of the journal under the guest editorship of Dr. Om Prakash Kejriwal, in 2006, published a special volume as ‘Kashi Visheshank’ (Kashi edition) with the title Paramparaon ki Nagari Kashi (Kashi: The City of Traditions). Special editions on the city are not new, and the editor conveying a sense of being overwhelmed at representing the city afresh is also not exclusive to this edition. Before we turn to a brief summary of the ‘traditions’ that are described in the said special edition, here is a little illustration about the name Banaras in continuation with Motichandra’s discussion. In a volume titled Kashi: City of Traditions, highlighted as a special edition on Kashi, where every essay of the anthology is described either as of Kashi (Kashi ka) or in Kashi (Kashi mein), the first editorial line and subsequently the rest of the editorial text and the essays, one after another, without fail, may appear mind boggling to linguists who insist on a hard wired referential felicity to a proper name. Kejriwal opens his editorial to the volume with the following lines (the explanations in parentheses are added for your greater access to the main text):

The city multiple  35 In one of my childhood textbooks, I had read a piece by Bedhab Banarasi called ‘Banarasi ekka’ (Banarasian horse drawn wagon). It has been nearly forty years but I have not been able to forget that piece of writing. When I started writing the editorial to this volume, I asked various acquaintances of mine to retrieve that article for me. With much difficulty, the piece was eventually found. In re-​reading it, I discovered that apart from speaking about the ‘Banarasi ekka’, it also discusses Banarasi Sari (one-​piece long cloth worn in stylized, draped layers by women in South Asia), Banarasi langda aam (a local variety of juicy mango) and the Banarasi thug (the spiritually personified trickster, not the violent hooligan, who is called Goonda). In my opinion, it is not just the wagon, sari, mango and the trickster but the sheer number of things Banaras is famous for is unmatched by any other city in the world. Here are my examples for you. The Ganga of Banaras, ghats of Banaras, temples of Banaras, paan of Banaras (a preparation of betel leaves chewed as a stimulant), the alleys of Banaras, the singing tradition of Banaras, Banarasi Babu (the Banarsian gentleman; counter figure to the trickster) and so on. When the idea of this volume was put forth, I was told that there are more than three hundred books and countless special volumes published on the specialities of the city. So the challenge was to choose a perspective which while representing the distinguishing features of the place allowed the volume to remain different from those published before. Thinking through, it struck me that there may not be any other city in the world with as many traditions inherent to it as Banaras. That was it! With this perspective I imagined this volume that you are now holding in your hands. To tell you the truth, Banaras is a unique city. It is not only one of the oldest cities of the world, it is one of the holiest as well. Also, how many cities can boast of the custom that if you die there you attain moksha (liberated from re-​birth and re-​death). (Kejriwal 2006: 2)

Kejriwal continues and narrates about an uncle who arrived thrice in Banaras for ‘Kashivaas’ (last living station to be spent in Kashi to seek a ‘good’ death and moksha), ‘hoping that he will die there’, but each time he instead recovered his health in the city. Eventually, he did not die in ‘Kashi’ but in his own city, Muzaffarpur. Kejriwal concludes this anecdotal account by reiterating the popular saying that not only does one

36  Dead in Banaras needs the grace of the city deity Vishwanath to live here, but one dies here only if ‘He’so wishes (2006: 2). Notice the recurrent side-​shadowing between Kashi and Banaras in Kejriwal’s narration. Further, sample the list of chapter titles in the volume: ‘Kashi in Indian History’; ‘Chronology of Kashi’s history’; ‘Kashi: the centre of religion and culture’; ‘Eighteenth century Banaras’; ‘The scholarly traditions of Kashi’; ‘The Vedic tradition in Kashi’; ‘The origin of Kabir’s tradition from Kashi’; ‘Practice of astrology in Kashi’; ‘Inseparable from the culture of resistance: the literary traditions of Banaras’; ‘The tradition of dictionary making in Kashi’; ‘The tradition of scriptural and grammatical commentaries in Kashi’; ‘The tradition of Hindi Journalism in Kashi’; ‘The unique tradition of musical practices in Kashi’; ‘Unique tradition of popular entertainment: Lakha fairs of Kashi’; ‘The dramatics’ tradition of Kashi’; ‘Ramleela of Kashi’; ‘Dimensions of art in Kashi’; ‘Illustrated art of Kashi’; ‘History of architecture of Kashi’ with a concluding ‘Photo feature’ titled ‘Kashi Darshan’ (2006: 1). The essays in the anthology written under the citation of Kashi, in actual referential terms, fall back upon the name Banaras with occasional references to Varanasi and once to ‘Benares’ (2006: 49). The essay ‘Eighteenth century Banaras’ (2006: 22–​25) portraying the city of that time with catalogue citations from the National Archives could hardly have avoided mentioning ‘Benares’ but it does. It superscribes Benares with Banaras. This is one instance of an up close and cautious interactivity, where the colonial ‘Benares’ is superscribed. But, can names be deactivated so easily? We will see that as long as the empirical and spectral presence of Benares remains, the account of a contemporary Banaras cannot make it absent even when it may deactivate it ever so cautiously and deliberately. Not just that, Indian English ensures that it takes Benares as a colonial proviso and then engages with it in many protracted post-​colonial ways. It would not be incorrect to say that Benares even operates as a side character that emerges from the shadow of colonial modernity to enliven alternate accounts of the city. As we have seen, Kejriwal puts on record the Banarasian mango, the famous alleys, the trickster, paan, sari, and such miscellany of great local and ‘world-​famous’ things but simultaneously tricks us by not incorporating an essay on any of these in his anthology. This omission marginalizes a possible account of traditions in a language that could

The city multiple  37 have captured the place-​sense with a difference than the accent on the ‘high’ traditions outlined earlier. In a small, cultish tract, not the religious kind but the one that smells of street spirit of Banaras, Bana Rahe Banaras (Long Live Banaras), the irrepressible Vishwanath Mukherji (2013 [1958]), who incidentally shares his name with the city’s guardian deity, pays homage to these ‘world-​famous’ things—​the Banarasian mango, alley, paan, picnic, and the trickster. The most significant of these local traditions is the daily Banarasian rhythm of ingestion of a cannabis drink prepared with greatest love and attention to material details. The rhythm of ingestion is kept in tune with the morning–​evening ablution routine named as saafa-​paani (2013: 45, 78–​81). The tract, as can be guessed by now, is invertedly modelled on religious praises of the place found in mahatmya or testimonial literature that are available in both high-​priced compendiums as well as cheap copy versions, complete with coloured pictures, at various ghats of the city. The immediate provocation to write the tract and name it ‘Long live Banaras’ is the official rechristening of the city name as ‘Varanasi’ on the ‘2500th anniversary of Buddha’ in the year 1956 AD (2013: 5). In popular understanding, this was done at the behest of Dr. Sampoornanda, who wanted to restore the name to its Sanskrit original. Mukherji, differs with that understanding and offers a different genealogical description of names of the place. While echoing similar sentiments as Motichandra about the origin and etymology of Kashi and Varanasi, he is perhaps the only Hindi author to acknowledge that the British name for the city is Benares (2013: 5). He further notes that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who in most accounts of the place is mainly associated with destruction of many temples, including that of the central deity, had named the place as ‘Muhammadabad’ in his own tenure (2013: 5). This casting of self and the other finds contingent expressions in the city. In these contingencies we get to notice a remarkable aspect of the city. Though many religions like Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Ravidasis, Kabirpanthis, and Udasis have had founding moments of their religious expressions in the city, all the names of the city that we have witnessed are harnessed into Hindu origins and meaning.6 The question is how does the founding of other religions and religiosity introduce an element of interactivity within the surface of the city names? The most strained negotiation seems to be between the Hindu and the Muslim collectives of the city. The fact that this dyad of Hindu–​Muslim

38  Dead in Banaras is seen interlaced with spectres of great collective hostility has meant that the onus of negotiating with the charged motifs of violence is also very high. Moving from Mukherji, sample the following instantiation within one of the great novels of the city that inscribes different forms of violence and their afterlives as another site of tradition of the city. A tradition that finds echo in the deployed police presence through the sensitive religious zones of adjoining temples and mosques on important days of the week or during times of religious festivities. Abdul Bismillah (1987) in his Hindi novel on the everyday world of Banarasi Muslim weavers offers a narrative account of how Muslims think of the Gyanvapi mosque; the same mosque that in common knowledge of the place is associated with the partial demolition of the city deity’s temple. Bismillah narrates the ‘story’ in the ethicized voice and words of the most aged and pious character of the novel, Uncle Raouf: There was a well known, very prosperous merchant in Kashi by the name of Gyanchand. His daughter called Vapi was young and beautiful. Like any other day she went to the Vishwanath temple to do puja and there she was dishonoured and murdered by some unscrupulous figures. The merchant Gyanchand wrote to the then reigning emperor, Aurangzeb, requesting him to bring down the temple as it had hidden cellars and tunnels that opened into the river, Gangaji. Gyanchand speculated that religious guides were involved in molesting and murdering women. They would then flush down the bodies through the hidden channel into the currents of the river. Hearing this, Aurangzeb immediately sent his army that was stationed at Lallapura. That is the reason why that habitation is even today known as Aurangabad. Eventually, the temple was brought down the same night. The association (taluq) of Gyanchand and Vapi with the mosque led everyone to call it as Gyanvapi mosque (Bismillah 1987: 76–​77).

Bismillah rounds off this narration by citing a verse imputed to an anonymous ‘Persianised Brahmin’: ‘O Emperor, look at the miracle of my idol house, even as it breaks down, it becomes the house of God’ (1987: 77). The old, third-​person, narrator in the novel delicately and discursively participates in the acknowledgment of violence and remaking of the sacral (notice the honorific Ji in the mention of the river Ganga).

The city multiple  39 This inscribing brings the cosmological underpinnings of city names to the level of local topographies and everyday textures of religious places and neighbourhoods.7 Baidyanath Saraswati, the resident city anthropologist, however, has a different take in his short ethnography Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Tradition (1975). A take that inscribes sacral boundaries into the city’s demographic and residential topology. He quotes a popular saying about living in Kashi to interpret how the sacral boundaries of Kashi can be imagined. The quote goes as ‘Kashi basein to kya basein, basein Aurangabad (what good is living in Kashi if you live in Aurangabad, a neighbourhood (mohalla) which lies beyond Kashi’s territory)’ (1975: 43).8 Leaning back to Bismillah’s account, we know that Aurangabad is indeed within physical proximity to the central deity’s temple. Clearly then, what is motorized in this saying is a sophisticated inscription of borders within the ‘sacred geography’. In other words, sacred geography is not a physical map but a discursive theatre of the city. In this sense, we can say that the history of violence is also part of the ‘imagined’ sacred geography of the city. At this juncture, let us turn to note how the inside of the sacred complex is under discursive contests. Let us move to the way of the legends. The following discussion on testimonial literature (mahatmya) also weaves in other narratives and discourses that may together be identified in the family forms of history, myth, and story.

Legend Varanasi Vaibhav (Splendour of Varanasi) by Pandit Kubernath Sukul (2000 [1977]) is a formidable text that commands respect amongst Brahmin scholars of Sanskritic texts and mahatmya curators who regularly glean from textual sources to update hermeneutics of the city (see Bakker 2006; Gengnagel 2011). Kubernath Sukul inherits the legacy from his grandfather, Kailashnath Shukla, the well-​ known author of one of the earliest illustrated maps of the city called ‘Kashidarpana’ (Mirror of Kashi) (Gengnagel 2006: 145–​146). His compendium text Varanasi Vaibhav draws from many a textual sources—​‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharat’, ‘Kashi Khand’ from Skandapurana, ‘Kashi Rahasya’ from

40  Dead in Banaras Brahmaveyvart Purana, as well as citations from Padampurana. Similarly, his medieval systematizations are sourced from ‘Tirthchintamani’ by Vachhspati Mishr (1460), ‘Tristhalisetu’ by Bhattnarayan (1580), and ‘Tirthprakash’ by Mitra Mishr (1620) (Sukul 2000). These medieval texts written in Sanskrit were perhaps in exclusive use by the Brahmins at the time. However, given the tradition of writing commentaries and preparing popular astrological almanacs in the city, it seems likely that a wider dissemination may have occurred. More so because these commentaries are equally centred on mapping and providing testimonial descriptions of temples and deities present in the city of their times, almost like modern day travel guides. The visual (sachitra) cosmographs are onomatological (for example, Kashi Darpan) while descriptive commentaries have scalar and metric location of individual temples mentioned in the cosmographs (c.f. Sukul 2000; Gengnagel 2011). Sanskrit texts to cosmographs to calendar art, there is then a long tradition of visualizing and circulating images of sacred geographies. The other mode is that of storied place-​praises, place-​making, place-​world (Basso 1996) testimonial digests on individually named deities and accounts of boons and blessings that particular deities may be locally well known for. Into the present, these different forms transducted via new multi-​media technologies nourish an ecology of religious aesthetics, thought and politics. Varanasi Vaibhav, although informed by a host of texts from cosmographs to testimonial literature largely uses non-​visual discursive modalities to outline a cartography of temples, deities, and Shivlingams in a projected cosmological picture of Varanasi. Descriptions of sacralization and resacralization of the place are well recorded, and the idea that the local is not just a cartographic flat surface but a complex topology of stories and counter claims is equally made present. In my reading, Varanasi Vaibhav, discursively creates an experience of the potential contentions of violence that saturate the everyday life of the city. Sukul echoes a familiar lament about the gradual extinction of these ancient texts from twelfth century onwards owing to the Islamic reign and religious vigilantism in the city (2000: 1). As an exception to this larger trend, he evokes Mathhew Atmore Sherring’s Benares: A Sacred City of Hindus as exemplifying a common tradition with the systematized medieval Sanskrit texts of coding the sacred geography of the city. He argues that while the Islamic invasion and their reigns ‘destroyed’ the

The city multiple  41 temple complexes and choked the Hindu and Buddhist learning culture of the place, the British heralded a complex new engagement that simultaneously privileged Hindu sacred geography and colonial secularity (2000: 2). In the same breath, however, he suggests that the British must be held responsible for introducing and spreading the culture of atheistic secularity as a new way of life. His depiction of the Islamic-​British continuum can be paraphrased as a movement from anti-​Hindu culminating into the atheistic secular. This depiction allows Sukul to hold on to the picture of Hindu life, which in his view is besieged in the contemporary in a struggle over axiomatic values and outlooks (2000: 2). Anthropologists who have written on the city have responded to some of the questions raised in Varanasi Vaibhav with great nuance in their respective works. What is interesting here is to witness how this discursive sphere constitutes the city into the contemporary. I will turn to one such instance through Baidyanath Sarasawati’s contribution on the question of secularity in a subsequent section. It is sufficient to reiterate here how ‘Benares’ (à la Sherring’s Hindu sacred city) is indeed at work once again. Sukul’s discussion even in its broad strokes portrays the contrasting practices that come under the name ‘Benares’. One of secularity and the other of authenticating the sacred geography of the place based on a one-​to-​one correspondence of the deity and his ‘original’ dwelling place. We know from the mahatmya treatises that the discursive practice of authenticating the sacred geography of the city precedes colonialism. However, it is under the colonial name, Benares, that a new side-​shadow of names comes into effect and another assemblage emerges vis-​à-​vis that name. Diana L. Eck’s (1999, 2012) cautious proposition is that pilgrimage, circulation of myth, stories, and written–​oral testimonies enable modes of imagination and embodiment, architectural or otherwise, for people to think of their ‘own’ places including the nation as ‘sacred geography’. This engagement takes up questions raised by Sukul with great sensitivity and alertness. Where Eck and Sukul would perhaps part ways is in the fact that for Eck the claim of ‘place-​making’ for Hindus does not rely on ‘yahin’ (this exact place), the physical empirical spot, the actual and the original place, of a particular deity. In her discussion on names, Kashi is not so much ‘that’ (vahi) city that I am writing and you are reading about, it is in fact the portable name’s capacity to actualize a place for the seekers wherever it portends well. In Eck’s use of the proper name, the name is

42  Dead in Banaras invested with the power to present its corresponding graced place wherever it is uttered, thus delinking a strict name-​place correspondence in physical terms. For instance, a Kashi in south is possible because of the invocative power inherent in the name itself, and that name, in turn, draws from a stable main source. In other words, she deflects the referentiality of hyphenated name-​place combination to a reflexive pair, where the name pairs with any geographical place, person, or idea. For Sukul, however, ‘that place’ (vahin) is of great stake. It is with this conviction that he provides a corrective reading to the revised edition of Motichandra’s, posthumously published, Kashi ka Itihas (History of Kashi, 2010 edition). Sukul draws out a narrative of splendour from the Vedic to the contemporary, owning up in metaphoric sweep the Yakshas of yore, along with the golden Vishwanath of the present, discrediting Motichandra’s historiographic scepticism. What is ‘splendid’ about Varanasi Vaibhav then? Could it be its potential to open up a scope to rethink the interpretations about the past of the place, that is, of mapping its historiography? While Sukul’s ‘place-​making’ starts with an overt resistance against Motichandra’s ‘historical-​truth’, my reading is that caught in his own side-​ shadowing of names he is ethicized into becoming a part of that interactivity which holds forth the contemporary. Ultimately what is at stake is the affective idea of the splendour of the place. But as it can be imagined, while looking for the source of splendour for long, eventually, one may return to the tautological idiom of the place-​name and splendour may become its own reality as a synchronic embodiment into the name. That is how the name Varanasi is perhaps activated as a legend in Varanasi Vaibhav.

The Time of Before and the Time of Now All texts cited so far agree on a time of before, a time before Kashi or Varanasi. A time when the place was neither the olden old Kashi, nor the splendid Varanasi, nor the luminous Banaras, and of course not the strange-​tongued Benares. The people of that time are described as pre-​ vedic and on other occasions as non/​pre-​aryan but the place-​name is unknown and thus unnamed. This lack of a name does seem to create a haunting aporia to the onomastic registers of the competing names

The city multiple  43 Kashi and Varanasi. Let us move to the chronicles of the city anthropologist Baidyanath Saraswati and Nand Kumar Bose Foundation (NKBF) to follow how times of before are interlaced into the times of now.

Temple and University Baidyanath Saraswati (1975) views anthropology as a form of ‘sacred science’ because for him it is the only system of study that reclaims science and is sympathetic to the vitality of myth, religious practices and experiences. His work, self-​proclaimed as an anthropology of Brahmins is in my reading imbued with the anthropological in a way that Brahminical practices and their ironies both get assembled and recorded together. In his efforts towards chronicling the city, Saraswati set up the NKBF as an innovative research centre devoted to archiving city events. I encountered rich insights both in Saraswati’s work as well as in the Foundation’s collection of anthropological ‘monographs’. Gleaning through the archive helped me to think of the anthropological and the ethnographic as practices of thought and observation that perpetuate in different forms at different places. The relation of different forms to the wider practice of the discipline is not a given but has to be arrived at through an up-​close reading. For instance, Saraswati’s ‘monograph’ on ‘Kashi’, based on an ethnography of Brahmins in the city, does not have a single bibliographic reference. Intriguingly, it oscillates between the first and the third person as if the author is at times reclaiming his own Brahmin habitus while at other times using it to call out the Brahmanical apparatuses of the city. Recognizing this tension in his work, I learnt to treat the Brahmanical as a metonym rather than a metaphor. This tension that permeates the monograph also led me to think of his work in relation to indological writings and only gradually I realized that Saraswati’s work does not sit easily within the indological frame either because of his emphasis on the voice of fieldwork and his self-​positioning as a native anthropologist. Here it may be useful to evoke his own perspective on the limits and expanse of his anthropological enquiry. He writes: ‘Kashi is outside the rigid circle of any customary understanding of culture. The more proximately I try and inspect the more distant and

44  Dead in Banaras difficult she appears. The anthropologist in me becomes restless. I have started to feel that in understanding Kashi, the anthropological vision is insufficient and the religious vision is mandatory. Can it be that we converge both perspectives to see if that works?’ (Saraswati et al. 1983: 1).

In an Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) review on sociology of religion, while he beckons the anthropological community towards greater attention to textual sources, his own methodological initiatives through the foundation are diverse: involving texts, statistics, and real-​time investigations (Saraswati 1985). This appeal to the anthropologists to study texts persists in his later initiatives. When the inaugural issue of the foundation’s journal, Sacred Science Review (2003) was launched, he renewed his plea once again. The said issue is on ‘death’ and Saraswati notes the irony of doing something deliberately ‘inauspicious’ for an inaugural issue. Nonetheless, Saraswati justifies that given the foundation is based in Kashi, death may be a fitting way to start (1985: 3). Kashi is Saraswati’s name for the city and is consistently present through his wide oeuvre of writings. The name dictates Saraswati’s research interests to a large extent, and he echoes the perspective that his respondents evoke in their accounts of the place, that is, Kashi is the place to die when the time comes, to seek liberation, not from any one kind of suffering but from the embodied life itself. His writings are noncommittal to historiographic citations and are reasonably assured like an ordinary believing Hindu about Kashi’s claim of liberation. For sure, he does not cast this belief as an uncontested discourse but rather lets it live with the equally prevalent doubts about such transcendental claims. So once again we encounter how the ironic is constitutive of his anthropological perspective. Take note of the preceding account of the city, where he evokes it as the cosmological Kashi. Now if we go back to his monograph, Kashi (1975), we find it embedded in the empirical heat of the newly independent nation’s Hindu city that is negotiating architectures of temples and university to suit the moment. It is not a surprise then that in the monograph, Saraswati’s descriptor for life in the city is named as Banarasipan that is the simple cultural fact of being a Banarasi, aside from religion and caste. In fact, his anthropology is a substantive instance of presenting a complex terrain of faith and scepticism co-​existing with each other. It is within such a framework that he writes of a research, supervised by him, on the

The city multiple  45 widows of the city. The research makes a plea to see the widows at par with male ascetics who come to seek liberation in the city by extending to the widows the parallel of entitlements based on the practices of asceticism (Saraswati 2005). As is evident, Saraswati’s moral investments are towards defending what he calls the ‘classical tradition’ of the city, and it is with this perspective that his contribution acquires a certain productive consistency. Let me discuss two amongst his many texts from the vantage of the city names: Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Cultural Tradition (1975) and Shri Kashi Vishwanath: Aastha aur Vyavastha ka Prashn (Shree Kashi Vishwanath: Question of Faith and Temple Organization) (Saraswati et al. 1983) Reminiscent of Keith Basso (1996), Saraswati enables us to recognize a link between names and ‘place-​making’ within the local moral world based on sensory perception. He activates a very delicate world of how sensory gestures of touching (sparsh), seeing (darshan), and speaking-​ hearing (appellation, invocation of names/​naam-​bhed) mark scenes of living and the dead. In these social scenes, the living and dead could even be the city deity, Vishwanath, either as an embodied personage of stone body or enacted through materialities of names. In his monograph Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Cultural Tradition (1975), Saraswati discusses the Gandhian movement and the ideological principle of Varnashrama dharma in the context of the life of Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya. Saraswati cites Malaviya as a pious Brahmin who founded Banaras Hindu University (BHU), with the promise of an education in science and technology in the germinal warmth of Varnashram. The fact that BHU has a Kashi Vishwanath temple and regular recitals of Gita are done within its premises exemplifies this vision. Saraswati argues that this particular gesture by Malaviya to construct a temple within the campus was opposed by the nationalists, and they instead established Kashi Vidyapeeth as the ‘national school for revolutionaries and freedom fighters’ (1975: 64). Eventually the way the matter was resolved went beyond the refrain of ideology. Let’s encounter it in Saraswati’s own words: Those who joined Vidyapeetha were mostly anti-​ Brahman and non-​Brahmans. In order to discredit the orthodox sanatanis they wanted to put on the brahamanic garb, and the vidyapeetha enrolled

46  Dead in Banaras non-​ brahmans, particularly the so called untouchable castes and Moslems for a course leading to a diploma, called shastri—​the title obviously derived from the Sanskrit system of learning. Thus as soon as the organizers of the vidyapeetha fell into the temptation of the Sanskritic symbols the syndrome of Brahmanic indrajal began to operate. And so although the Vidyapeetha produced many Moslem and Harijan shastris, it eventually failed in altering the course of the Brahmanic thought in Kashi. One of the founding members of Kashi Vidyapeetha was Dr. Sampoornanda, a Kayastha by caste, who wrote Brahman sabdhana, deriding the Brahmans. But this affected his personal life and political career so intrinsically that he, essentially a liberal sanatani, soon was stricken with guilt conscious. In order to expiate his “guilt” he founded the Varanaseya Sanskrit University with blessings from the Brahmans of Kashi. (1975: 64)

We approach a new, post-​ independence, mise-​ en-​ scène (roop-​ rekha; kaya-​kalp) of Banaras, Kashi, Varanasi (in Varanaseya Sanskrit University). We can sense a reflexive reenactment of the socially corrosive and restrictive past on saying–​hearing Sanskrit by certain collectives in a complex new form. With this excerpt in the background, let us invest into an imagination of this complex expression and how the social minutely bears upon the tongue–​ear relation. The earlier scene brimming with charged events can be relived not only in reading the text fragment but can enact itself to different degrees and scales in the everyday life of the city as the following example will show. I offer an instance of how touching and seeing are equally circumscribed, quite like the tongue–​ear relation posited above, through a frequently, re-​enacted story with regard to the Vishwanath temple. The incidence relates to the supposed deconsecration of the primary Vishwanath temple that was subsequently rebuilt in 1777 under royal patronage. The temple housed what appears from the textual sources (largely testimonial literature) as the earliest and the ‘main’ lingam of Vishwanath. The present-​day lord Vishwanath temple that was opened to worship by all Hindus during India’s independence seems to have a labyrinthine but straight narrative link to the 1777 temple of the principal deity of Banaras. Saraswati recalls that until India’s independence, the ‘untouchables’ were socially banned from entering the premises. After independence, and following much protests,

The city multiple  47 ‘Harijans’ (ex-​untouchables) were allowed to enter the temple premise. From then on, Saraswati records, the temple is open to all caste members, representing a ‘liberal sanatani sacred tradition in Kashi’. However there is a story between this story of transition. After the state’s decree to open the temple to all caste members, there were incidents pertaining to the ‘deconsecration’ of the idol. Saraswati pitches the event as follows: ‘On the entry of the Harijans into the Golden Vishwanath temple, the orthodox Brahmans under the leadership of swami Karpatrijee built a new Vishwanath temple where no one, not even Brahman devotees, could enter into the sanctum sanctorum, as is the custom in most south Indian temples. Only the priest was allowed to go inside. The builders declared it as a private temple. The manner in which this temple was built and the lingam of Vishwanath consecrated is significant. The orthodox Brahmans and ascetics who resisted Harijan entry into the Golden Vishwanath temple were thrown away by the liberals. Immediately after this a rumour spread in the city that the night previous to the entry of Harijans, the Pundits took away the “life force” from the lingam of Vishwanath by performing Vedic rites of pranaharana. When the new Vishwanath temple was built by orthodox Brahmins this “life force” of Vishwanath was duly infused into the lingam, brought from the Narmada river’ (Saraswati 1975: 64–​65).

Reflecting on this event that is both discursive and haptic, Saraswati writes: ‘Kashi succeeded in establishing a new temple to preserve the pristine purity of the Brahmanic sacred tradition. The purpose of creating a myth of Pranaharan of Vishwanath indicates the ingenuity of the pandits of Kashi’ (Saraswati 1975: 65). Saraswati’s anthropology of Brahmins may appear veering towards a eulogy of the subjects studied, even then it is quite possible to suggest that his proposal of ‘ingenuity’ can be considered as an acknowledgment of emergent double powers, one of democratic politics and the other of supremacist caste practises. The caste symbolic of restricting touch returns, yet again. To continue with the story of the temple multiplicity, let us move to Saraswati’s discussion of the university temple. While one outcome of the contest over the touch and darshan of the main deity was the establishment of a private temple, another resolution was to establish a third

48  Dead in Banaras temple of Kashi Vishwanath. The third temple was instituted within the premises of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). This temple welcomed everyone independent of caste, gender, religion, and nationality. Kubernath Sukul (2000: 138–​139) mentions that there is yet another claimant for the original Visheshwara adjacent to the Razia Mosque. Thus, we note how the ‘original’ and its doubles sustain a charged virtuality of social contestation. The question of the lingam rendered ‘lifeless’ and ‘dead’ or re-​suffused with life is repeatedly enacted in narration and practice. Diana L. Eck (1982) records a similar episode of the preservation of the Lord Vishveshvara (another name for Lord Vishwanath) through the destructing spree of Mughal emperors right from ‘Firauz Shah Tughlaq of Delhi, Muhmud Shah Shaeqi of Jaunpur, and Sikandar Lodi of Delhi’ till Akbar oversaw its (re)institution. Subsequently, Eck narrates, Aurangzeb ‘tore down’ the temple in 1669 to build the Jnana Vapi mosque (1982: 135). Anticipating Sarsawati’s account of the post-​ independence pranharan narrative, she says: ‘Half-​dismantled, it became the foundation for the present Jnana vapi mosque. According to legend, the linga of Vishveshvara was saved from the temple before it was desecrated by the armies of Aurangzeb. It was thrown by a provident priest into the deep waters of the Jnana vapi. In 1777, the queen of Indore sponsored the construction of the present temple’. (1982: 135)

Saraswati et al. (1983) return to this question of deity’s life and death in a small tract called Shree Kashi Vishwanath: Aastha aur Vyavastha ka Prashn (Shree Kashi Vishwanath: Question of Faith and Temple Organization). The tract takes up an event of thieving at the Kashi Viswanath temple—​the oldest one, which is also now popularly known as the golden Vishwanath or simply the golden temple because of the gold plating in its outer and inner architecture—​wherein gold and deity’s precious jewellery are discovered as stolen. Allow me to present the account in present tense as the text does while recreating the thieving event at the temple. A research survey is conducted by NKBF in the city, in real time, while the police are still looking for the stolen valuables. The research survey conveys the horror and excitement of who may dare and stoop to steal

The city multiple  49 from the temple and of the deity. Post this survey that was carried out by the volunteers of the foundation, NKBF calls forth an open house focus group discussion of learned South Indian Brahmins. Meanwhile, in the same real time, parallel, new associations have mushroomed by the day pressing upon their own agendas. Some are meant to create pressure on the administration and some are soul searching about the dark present time (Kalyug) when such a thing could happen. The text provides a description of city-​wide protests. The familiar ones, where women hand over bangles and old saris to policemen to signal their ‘masculine’ ineptness as protectors. And unique ones, like beggars striking their begging work for a day. There are political demonstrations that are given to scattered violence and there are religious and musical congregations too, including one in which it is sung, ‘our deity is so playful that he must have encouraged the thieves himself ’ (Saraswati et al. 1983: 11). The superintendent of police meanwhile makes a religious pledge that when the valuables are found and thieves are caught he will go on a 1,000-​km barefoot pilgrimage from Kashi to Kedarnath (Saraswati et al. 1983: 12). Outlining the survey findings, Saraswati writes that more women think that it is Kalyug than men and they seem more worried about the possible terrible consequences if valuables are not retrieved soon enough. Forty-​three percent of the surveyed people think that the splendour (mahatmya) of the deity has faded, else this would not have happened (Saraswati et al. 1983: 14). Similarly, the open house focus group discussion brings up ‘shastric’ questions while engaging with various kinds of doubts and aspersions doing rounds at the time. One version is that the deity of Kalyug must be a dead idol without power and grace who could not defend his own place, things, and person. A related version is upheld by the ex-​ King of Kashi, who had backed Swami Karpatrijee in constructing a restricted (to Brahmins only) Kashi Vishwanath temple, when the golden Vishwanath temple was opened to all Hindus after independence. It is held that the believers moral world has become so corrupt and degenerated that the idol must have become deadened and without any grace, anyway. The king’s view relayed through a newspaper report creates a shastric context of discussion around grace and disgrace to the lingam. It is suggested that the thieves could not have taken the jewellery without ‘touching’ the lingam and thus the lingam cannot be the luminous deity anymore. To this, it is added later that the police team went to the temple

50  Dead in Banaras premises with their shoes on and had taken a sniffer dog to the sanctum sanctorum for investigating the case. This is presented as another proof that the idol is rendered ‘lifeless’. The foundation’s open house puts out the question in so many words to the Brahmins gathered. Should the idol be purified, replaced, or should nothing be done about it? (Saraswati et al. 1983: 16). The references cited by the invited audience at the open house evoke a time period spanning over 500 years, covering the emergence of mahatmya literature and the city’s memory of warring over sacred complexes. The Brahmin experts who participated in the focus group argue that if one follows textual norms in infusing life to the deity then why would one not apply the same norms and textual directives to diagnose the idol dead? Saraswati et al. take a position as well. Their position differs from associating the purity of the idol with textual directions and they offer a very different set of reasons to legitimate the splendour of the temple. One is the presence of gold and people’s belief in the purificatory capacity of gold. Second, the fact that so many people believe in the temple becomes a proof unto itself of its sacred splendour. They add that why certain temples have a huge following and others do not is a complicated question by any means. Back to the event, Saraswati et al. report the experts remedies: two interrelated perspectives are offered to restore the purity of the lingam. One formulation suggests that a lingam bearing ‘barred’ touches or one that is moved, broken, or even removed from the ‘original’ place still has grace. In fact, the formulation adds that in case the idol or lingam is completely removed, the place itself can be worshipped. The second formulation suggests that in Kalyug the deity Vishwanath takes the preservation upon himself, considering the need for extra grace in such a time. At an auspicious cosmic time he goes to Manikarnika and takes a bath to bring his own luminosity and ‘life-​force’ back (Saraswati et al. 1983: 16–​18). So one just needs to get the valuables back and everything would be in place. On the seventeenth day, the valuables are found, the thieves are caught, the superintendent of police is garlanded before his on-​foot pilgrimage from Kashi to Kedarnath, and the people at large are occupied with details about the gold retrieved. The learned South Indian Brahmins had recommended a prescriptive rite at the conclusion of the focus group discussion. They had said, ‘we hope that the lingam will be plated with gold again. This task should be undertaken in a special ceremony where all

The city multiple  51 four vedas must be recited. All this should happen under the excuse of gold-​plating but not in the name of “sudhhikaran”/​“purification” or re-​ installation of life force’ (Saraswati et al. 1983: 18). We do not know if this ‘ingenious’ prescription was indeed followed, but at the time of my fieldwork, the temple stood for all its glorious splendour amongst the believers. We have arrived to the end of this demonstration that sampled referential entanglements. Entanglements that show the city multiple being contingently materialized in relation to the names Banaras, Kashi, Benares, and Varanasi. How may we descriptively name this process as enacting an ethical multiplicity. If the enactment is in the form of side-​shadowing what can be its second name?

Playing Dead The chapter in its itinerant ways has roamed and idled at many discursive spaces through the place-​names, Banaras, Kashi, Varanasi, and Benares. The substantive multiplicity of the city attempted here is not so much about the representation of the place but the ethicality of its place-​name usage. It is not a surprise that these plural place-​names carry the power to simultaneously invoke complex strands of history, myth and legend, into the contemporary. Such is the power of place-​names in general. What is worth noting here is that the powers of place-​names do not simply lie in their invoked referential presence but equally in their participation as dead actants. When any one name is referentially invoked the other names play dead on the side, waiting to rise and enliven the context. You invoke Kashi; Banaras, Varanasi and Benares come into the side-​shadow, ready to slide next to Kashi. In the interim, the side-​shadowing names can be visualized into a form of play akin to playing dead. In this playing, the social condition of the dead that the names use creates an ethical register. The ethics lie in how the side-​shadowing responds to the selective coding of the symbolic history of the city. Indeed, it is the ‘hauntology’ of multiplicity of names that provides the different dwellers of the city a sheltering system. This is then not the celebratory eternal substance of unity in diversity that can be pitched as an episteme of separate names. That would imply that the names participate in the referential events

52  Dead in Banaras based on their own separate terms. In that case, each name would be a separate place subjectivating respective subjects. Such as: Kashi is another place from Banaras. Benares is another place from Varanasi. Kashi belongs to the Brahmanical Hindu. Banaras belongs to the pan Hindu and the non-​Hindu. Benares connects the colonial imaginary of the ‘most sacred Hindu city’ to a globality of such ‘world-​religion’ cities into the present. Varanasi emerges as the scriptural-​textual Sanskritic coding of the modern, constitutional and the municipal, nation-​state. And all these diverse place-​name subjects can be shown inhabiting the same physical city. If this were to be an ideal of unity in diversity, this ideal does not take into account the fact that diversity is not a once-​and-​for-​all given, it can be under stake even in the simple act of uttering a place-​name, leave alone matters of being and belonging. To think of each place-​name referring to a strictly different place would be to cathect specific sanctuary and danger, actual or virtual, to the respective inhabiting subjects. In my view, as the illustrations in the chapter show, it is rather the case that the threat is partially deflected and the different sanctuaries ensnare and subsist in the side-​shadowed sliding of names playing dead. Such a sliding of the place-​names does not allow the difference of a particular place-​name to materialize into a wholly different radical other place. The side-​shadowed names slide in before that happens. These sliding names of the city multiple play dead and rise to the occasion to form a sheltering system: everyone is shown and told, no one is exposed as all alone.

3 Good, Bad Death Family Necrology and Hospital Sojourn

A death strikes. We embark on funeral travelling. Necrological accounts make the narrative movement. Funerary rest-​posts make the stanza. Funerary restposts or ‘Shavyatrion ke vishram ke liye’ in Hindi refers to designated architectural spaces in Banaras for funeral travellers. Such spaces are spread through the city centre and the bazaars. Here I am speaking of a time when funerals were exclusively carried on foot with accompanying chants of ‘Ram naam sat hai’ (the name of Ram is sacred) and were ferried in high traffic adding to the exuberant bustle of the market. In one of his well-​known poems, Shrikant Verma (2003) evokes Kashi, as such a surreal, two-​way funerary geography (Verma 2003:107): Tumne dekhi hai Kashi Jahan jis raste Jaata hai shav Usi raste Aata hai shav. Have you seen Kashi where the path a corpse departs is the same for a corpse to arrive.

These rest-​posts continue to dot the city architecture but their designated usage has declined with the onset of passenger vehicles operating as corpse carriers. The organization and maintenance of these rest-​posts is informally shared between the city’s municipality and philanthropic

54  Dead in Banaras practices. New rest-​posts were being freshly constructed by the municipality during my fieldwork at Harishchandra ghat. The designated purpose of both the old and the new rest-​posts is to provide temporary rest to the pall bearers, the fellow funeral travellers, and perhaps the corpse too. At Harishchandra ghat, the newly constructed rest-​posts also provide shade and shelter to the funeral travellers during the scorching summer heat. In both instances, the time of resting and gaining breath, with the corpse in between them, becomes a time of contemplation for the funeral travellers. Veena Das (2006) and Steven C. Caton’s (2014) reading of Henri Bergson allows me to view these temporary settings of funeral travellers with the corpse at the rest-​posts as a time animating memorial thought—​a time activated right in the middle of the market’s bustle, a rushing of memories associated with the dead and the world. In borrowing the concept from Bergson, Das and Caton emphasize that such a mixed ‘duration’ of willed reflection, occasioned contemplation, and unintended reflux of past scenes must be understood as the ‘very condition of subjectivity’ (Caton 2014: 241). In what follows, I posit these dual conditions of corpse (as a loud ironic agent of listening and causing a silent interlocution) and memory (as a dynamic subjective social mirror) as companions in building a part hospital ethnography and a part necrological, narrative account that spans my father’s death during fieldwork. Needless to say, this writing is heavily systematized. Nonetheless, I view this writing as a form of funeral-​travelling. There is a formal attempt to work with limited headings to simply maintain the narrative. In this sense the account may appear in its descriptive turns a lot closer to the narrative movement of a story or a novel, but, again, I hope that it can still find rest and shelter within the abode of ethnography. After all, it is not that either dramaturgy or dramatism are new to ethnography. The ‘I’ of the account is an autobiographical idiom and thus is more than the usual referential way in which it emerges in ethnographic writings but is less than what a full-​fledged autobiographical account would have because this ‘I’ is constantly deflected by a self-​conscious privileging of a relative over self. To recall from c­ hapter 1, this account tarries between a ‘sighing speech’ kind of proximity to the dying and the dead and an expansive journey of an ‘eventually’ that draws from distant social horizons through narrative connections. Although there is an unmistakable singularized event of death in this tarrying, I hope to convey by the end of this chapter

Good, bad death  55 that this death too is tied to a multiplicity and is enacted as an event and an eventuality in language and experience through recursive narrative rushes, staggering stops, and remainders.

Unfolding Itinerary of Funeral Travelling In the shiny simmering spring of 2005, awaiting the viva voce and result of my M.Phil. dissertation on Notions of death and the community, I had already made a visit to Banaras as my near future field site for the upcoming doctoral research work. My maternal uncles, based out of Delhi, have professional engagements in Banaras so they had set up a small, two-​room, rented accommodation for their own visits. The place was maintained in their absence by a caretaker. In the continuing spirit of their long-​term guardianship, from days of bringing me to Delhi from Ghazipur for senior secondary schooling, they graciously offered the accommodation for my stay at Banaras during the survey period. The said accommodation in Ravindrapuri was proximate to Baba Kinaram Aghorashram and Harishchandra ghat. I had by this time decided to choose Harishchandra over Manikarnika because it had provisions for both electric and manual cremations and also had a new back-​packers’ hotel overseeing the view of burning wooden pyres. The Banaras Hindu University (BHU) hospital, including the hospital morgue, was the third site that I had zeroed in to record the possible shift of death event from home to the hospital.1 Thus, the troika of Baba Kinaram Aghorashram (a hermitage of a Shaivite ascetic order invested in the human corpse as a metaphysical and, increasingly, a medicinal substance), Harishchandra ghat (electric, manual cremation with a hotel view of pyres), and BHU hospital (place of death events distinct from home death events; morgue as a social institution) converged oddly and all things considered made for an all too familiar, contemporaneous present. From research proposal to the field, it ominously appeared like a little magic mountain of my own making. The foreboding would come true, soon. But, before that was a satisfactory trip back to the university in Delhi. The mixed excitement remained with me as I returned to Delhi and followed up with a reworking of my research proposal. In the following month, few of us, friends from the university were to travel to Bangalore,

56  Dead in Banaras South India, and then to Shimla, North India, for a fellow friend’s wedding. First for the South Indian, Orthodox Christian ceremony in Bangalore and then for the North Indian Hindu one in Shimla, respectively, as the partners belonged to these two different religions and places. After the Christian wedding, returning from the long train ride from Yeshvantpur, Bangalore, to Nizamuddin railway station, Delhi, another friend was waiting at the station with the news that my father’s health is not very well with the further direction that I should go to Banaras (not Ghazipur) as soon as possible. My younger sister had contacted my friend since I did not have a cell phone back then and any how cellular connections would not have held up in the travelling train at that time. There wasn’t any immediate precedence of my father’s bad health. In fact he had nearly recovered from his grievous injuries received along with my mother, sisters, maternal aunt, cousin, and the driver in a road accident on their way to Banaras railway station in one private vehicle from home (Ghazipur) in the year 1999 when I was pursuing my under graduation at the University of Delhi. The vehicle they were travelling in met a side collision with a passenger bus and rolled and tumbled beside the pavement a few feet down the elevated road. Father was on the front seat, next to the driver, and bore direct brunt. His left rib cage was crushed along with other injuries. Mother suffered internal head injuries and remained unconscious for days before a year long slow recovery that was punctuated by bouts of amnesia and suicidal proclivities. Other people in the accident received injuries to various body parts, and everyone was hurt and shocked including the immediate kin who were not involved in the physical accident. Father’s lungs were damaged and through intensive emergency medical aid in Banaras he was restored to a hopeful condition of recovery. He perhaps went back to the physical exertion of farming too soon or the wound was not properly taken care of in the first place that he promptly came down with a worsening lung infection that debilitated him more than the original injury. I had accompanied him on my visits home to the government city hospital in Ghazipur, and with his slow recovery, things had become glum for all concerned, but he did gradually fall back into routine work. When I heard at the Nizamuddin railway station that there is an emergency and I must rush, I immediately assumed that my father is dead. The disclosure of death to a relative not present at the death scene is done

Good, bad death  57 through this culturally acceptable norm of relaying the news in a language of emergency of dying. This is done, I imagine, to prevent naked shock to the hearer and also to ensure that the journey back home is not mired in further hurts and injuries caused by havocs of grief. There is also due recognition of the cultural fact that openly relaying news of death without the proximate intimacy of close relatives to console is akin to vindictiveness and naivety. It is in this sense that there is often a complaint made in Bhojpuri Birhaas (literally, lamentation; it is a popular genre of song making, laced with narrative and sonorous lamentations about well-​ known death events) about modern modes of communication that declare the news of known and loved people with those direct words and thus potentially enact the event of instantaneous death to the hearer. This death by instantaneous disclosure is conceived not so much as a physical death but as a death of some fundamental vital essence in the hearing person. This is an insight I learnt much later in the field, particularly by listening to Khari Birha at Harishchandra ghat. Khari Birha is a sub-​form of the same genre and is sung by men within physical proximity to funerary and mortuary spaces. These late-​night unplanned performances at the cremation ghat by certain individuals perform the bare fact that death is real but it repeats itself contingently and mysteriously. As soon as the singing performance begins a make-​shift listening public of funeral workers and funeral travellers huddles around the singer. At the news of emergency, I assumed my father dead because I had participated in exactly the same management of death news to my roommate and friend at the university hostel, a few years back. After the death of his father, in a very quick succession his mother too died, and his friends including me were trying to convince him that she is under urgent medical supervision and he simply needs to visit her. No doubt, there is a deceit involved in this ethics like many other ethical gestures. There is a curious sense of betrayal that the speaker must participate in relation to the hearer. I sensed a replay of the same ethicized manipulation, and with my secret assumption that my father is dead, I moved from one station to another, and took a train from New Delhi railway station to Varanasi junction. In the meantime, I had contacted my sister and she had asked me to come meet them either at the Ravindrapuri residence or at the private hospital H, adjacent to the university hospital. To my sceptical question, why not the university hospital, she replied that they could not get a

58  Dead in Banaras bed for him there. The assumption of father’s death accompanied me in the overnight train journey from New Delhi to Varanasi junction with occasional attempts to think that everything must be alright, and when I was on this line of thought, I kept avowing to myself that I will re-​invent my relationship with my father. He and I were barely on talking terms for over a decade that roughly coincided with my shift to Delhi, spanning last few years of school and early university education. It had aggravated for worse in last few years after a scrap I had with him, accusing him of murderous neglect as my grandmother lay dying of rabies in the village in the year 2001. After my grandmother’s death, I moodily oscillated between resentment and love towards him. For him, the scrap had caused irreversible damage to our relationship, perhaps, and in the train with a return of foreboding about his death I felt slain by remorse and guilt. Early next morning, I went straight to hospital H from Varanasi railway station and found my parents in the corner-​most segment of the ‘General’ ward. My mother was attending to my father who lay sedated on the hospital bed. The sisters, elder sister (eZ) with her newborn son (eZS) and her husband (eZH) and my younger sister (yZ), were due to arrive from the Ravindrapuri residence to take turns attending to father.2 Seeing me, there was that acknowledging sign of intense despair on my mother’s face and she roused father to pass that sense in a bodily way initially without saying anything and then by uttering my name and announcing my arrival. Father, it turned out had a severe case of diabetes which had gone undetected till his feet were infected and had become gangrenous. Even in his sedated sleep his hands were involuntarily pointing towards the legs that had lost most flesh, stank and were bony and decomposed. I do not recall any further conversation at that moment. I also do not remember whether I asked my mother to come out for tea or she did but we were suddenly at the tea stall. While having tea just outside the hospital premises from a makeshift tea stall, H appeared in a magnificent profile and became an address and an object, a new sociological reality of a private hospital that entered into our conversations. Mother told me about her month-​long struggle with father’s new illness. She had just begun to recover from the days of his lung infection and this return to full-​time care marked a resigned acceptance to what fate may have in it for her and us. She told me that she received the news of his bad health from the village. In the village house, he was all alone and perhaps ill for long, but he

Good, bad death  59 did not send her a message. Once known, she and my younger sister, who lived at our maternal grandfather’s house at Ghazipur, went to see and fetch him. His legs were swollen and had a telling bad smell. Of course, he could not walk, so with the help of varying people and using different modes of transport he reached the Ghazipur house. Once there, my mother and sister were advised by the local doctor to get father’s blood glucose tested. The test required him to be ported to the diagnostic centre and once again my mother and sister took the job upon themselves. Intriguingly, the result from the diagnostic centre indicated his blood glucose as normal which perhaps led the doctor to consider it as a case of bad infection that could improve with antibiotics and disinfecting washing solutions. My younger sister (yZ) till much later after his death held that diagnostic report as the mistake that caused his death. She saved the document, under the mattress along with other important things of the house routinely hidden there, awaiting the day of dramatic confrontation and moral accusation at the diagnostic centre. The confrontation never happened. When father was alive there was no time to quarrel, and after his death all sense of confrontation was fatefully deflated. His disinfection routine continued at home for a fortnight. Understandably, it did not have much recuperative effect, and the skin of his swollen ankles started sloughing under home care. Back at the tea stall outside hospital H, my mother remembered this time mostly as an overwhelming and daunting effort directed at cleaning out the smell from the room where he was lodged in the Ghazipur house. She recalled that visitors and relatives never failed to point to the smell emanating from the room which was interpreted as her failure in effective care work. Ironically, the actual decomposition remained hidden from sight because of the emanating smell that kept everyone off. As the situation worsened, it was decided that a second opinion should be sought. At recommendation, he was taken to a Muslim charitable hospital of good repute in Mau, an adjacent district to the north of Ghazipur. My mother said that the doctors and nurses were sympathetic to the living sad picture of family album trio of mother, father, and young daughter. They promised aid but the result of blood sugar showed multiple times the normal limit and they turned down his admission citing the situation to be beyond their means. They recommended that he should be taken to the university hospital in Banaras. The university hospital, like most government-​run hospitals of good repute is always

60  Dead in Banaras packed to the brim, and there is no way to rush in looking for room. I learnt about the episode, much later, from my maternal grandfather’s (MF) diary entry. He had invested himself deeply into pulling in all known acquaintances and relatives in Banaras to get my father admitted into the university hospital but to little avail. I also learnt from the diary, something my mother never disclosed to me, that she had asked my maternal grandfather, her father, for a loan to take father to Mau, underscoring the fact that it was not merely diagnostics that kept them waiting for a better turn. This is how then father landed at the basement ward of this magnificently imposing H. I had noticed and made a mental record that my mother out on a road-​side makeshift kiosk having tea with me was a rare and exceptional outing. In between some awkward silence, I stutteringly asked why did they not inform me earlier. It was my younger sister, true to herself, who had stopped everyone from informing me because she felt that I should not be disturbed between my all-​important research work. In turn, she compensated for me and my elder sister by assisting mother. I was feeling diminished and overwhelmed as this particular conversation spiralled. We, I and my mother, fell silent at the arrival of an ambulance affiliated to H. The hooting siren sound that it made appeared embarrassing and felt as if it was sinisterly directed at us. We looked at each other, confirming an ‘emergency’, like the one we were in between. Mother kept staring at the description embossed on the side of the vehicle. Painted in Devanagari Hindi script, it had the English words inscribed: ‘Accident and Trauma Services’. The word trauma written in Devanagari has a physiognomy of an absurd toy word. I looked the other side, she kept staring there. Banaras is stubbornly Hindi. Hospital advertisement hoardings across the city can be found describing ‘disease’ not as the common place ‘rog’ but as the sanskritized ‘vyadhi’. My mother, the master observationist had already noted in her brief stay that H has a morgue called ‘shantigrihya’ (Silent Home), which was tucked next to the General ward and that such a place was deeply uncanny (conveying a sense that might fall between inauspicious and unavoidable). She continued to stare at the Devanagari ‘Accident and Trauma services’. Then she asked me, in so many words, what is trauma? Astonished, I slipped out a Freudian description. I told her, it is that from which we can never fully recover. She looked surprised and doubtful because this description could hardly fit with the ambulance’s iconic display. I revised my

Good, bad death  61 description and told her in an equally mangled utterance that it is about physical tears, shocks to body, and nearness to mortality—​fatality, fatal, fatalness. It was this end of the conversation that strangely inaugurated for both of us a foreboding context of life lurking inside H over the coming days. Meanwhile, later that day, when my sisters arrived, I was protectively sent to have home-​cooked food at Ravindrapuri. I was asked to eat, bathe, sleep, rest, and then come back to H afterwards. When I returned, I carried with me the Salomon backpack that I had borrowed from my close friend before coming to Banaras from Delhi. I organized the medical documents, medicines, and the money I had saved from my research assistance to an action aid project on female foeticide in North India, along with a supply of PET mineral water bottles in its various compartments. Salomon became my dress and prosthetic through the hospital stay, and since it now housed things at one place that were delegated and diffused to different persons and places, it surprised me how quickly it all fell in place, the sociological ontology of role playing as a son, with Salomon enacting its agency over my shoulders.

Father as a Relative All of us, barring my father and his mother, lived at my maternal grandfather’s (Nana; MF) house in Ghazipur. The house was called ‘dera’ or a ‘halt-​house’ in between other real houses—​my Nana’s own ancestral, patrilineal village house across the river Ganga ji and my father’s village still further down in the same direction but situated in a way that MF’s village and my father’s village could have affinal relationships. The fine-​ grained perceived cultural supremacy of my father’s village to wrest the status of ‘wife takers’ was agrarian. In his village, most people were landed and select ones including father’s extended set up had their own home reared, well-​groomed, pair of oxen to plough. More specifically, they grew the kind of paddy crop that produced thin long pearly rice grains and superior pulses than the coarse grains and cattle pulses that were supposedly grown at my MF’s place. This is how my mother explained her match, sometimes as though she believed in the description but mostly in irony and sarcasm. Later on, the perspective was perhaps also shaped by our anthropology of kinship discussions that she and I had during my

62  Dead in Banaras university vacations. MF’s halt-​house was an act of faith that characterized him. After retirement from the army as an instructor of tank machines with an honorary title of captain, he bought a piece of land along with few other fellow caste men from his ancestral village. He persuaded them to invest in the forsaken piece of land in Ghazipur’s rural zone (the postal address was called Dehati, Urdu for rural). The land was storied in colonial indigo ruins, dacoits, and a wandering naked mad woman who ate stone pebbles. It had no electricity, no water connection, and no temple and was situated on the highway that connected all northern residents to take this road for their on-​foot funeral travelling towards Ganga ghats. He drew maps of his own and built the house which has a crazy quilt-​work inspiration from all the places he was posted during his army service, ranging from Sangroor, Punjab, to Ahmadnagar, Maharashtra. For water supply, he dug a well that continues to be present today and now with him gone too, I have a recurring nightmare that his quilted house that half shares the foundation over the well and other half over the ground will all melt into each other. Water, bricks, loose soil will become one like the days when the house was being constructed overseen by him. With the house built, water was called forth, electricity was sanctioned by state agencies. But his fellow land holders never actually stayed at their new land and did not return to settle for another decade. A factory of spun pipes came up on the adjacent land, the other three sides were surrounded by forest gardens. This halt-​house was constructed for the children to study—​his own four, two daughters and two sons. My mother was the firstborn and her sister, my maternal aunt (MZ), was the last born with two maternal uncles (MB1 and MB2) in between. In time, we siblings, my eldest sister, me, and my two younger sisters, all fell under his shade. The quilt house became so embroiled in this agenda of children’s education that soon his acquaintances requested him with their own sons to be thrown in the mix; MF admitted them in and took this opportunity to declare the halt-​house as home-​ashram. But between his children and his firstborn’s children, a lot had happened. In his days of Ambala, Sangroor, and Ahmadnagar, my mother as the firstborn had become his joy project. He mentions in his diary about her birth and naming. He had named her Sukhda Prabha Arya alias Maya with joyful details of her birth at his ancestral house. The name Maya became the school name and a clarion sound tissue for

Good, bad death  63 all my maternal relatives. My grandparents or us children or our father were teknonymically addressed as Maya hyphen so and so. Just the two men, MF and my father called her Sukhda, and Prabha Arya only existed in the diary. She was admitted at a public school in Punjab. He bought her dresses from Chandni Chowk in Delhi and a bicycle too to make her independent. Mother did not disappoint. Even though her earliest schooling was in MF’s and her own village school, she picked up literature and was sharp in mathematics in the city schools. Then, in one of the trips back home, he was persuaded to marry her off. The urgency to marry was found over many ordinary details, including daughter as a young woman, small pox marks on her face, sun burnt complexion that I inherited from her, the common precedence of marrying young, and fate and divine providence, as MF always believed. Father as a groom was equally green. She had finished her eighth standard exam, and he was trying to pass his tenth standard yet another time, a standard that he could eventually never cross, and this perhaps was one of his first formal failure in a series of such failures that marked his married life. He had land though or his family had. They had oxen too, more than one pair. All of this crumbled soon though and inheriting the divided house, with his own father long dead, he lived with his widowed mother and my mother, with slightly more than an acre of land and one architectural part of the ancestral house as his cherished and self-​chosen share. This choice involved having his mother live with him and taking his younger brother’s architectural division, which had the cattle shed and kitchen but no pucca house as his other brothers had. A decision that my mother, typical of her entire married life, both loathed and praised—​loathing for the obvious consequences, extending to the fact that for thirty years after her marriage owing to children’s educational expenses they dwelled amidst the shed and the kitchen, and praising for his ethics, a disavowal of self-​interest and an identification of self with moral earning in extended familial contests, that marked him. Father did not want my mother to stay in inconvenience and exposure and that was an additional reason, apart from the main reason of children’s education that mother stayed at MF’s halt house, while father and his mother stayed at the village house until their death. After the wedding, it was soon clear that farming would not work with the collective aspirations of MF and mother who had seen various school worlds. MF must have been deeply disappointed to have

64  Dead in Banaras jotted this entry between his 1971 war posting, when my father was rejected for recruitment in the army. Brahmdeo had gone to Ahmadnagar for recruitment while he was still recovering from his surgical operation. He was even recruited but unfortunately I was moved urgently on to a war posting in 1971 and another doctor rejected him three months into the recruitment, on the basis of falling short of the required height. He was dropped. (6th July 1971)

When my parents firstborn, my elder sister (eZ) came by at my father’s house, MF had his joy project rekindled. It was agreed, I think on a spur of enthusiasm that my mother will stay at the halt-​house for the child’s education. My father would visit his wife and children, and since this was not the ancestral house, so permanent residence of my mother at her natal house could be discursively defended. What MF could not do for his firstborn daughter, now both MF and my mother wanted to do for his firstborn granddaughter. Based on his diary entry, I say, spur and enthusiasm because the terms of this engagement were never set or perhaps they were foreseen and avoided, the burden of which fell on my parents and now that I painfully recognize it, most on my father. The suggestion took further shape with my birth at MF’s ancestral house. My birth at his village repeated a providence for MF which had great echo in his own biography. He had written the following in his diary, in 2002, describing his birth and childhood after my long-​standing request to write about himself in a more detailed and chronological order. ‘In a family of three paternal brothers, my father was married at the age of sixteen. In due time and after five daughters, I was born. The exact date is not known but according to the school record it is 1st July 1933. I do know though that the correct month is May of 1933. By this time, my father’s elder brother’s wife was widowed and his younger brother had not yet married. People in the neighbourhood, womenfolk in particular maintained that if my mother had not gone to her father’s house when she was carrying me in her womb, I wouldn’t have been born (referring to the vitiated domestic environment at MF’s father’s house). My maternal grandfather was delighted at my birth and it blossomed

Good, bad death  65 into a love for me that continued all his life. Mother was the only daughter and was dearly loved by her parents. While my own father harassed (pratadit) and disrespected my mother through her life, she was loved by everyone in the neighbourhood. She had her mysterious (rahasyapurna) ways of getting things done for me while keeping them hidden from my father. Mother must have been left with little choice though that she decided to stay at her father’s house for five years and returned only when my initiation ceremony was to be conducted. After her brothers got married the relations with her natal family slackened but as fate would have it, her elder brother died and soon after, her younger brother left home and became a sadhu (a wandering ascetic). After mother died, my maternal grandfather decided to will his property on my name. My father returned the will and other documents claiming responsibility for me and requested his father-​in-​law to name the property after his sons’ surviving families. I have thought about my father’s decision many times over in life and have always felt great satisfaction in his unselfish and others-​first values. My mother’s natal house (nanihaal) has had a close and intimate effect on my being. I have always wished to live up to those ideals to this day. My maternal grandfather’s comfort with solitary (ekant) environment, his ability to effect and register his endearment and oneness (apnatva) even when physically apart, his aspiration towards higher ideals of kindness (udaarta) and love (prem) through practices of sacrifice and devotion is what I have always sought to adopt. I have always wished to truly recreate that environment in my life and extend his affection to others through myself.’ (From MF’s diary entry marked as ‘Childhood account’. The account was written by him in 2002 on my request).

It was secured that Maya and her children will stay at the halt-​house and Brahmdeo, my father, who would be busy farming and sheltering his own widowed mother will stay at his ancestral village. This flux between patrilineal and matrilineal moulds is reflected in an oneiric event when my naming was being considered. It was agreed that I should be named Ganesh, after the deity who is the happy one, is first to arrive at auspicious occasions and likes to eat a lot of sweets firsthand. Features that my mother often said I expressed as a child. Just that from the night the name was floated my mother started seeing in her dreams a tall man who was

66  Dead in Banaras trying to say something to her but was unable to. Perhaps because they were apart in age or status and thus could not communicate. After more of the same appearances, spooked, my mother confided to her husband and his mother. It was my paternal grandmother who said that the appearance matched with my father’s grandfather and it all made sense as it surfaced that he too was named Ganesh. The name was immediately shed off and I was named after the only graduate in my father’s village without any further imagination. Even then a celestial and astral naming pattern had unfolded, with MF as Mahindra, MM as Kesari, Mother as Maya, Father as Brahmdeo, elder sister (eZ) as Sandhya, and I as Ravi. The sister born after me was named Usha, and the last born, most cherished to father, died at the age of five of brain fever without a proper name. Father who could not make it during her illness and always regretted the same, would wistfully remark till much later after her death that Rinki (her pet name) should have been given a proper name. Yet, this structuring pattern produced other names too. Pet names, names of endearment and perhaps the most important double of Maya and Sukhda, my mother’s two names. The former represented the matrilineal world and the latter the patrilineal one, with the complex scape of both my father and MF calling her by the same name Sukhda. The dream of the visiting patrilineal ancestor became my mother’s mysterious introduction into her husband’s family as much as I think it must have been because of the birth of a son to the family. Mother remembers the family genealogy starting from Ganesh Singh by heart. The narration almost always starts with the re-​accounting of the dream. She had helped me with names and descriptions many times earlier but before writing this part of ‘field work’, I asked in particular for the necrological–​genealogical details while we were visiting father’s village looking for documents a few months after his death. Both the necrology (for the disclosures of the deaths) and her awareness are intriguing because it appears that no one else in the extended family remembers these details barring some knowledge of the previous generation. The genealogy starts with Ganesh Singh and moves to his sons. The eldest Sitaram Singh was married and his wife died during childbirth. He did not marry again and died of old age. Ram Virich Singh was married to Kusma Kunwar and they had one daughter Kalawati Singh. Ram Virich Singh died during the Plague. Ram Kirit Singh, the next son, married Lahasi Devi and had a son and two daughters. Lahasi Devi died in

Good, bad death  67 childbirth and Ram Kirit Singh married again, to Manaki Devi, my grandmother (FM). They had four sons, including my father. Three survived and the fourth died. FM after the division of the son’s coparcenery set up, stayed with my father until her death. In fact, for most part of his adult life, father and his old mother lived together, and after her death, he lived by himself. Ram Kirit Singh, my father’s father, died of tetanus and a fatal social wound. After abandoning his house over a domestic quarrel, he walked through the night full of rage and was discovered in a swamp. Ganesh Singh’s youngest son was Ram Kaar Singh, who died unmarried of the same plague that killed Ram Virich Singh. The odds of good death and bad death were unevenly stacked, and like all children, the sons had to keep looking at the sky every once in a while to know through some secret channel about the indeterminate inheritance of the turn of dice. For father, it soon fell into a long, slow, pattern of lived descent that converged with his own father’s death. After the failed army recruitment, he turned to learn welding. Mother says he even tried for a while to establish himself professionally as a welder in Jalandhar, Punjab. At the time of MF’s retirement, he was working with MF at an Ex-​soldiers’ ration shop and subsequently at the printing press that MF had started. They had worked together at Allahabad in a similar ration shop but had to return under threats of Hindu–​Muslim strife. I remember the knock at the halt-​ house, late in the night in 1986. In those days, it was an all-​women household with both my mother’s brothers away for their higher education. We could hear muffled voices of my father and MF calling out Sukhda. As they stepped in, they looked stricken with fear and anxiety, a synchronic image that is engraved into my memory. This episode grounded them both, and father returned to farming while MF settled to the pension he received. The rest of us were dependents—​thus started another domain of heartache with money, ration, pen, pencil, crayons, compasses, tiffin, textbooks, fees, and uniforms. All of us were stationed at Ghazipur while my mother’s brothers pursuing their professional degrees lived away from home. Father took upon himself to bring in grains and that lasted for a while. Then it shifted to him buying vegetables and groceries when he would come. Before this shift, the only time I had seen him truly elated was when he had decided to buy a tractor along with his younger brother. On the day of purchase he had come with a wad of currency notes tied in a chunri, most of it came from a piece of land that he had sold. The tractor

68  Dead in Banaras was bought on loan and interest, an interest that mortified my mother. She would call compound interest as chakrvridhi vyaja, a term from her school day math, and when translated in keeping with her fearful tone, it would appear in English as vicious-​accretion interest. It was vicious. It punished the moment’s exultation with long-​drawn, menacing loan periodicity. First went the trolley, then when the battery went down, the tractor engine was started with a mechanical lever. The battery was never changed though the tyres were replaced with second hand ones. And then it stopped and was long parked like an orphan in one of the fields close to our village home. It must have looked the part when father left the place to die. In all of this, more land was sold. First to pay the interest, then more was sold to build a concrete home and toilet, which could never get completed and stands today reminiscent of same quilt work desire and architecture with which MF had made the Ghazipur house. The characteristic difference being MF succeeded and father failed in completing what he had started. Scaffolded by these invisible forces, father seemed struggling when we, or at least I, as children could not see or place the enemies proximate to him. He would come home to Ghazipur and speak very little. At times, he would leave early in the morning while we children were still asleep, a gesture I felt to be unbearably harsh throughout my childhood. At MF’s insistence and out of their magnanimity, I was brought to Delhi by my maternal uncles for further schooling. Sharing their subject positions when they were away from home studying, I felt embarrassed and humiliated with the same old harrowing complex of fees, dress, food, books, and allowances. Father had little or nothing to send and I found myself under duress that was at times unbearable. My parents’ common gift, however, was that I had picked up reading literature from them. Both of them shared the habit of reading books, and once my father had noted that my mother really liked to read, he started the ritual of loaning books from the local, Zamania college library. All their children are witness to this never expressed fact in the family that this ritual was their ritual of love. They rarely wrote to each other. Incidentally, my MF who never had a literary interest wrote in all painstaking details, ranging from where he had tea on a particular day in 1961 to his daily chronicle of laments and prayers over family events. This was a practice I inherited from him, and it constituted a bond that remains one of the most endearing facets of my childhood and adolescent

Good, bad death  69 years. I could never understand then why father did not write. But, he did not. The scaffolding tightened even more as the younger crop of men at his in-​laws place became successful and spoke derisively of him and occasionally with him, when they did. Then there was the accident of 1999, which he survived. Soon after his own recovery, his mother died due to rabies, and thereafter he lived alone. Just before the accident, he had tried to make things work again and had taken several people’s land on rent to till on his own. An initiative that did bring temporary joy to both my parents. After his mother’s death, it must have been very lonely because out of all of us, paucity of money had affected him the most. He would almost never do anything for himself. After his dowry radio had conked, he never bought a new one, leave alone, a TV. The Cinni table fan had to be exorcised each time with hand-​held vigorous shakes and thumps before it would moodily start but he never considered changing it. Books had long dried up and he would just pore over his old, preserved copy of Shiv Purana that he had bought from a railway station book stall. It fits in that he was ill and his illness was compounded by loneliness. But not disclosing it to my mother fits in with something that I gather MF eventually did to himself as a matter of secret complaint. MF practised Yoga through most of his work life and more rigorously after his retirement. It must have been effective for him because for more than two decades that I had seen him he had fallen ill only twice, once with high fever and another time with a week-​long bout of cough. He had labelled himself as home-​renunciate (grih-​vairagi) and often talked about dying in an arrangement overseen by his most worshipped mother goddess. In his diary, he has an entry few months before my father’s death describing his prayer for his own death. He writes: ‘Give me a pleasant, satisfactory, peaceful, gentle lap of death and do not make me a burden to be cared for’ (Mujhe sukhad, santoshjanak, shantidayak, mrityu ki god dena, bina kisi ke seva kee aavshayakta pradaan kiye). This was not to be. Late summer in 2010, I noticed missed calls from my mother after I finished my afternoon lecture at the college where I was teaching sociology at the time. An unspoken, anticipatory pattern had settled around our phone call etiquette. I was the one to call home. When I got a call from home, it meant there was an emergency. If my sister called, it meant another road accident, and when my mother called, it meant some death news. This time it was Nana’s (MF) turn to be ensnared

70  Dead in Banaras by death. On my return call, my mother said, your Nana (MF) has gone mad. His knee is profusely bleeding, and he is ranting. She said that he was not letting anyone come close to him. My Nani (MM), my mother, and sister (yZ) were trying to reach to the wound to stop it from bleeding, and he kept screaming in a resounding, theatrical way that do not come close, ‘this is Angad’s leg, no one can move it’. Angad is a character from Ramayana. A short book called ‘Ram Katha: The Story of Rama in Indian Miniatures. Activity Book for Children Aged 8–​100’ (Vasudevan and Mathur, 2013) from the National museum in Delhi has the following account of Angad while describing a miniature dedicated to the scene. Rama is full of compassion. Although Ravana has abducted his wife, he does not wish to have a war. So he sends Sugriva’s nephew Angad to Ravan’s court as a messenger to politely request the return of Sita. . . . Look at Angad’s foot. His foot is firmly planted on the ground. He challenged all the demons in Ravan’s court to lift his leg and if they succeeded, he would go back to Rama and never ask Sita to be returned. But no one could lift the leg of Angad and thus Ravana had to prepare to fight Rama to give Sita back (Vasudevan and Mathur 2013: 33).

Nana’s madness was in thinking of his wife, daughter, and granddaughter as demons—​the madness of turning familial characters upside down. His physical illness, of course, was an aggravation. He had a long-​ diagnosed condition of high blood pressure and had suffered a massive cardiac stroke. There was another inversion, this time of his own death-​ wish prayer for a peaceful death. He was admitted to and discharged from five separate hospitals spread over the entire National Capital Region starting from east Delhi and ending in Gurgaon—​where he died without anyone in attendance from the family, including me. But unlike my father, because of his army provisions, he had regular medical check-​ups and knew about the necessity of having his blood pressure medicines on a daily basis. Daily discipline was anyway his embodied character, he need not be reminded of things to be done that day or the next. At a very tender time of family crisis with his closest family members he silently avowed to stop all his medicines and told his wife, my Nani, that the doctor has advised him so as he was found to be fully fit and had recovered from high blood pressure with yoga. And, he did. He stopped taking the high blood

Good, bad death  71 pressure medicine. I discovered this episode from his diary; he combined his death-​wish prayer with this anti-​prayer. It is the same that my father seems to have done, deciding to die, secretly and vengefully to the family.

Father as a Dying Relative Back in H. Hospital’s daily routine of disinfection of his gangrenous legs, powdering his bed sores in sedated state with my mother as the spousal assistant to the medical staff reintroduced me to my own mother. Mother and father together in this situation appeared as if their lifelong performative reserve of invisible intimacy was condensed and thrown open for everyone to see. Before my arrival to the scene, my mother and sisters performed the daily scrubbing and washing of his body along with changing of underclothes. Certain tasks would invariably go to mother as spouse. I was assimilated quickly into the tasks substituting my sisters but never my mother. Her exclusivity could be as much about the social position of the spouse as that of my mother as a person but together it appeared to be a luggage of all of our lives weighing on her. In my slow efforts to talk sporadically about her quiet days at H in years subsequent to father’s death, she confided that before going to H when she would clean him and the room daily to remove the emanating smell at the halt house, he spoke of her graciousness towards him. That she never missed her daily prayer in their entire married life became a substance for him. In one such conversation, moved by her care, he invoked god to take good note of her deeds and grant what is due to her. In an old school reverential gesture no wife observed in the house, including my mother’s mother, my mother touched his feet. She embraced his observations as a continuity of his position to bless her. But on this occasion, on his death bed, it was as if he supplicated that blessing for her to live by wagering his own life to death. At H, after the daily routine of scrub and disinfection with antiseptic wash, there was the moment of changing his sheets. Two young medical assistants would come to do the chore. They were also the ones who cleaned the wounds. Their sense of completion of the routine was slightly different though from how we felt that completion to be. The change of sheets below the patient’s body was a trained gesture. They would pull it out slowly with one person

72  Dead in Banaras putting his arm under the patient’s back to raise his hips. The same procedure was applied to put in the new sheet. Once done, it was now the turn of the top sheet over the patient’s body. This is when a glee would return to their faces. They would pull the sheet, first in a slow tending movement and as the sheet would reach the level of the patient’s navel they would pull it down rapidly. Then their exultant and uproarious laughter at the sight of him, attempting to cover his scrotal region. That he is sedated and still awkwardly grimaces at this gesture tells us something about different personages of body organs. For the boys though it would never fail to kindle that uproarious laughter, even though it all lasted a few degrading seconds, so fleeting that it could hardly be converted into a language of complaint. Notwithstanding our own embarrassment at their meticulous care of the legs without flinching about the smell and the sight. Julie Livingston (2012: 146) in an account titled ‘Pain and laughter’ within the context of an oncology ward in Botswana hopes that such a hospital laughter is a means to ‘autopalliation’. She means it for the patient in pain, but as her ethnography shows, it can be easily extended to the care givers as well. To extend this equivalence, another way to see this laughter (as we, I and my sister, did at the moment of witnessing the sheet act) would be in terms of the classic relation of laughter and death as two vitally opposed but socially and consequentially linked terms: ‘to laugh at others is to ask for one’s own death’. In other words, if in a final moral evaluation no one deserves death, who must die? The one who laughs. The famed Vijaydashmi or Dussehra festival in Banaras is staged by propping up a gigantic papier-​mâché ten-​ headed Ravana along with his brother and son to be killed using crackers stuffed inside their hollow endoskeletons, enacting a symbolic assassination by Rama. How may the synchronic, comic, and fierce image of ten-​ headed Ravana communicate its evilness? The organizers use recorded laughter (‘canned laughter’) as Ravana’s continuous embodied emanation. He laughs unceasingly and that is why he is killed. What laughter does in our case is to introduce us to forms of death that haunt care work. There is the overt and ordinary mocking relation that is structured by the adage: our work is to laugh and your work is to die. Far from thinking that hospital is the only place for such ‘degradation ceremonies’, to borrow the well-​known description from Arthur Kleinman (1988), it is apt to think that it rather makes explicit the derision and laughter in home settings

Good, bad death  73 where care work must face its own proximity with variegated versions of death. Exactly a week into this routine, the consulting doctor suggested that father must be taken to another floor where the surgical ward was located to be examined by a set of doctors, including the surgeon. My mother had introduced me to the said doctor, but it had not registered to the busy doctor and when we spoke again he asked me what I did. I told him briefly about the research work. He noted that with a pleasant smile and said will inform us about the time. The scheduled time came, and with father on the stretcher helped by one staff member, we wheeled him through the elevator to the top floor where he were to be examined. The arrangement was such at the hospital that as and when a medicine was required the patient’s relative was asked to fetch it from the in-​house chemist so that the hospital did not have a huge due to settle at the time of patient discharge. I was asked to wait outside for such a task. No such thing was called for, and from the shadow of the stretcher I could sense that he was not being examined yet. Soon he was wheeled in closer to the lights for inspection and one could hear the talk, the main points of the case being spelt out. It still surprises me that the place with all its physical boundaries of restricted entry and exit was so clearly within the acoustical hearing range. It was obvious that his legs could not be saved from what I had seen over the week, but it still hurt me piercingly when I heard them that they will amputate his legs. Recovering soon, I had to resist my own disbelief when I heard in their collegial din there was a discussion over amputating just the left leg. When the stretcher was brought out, briefly, the surgeon too came out along with the consulting doctor and acknowledged that he knew about my research. They both did not disclose at that moment or even that day about the amputation and father was wheeled back to his bed. That the sonic architecture of the ward gave away is another matter, otherwise, it is clear that the doctors were participating with great care about such a disclosure and its effects. My mother kept asking me as if like me she also wanted to confirm what we all had come to acknowledge individually. I told her the truthful lie, half the story that I had heard upstairs. That his upper legs above the knees were not yet infected and no further damage had happened to the lower legs compared to the earlier diagnosis. The next day, the consulting doctor came and met my mother asking to speak

74  Dead in Banaras with a ‘gent’ of the house. My mother, looking stricken, spontaneously pointed to me. He did not look convinced and could have done with someone more gent than me but nevertheless asked me to accompany him to another part of the same floor. It is ironical too that while clearly restricted architectural separations cannot prevent seeping of voices, in the din of general ward, amidst all noises, such disclosures can be articulated just to the addressee. The doctor told me, and told me not to disclose the same to my mother, considering her frailty as a ‘woman’, and to tell her at an opportune moment at home. He started with the same assurance that I had given my mother the night before, except that he told me the other half of the narrative as well. That his knees are strong, with one leg intact, the other knee can easily adjust to a prosthetic. It is more difficult when the knee is not there, a thigh cannot as easily adjust to a prosthetic and is prone to further infection. In all this conversation, things were referred carefully, metonymically. Amputation, the English word, was not used. Instead he said that they will have to ‘remove’ (‘hatana’) the leg even when he surely would have had the medical parlance at the tip of his tongue that is to ‘cut’ (‘kaatna’) the leg. I asked more about the prosthetic leg, and at the conclusion of the conversation he reminded me once again to not disclose to my mother right away. As I greeted and left him, a stirring scorn welled up in me over his repeated advice. My mother and sisters emerged as persons having lived with the threat of father’s death over and over, as his health declined progressively. While walking back to the ward, I strangely remembered my mother’s poised stricken face just as it was when my youngest sister, Rinki, had died. Before entering the ward I was in doubt whether to disclose it to her now or later. She had come up to the aisle looking out for me. When I met her, I paused, hesitated, but eventually disclosed including the impending immediacy of the same. It was due the day after. She was waiting, I realized, less for me and more to cry out, and she did but with the same poised stance of not letting others in the ward know that she is crying. The doctor anticipating the scenario came rushing in. He scolded me over my betrayal. Did I not ask you to wait till she got home? My mother, after her crying ceased, echoed the doctor’s words that a woman’s heart is weak and I should have been more careful. Julie Livingston (2012) in the same ethnography referred earlier on the oncology ward in Botswana has a small interlude chapter

Good, bad death  75 called ‘Amputation day at Princess Marina Hospital’. She opens the discussion with the following words: “It’s Amputation day at PMH!’ I wrote in my field notes at some point just after lunch one day in June 2008. By that point, there had been too much amputation talk for one day in this small oncology ward—​ too many breasts, legs, feet, and testicles to be removed, too much abstraction, cajoling, rot, angst, and loss.” (Livingston 2012: 85).

As she begins to close the discussion in the short chapter, she says: ‘Amputation, of course, is not a day’ (Livingston 2012: 91). My father’s staid general ward does not compare to an oncology ward amputation theatre but her indexing of amputation as a surgical event, a cutting, a removing that is tied to familial and personal senses of rot, pain, and loss and that which has an afterlife if you do it, and if you do not do it, does echo all the same. I am thinking about the bad news management though, including the news with which I started this account. Why is it that in the subcontinent, bad news is always overheard? It seems to be the same at homes, hospitals, TV soaps, and movies, except for the straight faced ‘News’. Everywhere, while good news comes with boxes of sweets, bad news leaks from curtains, windows, doors, walls, and PVC partitions. In order to understand the spatial link between death, laughter and leaking of bad news we must think of an invisible ‘perforated sheet’3 as a real and palpable acoustic wall which takes different forms in homes, hospitals, TV soaps, and movies. I clearly erred in disclosing bad news to my mother. This must be the reason why everyone in the ward was looking at me with a projected naivety. Soon my sisters got to know and then there was that same muffled crying but also a new context of conversation and anticipation emerged. Meanwhile the doctor had asked to arrange for two units of blood for the surgery, and alongside my elder sister’s husband, I got drawn to that work. Soon we had relatives and neighbours from Ghazipur who agreed to donate the unit that could be swapped for the matching unit from the blood bank of H. The next day, while my sisters were by father’s side, I took mother out for a stroll. I had noticed the prosthetics shop tucked in a corner at Lanka (market place near H), and this is where I was taking her. The immediate reason for this was another breakdown for my mother, when

76  Dead in Banaras she wailingly despaired about having to take care of him for the rest of her life. In the same despair she mentioned the stigma of an amputated leg. Add to the list of laughter and disclosure, it is crying too which shares a definite relation with the tact and tactlessness of care. At the shop she remained quiet. The shopkeeper sensing that this was not a purchase visit offered his own experience of other people in similar situations to visibly console my mother and instil a sense of recovery. There was very little time to recover though as the surgery was scheduled the next day. My MF was informed, and from his diary entry I can see that he had informed my uncles too. The day of surgery came, and the same procedure of wheeling his stretcher to the surgery room was followed. My mother and sisters had made father wear a polo t-​shirt that I had brought for him at an earlier visit. At the surgical ward, the doctors handed out a list of medicines and equipment to be bought. At the chemist counter, looking at the white pouch that described the surgical blade inside I felt a shudder. I held it firmly and handed it over along with other medicines to the staff, back at the surgical ward. I and my sister’s husband waited outside to fetch things as demanded. As the surgery was concluded the surgeon asked me in, identifying me as the one who was doing doctoral research in Banaras. He sternly told me that since I was from social sciences and would not know about such things, my father has to be fed a protein-​rich diet. Then he called out for one of his colleagues who came in with a polythene bag. The surgeon took the polythene bag and said in the same stern tone that this is the leg. He asked me to keep it and immerse it in Ganga ji as was the norm. In his handing over of the amputated leg I realized that he was going out of his way to respect a certain ethos that did not entirely fit within the medical frame. His stern tone hid this ethicality, and he moved away without any further ado. The polythene flesh bouquet in my hand with my brother-​in-​law waiting outside and father to be wheeled to the ward, I opened my Salomon and inserted it between the mineral water bottle and a pair of change clothes. Everyone was already waiting downstairs, including MF. As father was transferred from stretcher to the bed, everyone was training their gazes hard to both see the absent place of his leg and also avoid being seen that they were doing so. Everyone knew about it by then, except father himself. I asked my MF out and told him about the leg in my backpack. Together we had been part of similar situations at

Good, bad death  77 the Ghazipur halt-​house: Should a dead pet cow be immersed in the river or sent to the skinners? Should a stillborn calf be sent to the same skinners for taxidermic work so that the cow has the make-​believe calf doll and does not go into mourning (causing her milk to dry) or should one try milking her more than twice (the way a young calf would latch many times in the day) as a possible remedy to her loss. Should a street dog that died in front of the halt-​house, crushed by a highway truck, be buried on our land or left to the crows? I did not need to remind him all of this. I asked him to bury it at the halt-​house and told him that we will plant a tree later on at the same place. It was our kind of pact, similar to our cultivation of writing diaries, registering barely recognizable events in the passing of our own lives, including that of plants and pet animals at the halt-​house. At his suggestion we organized another polythene bag, transferred the already polythene-​wrapped leg into the newly acquired bag, and I handed it over to him. Much later I learnt that Nana (MF) had passed the bouquet to his brother to immerse it in Ganga ji. I should have known that just as the bad news hangs in the air till it finds that exact subject who must know it hurtfully, similarly, equivalent bad things find their way to Gangaji’s waters. The surgeon must have known this social fact through countless introductions to the anatomies of local knowledge. Back in the general ward, father was still slightly sedated and it looked like he would take time to recognize everyone. Also most visitors realized it would be slightly awkward to face him once he wakes up from his anaesthesia, and as evening was approaching the relatives left one by one. One relative, related to mother not as consanguine nor from her own marital family network but as an affine (MZH), let’s call him ‘PS’, nevertheless, decided to stay for the night. PS took charge of things as he entered the scene, asked my mother and sisters to go home and retire, assuring that the three of us—​him, I, and my elder sister’s husband—​ would manage. With reluctance they all left. Tired, I sat next to father, waiting. An hour had passed when he gradually whirred up in some discomfort signalling pain. I got the head nurse to see from her station, and she said this was a regular symptom after a big operation. But, it didn’t subside and it looked unusual. I frantically looked for PS and my elder sister’s husband and having found them gestured to look into what was happening. PS rushed to emergency services and requested for a quick check-​up. The doctor who came in advised that father should be put on

78  Dead in Banaras ventilator and recommended that we get him admitted into the intensive care unit. PS insisted with the management thereafter to get father transferred to the intensive care unit. It could not be done as it was already occupied, and instead they decided to put him on ventilator in the ward itself. Before that could be done, two young male doctors arrived to look into the emergency. One of them checked his heart’s rhythm with the stethoscope while the other doctor tried to rouse my father by physically shaking him. Father did not stir as he should have. The doctor who was trying to rouse him into response asked me the patient’s name. I told him, it is Brahmdeo Singh. The doctor started calling out father by his name. He realized that his calling out was not resonating so he asked me to hold father and scream his name loudly, close to his ears. I did as I was told. As I screamed his name to him I felt his death in me. There was that mild scolding in my screaming, a scolding tone that I became familiar with as fresh aggrieving tone later on in my fieldwork. His unresponsiveness continued, and the doctors wrote out emergency tools and medicines to be bought from the in-​house chemist. I accompanied my brother-​in-​law after PS gestured us to go together for the medicines. I noticed a blade again on the prescription list and felt it through the paper cover while fetching it to the ward. One of the doctors was thumping father’s chest with the palms of his hands, and as the medicines and the blade were handed over, he quickly shaved father’s chest and made a gash. The other doctor had prepared the injection by then, the shot was injected at a place close to the gash. The syringe held vertically, the medicine went in gushingly. He did not stir, and now when they were touching father, his body parts moved not so much in sensory terms as clayey physical terms. The doctors checked his heart again, ran their hands over his chest and forehead, waiting for their own, well-​known golden last sign. Or is there such a sign? One or many, the answer must necessarily be semiotically mediated. The doctors called me and PS and gestured towards father in half-​baked nervous words, appearing to be unambiguously telling us that he, the pointed one, is no more. Like all communication, language, including gestures in which death has to be communicated, does not have to entirely come from the announcers, the surviving complete the circle, they fill in the blanks and gloss the stutter of the other. I had not noticed until then that after we fetched the emergency medicines, PS had sent my brother-​in-​law to fetch mother. As the doctors declared

Good, bad death  79 death in their stuttering but unambiguous ways, PS immediately gestured to halt the doctors in their formalities, wanting to communicate something urgent. As the doctors leaned towards him, he whispered to repeat the last minute procedure as the dead’s wife arrives such that she feels she could see him in his death. The young male doctors, surprisingly, agreed and even understood in that half told account just as we had understood their declaration of death. As my mother arrived they resumed, at the sound of her rushed footsteps, the thumping of father’s heart. Holding his hand at the place where the gash was made, one of the doctors fiddled for the second vial of the heart reviving drug and then realized the injection was junked by then. In a great quick manoeuvre he thumped the heart again. Then the two doctors repeated the exercise of checking, confirming, and declaring, this time with greater poise than the first time. My mother must have completed her share of the circle of communication of death, from distance, when my brother-​in-​law went to fetch her. She screamed during the faux proceedings that she served him all her life and here he left without her being there, when she was gone just for a while. I felt choked and overwhelmed by the doctors’ ethical rehearsal, and later during fieldwork when the same material practices were cited by many as hospital’s way of keeping the biologically dead on the ventilator to earn more rent on it, the sense of gratitude persisted even then. The death certificate, says that he was suffering from ‘Diabetic foot’ that was ‘Bilateral’ and had ‘Septicaemia’ too, and he died of ‘cardiac respiratory arrest’ at 10.45 pm. Death certificates nag with the survivors’ understanding of cause(s), time, condition, modes of treatment, its finality as well as its surreal empirical certainty. Just as my younger sister (yZ) had father’s misdiagnosed blood sugar report under the mattress in front of the TV for years, similarly my mother had his death certificate locked into her aluminium trunk under a big iron lock. These coded documents are cathected with power and are seen and experienced with awe and revulsion, as the case may be, mirroring the whole constellation of uneasiness and intensity that the mixed world of hospital and patients inhabit in Banaras. Back in the hospital, after the second declaration, the service staff which was in emergency mode for a while rushed to cover father with the linen of his bed and quickly transferred him to a morgue stretcher and then that stretcher was left parked inside the morgue with him under the cover. To my younger sister (yZ)

80  Dead in Banaras and my mother’s safe keeping of the cathected medical documents of misdiagnosed report and the death certificate, this is the story from the other side. First time declaration of death and the second time declaration of the same death conjoin two phenomenological worlds of doctors and patients’ survivors. Back to the morgue, the gates were promptly locked from both sides and father was out of bounds both as a particular person, since the bills had to be cleared, and as a general dead, since the living must be reassured of this distinction. Hospital as an organization that finds itself in the volcanic immediacy of social institutions of relatedness has to still perfect the suitable place for weeping and the clinical dead in the same frame in Banaras. But then do we have these perfect, suitable places even in the age-​old realms of family and kinship? At this good, bad death in the hospital we turn, in ­chapter 4, to the dead. And, to the realm of ‘tuneful’ weeping in between home and hospital leading to the possibilities emergent in the mournful language of ‘wept statements’.

4 Crying and Listening Forms of Mourning and Community

Let us return to the idea of the rest-​post again. Recall the place designated for funeral travellers to keep the bier down and gain breath before resuming the hurried walk to the cremation ground. Is it not ironic that the word ‘rest’ that is so often associated with the dead can actually be a ground of turbulent memories, memories that now constitute grief? Indeed, the same can be said about the word, ‘waiting’, which is otherwise compulsorily associated with suspending and freezing of activity. I highlight the ambiguity of these ordinary words woven with funerary texture because as we move through the descriptions (Chapters 3 and 4), we find ourselves in the middle of this familiar–​unfamiliar world of the living and dead. This chapter starts with the dead, my dead, as social and cultural facts and slowly moves with attention to words, rituals, practices, and gestures towards offering a recognizable texture of mourning as a vital part of human sociality. The autobiographical tone and substance continues from Chapter 3 and in fact, join these two middle chapters (­chapter 3 and 4) as two arms of a shirt. Between writing and rewriting of this book, this space of what now constitutes these middle chapters kept growing, the way rest and waiting get filled up with the sense and the memories of the absent (dead). These two chapters grew from an anecdote into an account and from an account into a narrative and from a narrative into a narrative form of necrology and from that form to a phenomenology of the absent–​present (dead) as a condition of the social. Curiously, even in this expanded form it appears densely contracted, reminding me of overwhelming details that had to be left out. In abstraction, the dead are the least demanding. But once we recognize ourselves in them, we enter into a social and existential labyrinth of the lived and the living. It is time to resume funeral travelling.

82  Dead in Banaras

Father as a Dead Relative It was past midnight when the accountant arrived to clear the bills. Meanwhile, PS (MZH) kept insisting with the management to open the lock of the morgue (Shantigrihya) so that my sisters could see their father. The lock was not opened till the bills were cleared. In the emotional melee with an indignant and agitated PS, I noticed that the management did not say an outright no to the opening of the gate. Managerially, they just kept delaying, one way or the other. Crying outside H’s premises in a huddle, my mother, sisters, and the elder sister’s (eZ) newborn stood waiting. The place had similar huddles of people all around, lying down, sleeping, waiting on their patients who were lodged inside. There was a small gathering around our huddle now, people were looking at us crying, in close silent observation. After clearing the bills, PS stormed out of H declaring a final exit, signalling in great agitation an avowal to never return to the place. He soon realized the folly of his avowal as he asked us to wait at the gate of the morgue and once again went inside to get the lock opened. He returned soon, calmer than before. The same attendant who had wheeled father to the morgue opened the lock and stood at the gate. My mother kept insisting that my sisters should not go inside. When she saw they were unrelenting, she took the infant from my elder sister (eZ). As we approached the morgue, my sisters entered inside holding me from either side. I identified his stretcher and pulled over the Hospital linen from his face. In the few hours that had passed, his face had swollen up and the erstwhile hollow cheeks looked supple. I noticed that the t-​ shirt which my mother had put on him before the surgery was not on him when he had returned after the amputation. It was there, now, lying next to him. My elder sister (eZ) could barely breathe, my younger sister (yZ) was lamenting to father in ‘wept statements’ about not recognizing what mother and she had done for him. Why else would he decide to leave? And how cruel to leave when they were gone for a short while. Woe to him, woe to such an agency.1 Amongst us three siblings, my youngest sister (yZ) had come to mimic my mother’s tone of expressing love to father by deprecating and mocking him. A mocking that was mostly playful but it could get serious too, like my mother’s occasional stinging words towards him. I could not fail to notice that the ‘tuneful weeping’ that my sister echoed at the

Crying and listening  83 morgue reflected the same old grammar of my mother and her talking to him. It was as if my younger sister (yZ) was weeping as my mother and his mother (FM) at the same time; as an ancient person and a child folded into one crying unit. It occurred to me that it indeed was a cruel agency on part of father as I heard her ‘wept statement’ about him leaving while she was away for a while. It was my younger sister (yZ) who kept protecting me from the hard task of his care till it became exceptionally difficult, and for all their care, my mother and she, could not see him go, while I did. The accusations in ‘wept statements’ also articulated a curious hidden matter: the idea that the living have a secret agency to bring their own death. An agency for which father was being made accountable having successfully carried out his deceitful threat. Now dead, he must nevertheless hear the lament for what he secretly brought upon himself. This communication becomes possible across the twin spheres of living and the dead in ‘wept statements’, a context created by weeping itself. More importantly, with respect to the newly dead, this inaugurates a new personage that the dead must get used to. In her essay, Voices of Children, Veena Das (1989) offers a comment on the social making of children and their worlds as different from adults but yet mediated by them. She describes how a mother playing with her infant may not just ‘talk’ to the child but ‘talk the child into being’, ‘giving it an embodiment in language’. A living embodiment that could very well count as a ‘gift of self and the world’ to the child from her mother (Das 1989: 265). Take the following example: The mother is speaking to her child and then promptly occupying the child’s voice she replies from the voice position of the child, often countering her own first utterance. This act, may appear as one-​ sided play, but in fact, becomes a site of agency for the child’s voice to be carved out. It seems to me that in ‘wept statements’ a similar agency is cast on to the dead with the crucial difference that while the child is anticipated to be eased into a life of speech, the dead is enlivened by conferring upon it an agency of special listening. This is the reason why in wept statements, acts of speaking to the dead and the reciprocal responses merge into a different tone of lament that, while on one hand, mirrors the double texture of the mother speaking to the child and the mother speaking as the child in turn, but on the other, is also forced to acknowledge death as a special fact. This in turn makes us aware that in wept statements, the mourner must mourn not only for herself but also for the dead, for what

84  Dead in Banaras he left incomplete, for the future of the living in which he cannot participate any longer as his old self. Thus there is a double talk, just as between the mother and the infant, but the agencies granted to the infant and the dead are different in due acknowledgement to the mixed signs of life and death. My sisters had to be extricated from inside the morgue. On their exit, they resumed the crying huddle now in front of the morgue. PS pulled my mother and me out of the huddle to discuss what had to be done. Mother’s relatives had been informed and since no one had come to see father from the village, the question hung in the air, whether to proceed with the cremation in Banaras or wait for the relatives to arrive? Mother promptly said, ‘it’ can be done here and now. She looked at me and warned me about not doing anything unusual like the electric ‘thing’. I recall that in the entire conversation mother did not utter the Hindi/​Bhojpuri term for cremation or burning but referred to the whole procedure as ‘it’. As we discussed ‘it’, with PS and mother, I assumed that we were discussing the following morning when transport to the ghat and funeral merchandise could be organized. It was at this stage that we noticed that the personnel who had wheeled our father to the morgue was standing right next to us, accompanied by another man. Both were overhearing our conversations and waiting for an appropriate cue to approach us. They told us that everything could be organized right away. The acquaintance accompanying the personnel introduced himself as someone who had helped people with such things. PS spoke to him separately at length and agreed. The man had an auto-​rickshaw with strong coir ropes under the driver’s seat. He play-​acted how he would tie the bier on top of the vehicle to PS, me, and my eZH. The huddle by now had broken into two small groups, one of my mother and sisters and the other of PS, me, and my eZH. The man returned with incense sticks, a one-​piece funeral cloth for father, a bamboo bier, and different kinds of ropes. He planted the lit incense sticks in front of the morgue’s gate and asked us to bring the ‘body’ there. We lifted father from his morgue stretcher and brought him to the floor. What could have been a home-​borne moment of bathing the corpse and then wrapping it with the shroud was improvised, and saving a difficult initiative of undressing the dead in front of a small crowd of onlookers, it was wrapped with the shroud as it is. After preparing the bier with PS expertly guiding everyone, the bier was put atop the vehicle. Once atop, the

Crying and listening  85 driver swiftly tied the bier to the props with his reliable strong ropes. The driver had by then prepared the bier with reassuring ease. I was handed the burning incense sticks while we took our seats inside the vehicle and in that fragrant daze, with dogs barking viciously at the strange-​looking vehicle, we arrived at Harishchandra ghat. The electric crematorium, which comes first, looked just the same as I had seen in my first round of fieldwork. Only this time, the hand-​painted notice on the front wall of the crematorium building appeared more ironic, and even sarcastic. The notice read ‘Crematorium is On’ (shavdah chaloo hai). It was meant to refer to the fact that after being non-​operational for long, it is working now. In its literal sense, it however meant that it worked even at this ungodly hour. That it was On. It was always On like the eternal flame of the manual cremation ghats, the fiery substance that powers the funeral workers gift to the dead. Nothing could have been more distant to the actual physical reality at that time, with a municipal streetlight shyly lending a weak yellow light over the dark closed building of the electric crematorium. My mother should not have bothered to warn the other men about my possible choice of the electric ‘it’. PS woke up someone who was pointed by the funeral workers as the barber. Out of his slumber, like the trained midnight sleepy pee, he dug out his equipment from under his coat, and instantly the hair tufts from my head fell to the ground as the metal razor scraped against my scalp. PS and eZH got another funeral shop at the ghat opened and bought me a white shroud cloth and other ingredients for the pyre including cow’s milk fat and sandal–​wood mixture. After the tonsure as I was throwing off the jeans and the t-​shirt and changing into the shroud cloth, I was surprised by my own resistance to throw off the Chinese remake of my waterproof Teva floaters that I had procured just the year before from a Tibetan refugee market. I asked PS and my eZH if it could be kept and not thrown or offered. They looked surprised but allowed me to keep it so I quickly stuffed it in the Salomon backpack that was now being carried by my eZH. As the wooden pyre was set, the Dom/​ Chaudhary fire owner at the ghat enquired to PS about the particulars of my father, what he did for a living and the place of his bearings. When he learnt that the dead was a landed farmer, the funeral worker spontaneously added a quintal of the best quality rice to the agreed money as fees. The worker said that he would come to fetch it himself and asked PS to remember his word. PS wistfully said, yes, looking in the loose

86  Dead in Banaras direction where my father’s pyre was set, next to the river in the middle of that September night. Later in the morning after ‘it’ was done, the fire lender came running as we were leaving and noted down father’s address insisting that he would come for sure. In the village, I half waited for him, he never came, but thinking back it was in that morning conversation while handing out the complete address on a scrap of paper that father had become his name, all over again. Back to the pyre, it was lit with the fire lent by the Dom owner, whose turn must have been going on at that stage. The pyre slowly took a fiery inconsistent shape. The two workers who were busy working with this pyre finally moved to other pyres. Then the fire died down and one worker came to check. He started complaining in a scolding tone that we did not tell them about the ‘maati’ (clay/​corpse), blood had all turned into water. It was oozing water and he insisted that it must have been cancer. We received the complaint and no one spoke, there must have been embarrassment about father turning himself into water when he was supposed to be just clayey. I compared the pyres and indeed ours was watery. It kept extinguishing the fire and the September late-​night low temperature was not helping the cause either. At the break of dawn, some observant local children came to us after sifting through the clothes that were there to be taken. They offered to sell a ‘powder’ which could make the pyre flames ‘touch the sky’. We purchased the fire inducing pyretic chemical and it instantly broke through the resistance offered by the blood turned into water. As the sun rose, the pyre was still being worked at but it soon came to the stage when I was to circumambulate it with an earthen vessel and then do the parvah (the ritual act of tossing the last remain, a bone-​ stump, into the river Ganga ji). After the due purifying bath at the river (at another ghat), as we walked back towards Ravindrapuri, we consulted each other if everything went all right and nothing untoward happened. Close to the residence, PS remembered that I must not go inside the house as I had offered the sacrificial fire to father. Since the place was a rented accommodation and the owner had graciously agreed to the commotion of hospital days, it was felt that we must not inadvertently harm his house by defiling it with death pollution. I stayed out and waited. My eZH brought out his old hat fiat and helped me into the back seat. He also got mineral water, which I promptly gulped down. PS was not approving about me consuming

Crying and listening  87 anything but let it pass. And then I was waiting again till everyone packed their life goods. Outside that house, in the backseat of that car, it appeared shamefully ludicrous when I recalled how I had assumed my future fieldwork after that first hurried round of fixing stations. As my mother and sisters came out with all their belongings, this house indeed became distant, difficult to come back to. They looked at my tonsured state and there was an instantaneous enlivenment of last night’s hurts, and this time our huddle wept and sobbed inside the car. My mother requested my eZH not to take the detour via the halt-​house but head straight to my father’s village. My eZH followed and off we were, going to his place without him. Half an hour into the journey, when no one had spoken, I surmised that did not father always joke about the fact that his place, Zamania was actually in Kashi and not in Ghazipur. His allusion to the details of sacred geography was part of the banter to run-​down mother’s place as spiritually inferior to his own. Mother said wryly that it was true. She said we were on that road that linked Banaras to Zamania and we would soon be in his Kashi. But sooner than that, taking everyone by surprise, she requested my eZH to first take us to the Ghazipur halt-​house, to her parents house. I stayed in the car even there and my mother’s mother (MM) came to cry-​meet (milni) me with her ‘tuneful weeping’, talking in her ‘wept statements’: about my state of fatherlessness, being tonsured, being hungry, thirsty, all the children being so young, the youngest daughter still to be married (asking who will do her kanyadaan now). She kept repeating that she had given birth to an ill-​fated daughter (referring to her eldest child and my mother). In her wept statements, she cursed father for leaving abruptly and going away, just as my mother and my younger sister (yZ) did in their wept statements the night before. Unlike my younger sister’s (yZ) wept statements, she did not utter his side of the story about how helpless he must be feeling in not being able to hold his infant grandson (my eZS) in his lap, in dying without one leg and not being able to see his daughters and his wife at the instant of his death. My MF greeted me from afar and I only gradually learnt how this had touched him. In his diaries, there is an entry for the day my father died as, ‘Brahmdeo died’ (praanant), and then for days, the pages are left empty with just the dates inscribed and no content. It was now that we had to turn to the route that father had shuttled all his adult life, between the halt-​house and his own house, between his uxorilocal residence and his natolocal, patrilocal, virilocal household.

88  Dead in Banaras

Dead Father as a Relative We arrived at his village by late afternoon. I was surprised how far the car could go. His tractor stood right there where we parked our car. I had a sudden intense foreboding spotting it, tyres deflated and run into the ground, its sheen lost from the original toyish crimson red to metal grey, the brand insignia of Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) still shining though in its embossed silver letters. The whole assemblage looked like an art installation adjoining the paddy fields. This moment, however, of the son carrying news of his father’s death had precedence in my parents married lives with us children as witnesses. Father would narrate of the time when he and his younger brother were toddlers, playing in front of the ancestral, pale-​coloured mud house when his dead father’s funerary convoy arrived. Someone whispered to them that their father is dead. The two boys had known death in the village as synonymous to feasts since at each such death they had accompanied male elders to the death feasts. The boys asked the members of the funerary convoy: ‘now, will there be a BIG feast, or no?’ My mother never failed to narrate this anecdote at odd times, sometimes to relay father’s fatherlessness from a very young age—​ the word used was tour in Bhojpuri, which would roughly translate to the English word ‘orphan’, erasing the fact that father’s mother was still alive. The point of mother’s speech was mostly to sarcastically mock the iconic naivety of which father became representative. Now I fathom that because of his frequent presence at his wife’s residence, the structure of joking relationship had acquired a large life. While technically such a relationship would have involved my mother’s younger consanguine relatives, we children too had absorbed the joking sociality and thus unwittingly posed ourselves as mother’s consanguine. No wonder it found a deep presence in the ways in which we all interacted with him. Not disappointing, he always played the lead in his self-​deprecating jokes about himself and his village. I was barred from this joking sociality somehow. We barely spoke but I remember all his repetitive jokes. My younger sister (yZ) replicated both my mother’s sarcasm and undying care towards him. As we stepped out of the car, she was already falling ill out of crying for now close to a day. My mother was losing poise and my elder sister (eZ) was trying to manage her infant and the situation step by step. In the brief journey, I had forgotten my state as a symbol and it

Crying and listening  89 became immediately apparent with full force. My one-​piece white shroud, tonsured head, clean-​shaven face, and bare feet announced to the first person who spotted us and to the next and the neighbourhood in no time that my father is dead. People pointed to me as they broke into wept statements, crying, and sobbing. This ‘look at him’ and pointing was another site of the declaration of death. More accurately, it was a first, in a long series of gestures and statements within the broad sphere of ritual mourning of registering and re-​registering the death. Or perhaps it provided an altogether alternative way of construing the death than the hospital version had allowed. It is clear that the physical act of cremation is not enough to certify the dead’s non-​existence. Or said differently, since absence is such a common condition of the living, the dead effortlessly slip into that who is not there but must be around somewhere. Everyone was under the assumption that he was absent but must be living. At the conclusion of the thirteenth-​day ritual observations, the Brahmin priest during the havan asked me to chant names of my forefather, father’s father, father and my own, as if they were all in the same horizontal presence, the dead, and the living. In that brief moment of incantation, it did not matter whether I was living and they were dead except for the fact that I had to voice the names. Meanwhile, the womenfolk held my mother who was now crying vigorously. It was a ritualistic requirement in no uncertain terms but it could also be the fact that in close to four decades of their marriage, this was the first time when he was neither accompanying her—​walking twenty yards ahead of her as she would trail behind was his North Indian way—​nor was he waiting for her at the threshold of his house. The funerary convoy had become bigger with more women, men, and children joining. My eZH was narrating to a huddle of men how father was cremated at Banaras. There was a brief talk about the illness. The amputation story was avoided. Was it the amputation that made room for the swift cremation without waiting for his kin to arrive at the scene? It could be but it was also the fact that no one had enquired about him when he was in the hospital, no one had come visiting, my mother had quietly built a rage about it. It was this rage that was expressing itself in her crying now. It was as if she was freed from ritual requirements and was indifferent to other women crying next to her. It was as if this crying was a passionate, grieving conversation with my father and his cathected homestead. The kitchen garden had few rows of garlic bulbs, lying

90  Dead in Banaras floppingly under the yellow-​flowered oleander tree that my grandmother had planted. The small engine machine that was used by my father to pound paddy into rice, was gone, the wooden planks were still bolted to the ground. He had sold it during his illness. The outhouse toilet door was broken, the lock was kept safely above the asbestos sheet. It was a break-​in for usage, not for pilferage. I was looking around, when everyone was trying to open the wooden main door to the house that had jammed. It was finally opened with a wooden plank as a lever. Suddenly it shut-​ opened like an eyelid in a big blink. There was a forest inside the house. On one side my grandmother had planted flower plants and shrubs. The roof and walls were concrete but the floor was muddy. Father had planned to get it cemented. As we entered, close female relatives held mother gently but assertively. They gently led her to a concrete pillar and collectively raised their crying voice as they swung my mother’s arms to break her bangles. It was an elegant move. I did not even register the event till my sisters ran towards mother, stopping inches away from her to embrace her, waiting for the act to get over. The women repeated the gesture, noticing that a few bangles remained. This time without much ado but with the same tough gentleness and elegance the gesture was repeated. My mother had once broken her arm at the halt-​house, as she slipped and fell on her arm. This was not too long ago and the doctor at the city hospital had advised a plaster cast. I was visiting home then and listening in to her conversation with some elderly women visitors. She was narrating how she had panicked at the doctor’s suggestion, wondering if it would be auspicious to cut the bangles with surgical scissors or that she rather use soap to slip them out one by one without breaking them. I noticed then that she had not worn the vermilion and the red dot bindi on her forehead from last night and now with the bangles gone, we mirrored each other, mother and son, first amongst other ritual emblems. The womenfolk along with my sisters had now settled into a ‘tuneful’ crying and it looked like it would never stop. In between, there were enquiries by close relatives about tea being served to everyone and spiceless food for the mother and son which my uncles’ households were to serve. As crying continued, one of my aunts, a senior to my mother and her longtime confidante began shouting at everyone to stop, ‘quiet now, quiet now’, she uttered. Turning to my mother, shoving my sisters aside, gesturing everyone to stop crying she said, ‘quiet now, everyone has to die, all of us will die too’.

Crying and listening  91 My mother who in these past hours of crying seemed to have shed her rage, uttered back, to my surprise: ‘true, if it were not so, the grief would instantly kill us’. This ‘wept statement’ uttered in grieving senses has stayed with me. As an idea, it appears to suggest that grief normalizes this thymotic, anti-​structural sentiment that the generalized dead should be reassuringly present in the past and future for the living to live when confronted with the immediate, empirical condition of the dead. Gradually, the hoarse crying turned to sobs and my younger sister’s (yZ) long-​drawn acidity burps would break the drawl. The confidante aunt turned to the forest in the house and told my mother, now speaking in first person and addressing her directly by her name that this forest should not be here, it is inauspicious. The forest was chopped down to stumps. Young boys milling around, innumerable cousins wanting to seek tasks on the ritual occasion were treating orders as activities, dutifully dividing it amongst themselves. One got the axe, one dragging the green foliage with flowers sloughing off in tow, one throwing them in the pond in front of the house, one supervising everything and a boy-​man nodding at us that it is all covered. By this time PS who had escorted one of my paternal aunts to the village had arrived and was already busy supervising the proceedings. Water had to be organized, electricity had to be brought home from the poles with a fishhook, a cooking gas cylinder had to be called forth, the activities multiplied themselves. It felt like semi-​primal settling down into just about a workable modernity, ready at hand, within the span of an hour or so. Here, now, good to go, have a pleasant mourning! A miniature event followed. The spiceless meals were brought in for the mother and son. My mother glanced and signalled that she was turning down the food. I am standing there, not sure what to do. She prods me to eat, saying I will fall ill otherwise. My sisters join her and soon there is a chorus, similar to, ‘look at him’. I make a move to sit down on the floor. As soon as I am seated, I am asked to stand up. A few hands move to hold me while simultaneously turning my direction from facing west to facing south. In between, in the fraction of a minute of these acts with my mother unblinkingly staring at me, a curious memorial rotation takes place in our mutual selves, making us re-​register father’s death another time. This memorial rotation and recognition were linked to a re-​run of a practice from my school days at MF’s house. My sisters and I would return from school in the afternoon, all together, and in no time we would

92  Dead in Banaras be pacing the small kitchen of the house where food was served. Mother would lay food on the plates and we would be seated in turns. My younger sister (yZ) and me together and my elder sister (eZ) and my mother after us. I have my first morsel inches away from my mouth and here comes the scolding from mother. How many times have I told you not to eat facing south? And with a teenage shrug, I would sigh loudly, budge a hair’s length and look back at her to say, is this better? This practice covered all my growing up years and I was so reliant on her alertness that I never cared to check directions on my own. This moment of mutual recognition between us when mother must have wrung herself with all her might from stopping me from eating while facing south, enacted death of my father as the death of my father. I had a few morsels facing south before my stomach churned and I felt ill and overwhelmed. The prodding returned but I managed the situation by asking for tea instead. The crying meetings (milni;bhet) had started now. A new female relative or a close acquaintance would enter the door crying aloud in wept statements about what had happened to my mother and mother would have to join in the crying. This went on till late evening. My sisters and the confidante aunt started murmuring about the visitors that they will kill my mother, making her cry endlessly. Night fell though and the crying meetings stopped. For all my observations, I had missed the entire gamut of taunts and stingers that had catalysed the crying after the initial first round for my mother. Once, most people had left, mother told me that everyone was insinuating that father died because of lack of care. It was being said that once father’s mother had died, father had lived all alone in the house, missing anyone closely related to him. This is not a true or false situation. I have come to think of it as an emergent situation that was hidden from revelation till the death happened. Now that it was being said that this situation killed him, leaving in its wake, paradoxically, a clear and crystallized portrait of blame imputed to the close relatives, this was a moral interpretation of grave consequences. This is a retroactive condition of the dead that comes to rest on the living, inaugurating new complicities between the dead and the living. Now that I was told this, I could note and hear this all around over the next fortnight that I stayed there. I remember wanting to act possessed by my father and exonerate the living in a few dramatic seance performances. In this sense, I felt that the dead were actively being pulled into a portrait of bad death even when the hospital story and the

Crying and listening  93 amputation were unknown to the people here, which would have really pickled the verdict. Were we paying back the cost of improvisation of social structures of kinship? An improvisation of living in transit between patrilineal and matrilineal residences. An improvisation devised to depart from the peasant agroscape. But are not structures sheltering because they allow improvisation? Another revelation came to the fore. My mother’s paternal aunt, who had come down with PS to assist, had made fast acquaintances with the entire segment of the extended family that was touched by the death pollution. It seems she had narrated the hospital story in no time and everyone was updated with great details. It was strange then that no one mentioned it to our faces. This too is an improvisation. Yet another revelation emerged. My elder sister (eZ) told me on day two that the amputated leg was put to parvah. MF had disclosed the same day at the hospital to everyone after I had handed it to him in the polythene bag. He got his younger brother to take it to the river and let it be flown into Ganga ji at Ghazipur. This is how then improvisation, sheltering, and exposure co-​exist. Meanwhile, a daily ritual routine had to be followed that was infused with conversations, boredom, more crying, and some unanticipated visitors. Each morning I had to walk barefoot through the main pathway of the village to the other side of the main road where the canal carrying Ganga’s water flowed noisily (the water released from the main dam for the second irrigation of the paddy crop) to take a bath, and do the offerings. I was accompanied by my consanguineous cousin brothers and the walk to the canal was filled with chit-​chat about impending panchayat elections, Hindu–​Muslim relations, the fate of the village and the country, days in the army, the current crop, early morning fishing, heroin addicts in the village and their new tricks at stealing and scoring, amongst other things. I remained mostly silent. Partly because I had little to contribute and I was making mental notes as a way of coping, but also because some of these folks had scrapped with father a decade back over land divisions. They had waylaid and hit him and when his mother came to save him they had hit her too, breaking her leg. I was moved that such animosity and dutifulness can co-​exist, yet it did, and I think, they were relieved at my silence because the violent episode was not being nourished into new variants with hostile exchanges. I had to take the same route in the evening but this time not up till the canal but to the adjacent Peepal tree

94  Dead in Banaras (Ficus religiosa), a few hundred metres before the canal, next to a primary school. An earthen pot was hung there with Ganga’s water. A tiny hole was made at the bottom of the pot and then it was half clogged with a small cotton wick to let the water slowly trickle down with a deferred gap so that drops continued to trickle overnight. I had to refill the pot every evening. The Brahmin priest who oversaw the installation on the first day had said with great kindness that you don’t have to go up to the canal, you can fill it with the hand pump’s water from the municipal machine located outside the gate of the school. Canal’s Ganga ji was already an improvisation (the ritual bathing as a norm must take place at Ganga ghat), this was an improvisation over an improvisation. Such layered improvisations filled the ritual observations, departing in little detail from an accepted frame of norms but departing in a way that if norms were to be people themselves, they would understand the departures and let them pass. Mother in her continued state of grieving had opened the iron suitcases of the house. They were all part of her dowry, they had MF’s name painted on them. She took out some letters, written by father from the time when he was participating in the army recruitment in Punjab, and flung them on us. It is all in the open now, read them, see how he was, she said. The letters were anxious and endearing like love letters are but were also filled with an awareness of failure intimately chasing father. During the early stages of writing this account, I requested mother that we go looking for those letters, a decade later, in the village house. The letters were not there. I instead found, a whole range of agrarian bureaucratic receipts, and acknowledgements and a bundle of bank letters with his name inscribed, formally warning him with a polite honorific prefix about pending loan payments. I found father’s copy of Ramcharitmanas and Shiv Purana too. Back to mother. The suitcases opened and the letters flung, it was as if she wanted to immolate her and his things. Things that were tucked for years into these wooden army luggage gear. The violent ease with which she was opening and shutting things in front of the children, it was, as if nothing mattered anymore of her and his intimate oneness of marriage. People came to visit mother and me. Some who came were barely expected, and with others I was not familiar at all. And then mother and we children started anticipating, expecting certain people. Hoping, they would come. Important amongst them were father’s friends and fellow

Crying and listening  95 farmworkers whom we had known from childhood. We had their names by heart. No one came. Aggrieved, I have thought about this for many years and it appears to be the case that father’s lack of ‘proper’ household, particularly after his mother’s death, did not allow him citizenship of ordinary sociality and commensality in the village like other full houses did. He could not be involved in village matters and then he let it slip and pass voluntarily, helplessly. A feature that mirrors and merges with his position at his wife’s. This resonates with the hurtful diagnosis of his loneliness causing his death and underlines the recognition of how deadness enters the living. Let me call this a posthumous recognition of human causes of death and return to it after the following account of the conclusion of the mourning period. Meanwhile, halfway into crying-​meeting (milni) scenes, mother had started worrying about the feasts that were to be organized at the conclusion of the mourning period. A village elder, fraternal classificatory consanguine to father, was chosen for the responsibility of conducting it. She herself went and requested him. This uncle, senior to father, with his partial paralytic disability from neck to legs and with a Kashi in his name, not only agreed but went on to conduct the feasts with great gusto, gesturing, pointing, delegating, and swearing around at everyone, mourning family included. I was tonsured once again. This time in a ritual gesture to officially free me from the prescribed work of mourning. The first feast was at the premises of the primary school. The earthen vessel was brought down from the Peepal tree. It was for Brahmin men only, but most of the senior men did not come since this feast was still on this side of the inauspiciousness of death. As the teenage boys and the little children sat down for their meals in lotus mudras on the ground mat, I had to participate in a gestural waving of hand fan with a gamcha, a one-​piece cotton stole. Later, I touched their feet one by one, some of them were visibly embarrassed and some others smirked and extended their feet pointedly so that their peers could see while I bent to touch. This was followed by a sacrificial rite of havan with my mother by my side. Both of us were in new clothes that were procured, as required, by mother’s family members. In between, mother and I were to be served a back-​to-​normal spicy meal by our father’s patrilineal relatives. Father’s younger brother decided to make the meal and it had the compensatory red chilies of the last thirteen days competing with the yellow colour of the turmeric. There were black crows

96  Dead in Banaras all over the house courtyard with bent beaks at slant angles in vague astonishments and they cawed incessantly for food. Seeing the crows, there was a round of muffled crying to mark the auspiciousness of their arrival. The ancestors were amongst us and maybe father had joined them too and was cawing for food. The evening feast began with Brahmins eating first followed by other male members of the village and finally the womenfolk in the end. Feasts are vicarious and boisterous, creating their own warm energy, death, or no death. The morning after there were empty whiskey pint bottles and squeezed-​out polythene pouches of cheaper brews lying strewn in the courtyard outside the house. As the feast concluded just before midnight, mother and I, along with the officiating Brahmin family priest marched out of the house with wholesome amounts of all the dishes that were prepared. With food packets by our side, we went towards the sacred geographic border (dih) of the village. The priest asked us to call forth father and offer the food, completely assured of the dead as a listening subject. After instructing in Bhojpuri, he quietly followed up with a recitation of Sanskrit verses. The place was right next to the field where father’s tractor was parked. Mother started sobbing. Then the priest asked us in loud Hindi to ask father to leave the place and go away and not enter the boundaries of this village. As mother and I finished addressing the present–​absent father, a wave of loud wailing emanated from mother that eventually transformed to hiccup-​ridden sobs and did not stop till the early hours of next morning. And that is how a journeying which had involved stationing at many homes and hospitals, nicking at the borders of bad and good death with the dead drifting from one condition into another under the complex ambit of the collective, familial, spousal, parental, personal, and that of a named North Indian male patrilineal subject, inhabitant of an ex-​sacred land of Banaras came to a ritual end. In the anthropology of mourning, there is often, a walk back home after the funerary march with the hope that there will always be variants of something like graves to which the survivors could re-​return to talk and update the dead. There is no such thing here in the cremation cultures that I studied over time in Banaras. Memories2 make and unmake the dead as social condition. Here is how: x as a storied example, a trope of a person; x as the absent–​present subject at future family events; x as a perspective of desire and revulsion (liking what he liked, hating what he hated). Or, x in sightings: a marriage video of yesteryears is pulled out by someone in

Crying and listening  97 the family, father is strutting around, all smiles, living up to what the Zen Haiku poet Aki-​no-​bo (Hoffman 1986: 134) says in his death poem: No sign in the cicada’s song that it will soon be gone.

Father’s Dead Relatives Father’s Father Unlike MF and father who secretly wished their deaths to come true in their own different ways, Father’s Father (FF) literally brought it upon himself. In all three instances though, it emerged from an ordinary quarter of domestic life. When I locate things within the wider findings of my own work, a saying mother often evoked rings true, that in helpless situations when you actually wish and ask for death, you do not even get that. How the two combine, the wish and the consequence, is what this concluding section confronts. FF had had a scrap in the muddy joint household. It seems he could not get his solitude (ekant). The quarrel with his young, second wife, had started with something very mundane. Oats had to be grounded and the stone slabs used as manual grinders needed mending or replacement. He wanted to finish reading his Ramayan first. The quarrel spiralled, from one thing to another. Apparently, hurt and insulted, he threatened to leave the house, become a mendicant and die his own lone death, away from the daily turbulence of the family weather. Such threats are manly but in actual terms can be enacted by both men and women. My MF’s recourse to a similar situation at the halt-​house would be with a never-​failing threat that he would leave the household and go build an ashram for himself where he would eventually, die quietly. He never actually did that. His wife, my MM, did it without ever boasting about it. There was the usual situation of being short on money and the men of the family, father and sons, were convinced that selling a piece of land was the answer. MM said, No! Next thing, she slipped out of the halt-​ house at night and soon a search began. She was found sitting close to a well that was part of a long-​abandoned colonial Indigo blue factory, and

98  Dead in Banaras which had over time turned into a haunted forest with sinister rumours about people committing suicide in that well and unknown dead buried in that complex. The land was not sold and the idea never ever came up again after that act by MM. But unlike MF, FF did it. The same evening, he marched out in his tall strides, without anyone noticing him. He was later discovered with lacerated wounds that had turned tetanic. The itinerary of his hurt has been narrated to me like this. He had gone walking a hundred miles wanting to go to Gorakhpur, maybe to an ashram he knew there. During one of his nightly journeys, he found himself in a swamp, it was there that he got lacerated with rusty nails. On being discovered, he shared his address with the people who had come to help him. Relatives from home reached the spot and rushed him to a hospital, closer home, in Dildarnagar. He did not recover and was then ‘rushed’ to Kabirchaura, Banaras into a well-​known government hospital. He died there. Father was four then, playing with his youngest brother, who was two, at their home courtyard, when the news of the death arrived. When told about his father’s death, he had asked whether there would be a sumptuous death feast. He would not have known, would he? Forty-​six years later, he would die in the same city of Banaras, tracing those same roads and neighbourhoods in a foreboding torpor. It is yet another social condition of the dead. It creates its own structure and context. You die the same death that your father died. The condition shared by the dead and the living is one of repetition, the condition of the living is that of reminiscence, and here too the dead come to inhabit in a shadowy way.

Father’s Mother Father’s mother (FM), always in a hurried social motion of duties and work, elegantly encased within her white sari and long white blouse—​the only apparels I have ever seen her wear—​in her ripe old age had a habit of once a day, mandatorily meeting up with another widow (musmaat), a friend of hers, who was the same age as her and lived a few houses away from her own house. On this day too, she was gone and was rushing back in the evening to tend to her middle-​aged son. This is when, out of nowhere, a dog came and bit her. Much later, she narrated to mother and my elder sister (eZ) that she was ruffled not so much with the dog bite but

Crying and listening  99 by the fact that a path that she had taken daily for decades and thought of as familiar protective territory, could produce such a danger. It seems to me that this disbelief over her more reliable and reassuring sense of habit won over her sense of danger. She disclosed the event to her son after performing the home remedy of peering at the waters of seven wells. She and her son (my father) shared a relationship of entitlement and affection, where the latter’s way of showing love was to speak in scolding terms and her’s was to never talk back to him. Was this her way of mourning for her husband, who left to die over a home quarrel? I now think it was. This, too, is a laboured understanding emerging from this work after more than a decade of her passing. Mother repeatedly narrated that father had asked his mother to visit the hospital for an anti-​rabies shot. It was the wheat planting season and he must have requested her to go to the hospital with someone. FM had said she would. The asking-​nodding continued for a while and then they let it go. Meanwhile, it was the Kumbh mela at Prayag, Allahabad in 2001 and my mother, who was at the halt-​ house all this while and did not know about the dog bite until then organized a week-​long itinerary for FM. FM had a long-​standing wish to take a dip at the Kumbh and mother always wanted to fulfil it, so this was their moment. Mother sent someone to escort FM to the halt-​house and along with my sisters, they all went. My elder sister (eZ) retrospectively recalled that FM had reacted strangely when she fetched her a glass of water at her arrival at the halt-​house. At the time of the morning dip, in between all the fanfare and religious exult, FM, inches away from the river’s water started having a paroxysm of hydrophobia. Sensing the cruel climax, the womenfolk held her with all their might and drenched her nevertheless with Ganga ji’s water. Transport was organized with great difficulty. Everyone wanted to come to the Kumbh, no one wanted to go away, is how my mother had described the difficulty. She was not taken to Banaras, the city they had to cross to arrive at the halt-​house because they thought she should meet her son before dying and equally the son should meet his mother before she died. In an intermittent relief, she ate some food but would not drink any water. She was taken to the city hospital in Ghazipur where the doctors said, take her to a place where she can die peacefully. I was informed over the phone and I consecutively hopped in three different trains, a bus, a jeep, and walked a few miles to finally reach my father’s house. FM recognized me and kept blessing me endlessly in her

100  Dead in Banaras own wept statements. She was living out her death. I was mad with rage over the act of superstitious peering of wells and confronted father who was busy de-​husking paddy from the rice grains in the courtyard. I said to him that he killed his mother, my grandmother, by negligence. That was my only direct confrontation with him. Even in his grieving senses, he recovered soon from the shock and went back to the task at hand. FM worsened by the day, and could barely pronounce words now with her limbs and mouth having their autonomous mad, frenzied movements. The sound and gestures appeared frightening. The sound resembled an animal grunt. As a child at the halt-​house, we once had a neighbour’s dog, who had turned habituated to leftover food at our place. The dog would sneak in through the metal bars of the middle gate and slip in and out surreptitiously. Once, startled by someone’s footsteps, it leapt towards the metal gate but missed the usual one through which it used to slip out and got lodged in the narrower gap of the metal bars. In that instant of sensing what had happened combined with the seeming irreality of two adjacent metal bars which had deceived it, the dog grunted in long wails instead of barking. All of us watching were frozen with the horror of what was unfolding. MF true to himself broke out of the frozen frame, emerged with an iron rod, then inserted it diagonally into one of the metal bars and bent it to create more room so that the dog could extricate itself. It instantly did but refused to stop the wailing and stood there grunting in disbelief. It was this same animal grunt coming out of the hydrophobic, parched throat of FM. Then she had another seeming sign of recovery, all quiet, appearing ‘normal’. My father, having forgotten the scrap or perhaps as a response, said to me, my mother (FM) will recover. I had final year practical exams to appear for at the university and my mother asked me to return back to Delhi. I did, with that same rage, returning without touching father’s feet, another exclusive gesture. All trains departing from Banaras were routed via Allahabad because of Kumbh and were impossible to get in since they were running completely packed. It was suggested that I take the bus to Allahabad and from there take the overnight train to New Delhi. The bus that brought us to Allahabad was stopped by the police at some outlier place. We were all asked to walk from there to our respective destinations. I got a lift on a hand cart with people taking turns pushing it and commuting on it. It took us till the river’s bridge, which was further cordoned off, even for the hand cart. Walking over the bridge, halfway,

Crying and listening  101 I noticed below the river Ganga, illuminations, tent camps, people, and sounds. This was where they were, this is where she started her fright of water. An agonizing echo of what her state must have been, unable to take that dip while metres away from the river, swept through me. I recalled that as a child I too was once bitten by a dog, but I never disclosed it to anyone in the family, fearing that I would be scolded. Crossing the bridge, I thought if I had died then perhaps my grandmother would have been given the shots and saved. As I passed the bridge overlooking the illuminations of Kumbh and the cruel river flowing in the chiaroscuro shades, I felt her death. The next morning in Delhi, when I reached my maternal uncle’s house where I was staying then, after giving me a glass of water and waiting for me to finish, my aunt told me that my FM is dead. She died the same night. Father lived alone ever since in that house, and any insistence by my mother to join him there was turned down by him. After his mother’s death, this was his compensatory avowal to be alone and suffer so as to perhaps upstage the iconic juvenile naivety of seeking that death feast at his father’s death.

Father’s Youngest Daughter Rinki was my parents ultimogeniture, the last born, the youngest. No doubt, they were looking for another me, another son. Nevertheless, Rinki soon became father’s last ditched effort at a life closer to its potential happiness. As she grew up, she doted at him. By age three, she would stand at the door for hours insisting that he is going to visit her today. A symbolic system of announcing unexpected but pleasant arrival that till then and after Rinki was reserved only to the mad, afternoon cawing of the crows on the halt-​house terrace. And he would be there, even if just for a few hours, carrying toys and sweets in both hands. These were his busiest days, he was maintaining, like many migrant workers do, seasonal crops and working in Allahabad in MF’s ex-​soldier’s ration shop. Once, as he left to board his bus from the usual stop, a good two hundred yards from the halt-​house, Rinki, aged four, slipped out onto the highway with transport trucks and state roadway buses plying on the same road, went up to that spot and sat on a wooden bench where father usually waited for his mini-​bus. A frightened acquaintance brought her back. Mother

102  Dead in Banaras beat her to pulp and all women of the house cried and wailed that it was a death that had not actualized. Her young siblings sobbed too at the sight of everyone crying. When father was told he trembled with the imagination of grief. She came down with fever because of the worms she had been infected with. We could not relate the two till the onset of the fever. Mother took her to the ever-​reliant homoeopathic doctor, a Bengali doctor of great fame in the city. He explained the illness; ‘brain fever’ must have been his phrase, that’s how we all started naming her illness. Homoeopathy would appear negligent and perhaps fit into the separation, well known in social scientific literature, between sons’ medical care and that of daughters’ in North India. In this case, it was my mother’s undying belief in both homoeopathy and the doctor, who exuded kindness and glow gifted health by his mere presence. A brief account would clarify. Not long after Rinki’s death, I started having searing chest aches. I would cry unceasingly at its onset. Mother took me to the same doctor. He examined and provided medicines. On our way back, the pain returned and as soon as we got on to the cycle rickshaw I started crying again. After offering some consolatory words and pats, she too broke down and here we were on the cycle rickshaw, mother and son out-​ competing each other through the main market of the city. She recovered at the sight of the city’s biggest stationery shop and bought me few things hoping that I would stop crying. I have this image of everyone around the shop looking at both of us crying locked in my memory. Much later, during fieldwork in Banaras, I began noticing women on cycle rickshaws in proximity to the hospital, wailing and doing the wept statements act. I gradually understood these acts and started associating them with the news of a death in the hospital. Unintended, public mourning through wailing created yet another Banaras. A city of crying passage. This gradual understanding enabled me to solve a social riddle that I did not realize I was carrying with me in the interim. I now understand that the image I was carrying of a crying duo, mother and I on a cycle rickshaw that day, was a well-​known image of grieving relatives emerging from the adjacent civil government hospital after a death. The sympathizing people must have thought that we were newly bereaved. Yet another instance of love for homoeopathy comes from mother’s own illness. After the road accident in which she suffered head injuries,

Crying and listening  103 she was on allopathic medication for more than a year as the doctors had advised. In the conversations reminiscing about father’s death against the backdrop created by my probing for this writing, in a sudden surge of memory, my mother told me that after she had completed the due course of the allopathic medicines, she had an irresistible urge to do things like, say, touch the nichrome coil of the electric heater over which food was cooked. Not that she had not fiddled with those coils earlier with 2000 watts running between them. Each time when there was a short circuit, she would fix it but with the help of a potato peeler, while holding its short wooden handle. This time when she felt the urge to touch the coil, she meant just grabbing them with her hands. Her favourite old Bengali Homoeopath had retired by now, so she went to another senior doctor at the homoeopathic college in the city to seek help for a seasonal allergy that caused red and itchy eyes. After discussing the allergy, she just decided to speak about the urge. The doctor told her that this is a suicidal urge: ‘I am surprised you have not killed yourself yet.’ He put her on medicines and the suicidal urge declined over time. Her favourite homoeopathic doctor must have told her to seek allopathy for Rinki’s brain fever, at which she went to the biomedical doctors as an emergency. The fever did not subside though and Rinki died the next morning. Father missed her dying, her death, and her funeral too. Her funerary bier was not carried over by four male pallbearers. She was carried, shrouded in one-​piece white cloth, on a male lap. The posture of the dead child in the lap is the posture of dead Rohit in the lap of his mother Tara in the Harishchandra temple at the Harishchandra ghat where Rohit was returned to life, where my father was cremated, and where I subsequently studied the co-​presence of manual and electric cremation, in Banaras. It seems to me that even when a burial site or the date of death are missing, there are enough ways in which multiple conditions of the dead come to be with the living, offering loose structures of sights, evocation, narratives and propensities of language, and events to enliven the dead. I returned to Delhi after the mourning of my father’s death, to my hostel room, waiting with photocopied books, at the university. And soon I was wrapped up in a high fever which did not recede with the medicines prescribed at the university health centre. I checked into a charitable hospital at the adjacent urban village to the university where I had lived before and was familiar. The illness resembled the symptoms of dengue fever, but the

104  Dead in Banaras doctor stopped short of diagnosing it as such. Into the shock syndrome with just closest friends aware of the illness, I was counselled to disclose the fatalness of the syndrome to my family. I repeated what my younger sister (yZ) had done to protect me from bad news and did not convey it to the already aggrieved family members. This was turning epistrophic. On 29 October 2005, Delhi experienced consecutive bomb blasts, including one at the busy Sarojini Nagar Market. We, I, and close friends who were looking after me, learnt this when a middle-​aged woman with a broken leg arrived in my ward. She was hurt in the ensuing stampede at the market. She could not bear to be in the noise of the government hospital so had come here. At the turn of the day, Diwali followed. Since there was a death in the family, I knew lamps would not be lit at home, puja would not be held and in marking this occasion, father would be missed, all over again. The woman was discharged the night after, for the festival. My dwindling situation too came to a halt and took an about-​turn, I started recovering. On the day of Diwali, the ward was nearly empty. Convinced, I will make it from here, friends who were quizzing each other on their favourite films asked me if I had seen this particular one. Learning that I had not, a viewing session was immediately planned with TV and Video Compact Disc (VCD) player on hire from a rental shop next to the hospital. We all sat down in the evening to watch, what could be loosely translated as ‘the heart just does not listen’ (‘Dil hai ki manta nahin’).3 In the meantime, to borrow and rephrase, Theodore Worozbyt’s (2003) lines, the field I had to go back to had changed for me inside its ‘mass’ in ‘slow, rigid, molecular patterns’ from the time that I had gone to do a survey to come back and settle temporarily into a following of the dead in a tripartite inter-​zone of the hospital, aghorashram, and the conjoined sites of electric and manual cremation at Harishchandra ghat in Banaras.4

5 Conversation of Pyres Seen and Unseen Passages of Crematorial Aesthetics and Ethics

We return to the Harishchandra ghat. We return to the riverbank of Ganga ji. We return to the pyres. But what may this return entail? We will see in the chapter that this return to Harishchandra ghat takes us to different folds of the contemporary. We will encounter two notable multiplicities in this return: names of the dead and three acts contained in the two verbs, pravah and parvah. Recall from Chapter 1, the ordinary language adage, of ironic detours and an eventual return to here (ghum phir ke sabko yahin aana hai), uttered while pointing to the ablaze, luminously glowing dead on their pyres at the cremation ghat. I have called this form of the spoken as sighing speech. The sighs present to us the seeing of something uncanny, the burning of a dead human as a loud public spectacle. We have seen that the evocative distance between the spoken and the referred is caught into various multiplicities. It is thus fitting to argue that while the distance between the physical dead and the funeral traveller may be merely that of a smouldering pyre between them, it can only be accessed through ironic meanders. You are invited to think of the quietened and the heightened, double intensities of the ghat as a rest-​post and a place of meandering returns. You can visualize that both the tether of here and the meander of elsewhere are present in the figure of pyre–​smoke and the river. The chapter takes its name after a poem titled ‘chita-​samvaad’ (conversation of pyres) from a poetry anthology dedicated to the river Ganga ji and her banks by the city poet Gyanendrapati.1 In the poem too, the pyre is the place and the smoke is the meander. The river, of course, is the original open museum of meandering. While largely based on my fieldwork in Banaras, the chapter, is also partially informed by my subsequent research on crematoria in Denmark (Singh 2015). Thus the conversation

106  Dead in Banaras of pyres moves locally as well as between continents. I offer here a portrait of contemporary Banaras through a decade-​long mapping of crematorial shifts. My ethnographic report is primarily framed within the aesthetic and ethical scaffolds of the place. When I say aesthetic, I do not mean pleasant or unpleasant but rather how a natural-​social setting of Ganga ji’s waterfront (nearshore) is seen as a receptacle of life, even when this life is scenically dotted with cremation pyres. Materialities such as environmental pollution amongst others are then recognized within the matrices of this aesthetic continuum. My emphasis on positing an aesthetic may appear out of place when most mediatized coverage of the place report worsening pollution but, in my view, it need not be so. It seems to me that in locating a continuum of the aesthetic and the ethical we can begin to think of environmental pollution in the vocabulary of the local moral world. The chapter is broadly divided into three parts. The first part has an explicit accent on the aesthetics of the place, spatialized by various characters that figuratively exist between Harishchandra ghat, Ganga ji, and the funeral travellers. The second part lays accent on the ethicality of different names of the dead. This account moves between the home, hospital, and Harishchandra ghat and thus has an echo of the preceding accounts of the book but in a different form and style of narration. The third and concluding part is a small discussion on two verbs, Sanskrit–​ Hindi pravah and Urdu–​Hindi-​Bhojpuri parvah. The book concludes by suggesting that both the verbs enfold and disjoin in the everyday life of Banaras. They come to stand for the river-​run (pravah) of things but also for burning, mourning, thought, and care (parvah) instantiated by the empiricisms of the dead as social conditions. With this, we turn to the first discussion that is centred on the periodic aesthetics of the place.

Eco-​Aesthetics Seasonal Variations of Hindu Civilization Early on in my fieldwork at Harishchandra ghat, I experienced the unfolding of the monsoon season as an all-​too-​familiar disaster. As the river surged and started to flood, the low-​lying places of manual cremation at the riverbank were gradually inundated. The pyres were moved to the

Fig. 5.1.  01. First: The Harishchandra Ghat 01. Second: A funeral bier descending to the river’s edge

108  Dead in Banaras concrete steps of the ghat. And, as the flooding progressed, the pyres were moved even further up the stairs. When all the steps of the ghat were submerged, the funeral workers set the pyres on the road between neighbouring houses and shops. The electric crematorium at the ghat, planned keeping in mind this annual flooding, has tall cement pillars as stilts, in order to raise the ovens in the building to the level of the residential habitations in the neighbourhood. Not surprisingly, the electric crematorium is in great demand only when the river is inundated. However, since the crematorium has only two ovens, the high funerary traffic is managed by the Dom funeral workers by setting up pyres on the road. Into my second monsoon at the ghat, I realized that the flood may be considered a seasonal natural disaster but for the funeral workers of both the manual (open-​air) and the electric (in-​door) crematoria, it was akin to hosting the annual event as a calendrical phenomenon. As the flood would ebb, the pyres would gradually be brought down the ghat with the same rhythm as they had come up. By early winter, the riverbank is organized as a three-​ tiered grid. At the top most level, we encounter a wide platform between the concrete walls and the steps of the ghat, filled with stacks of logwood brought in trucks and boats from the satellite cities and the other side of the river (us paar). Given the long period for which the logwood piles remain idle, the moths tended to assume it as their eternal dark abode in the winter months. The middle space between the log wood piles and the river’s edge functioned as the common pathway for everyone. Finally, the ground closest to the river bank is where the work of manual cremation takes place. The ambient coziness from the fire and warmth of the open pyres in the winter months gradually starts diminishing with the coming of the summer. The sun beating down directly on the ghat, the place whistles its emptiness as hot winds build and pass in swarming proximity to the burning pyres. The electric crematorium, in the meantime, is all but forgotten and largely utilized as a shelter from the scorching sun. The combination of natural heat and wind make the open-​air cremations really efficient; although, the searing heat makes the work unbearably difficult for the funeral workers. In between the stilts, under the cover of cool shade (of the ovens as they remain unutilized in summer) funeral travellers wait while playing a game of cards, sipping hot chai, or drinking coke. Then, with the onset of monsoons, the ghats are drenched in muddy hues. But the rains and the flooding at the ghat are not directly linked

Conversation of pyres  109 because the flood arrives with an assemblage of summer glacier meltdowns, Ganga ji’s tributaries adding volumes, city sewage draining water into the river, and the complex system of opening and closing of dam gates at remote upstream places. This mismatch between the sparse volumes of rain received locally and the extent of flooding on the banks provide high drama each year. The annual flooding is seen as a dramatic but divine agency of Ganga ji. The assemblage of dam gates, melting of the glaciers, sewage drains pouring rainwater thicken the plot. Thus comes to an end an ecological year. It took me a couple of years to capture this rhythm and few more years to register another kind of variation. Down at the ghat, close to the manual, open-​air pyres, there are a few temples. Of these, two in particular are notable. One is a concrete structure with the Shivling as the main and the only installation. The other is a small temple dedicated to the family of the namesake of Harishchandra ghat. The said temple has the iconic and the storied effect captured in the idol of the poor, penniless, mother Taramati who with her dead son Rohit had come begging to Harishchandra, the righteous ex-​king (and her husband) to permit their child’s funeral. As is ascribed in the locally well-​known story of Harishchandra, from once being a mighty king, he was turned into a toll collector at the cremation ghat under a conspiratorial divine test of his truthfulness. During the final test, he indeed did not allow his own son’s funeral without the mandatory fees. Adjacent to the Shivling and Harishchandra’s temple, there are two other idols. One of Kali and the other of Bageshwari Devi. Bageshwari Devi is storied differently than Taramati. Senior Doms and the priest at the Shivling temple explained to me that Bageshwari Devi was found floating in one of the floods and was installed here thereafter. A parallel was evoked between the discarded female foetuses in the river and the Devi as both were of no known origin. Devi was installed in front of the Shivling temple without her own temple complex. It struck me that every year when the low-​lying areas are inundated, the idols and the temples too submerge in the water. Re-​emerging in winter it can be difficult to recognize the idols given what they looked like the summer before the monsoon. Each year a fresh imagination of design, colours, and motifs are brought into the act of restoring and decorating them. That a copper plating was added to the corroded stone Shivling is not an act of material restoration alone but adding a layer of new grace to the deity. Bageshwari Devi’s stone-​carved saree with big

110  Dead in Banaras polka dots will have different floral motifs this year than the previous one but that does not alter her story or her complex meaning-​becoming. Kali’s lolling tongue has shifting shades of vermilion red and sunny orange from year to year. Now that I could see, here was an astonishing repetition of difference that far from destabilizing the religious symbolics of the Hindu civilization instead settled into a cadence of seasonal aesthetics and repetition of variation. In the middle of this cadence, another cadence, that of environmental pollution, has also found shelter.

The Language of Environmental Pollution There is a strange complication registered by scholars in trying to find a clear local ethnographic affirmation of environmental pollution. Kelly D. Alley (1994) in a pioneering essay on the subject suggests that while Banarasis (people of Banaras) are ready to acknowledge that the river Ganga ji is ‘not-​clean’ (aswatchh), it is their simultaneous assertion that her waters are not necessarily ‘impure and inauspicious’ (apavitra). Ron Barrett (2008) studying Aghor medicine, a decade after Alley, narrates a similar account. The river is pointed to him as ‘pure’, ‘you can see it’; and then by another set of speakers with the same pointing gesture, he is told that ‘it is polluted’, ‘you are seeing it’.2 While both Alley and Barrett are primarily talking of the river and speak of cremation only in an associated sense, David Arnold’s (2017) historiographic essay on the empire and the social life of its technology is entirely dedicated to cremation and incineration in modern India. Arnold argues that nineteenth-​century British adoption of technology-​intensive in-​door cremation iterated India as a civilizational site of cremation. Modern India responded by turning that iterative motif as a national mortuary sign, but it never took widely to the adoption of the in-​door crematorial technologies as against its existent open-​ air, water-​ front, pyre-​ based, fiery-​ flamed aesthetics of immolation of the dead. Similarly, Arnold argues that open-​air or chimney-​ based waste incineration did not prevail in India because, amidst other complex reasons of vegetarian diet and low carbon waste, the smell that burning of wet waste emitted reminded people of cremation right amidst their urban dwellings. My fieldwork experience resonates with both these aspects, the dithering recognition of pollution and sceptical acceptance

Fig. 5.2.  02. First: Background: Steps to Shivling. Top right: Bageshwari Devi installed on the ground. Foreground: The trident and the dhuni. 02. Second: Bageshwari Devi: the colour and design of her stone attire changes each year. She is adorned here in polka dots.

112  Dead in Banaras of furnace-​based cremation of the dead in Banaras (Alley 1994; Barrett 2008; Arnold 2017). And yet I think it is possible to move a step further from these positions and show how indeed an assemblage—​centred on local articulations—​can be put together that illustrates an acknowledgement of environmental pollution as a facet of contemporary Banaras. To Arnold’s argument, one may add that the ethnographic reveals that the question of technology also runs under the edifice of a funerary symbol as a national sign. In such an encounter the question is not so much about whether certain industrial crematorial technologies are paradigmatically accepted or rejected at national levels, thus marking the difference between colonial or post-​colonial, but rather how the use of existent and new technologies find a mixed, hybrid presence in modern India. In the spirit of conversation of pyres that I speak of, let me cite an ethnographic example of a Danish crematorium to explain how the question of crematorial technologies may be viewed slightly differently from the agential vocabulary of collective adoption, rejection, or counter-​ symbolization. While the origin of the practice of cremation in Europe goes back to the late nineteenth century, the Danish crematorium in the early twenty-​first century nevertheless evoked a spectrality associated with the ‘ovens’ that were imported from Germany. In 2011 when the crematorium began re-​circulating the energy generated during cremation for civil use, the municipal initiative was explained with great strain in the Danish national context by their ethics council. It was argued that there is a substantial difference between a dead person and energy. While a person has a corporeal substance and organic signature in death, energy is devoid of these and thus this recirculation must be accepted on grounds of this difference. The furnaces were digitally calibrated to serve this elaborate technological complex of filtering and harnessing the heat generated during cremation. This calibration of course creates its own practical limits. For example, in the concrete space provisioned for the two ovens, a dead person weighing beyond the stipulated standard could not be taken in and was sent to the capital city, Copenhagen. We see here that the origin, adoption, appropriation, and re-​imagination of technology can simultaneously be a site of anxiety, crisis, and functionality. We noted above that Alley and Barrett are bent upon finding a total declaration of environmental pollution and not inclined towards the symbolics of ambiguities with which any social form including environmental pollution is

Conversation of pyres  113 lived in any local moral world. Similarly, Arnold’s discussion stops short of pursuing how the British adoption of furnace based in-​door cremation was and is caught in a moral double bind between technologies of dissolution (of the dead as organic matter) and technologies of preservation of the dead (organic matter as substance of memorialization). Let me explain once again with the Danish example. In keeping with Arnold’s line of argument, it would be fitting to say for the Danish case that there is a ‘successful’ transformation from burial to cremation to filtering and re-​circulation of heat. I will show that this idea of ‘successful’ completely elides the complexity of the practice. When we begin to look at the practice of cremation in Denmark, we find that it sustains crematorial technologies by adapting them to the existent aesthetics of burial. The urns with the ashes of the dead are buried or kept in a columbarium with the proper names of the deceased inscribed on them. Even when the urn is unnamed and buried at an unmarked columbarium, grave garden or at the sea, the co-​ordinates of the place and the names of the dead are municipally recorded. In fact, for the majority, cremation may not exist as part of the funeral practice because the graveyards sustain a visual and architectural front of burial aesthetics as if nothing really has changed. Quite clearly then, the national in this case continues to maintain the aesthetics of burial. The tombs, graves and gardens project a seamless unbroken link with the long tradition of burial as the iconic practice. Having said that, if one goes under this national funerary sign then one can discover how cremation as a practice in Denmark has altered funeral practise from within. Thus the national has to be seen as negotiating different normativities simultaneously. So, just as the national is pronounced in the reclaimed aesthetics of burial in Denmark similarly the national is imbricated into promoting initiatives of cremation or that of re-​circulation of heat generated during cremation. A parallel can be found in the case of Banaras. At the launch of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) in June 1986, the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi emblazoned Ganga as a national maternal symbol whose ecological and environmental protection was the new imperative for restoring unity of the nation against ‘separatism’ and ‘divisive forces’.3 Although the electric crematorium was not explicitly mentioned in the speech or in the outline of the project initially, it was subsequently integrated to achieve the aims and objectives of the initiative. This founding moment is characteristic in a way that it does

114  Dead in Banaras not mention electric cremation, reiterating Arnold’s point, yet it activates another moment of the return of environmental technologies with its dispositif of prohibitions and provisions. Seen this way, we get two sides of the continuum. On one side, it is the unbroken march of the dominant, traditional practice: open-​air cremation in Banaras; burial aesthetics in Denmark (or Britain), in spite of the actual, empirical ascendance of cremation. When I say ‘actual’ what I mean is that at the level of data and statistics, the cremation rate is shown by state and media as the new totalizing reality of processing of the dead for the Danish context. However, if one were to approach funerary spaces at the level of everyday access, it is at times impossible to locate the crematories in these places that are discreetly tucked in one corner with the billowing smoke technologically curtailed against the sprawling relief of natural garden of graves, and inscribed words. In contrast to this dominant motif, at the other end of the continuum, it is possible to show how the constellation of technology and the funerary is in fact already inextricably linked to environmentalism as a global and local discourse in parallel but different ways in Denmark and Banaras. I have already cited Denmark’s adoption of in-​door cremation as a complex civil and moral institutional practice in the face of equally compelling imaginaries of epidemic threats or environmental pollution. Now I turn to select examples from Banaras to illustrate how the minor language of acknowledging environmental pollution and reformulation of open-​air, manual cremation is at work.

Complexion of Pyre and the Complexion of the River The poet Gyanendrapati uses an ordinary but dark and ambiguous word that is usually evoked to describe facial and bodily complexion in North India to diagnose dead as a condition for the river Ganga ji. The word is sanwala. In its everyday usage, the word signifies a skin tone that is a shade lighter to a projected, dark brown complexion. It carries a more vertical and mysterious connotation when used to describe the deity Krishna as a sanwala deity. Gyanendrapati (1999: 68) evokes the complexion sanwala in relation to a dead person’s face singed by the first few flames of the cremation pyre. The relation of the sanwala complexion to the glare of the sun is common place in everyday parlance in Banaras. The fierce sunlight

Fig. 5.3.  03. First: Left: Electric Crematorium on concrete stilts at the ghat with the yet to be installed second chimney. Right: Hotel with a roof top pyre-​view. 03. Second: Underground pipelines installed at the Danish Crematorium to recirculate heat energy for civil use.

116  Dead in Banaras is seen to effect this complexion in people who may otherwise have a fair complexion. For Gyanendrapati, the pyre-​flame singed complexion and the dark water of the river as an inter-​reference and inter-​reflection of each other is the aesthetic site of recognizing the river’s pollution. This association echoes with the common perception narrated at the ghat about the river acquiring the colour of the untreated city sewage drained into it through massive iron pipes. The iron drain-​pipes were introduced as part of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) —​although the system of sewage drainage into the river is a nineteenth century, colonial phenomena—​ with the further intention that the sewage would be treated before the water was drained into the river (Alley 1994: 131–​132). Like the semi-​ dysfunctional electric crematorium, the sewage treatment plant too at the ghat is erratic and marred by the fact that electric supply is intermittent. On days when the plant would work, a collective of evening bathers would use its refreshed water for their elaborate talk and bathing reveries at sunset. However, for most people, the open sewage drains, now in place for over two decades, provide an icky (dis)attachment with the river’s waters. There is a muted admission at the ghats that the daily bathers must go back home and bathe again to cleanse themselves of this icky feeling spawned by the sight of sewage water flowing into the river’s water.

Polythene and Ganga Ji as Mirror Concepts The fact that the river Ganga ji acts as a host to all the discarded and immersed abject entities ranging from hair, human-​animal remains, medical bio-​waste and aborted foetuses to sewage effluents, used marigold flowers, broken-​old idols to cow’s carcasses, love letters, and daily human ablutions has led the anthropologist Ron Barrett (2007: 29–​56) to call it as a ‘cosmic sink’. Barrett develops this discussion within his monograph on ‘Aghor medicine’. The phrase ‘Aghor medicine’ is his name for the local shaivite medicinal system that relies on the dual aspects—​metaphysical and physical—​of renewal of bodily self. This renewal is undertaken through periodic stipulated bathing as well as partaking of crematorial remains as medicines. The baths are taken in the Krim Kund (pond) in the Aghorashram: the Kund stands in for Ganga ji. The crematorial remains are consumed as prasad (medicine; grace; offerings) for cures

Conversation of pyres  117 associated with infertility and sexually transmitted diseases. Women and couples partake in it to seek birth of a child, preferably a son, and for men, it is mostly to seek cure from sexually transmitted diseases. Barrett’s ‘cosmic sink’ then wonderfully captures the river-​in-​use at both levels of immanence-​transcendence (cosmic) and unthoughtful, mechanical deposition, or even dumping (sink). Bettina Sharada Bäumer, a distinguished expert on Kashmir Shaivism helped me think through my fieldwork with the suggestion that a good way to visualize the river would be to think of its agency in performing reabsorption. Reabsorption is a well-​known idea in Kashmir Shaivism and conveys two facets. One, the poisonous has to be acknowledged as integral to any form of life. Two, the poisonous can be metabolized and this transforms both the metabolizer and the metabolized (part of the reason why Shiva is blue in complexion and is called Neelkanth). In other words, in the case of Ganga ji, the mechanical deposition or dumping is inextricable from her agency of being in contact with the immanent sphere of things that are returned to her—​ tied to ritual, prayer, and mechanical gestures of immersing, offering, and dumping respectively—​for reabsorption. Note that reabsorption differs from the restorative loop of re-​cycling. In the latter, there is a functional transformation of a resource and its usage into another modality of resource and usage. The user(s) is seen as an active agent who brings about this transformation. In the case of reabsorption, there is a sceptical horizon tied to the question of transformation. It is not entirely clear what happens to the reabsorbed while the one doing the reabsorbing is recognized as both possessing grace and also involved with negotiating the abject and the poisonous. A popular way in which this is seen in Banaras is through construing Ganga ji as a mother. Another popular way in which Ganga ji’s grace is described is through the Bhojpuri verb ‘tarna’. Tarna literally is the act of fully immersing oneself during a dip in the river. Extending that corporeal aesthetic sense, tarna implies a state of bliss. With this understanding of how the river runs between the divine (embodied incarnation) and a natural symbol (mother), we turn to polythene as an object par excellence of chemical modernity integrated into the local world of Banaras. Polythene is referred to as momjamiya (wax cloth) in Bhojpuri along side other terms that refer to it as a vessel or a container. Like most parts of the world, polythene has intrinsically altered the everyday space of carrying and containing in Banaras and in its rapid spread has become

118  Dead in Banaras a second lining to the world of objects. Uncannily, like Ganga ji, it can be used to carry the ordinary and the abject without much ado. Its arrival in Banaras blends in with other quotidian norms of keeping separate the pure and the impure, but the ‘new’ aspect is that they can both be carried by the same person at the same time albeit in two different polythene bags. This parallel with Ganga ji exaggerates the aspects of polythene and the river operating as containers or as Barrett calls it, a sink. In order to posit the different potential of transcendence that they may both share, I wish to draw upon another aesthetic image narrated to me at the ghats. It is the image of the bloated polythenes on the surface of the river’s water. The bloated polythenes are said to embody the aesthetic of what is called at the ghats in Bhojpuri as ‘utraana’. Utraana is the counter to the graceful immersion in the river or the subjective state of bliss (tarna), and is used to explain flotsam on the water’s surface. This flotsam can be the corpse of a drowned person or an animal, a necklace of marigold flowers, burnt out wooden embers, bagful of ashes or bloated polythenes. The bloated polythene has become an index of its own ubiquity. This bloated figure of the polythene in its celebrated ubiquity brings up the context of the limits of Ganga ji’s own transcendental capacity. Faced with the magnitude of incremental flotsam provided enough ground for people in Banaras to sceptically wonder: Will Ganga ji end up reabsorbing herself (kya Ganga ji sab pacha lengi)?

Forms and Formats of Crematorial Architecture Compared to the ‘twenty-​four seven’ efficiency of the manual, open-​air cremation, electric cremation at its most efficient is a minor practice at Harishchandra ghat. However, if we think in terms of how it is discursively pitched as an imminent form of cremating, its vector is larger than its empirical standing. Before I elaborate upon the variegated usage of the electric crematorium, here is a brief snapshot of how the two forms of electric and manual cremation have been conversing with each other. Arnold (2016) speaks of the contrast between the two forms as ‘open-​ air’ and ‘in-​door’ cremation. I use this distinction too but in tandem, I also use manual cremation and electric cremation, respectively. Both descriptions have a bearing on the practice. While ‘open-​air’ describes

Fig. 5.4.  04. First: A municipal shed for funeral travellers at Harishchandra Ghat meant as an overnight lodge but used for varying different ends. 04. Second: The hand painted signboard announcing: ‘Cremation work is On—​Flat fees 500 INR’. (2010)

120  Dead in Banaras the potential of a spell-​binding spectacle for funeral travellers, ‘manual’ describes the whole domain of funeral work and the technologies and techniques deployed to conduct a successful cremation. Coming to the open-​air, manual cremation and to Arnold’s evocation of it as the opposite of the technologically intensive ‘in-​door’ cremation, it is easy to get glided into these contrasting types. Let me show instead how there is a conversation between these forms of pyres. At the site of manual cremation, at the water’s edge, there are two kinds of pyres. The most common one is a makeshift one. It is started on a ground surface after funeral workers have cleared with a broom, the remains of the preceding cremation. The idea of a fresh singularized pyre exclusively dedicated to a particular dead was the preferred funerary practice of both funeral workers and funeral travellers. This idea of a de-​novo, singularized pyre is indeed remarkable. It is because of this insistence on a de-​novo pyre that we do not have a simple permanent installation of a small concavity in the ground beneath the pyre to collect the ashes. Yet, another type of pyre exists right in the middle of the ghat. It is built as a raised platform and is called charan-​paduka (Vishnu’s feet). It is mostly used for select dignitaries or as it happened during my fieldwork the Doms use it for their own dead. What is important to note is that charan-​paduka exists as a permanently fixed site right next to the makeshift ones. And, by no means the pyres set up at the charan-​paduka are considered deviations from the makeshift ones. We notice thus the difference in formats being accepted. Yet, when contrasted with electric ovens that are both fixed and closed, these two manual pyre formats are congealed into one kind of practice. Not that this means a strict rejection of the electric cremation. In fact, during seasonal flooding, the electric crematorium is a preferred choice. As such, it is its own inefficiency that prevents people from using it on a sustained basis. The inefficiency of the machines—​owing to complex reasons of erratic electric supply, the bureaucratic ethic of municipal ‘office hours’, unreasonably few numbers of ovens etcetera—​is in sharp relief to the untiring ‘always-​on’ efficiency of the manual cremation work. To revisit the discussion on electric cremation in Denmark, this plurality of funeral forms and formats is in fact the hallmark feature of funeral practices in the contemporary. Far from the oft-​quoted idioms

Conversation of pyres  121 of total change from burial to cremation, it is the nuanced engagements with the soft shifts within these two forms that define the plane of a composite local moral world. Let me return to Banaras. In 2017–​ 18 the makeshift pyres acquired permanently fixed iron-​grill platforms over which the wooden logs were now to be arranged.4 These raised platforms allow the wind to help with the burning of the pyres and thus significantly reduce the wood used during an individual cremation. An innovation that was institutionalized in several other parts of the country, including Delhi’s biggest mixed-​format crematoria at Nigam Bodh Ghat. We can hear the virtual force of technology saying to the open-​air pyres, if you do not adapt to the in-​door machine-​based cremation, we will slowly come to you. If you do not change your form, we will change your format. The makeshift pyres might reply to that: there are always more than enough who die, makeshift is not just a form of the past but an ethicality that has served as a stable tradition. It is open to contingency as well as to a possible future of repetitive, mass, unforeseen, deaths. Here is a tally then. Now there are two forms, open-​ air, manual cremation and in-​door, electrical cremation, and four formats, makeshift de novo pyre, raised platform special status pyre, iron-​grill innovative pyre, and stove-​flame furnace pyre. May I add one more register, that of ingredient to this account? The makeshift de novo pyre, likely to be assumed as a format untouched by modernity, during my fieldwork had an established use of a fire inducing chemical called ‘Royal’ that was requested by the funeral workers to be purchased along with clarified butter and other ritual ingredients. The chemical was sprinkled mid-​way into the burning pyre after it having coursed through its initial big flame flarings. Of course, during the wet season and winters, it was a compulsory requirement. Contrast this with the well-​known shift of ritual ingredients into a newly shaped pre-​furnace ritual for in-​door cremations where flowers and incense sticks find greater presence than the clarified ghee and sacrificial fire. We see thus that shifts in forms and formats open up all elements to a gradual and selective alteration. Are these altered forms and formats a continuation of the older forms or are they altogether new forms? For funeral travellers at the ghat, things always start in the middle because death also comes from this strange country of too near and too far.

122  Dead in Banaras

Bacteria, Virus, and National Microbes The riverbank of Ganga ji has always been a site of tumultuous change, and all changes have a sense of cross-​current shift or repetition of the ominous. A sharper genealogy emerges through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries combined together. In late nineteenth century with a raging cholera epidemic, the river’s ineluctable decline was witnessed when from being fit for all human purposes its water was declared as no longer fit for drinking. In the same spirit, into the present it is seen as unfit for bathing. The GAP was already a response in the 1980s to this ominous turn of the water’s fate. However, it is significant to note that it is a complex dispositif of local, national, and international forces intertwined with scientific findings that activate and set the stage for a conversation between Ganga’s water as a microbial form of life and the everyday idioms of whether it is fit for drinking, bathing, or is disease causing pathological waters. Let me illustrate the moment of the discovery of the Bacteriophages and through that, we may traverse into the present. Ernest Hanbury Hankin, son of a clergyman who was appointed by the British Government as a microbiologist to research the spread of cholera in the North Indian plains, provides a hint about the ‘mysterious X’ property in Ganga–​Jamuna’s water (Hankin 1896). His findings were published in a paper at the Pasteur Institute titled ‘L’action bactericide des eaux de la Jumna et du Gange sur le vibrion du cholera’ (1896). After the publication, it took another two decades for the ‘X’ to be recognized and given the ‘proper name’ of ‘Bacteriophages’—​the bacteria eaters, by the French-​Canadian microbiologist Felix d’ Herelle (1921). D’Herelle mentions Ernest Hanbury Hankin in this context and begins by locating his description of the ‘volatile substance’ that protects those who ‘ingest’ Ganga-​Jamuna’s water from contracting cholera. He further notes that the substance evaporates through ‘boiling’ (D’Herelle 1921: 16). To D’Herelle’s mind, this substance is undoubtedly the ‘Bacteriophage’. His affirmation comes from the fact that another English microbiologist, Frederick Twort in his study of acute diarrhoea amongst infants, had observed a certain ‘ultramicroscopic’, ‘vitreous’ substance that was similarly present in the dog’s guts affected by Hundeseuche. Twort (Twort 1915 [quoted in D’Herelle]) considered the ‘vitreous substance’ to be an ‘enzyme’ that reproduced itself through the bacteria and survived temperatures of less than sixty degrees

Fig. 5.5.  05. First: Charan Paduka (Vishnu’s lotus feet)—​the elevated permanent stage for special funerals. 05. Second: Background: Charan Paduka. Middle: Eco-​pyre with iron base platforms to reduce logwood use and promote efficient burning. Foreground: A shrouded corpse bamboo bier on the ground.

124  Dead in Banaras Celsius. D’Herelle describes other sets of incidences, including what was termed as the event of ‘suicide’ of bacterial cultures. This so-​called suicide involved that over a period of few days the bacterial culture mysteriously turned milky in the labs and then disappeared completely. The illuminative evidence comes knocking at D’Herelle’s doorsteps when the faecal culture of a certain individual hospitalized at the Pasteur Institute for the treatment of dysentery turns out to have the same lytic activity against the bacteria. He calls it an ‘ultramicrobe’ that is a ‘minute living being’ but is not sure which special class it may belong to. He also defends his coinage of the term ‘Bacteriophage’, suggested by his wife, claiming that though the term literally means ‘the one which eats bacteria’ it should be understood in terms of the ‘one that develops at the expense of ’ the bacteria (D’Herelle 1921: 21). The paradigmatic shift in the microbiological sciences that follows the discovery of the Bacteriophages is about the redefinition of the host and parasite idiom. He notes that while the Bacteriology of the time worked with the premise of ‘Bacterium and medium’ as the ‘problem of two bodies’ (where the medium was the organism parasitized or a culture fluid), the discovery of the Bacteriophage turned it into a problem of ‘three bodies’ that would include the ‘interactions between the medium, culture medium, or organism parasitized; the bacterium parasitizing this medium; and the ultramicrobial Bacteriophage parasitizing the bacterium’ (D’Herelle 1921: 6). A complex reception follows these findings. The spheres of antibiotics and vaccination think of the potential ways in which these three bodies can be tackled, while in an alternative reception, the ‘Bacteriophage’ gets storied with Ganga’s famed purity. Mark Twain in his travelogue (1897) cites Hankin’s finding and proclaims that Ganga’s water has this essence of purification.5 This alternative parable of the Bacteriophage continues in diffused ways through the twentieth century, and at the beginning of the twenty-​first century, it finds itself embedded in a novel experiment at the banks of the river in Banaras. A local initiative started as Swachh Ganga Abhiyan (Clean Ganga Campaign) by a non-​ governmental organization Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF) headed by Veer Bhadra Mishra (popularly known as Mahant ji), became both an offshoot of the governmental GAP (as a ground action group) and its critic (bureaucratic failings of GAP at the level of conception and execution).6 After initiating many local efforts, he proposed the idea of ‘biological control’ of the burgeoning bacteria at the ghat through natural predation by

Conversation of pyres  125 the native Bacteriophages. In an interview I conducted with him in June 2009, Mahant ji disclosed his plan of ‘Integrated Wastewater Oxidation Pond System’ based on ‘biological control’ at an upstream ghat. Through the controlled use of the Bacteriophages, it was expected that the biological oxygen demand (BOD) caused by the bacterial increase would come down drastically. Part of the charm of the initiative, which the TIME magazine and the Indian government both acknowledged, was that unlike GAP, which had assumed scarce resources like electricity as a given for its machine-​based infrastructure to combat pollution, the pond system was based on no such reliance on electricity or any other infrastructure. The other charm was SMF’s storied enmeshing of Ganga ji’s purity with the scientific essence of Bacteriophages. The pond eventually did not see the light of the day.7 However, SMF’s decade’s long participation in the proposed biological control of bacteria at the waterfront seems to coincide with another moment of the bacteria story. The department of biotechnology, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, proposed a national microbial profiling under a nationwide ‘microbial prospecting’ project in 2007. Here too, the Bacteriophages return within the ambit of ‘microbial isolations from river sediments’.8 The optimism is rekindled at the level of field findings, scientific certification, and popular lore. But it is also the same decade when antibiotic-​resistant super bacteria are found at the famed archetypal contact zones of bathing crowds through most parts of the North Indian spread of the river. Thus the microbial surface over which pollution management is tackled is ever multiplying into complex levels of intra and inter-​species interactions. The spectral montage of the periodic million bathers, the ghats, the open pyres and the half-​burnt corpses returns once again. But what does this montage look like into the present?

Ganga Aarti, Pyre Show Cremating and crepuscular bathing are iconic indices with which Ganga ji’s ghats find an enduring passage into modernity. Yet, both are under the strain of discursive forces that range from threats of environmental pollution to rumours of skin disease and cancer. The everyday has molecularly altered for most bathers in their own lifetime. I was told that the

126  Dead in Banaras daily religious bather conceived as one addicted (pujedi) to bathing was an exception rather than the norm at all times. It is just that their numbers have dwindled further into the present. This does not hold true, though for the periodic, calendrical bathing festivals (nahan). In this case, women pilgrims have increased manifold as they now come from nearby satellite towns around the city. These mass bathing events are managed with the help of state police, municipal infrastructure, philanthropic contributions, voluntary associations, and individual ghat management bodies. This coming together provides aid on various levels like prevention of stampedes, provision of changing rooms for women bathers, and facilitating safe bathing zones for the river dips by barricading the waters. To add to the list, volunteers help with retrieving lost children, tracking petty theft and saving drowning bathers too. Interestingly, this sphere of volunteer presence along with loudspeaker echoes of safety instructions and precautions seems to have altered the collective bathing sociality at the ghats and local kunds. The divine soliciting of prayers and mumbling of mantras by bathers while facing the rising sun is echoed down by the soundscapes of risk and danger coming from loudspeakers or by police and volunteer chants of ‘hurry up’, ‘move on’. In these interpellations, the bathers are turned into a crowd that can be addressed as one. With this crowd, in turn, there are projected risks of stampede, theft, drowning, and the unnamed rumouring pulse of the crowd itself. Compared to this disquiet, a different aesthetic participation can be seen taking shape around the watching of Ganga aarti at sundown—​ a post-​sunset sound and light ritualization of Sanskrit mantras synchronized to the hand-​held encircling of a brass candelabrum with many little oil lamps. In fact by 2008, a pair of fires had found shape and an address. The lit cremation pyres of Manikarnika ghat and the Ganga aarti at Dasaswamedh ghat would come together in a display of light, sound, smell and the mixed topology of Ganga’s water and sacral spaces of the two ghats. Around the same year, an equivalent pairing was being tried out at Harishchandra ghat, of cremation pyres and evening aarti. The evening boat view has become a settled new way of immersing oneself into the place for different publics. This is relatable given the perennial use of the ghats for an evening promenade by one and all. A rarer practice is hotels with cremation views being chosen by national and international backpackers. One such hotel at Harishchandra ghat offered the dual view of electric and manual cremations from its roof-​top restaurant. Streamlining these details, I have been

Conversation of pyres  127 tempted to consider this aestheticization (Ganga Aarti-​Pyre show as an assemblage) as a mode of re-​making the sacral sites of national tourism in the time of environmental pollution. On second thoughts, to pitch such an aestheticization as the truth of the ghats and the river would render other events (described in the chapter, such as, seasonal variations and municipal restorative imagination; manual and electric cremation as an assemblage;) as hierarchically incidental and thus lower. Instead, I invite you to think of the different aesthetic changes at the ghats as activating an ethics of differentiation that continually make and remake its interior-​exterior universe. After all it is difficult to fully establish if the aesthetic change brought about by seasonal flooding is more local and authentic than the spectacular Ganga aarti. It may be more useful to think of these constellations of shifts within a semiosis of the contemporary that in different ways might be very similar in Banaras and Denmark. Let us move to the second discussion on the generic names of the dead. In this recursive return to the dead in Banaras, I build on the overt expression of the aesthetic in the preceding discussion by superimposing upon it a more pointed discussion on how the dead as a continuum of difference across the human and the animal become a site of ethicality and life through the idiom of names. We will await the discussion of a key element of the ritual of manual cremation that involves immersing a remainder bone-​stump in the river’s water in the third and final discussion of the chapter. Briefly though, the concern involved there is about another set of names for the practice of cremation. We reflect on the double of pravah and parvah to highlight yet another moment in which the words in their spoken capacity at the Harishchandra ghat help shift the conversation of pyres from that of remembrance and memorialization to that of an indefinite care as a possible ethics.

Thresholds Dead as Multiplicity Dead as Maati (Clay) and Body A distinction often made at the ghat between death at home and death at the hospital was linked to the varied ways of acknowledging death in

128  Dead in Banaras these settings. Deaths at home were imbued with the qualitative insistence that no matter how prepared you may be with the foreknowledge that the dying will die, death is always a surprise. The funeral travellers coming from the home setting would sigh and say: ‘he (the deceased) was heartily talking when I met him just yesterday’; ‘he was speaking coherently at dinner’; ‘I was only gone for a while to come back and see this’; ‘he last spoke to his eldest daughter, he was very fond of her’. When it comes to death at home, it seems there is rarely a simultaneous presence of a witness to record the exact moment of death in the house. This was spoken of as: ‘when I entered the room, I saw him dead’; ‘in the morning I came in and saw him dead’; ‘his eyes were staring blankly, I panicked and called forth other members of the family’. These translations are rough paraphrases from the overheard speech of funeral travellers. The most powerful illustration of this idea of discovery of the dead was conveyed through descriptions of what people did once they discovered the dead. Upon discovery, the deceased was brought down from the bed and made to lie on the bare floor. This was spoken as nikhare suta de val jala (the person is made to lie on the bare floor). At this stage, the funeral-​ travellers abandoned the proper name of the deceased and automatically switched to calling the deceased as maati. ‘Maati’ lying bare on the floor marks a unique temporal moment that social anthropology of death has not cut into a special conceptual unit in its own right while talking about the polluted nature of the dead. In this temporal realm, there is wailing and crying about in the house but equally acts of touching the dead, throwing oneself over the dead, shaking the corpse and abusively lamenting it for cheating and escaping through death are commonplace. In other terms, this is a time when the dead is touchable within the family. This scene is equally common at the hospital when the deceased is handed over to relatives from the morgue. Gradually, the maati is separated from this temporality, as it is separated from those who can touch it till then. The said temporal realm thus closes off as contingently as it had opened up and is not captured within the ritually sanctioned procedures. It closes when the corpse is laid out into the open, outside space. Once in the open, it has become maati that cannot be touched as spontaneously as at the moment of discovery. In the conversations at the ghat, funeral travellers spoke of death at home and hospital in an inter-​mixed way, articulating complex narratives

Conversation of pyres  129 of death and the dead. The following account of death at the hospital is drawn from my fieldwork, at a private hospital (adjacent to the much-​ respected Banaras Hindu University hospital) and conversations at the cremation ghat. Incidentally, in the local world of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Banaras is only secondarily a spiritual capital, primarily it is a hospital town where people are mostly ‘referred’ or ‘taken’ to be saved in the worst possible medical cases of severely ill, accident victims and misdiagnosed, mismanaged (kharab case) patients. However, the idea of Banaras being an ideal place to die is not a repressed and tabooed topic in the hospital. Since the main hospitals in Banaras mostly deal with ‘emergency’ cases from nearby districts, the following quip is often made in all earnestness, by the in-​house staff. Consoling the stricken relatives at the death of a close member, they often remark: ‘better released’ (mukti) than all that suffering and think of the ‘place’ (Kashi Nagari) he chose to die’! The irony in this hospital humour is bound to the idea that if the patient is ‘saved’, it is of course a good thing, but if the patient could not be ‘saved’ and died, death in Banaras is worth dying for. This is not lost on the professionals either who sell funerary merchandise at the main gate of the Banaras Hindu University, next to the two busiest hospitals in the city. The shopkeeping is assured by the cultural maxim that death being an enviable thing of fate, if it were to happen in Banaras, the dead will not be taken away from the city. At the news of death in the hospital, middlemen offering efficient funerary preparation of the bier, transport of the corpse and reasonable bargain at the cremation ghat are only one set amongst others who offer to facilitate cheaper medicines, budget hotel stay and the talismanic deity darshan (glimpse) for the praying relative of the severely ill. Let me here come back to the scene of ‘when is death’ in the hospital. In one case, the identification of certain emergency symptoms by attendants at the hospital brought the specialist doctors to the patient (who was none other than my father whose death has been described in c­ hapter 3). The patient was in the general ward as the intensive care unit (ICU) was full. The doctors drew the curtains and followed up with the emergency interventions. The next of kin were given a hurriedly dictated list of emergency medicines to be purchased from the in-​house chemist shop. After the doctors’ tried and tested procedures failed, they asked for the close relatives: ‘who are his relatives?’ (inka kaun hai?). This utterance involves the socially coded message of the declaration of death. Moments later,

130  Dead in Banaras the doctors refer to the deceased as ‘body’ unlike the time of emergency intervention when they screamed the name of the patient into his ear in order to seek a response. The immediate emergency after the declaration of death is the requirement to separate the ‘body’ from other patients as well as everyone else who may be around. As a culmination of a set of rapid initiatives, the ‘body’ is wheeled on a special stretcher reserved for the task to the morgue. Funeral travellers while talking about the declared dead ‘body’ at the hospital would interchangeably call it ‘body’ or ‘maati’. Indeed, this was one of the ways in which Dom workers tried to discern whether the deceased was coming from home or the hospital and accordingly bargained for cremation services: ‘body’ meant hospital death, ‘maati’ meant home death. While municipal hoardings at Harishchandra cremation ground refer to the corpse as ‘shav’, I rarely heard the funeral travellers use that term. A host of funeral travellers who had received the corpse from the hospital mentioned that once the ‘body’ was released from the morgue, it was kept on the bare floor till others joined in. This is analogous to what happens to the maati at home after the dead is discovered and declared dead. Importantly, the declaration, in this case, is not an utterance but a social performance of crying, screaming, abusing, touching, and lambasting the ex-​living ‘person’. While this indeed is a short period both at home and in the hospital an important detail that many funeral travellers pointed to was about the fire that accompanies the corpse, once the journey to the ghat commences. For the maati coming to the ghat from the event of a home death, the fire from the kitchen hearth accompanies the corpse. This ‘taking’ of fire implies that the home kitchen is left without fire used for making pucca (cooked) food till the key death rituals are concluded. In the case of hospital death, incense sticks are lit and carried along with the funeral, everyone mimetically assuming it as a substitute for the fire that is carried from home. In the same mimetic vein, funeral travellers spoke about the battery-​ powered ‘torch’ substituting the fire for a funeral from home, in situations of night funerals or bad weather conditions. To return to the physical scenes of death it should be made clear that whether at home or hospital, as the case may be, both events occupy complex patterns, resisting one versus the other. Yet, if subjects were to categorically choose between death at home versus death in the hospital,

Conversation of pyres  131 they would rather choose to die at home. The heart of the matter is that death at home seems to occur at a secret time—​a time that people grant to the moment of death. At home, dying meets death in a secret encounter that is deemed as the final and exclusive truth of the dead. At the hospital, this time is drawn out from its secrecy into the open. The truth of death lies with the doctors who are also the first to touch the dead in quest of their efforts of saving the dying till death is declared. However, this moment of death turned into a knowable time at the hospital from the secret time at home, is equally seen as a non-​transparent time by the relatives of the dead in Banaras. There is great suspicion about the complicity of hospital staff in moneymaking. This is particularly true for situations when patients are in the ICU and separated from the watchful eyes of the kith and kin. The crucial question here appears to be, what exactly is going on in the case of discovery and declaration of death. The succinct answer is that in both instances, the one who is absent has to be articulated. In discovery of death, the person is ‘not there’ just as in declaration the person is ‘no more’. However, along with articulating the absence, the naming of the dead also comes to the fore. The proper name is cut from the ex-​person and abandoned abruptly. But procedurally, the name may persist in the death certificate. Moving past discovery and declaration of death, in the next section, there is an illustration of how the dead are further named and categorized in Banaras. This discussion involves a crucial point about the Doms distinction between touching and handling the dead.

Touching and Handling the Dead Dead as Madh (Cadaver–​Carcass-​Carrion) and Laash (Corpse) In the backdrop to the well-​known GAP of the Government of India, the decades following its launch in 1984 have seen repeated attempts at cleaning the river of floating human corpses to reduce the visible ‘pollution’ of the river. As part of these initiatives, the electric crematorium was set up at Harishchandra ghat with room for two furnaces. The history of usage of the electric crematorium since its inception is of some interest here. Beginning as a free municipal service for the cremation of corpses fished out of the river to the current flat fee-​based provision, it

132  Dead in Banaras has witnessed many institutional shifts. Here, I limit myself to the description gleaned from the Dom workers narration of the twists and turns that came to characterize the municipal service. Dom accounts of the electric crematorium are intermeshed with references to the prominent non-​governmental organization (NGO) SMF and its flagship campaign ‘Swachha Ganga Abhiyaan’ (Clean Ganga Campaign). The campaign was conceived and run by a retired Hydraulics’ professor from Banaras Hindu University, known to all as Mahantji. Mahant ji was also the chief patron and heir of the prominent Sankat Mochan temple in the city. I was told by Dom workers at the Harishchandra ghat that with the launch of the GAP, a practice evolved where few of them were given a municipally owned boat and handed over the task of fishing out floating corpses of animals and humans. Together these corpses were called madh. While madh refers mainly to the animal carrion, in this case, the human corpses were included in the description. As the collected corpses were brought to the ghat, the police were required to file a First Information Report (FIR, Panchnama), distinguishing laash (human corpse) from the common pool of carcasses. Once the FIR was registered, the corpses were further differentiated and their cremation was ordered. Some subjects recalled that the common catch of madh was disposed of through the newly built electric crematorium. The workers recollected that a municipal vessel was kept at the crematorium side of the river and their job was limited to bringing the madh there. Gradually, the practice hit bureaucratic ennui and the efforts dissipated. As per Doms, this was noticed by SMF’s Swachha Ganga Abhiyan and young boys from the community were deployed to do the job. However, since SMF worked with makeshift measures, it did not have resources akin to the municipality and the boys ended up touching the madh which, as the older Doms revealed, was strictly avoided during the municipal fishing of the corpses. Meanwhile, as the electric crematorium was brought to use for regular cremation service, the boys fishing the corpses increasingly limited themselves to pulling the madh on the other side of the river (us paar) so that it could be scavenged by big birds and dogs. At the time of my fieldwork, the practice of fishing for madh was stalled and SMF was making a demand under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (NNURM) for a municipal animal crematorium in the city to exclusively dispose of the carcasses of cows regularly brought to the river. In narrating these

Conversation of pyres  133 accounts, the Dom elders revealed that what hurt them most was the fact that while in their profession of cremation work, they never touched the dead, in this case, they had to. Surprised, I asked how was it possible to cremate without touching the dead. In order to substantiate their case, I was invited to watch any ongoing cremation closely. The difference, they subsequently pointed out, is as follows. The Doms are perceived to be ‘touching’ the dead but in their labour practices, they insist, they do not touch the dead but handle it. However, since the caste discourse labels them as the ones who deal with the most polluted, the dead, they strategically use this perception in claiming the inverted shaivite idiom for themselves, reserving a link with the aghori practitioners as that of spiritual brotherhood (guru bhai). The work of cremation requires that after every cremation the Dom worker clears that space before a new pyre is set. After the logs are set at that place, the funeral travellers transfer the maati to the pyre and more logs are put, now on top of the deceased. The fire procured from the Dom in exchange for a fee is put to the mouth/​face of the maati by the main mourner. The Dom worker using his bamboo stick takes it up from there and for some time, intense efforts are made to get the fire to flare and build itself. At a stage when the pyre is up in full flames, this flare signals accomplishment of that particular cremation for the Dom worker. From here onwards, it is the ‘remaining’ work of cremation with that incinerated corpse that will be attended to. Once the flames are in their intense flare, the Dom worker moves on to other pyres that await him at different stages. In the meantime, some funeral travellers may oversee the pyre that is up in flames. As the flames come down, the Dom worker returns to finish the remaining work of the accomplished cremation. This stage involves stirring the pyre aggressively with the bamboo stick to keep the pyre enflamed. This technique is known as raking. After a few rounds of staggered raking, the worker’s task is to save the bone-​stump of the dead and hand it over to the main mourner in a forceps like pinch made of two bamboo sticks, so that the main mourner can toss that in Ganga ji to mark parvah. Thus, from building the pyre to making it go up in flames, to raking and saving the bone-​stump, the manual cremation worker ensures that he does not touch the dead. In the electric cremation, raking is turned into stoking while not touching the dead becomes more clearly institutionalized. The key shift between manual and electric cremation is

134  Dead in Banaras the loss of the labour of saving the bone-​stump for parvah. What remains common to both forms of handling the dead is that it is the fire that most intimately touches the dead. So far, we have come across at least three sets of people who find themselves in different positions with respect to touching the dead. Close kin allows themselves that touch in the special time that instantaneously starts after discovery or declaration of death and abruptly ceases after the maati/​body is withdrawn from the embraces of the kin. Going by the preceding discussion on the hospital’s procedure of declaration of death, it is clear that the doctor as a professional is placed in the distinctive position to be the first one to touch the dead in the process of that declaration. The Dom workers disclaim that they touch the dead; nevertheless, they find themselves socially defined by that touch. In the case of Doms, in keeping with their claim of not touching the dead, there is rarely any account available that speaks of any sexual excess with the dead. In the case of the hospital and more specifically the morgue, the links between the dead and the sexual acquire a hushed presence. However, a set of practitioners called aghories are the ones who manifestly claim to ‘touch’ the dead and not surprisingly are also the ones who build on the link between the dead and the sexual. Let me turn to Postman Baba who helped me understand the link between the Harishchandra cremation ghat and the aghorashram.

Cremation Ghat to Aghorashram Dead as Murda (Not-​living, Dead) My Dom friends at Harishchandra ghat often talked of certain regulars at the ghat as guru bhai. They explained that anyone who referred to the cremation ghat as his abode, even if that person is not a Dom by birth, can be considered a spiritual brother. Here lies the mixed articulation of the Doms in both claiming an entitlement because of their occupational practice—​thus reiterating a singular status of the community—​ and equally disavowing that they come close to the actual touching of the dead. One set of regulars at the cremation ghat who do indeed make an audacious claim about touching the dead are the aghori practitioners. Aghoris, within the shavite paradigm, are considered as tantriks who as

Conversation of pyres  135 part of their spiritual practice rely on touching and occasional partaking of what may be purported as the most polluted (bodily secretions and the corpse). The spiritual brother known by the name of PB did not strictly fit into the mould of an aghori as will become evident with the following description. However, he did provide a conduit between the cremation ghat and the aghorashram. The unique figure of PB offers a telling mediation between the regular everyday world of distributing post-​mails during the day and picking pyre wood from the cremation ghat through the night. The Doms knew little of his biography except that he was married and had a family with children. He used his Sunday holiday to absent himself from the ghat and visit his family at the village, although some of his family members had also dedicated themselves to the aghorashram and had moved to the city. PB’s task at the ghat required him to glean half-​ burnt pyre wood from an ‘accomplished’ pyre that had fat-​drips of the cremated. To accumulate the pyre woods, PB would be mostly awake the whole night during different rush hours at the cremation ghat and would either pull half-​burnt pyre woods from an ongoing cremation or wait for a pyre to reach the parvah stage. The stock collected would be ferried on a hand cart the morning after to the aghorashram. The Doms themselves are careful about the distinct essences of woods at different stages, so they would never mix the pyre woods of one bier with another. In winters if they ever needed fire to keep warm, they would use new wood and not the gleaned or residual (touched by human fat) ones. The pyre woods that PB collected were used to feed and fuel a perpetually lit fire (dhuni) at the aghorashram. Dhuni or the immortal flame is common in Banaras. At the ghat too, the fire sold by the Doms for every individual cremation to the chief mourner comes from a dhuni. Again, a separate dhuni is maintained at the Shiv temple at the cremation ghat. The key distinctiveness of the dhuni at the aghorashram is that the ash that comes from the burnt pyre woods is used for what Ron Barrett, a medical anthropologist, calls as ‘aghor medicine’, suitable for various conditions ranging from infertility, desire for a male child to the more stigmatized leprosy and sexually transmitted diseases (Barrett 2008). PB, who had been working as a postman for decades and was now in his early fifties, recalled that as far as he could remember, he was always drawn towards the Kinaram aghorashram. On a fateful day, the then chief guru, Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ram, stared in his direction and called him closer for an introduction. In that conversation,

136  Dead in Banaras the chief guru offered him the prized task of fetching the pyre woods and PB readily agreed. In Ron Barrett’s descriptions of the aghorashram, one finds that in earlier times, the successive chiefs of the ashram fetched the pyre woods themselves, particularly in the case of Burhau Baba. PB took the call as religious work and in speaking of the homology between delivering post-​mail and delivering pyre woods, he told me ‘both involve transferring secrets’ (gupt kaam). In the first case, you know the sender and the address but do not know the content and, in the latter, you generically know the content but do not know of whom it is (the dead as a person) and to whom it would go (as medicine). Over time, Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ram moved to a new aghorashram in the city close to the banks of the river. The chief who succeeded him retained PB for his service of fetching pyre woods. PB’s son and daughter-​in-​law, who had moved into the ashram during the tenure of Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ram, continued to live in the ashram with the new guru. PB started his day at the post office, organizing the undelivered mails of the previous day and classifying the new mails before he set out to deliver early afternoon. Returning around 3:30, he reported the undistributed mail to the head clerk. Out of habit, he went to his desk marked by signature mini plastic human skulls that he also wears in a necklace and a ring, and dozed off till tea time. As the post office neared closing time, he headed to the aghorashram to have his late lunch there after a bath and prayer. He told me he rarely ate lunch at office and as a religious observance, would eat only at the ashram. What PB ate at the ashram was not regular food though; he referred to it as mahaprasad. The said meal cooked at the ashram on the face of it appeared to be a regular fish-​rice combo. However, it was not regular because, first, the fish is cooked on mixed wood using both new wood and pyre wood and, second, the fish is, as PB explained, a mahamaansh (extreme flesh). It is so because it comes from the river where it feeds on murda (human dead) and gav (cow’s carcass) amongst other things. After having this meal, which was mainly meant for the medicine-​seeking pilgrims, PB usually rested for some time before cleaning and sweeping his corner of the ashram. Around nine at night after eating a regular meal cooked by his daughter-​in-​law, PB proceeded to the cremation ghat with the pull cart and a young helper. At the ghat, he is known to be taciturn and does not mix with Doms in their work and occupational humour. Quite like the ashram, where he has a

Conversation of pyres  137 corner reserved for himself as a result of his entitlement built over years of collecting pyre wood. At the ghat, he gleaned the pyre wood periodically through the night, to fill up his stock. In his narration, he hinted at the complexity of precedence and his own singularity in the tradition of the ashram. He hinted that he is non ‘upper-​caste’ but differentiated himself from both the Doms whom he considered lowly and the aghor gurus whom he considered of ‘another kind’ (doosre log). He told me that he had adopted the name ‘Rajaram’ and refused to talk any further about this aspect. The fact of being a householder was another contradiction because the genealogy of the ashram gurus is based on the record of austere chastity from childhood. An aghor practitioner may indulge in ‘sexual’ activity but it has to be for siddhi (ritual transcendence) and not for pleasure or producing an heir. PB, in contrast, spoke about his wife, sons and daughters-​in-​law with great affection and considered himself on the side of householders. At the same time, he emphasized that he has gained merit from doing difficult work at a difficult place, assiduously. He suggested that through his mere routine of being at the cremation ghat each night for so many years, he perceptively ‘knew’ things that for others did not even exist. Further reacting on who is an aghori, he explained that the one who like the dhuni is always aflame with devotion is an aghori. He defined himself as one made of the slow work of gleaning pyre woods and, thus, more of an aghor worker (sevak) than an aghor guru. The Dead as Irreducible Surface of Names Recall the various names of the dead that emerged in the discussion, namely, maati, shav, body, madh, laash, and murda, in addition to the unnamed bone-​stump remainder. It is possible that one can visualize a grammatical parallel with what Veena Das (1983) calls the language of sacrifice and find, if not names, then corresponding material states of the dead as a sacrificial event. From the loosing of proper name at the discovery or declaration of death to the outside-​the-​house placement of the corpse to its sacrificial immolation to it becoming a special consumable (as prasad) to the immersion of the residual bone-​stump in the river it does indeed point to a consistency of Hindu death as described in Das’s reading of the language of sacrifice. Precisely, however, for that reason, if we use the idea of a parallel, we can superimpose other readings drawn from the contemporary to establish narrative consistency. To go back to

138  Dead in Banaras the Denmark discussion raised earlier in the chapter, it is useful to recall that in the crematorium the particular dead gets substantiated into different forms of generic names, numbers (social security number; cremation serial number) and entities (unnamed and unseen dead, urns, mercurial emissions, recyclable ortho-​joints, carbon remainder, ground and filtered ash). Again, the parallel between Banaras and Denmark is that what may otherwise be seen as an objectification and abject reducibility of the particular dead is in fact an ethicization of materialities of the dead. In case of Banaras, it can be seen in how the human dead sporadically merges with clay (maati), animal cadaver-​carcass-​carrion (madh), divine form (shav), human form (body), non-​living (murda), and the corpse (laash) at the general level of names of the dead while the processes activated into these categories do not have specific names. In case of Denmark, it is the case that the specific dead loses and regains the name in an urn at a memorial site, while the general surface of partible substantiations is rendered nameless with respect to the dead. For example, the re-​circulation of heat is known by the energy it transfers, the burial of mercurial emissions is referred to as deposition and the saved ortho-​joints of the dead are known by the process of recycling. Yet in both instances, we find that the human dead finds a dual recognition at the level of general dead and a specific dead. It is in this sense that the dead as a social condition apprehend the ethical in the face of environmental pollution. At this, we return to Banaras for our third and final discussion with regard to pravah and parvah.

Care Remains of the Dead We are finally in a position to address the following question: What is the name and import of the practice of cremating the dead at Harishchandra ghat? Like other instances discussed in the book, this too has more than one name. The municipal hoarding calls it ‘dah-​sanskar’ implying an immolating ritual. At the funeral merchandise shops, it is inscribed as ‘antim kriya’ implying the last rite. Then there is another name used by the funeral travellers, parvah. While dah-​sanskar and antim-​kriya can

Conversation of pyres  139 be interpreted as the use of fire and the last and final act of sacrifice respectively, parvah carries a slightly different import. First of all, parvah is the Bhojpuri spoken for pravah which in Sanskrit and Hindi literally means river-​run with further allusions to how the river-​run implies a perennial continuity and the dead must be consigned to this force of the flow. This description captures the act of the immersion of the unnamed bone-​stump saved during manual cremation. This name also rings true for the widely prevalent practices across India of immersing the ashes of the dead in different rivers. The gift of the city is that parvah in Bhojpuri is also used at the same ghat in its Urdu meaning, with the ethical import that one must care. This dream-​like doubling in Bhojpuri of the two user meanings of parvah speaks something about the language and something about the city. We started the book by introducing the idea that while death heroically qualifies to be a transcendent event, what makes it converse with life is the fold that the dead as social conditions produce into life, and again, how the dead, unlike death, allows itself back into the ordinary one way or the other and eventually drags death too in the middle. In the two almost contrasting strains of meanings coining on to the one Bhojpuri word parvah, we may have a dual call of recognition of the ordinary. One, the ordinary is an autonomous social force that flows normatively and we are brow-​beaten by it, in life and death. Two, the river-​run (pravah) and its repetitive and renewed flow is folded by death and the dead into a recognition of care (parvah). The river-​run in this sense does not remain an autonomous, external force but becomes an imperative of care for the subjective self and its world. If we turn back to a more linear interpretation of Bhojpuri parvah through Sanskrit and Hindi pravah, we still have this intriguing revelation that the whole act of cremating and immersing the bone-​stump is called by the part act of consigning the bone-​stump to the river Ganga ji. Veena Das in her essay on the language of sacrifice cites that the rituals of remainders make a separate body of rituals called shesha (remainders) rituals compared to the act of sacrifice as one body of rituals (Das 1983: 459). It is now intelligible that dah-​sanskar, antim-​kriya, and parvah actualize different aspects of the same moral imaginary of the Hindu dead. That is, the anonymous bone-​stump is not a site of the memorial remainder of the dead for her survivors. It is not a site of inscription and memorializing. That purpose is going to be served by the reclaimed name of the dead after parvah. How

140  Dead in Banaras may then one think of the funerary topologies of the cremation ghat with respect to the specific dead? It is at this level that we come to understand that the aesthetics of the place—​the ghats and the river—​which we have seen is by no means overtly stabilized, becomes a general ethical surface to conceive of life and becoming for the living. Parvah in both its user meanings of ritual mourning acts (Sanskrit, Hindi, and Bhojpuri) and ‘to reflect and remember to care’ (Urdu and Bhojpuri) introduces further layers to how the dead as social condition can be acknowledged in the local moral worlds of Banaras.

Notes Chapter 1 1. It is true that the idiom of Hindu funeral that comes to the fore into the contemporary is mediated by many other structures than that of religious custom alone since the dead navigate multiple institutions like hospital, municipal organization of cremation as well as the emergent shifts in cremation. This picture of the contemporary helps me to clarify that Banaras and its open cremation aesthetics can be approached in conspicuously different ways. One could stay with the complexity of the Hindu religion where the institutional shifts can be personalized within a Hindu world view (see Fillipi 2005; Justice 1997). Another way would be to treat the aesthetics of death in Banaras as a general language through which the existential question of death can be confronted as a question of the contemporary (see Parry 1994; Gardner 1986; Gardner and Ostor, 2001). A third way would be to describe the corpsely ambience of the city as a metaphor of poverty and social suffering. A searing, two volume autobiography of a Dalit communist professor as a poor, young student in the city establishes these connections narratively. Written in Hindi, the books are titled ‘Murdahiya’ (corpsely) and ‘Manikarnika’—​after the name of one of the cremation ghats in Banaras (Tulsiram 2010, 2014). My own work is deeply coloured by these documents and is invested in tackling the uneven intensities of these different approaches into the assemblages described here. 2. Banaras is a multi-​religious place, and its main language Bhojpuri has a complex confluence of Sanskrit, Hindi, and Urdu, not to mention loan words from English that invariably pull and push the Hindu to different potentials of meaning. The 2011 census for Varanasi district (total population 3,676,841), including the rural (56.56%) and the urban (43.44%), had the following relative shares of different religious populations: Hindu (84.52%), Muslim (14.88%), Christian (0.21%), Sikh (0.09%), Buddhist (0.03%), Jain (0.05%), others and not stated (0.22%) (Source: Census 2011, Government of India). However, the census figures do not do justice to the historical presence of each of these religions. Almost all these religions and many more, such as the Kabirpanthis and Ravidasis, have at different junctures considered the city as central to their respective religion. For details, see Singh and Rana (2006). I take up this question in Chapter 2 where I discuss the city in substantive terms through its many different names. 3. For a succinct description of Deleuze’s usage of the concept, see the entry on ‘Multiplicity’ in The Deleuze Dictionary (Parr 2010: 181). Contrary to his injunction that multiplicity is not equivalent to plurality, I have still treated certain

142 Notes pluralities (of names) as multiplicity all the same. What I instead find useful in Deleuze is to think of multiplicity not as a ‘prior unity’ but as an emergent substantive. 4. My inspiration to move from death to the dead emerges from Veena Das’s discussion of the corpse in her account of Hindu sacrificial rituals. Das writes: ‘It would appear that the attention which has hitherto been paid to the condition of the mourners in sociological analyses of death in Hinduism, to the exclusion of the condition of the corpse, has obscured the importance of sacrifice as a theme in Hindu mortuary rituals’ (Das 1977: 123). Das’s observation has been crucial in forcing me to consider the condition of the corpse. Extending her observation, I have found it productive to think of this condition not so much as a physical condition but a social condition. In my reading of Das, another significant observation in her analyses of sacrifice as part of Hindu thought is that the corpse as a substantive social matter is not just operating at the level of the most transcendent object in sacrifice but it also doubles up as remainder and raises the practical question of contingency about the end (completion) of the sacrifice. It is in this double sense that I take the dead to be signalling an affinity to both multiplicity and the ordinary. 5. Here is an illuminating summary by Cora Diamond (CD) in an interview with Silver Bronzo (SB) (2013) to her own longer discussion on the subject in The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and the Mind (1991): SB: Murdoch is a tremendously important figure for your work in moral philosophy. What are the elements of her thought that you have found most interesting and fertile? CD: First of all, the idea that I have just mentioned: problematising our conception of what moral thinking is. That alone makes her so hard to fit into the picture of the field of ethics in contemporary moral philosophy. Determining what belongs to ethics is generally not taken to be a serious problem. It is a common view that the domain of ethics can be isolated in terms of a few basic concepts: right and wrong, good and bad, and maybe virtue and vice. Murdoch is profoundly insistent, in different ways at different stages of her life, that there is already something extremely problematic in this kind of delimitation, tied in with an equally problematic picture of the nature of the world in which we do our moral thinking. I cite Diamond here to pitch moral thought as a slightly distinct site of understanding the social when compared to philosophy of ethics. I believe that Diamond’s invitation to think of the moral and the ethical as distinct, for good reason in my view, dissuades us from considering the ethical as primary to thought as is found, say, in the works of Foucault and Deleuze. 6. Jonathan Parry’s (1994) comprehensive coverage of the subject in Death in Banaras shows how meaningful the practice of death can be when located within the cultural symbols of the place. Two strains get particular attention in his ethnography against this reassuring backdrop. First, the organization of cremation

Notes  143 as an economic enterprise. Second, the mobilization of corpse as a substance on different registers of ascetic practices (particularly by Aghories). While drawing from Brahminical and scriptural sources, Parry simultaneously goes to heterodox zones where the former are silent. For example, the elaborate understanding of the economic organization of cremation is one such achievement. Similarly, his discussion on the use of funerary substances by left-​handed ascetics shows us how death as sacrifice can be an insufficient ground to explain these practices. Robert Gardner’s (1986) attempt on the other hand relies on finding a visual language of life and death on the ghats of Banaras that is not reined in by a narrative commentary but instead speaks through the rhythms of social action and gestures with which different ‘characters’ enact themselves in the non-​fiction film. These ‘characters’ are ‘the deities, boatmen, sacred sites, animals, objects used, and cremation rites’. Gardner and Östör (2001: 7). 7. Sample this excerpt from Deleuze’s (1988) discussion on ‘Foldings, or the inside of thought’ that cites death thirteen times to make the literal point about death as immanent and divisible. I also wish to draw your attention to how death folds into life to posit an outside and inside within life and not external to it. The discussion starts by Deleuze posing the following question to Foucault’s work: ‘If power is constitutive of truth, how can we conceive of a “power of truth” which would no longer be the truth of power, a truth that would release transversal lines of resistance and not integral lines of power? How can we “cross the line”?’ Deleuze replies to his own question by showing that Foucault’s writings manifest a recurrent negotiation with the question of life and death. ‘And, if we must attain a life that is the power of the outside, what tells us that this outside is not a terrifying void and that this life, which seems to put up a resistance, is not just the simple distribution within the void of “slow, partial and progressive” deaths? We can no longer even say that death transforms life into destiny, an “indivisible and decisive” event, but rather that death becomes multiplied and differentiated in order to bestow on life the particular features, and consequently the truths, which life believes arise from resisting death. What remains, then, if not to pass through all these deaths preceding the great limit of death itself, deaths which even afterwards continue? Life henceforth consists only of taking one’s place, or every place, in the cortege of a “One dies.” It is in this sense that Bichat broke with the classical conception of death, as a decisive moment or indivisible event, and broke with it in two ways, simultaneously presenting death as being coextensive with life and as something made up of a multiplicity of partial and particular deaths. When Foucault analyses Bichat’s theories, his tone demonstrates sufficiently that he is concerned with something other than an epistemological analysis: he is concerned with a conception of death, and few men more than Foucault died in a way commensurate with their conception of death. This force of life that belonged to Foucault was always thought through and lived out as a multiple death in the manner of Bichat.’ (Deleuze 1988: 94–​95).

144 Notes 8. I conducted fieldwork for fourteen months spread over a period of four years between 2005 and 2009 and subsequently have been regularly visiting the field for shorter durations. A memorable stint involved accompanying the Austrian artist Michael Aschauer for a slit-​scan mapping of the ghats in December 2011. I have also benefited from a short fieldwork of crematoria in Denmark in the summer of 2011. My key station during fieldwork in Banaras was Harishchandra ghat. I chose the said ghat for its post-​modern assemblage of the manual/​electric crematorium and a multi-​storey hotel. My second field site was Hospital H which under contingent contexts, described in c­ hapters 3 and 4, substantively produced the ethnography that is discussed in this book. Hoping to cover both the biomedical and the ritual spheres, my initial plan was to conduct a multi-​sited ethnography across the electric–​manual crematoria, the hospital, and the aghorashram. However, sometime into fieldwork I discovered that Ron Barrett (2008) had already studied the aghorashram in great detail for his book Aghor Medicine. I then began focusing on the N.K. Bose Foundation and their rich archives became another key site for my research. 9. Das (1983) cites the Hindu variation in relation to the standard conceptualization of sacrifice and its link to language. Discussing the place of language in Vedic sacrifice she writes: ‘Since sacrifice is the womb of order (rtasya yoni) and creation of order is to be sought in the sacrificial act rather than in the persons performing sacrifice, Jaimini begins his enquiry into dharma (order, code of conduct) by seeking a reality beyond the phenomenological and transitory reality of man. He finds this evidence in the existence of language, which constitutes for him a true example of an instituted reality not made by man, apuruseya. Thus it is not language which is predicated upon human existence but human existence which is predicated upon language. The principle of dharma (eternal order) is, therefore, to be found in the nature of the Word’ (Das 1983: 446). 10. I am referring to the articulation of death as an event by Renato Rosaldo in his poetry and ethnography of grief, The Day of Shelly’s Death (2014). In his more recent writing, Rosaldo borrows from Alain Badiou’s conceptualization of ‘event’ to posit Shelly’s death (his deceased wife and fellow anthropologist) as such an event. His poetry on the subject of her death, is for him ‘the event itself ’. Not a representation, not an enactment but a creation of the event. Following Badiou, for Rosaldo it is this event that has the radical capacity to intervene in the ‘established world’ so as to ‘interrupt’ it (Rosaldo 2014: 101). I take Rosaldo’s long-​standing connection between grief and mourner’s rage as an unparalleled contribution to how the affective and the conceptual must be brought to bear upon an ethnographic understanding of death and the dead. However, while Rosaldo turns to the Badiouian event to further conceptualize his death, grief and rage triad, staying with his earlier work for two decades I have arrived at a counter formulation. I show that death as an event must be located within a halting continuum of the social rather than as an absolute

Notes  145 halting or a radical ‘interruption’ of a particular social. The domain of the ‘established’ world par excellence, the ordinary, is the place where death as an event and dead as social condition come to be absorbed into different rhythms. Into these rhythms, death and the dead come to have their own differing logics of subsisting amongst the living. It is these logics that ethnography to an extent can spool and unspool. I have learnt from Rosaldo that death creates its truth in the infinite and unsparing responsibility of mourning. However, as I now see it, this truth of mourning is ethicized into finite and, occasionally, sparing forms of remembering and forgetting (the dead) within the rough texture of the ordinary that can contain many a poison. The relation between rage and mourning is where death’s agency is at its most thymotic; how may this thymotic ebb, rise, fall and eventalise is already a question of the halting social continuum. 11. There are two main cremation ghats within the old city’s inner geography: Harishchandra and Manikarnika. The third prominent ghat Khadak Vinayak is located at the outer periphery of the city across the bridge at Rajghat. The practitioners of this ghat claim Khadak Vinayak as the oldest according to their sacred geography coordinates. This claim is also made for the other two ghats, Harishchandra and Manikarnika, by their occupants and well-​wishers. In my observation, a sparse number of cremations took place at the Khadak Vinayak ghat, although an entire caste group of funeral workers exists here too just as at the other cremation ghats. Adjoining each other, Manikarnika and Dasaswamedh are two of the busiest ghats. While the former is a cremation ghat, the latter is important for its evening Ganga Aarti. Unlike Manikarnika, Harishchandra ghat has an electric crematorium alongside the manual cremations that are ongoing day and night. The work of cremation is associated with a designated occupational caste group called the Doms. The name Doms refers to the occupational categorization of funeral work broadly and by no means all Doms are funeral workers in present day Banaras. While the adjective in Bhojpuri, Domra (conveying Dom-​like) is used as a pejorative caste slang, the caste members prefer to call themselves by their adopted surnames of Chaudhary. Unlike Domra that is well known as an injurious slang, another designation Dom raja (the Dom king) or Chaudhary (the head man) is used by the cremation workers for the male seniors amongst them. Even then because funeral work as Doms practice it cannot be visualized outside the caste practice of the gift of fire, the term Dom is also used self referentially. I take up this complexity in my discussion on domghouse in the chapter. Like all broad caste descriptors referring to occupations and members in one unitary association, ‘Doms’ also does not have an empirical substantive basis and Doms are of diverse occupational profile. It is important to note that while most other ghats have legal ownership in the form of trusts, the ownership of cremation ghats has no such context, and Manikarnika, Harishchandra, and Khadak Vinayak, all three ghats claim ownership based on Doms traditional practice of cremation work.

146 Notes 12. For a discussion on the vertical and the horizontal ‘limits to forms of life’ see Veena Das’s Wittgenstein and Anthropology (1998). For a discussion on desire and sacrifice, see Veena Das’s The Language of Sacrifice (1983). 13. Aghors are ascetics who as part of their Shaivite practise hyperbolically invert the caste norms of purity and pollution. They are commonly associated with the usage of defiling substances like bodily secretions and the corpse—​which by some measures is considered the most defiled of all things. Aghor medicine is the term that Ron Barrett (2008) uses for the ashen substance made at Kinaram aghor ashram in Banaras that is mingled with the remains of a cremated corpse. Barrett shows how this medicinal substance is combined with other ascetical observations (repeated ritual performance of baths and dips) by the devotees to get the desired outcomes. The entire gamut of observations were traditionally tied to curing sterility or seeking a son but as Barrett shows the medicine is increasingly sought for sexually transmitted diseases as well. 14. I developed an interest in Baidyanath Saraswati’s engagement with native anthropology in Banaras as I pored over his writings and his curated volumes in both Hindi and English at the N.K. Bose Foundation. Apart from his own contributions, I also encountered Saraswati in some excellent anthropological works on the city. Here are two examples: Robert Gardner and Ákos Östör’s Forest of Bliss (2001) and Lawrence Cohen’s No Aging in India (1998). Robert Gardner (RG) in conversation with the anthropologist Ákos Östör (AO) on their film Forest of Bliss recalls a tender detail that went into the creation of the film. RG and AO are speaking of the opening sequence where a quotation from the Upanishad is cited intercut with the rising sun and ferociously fighting dogs at the cremation ghat. Then a shift in the soundscape follows in the next frame. ‘RG: The sound is intended to be very suggestive through this part, especially now, when the present sound of the dogs, gives way to another very important sound, that of trees being felled. Hopefully, that sound, too, has people wondering, not because they are disoriented but out of real mystification. I hope it calls to mind the idea of mature trees, anywhere in the world, being hacked down and falling in the forest. That, in turn, has its extended meaning in the well-​known metaphor suggesting death, certainly the death of a tree if nothing else. I remember in a conversation with our friend Saraswati, early on in Benares, when I mentioned the idea I had of looking into the whole question of wood, his telling me about growing up in his childhood village and knowing that when he heard the sound of men cutting down the mango trees there had been a death. As far as the film is concerned, this sound will carry a pretty heavy meaning’ (Gardner and Östör 2001: 25). In his encyclopaedic No Aging in India (1998), Lawrence Cohen cites Saraswati in relation to the old destitute widows in Banaras to highlight their subalternity. He writes, ‘Saraswati, in his study of Kashivaasi widows, noted the association frequently made by his Varanasi informants between widows and

Notes  147 prostitutes. Young widows in particular were seen as having few other sources for meeting their economic needs and sensual cravings’ (Cohen 1998: 273). What strikes me in comparing Saraswati’s study (published in Hindi in 2005) and Cohen’s No Aging in India is the moral and the counter-​moral perspectives with which they approach the subject respectively. Saraswati’s moral understanding of aged, abandoned widows in the city is to think in terms of how to designate them as renunciates at par with the male renunciates in the city. This perspective is a departure from his own earlier work co-​authored with Surajit Sinha (1978) wherein while undertaking a census of ascetics in the city they mainly counted men. Cohen in his book is at war with precisely such a moral reclamation that he finds empty and hyperbolic at the same time. Over time, I have come to view Saraswati’s position as an instance of engagement in moral anthropology when compared to Cohen’s complete disbanding of the possibility. 15. I do not want to labour the point that there is a fundamental gap between the autobiographical and the auto-​ethnographic that keeps them distinct. However, I want to retain the autobiographical rather than the auto-​ethnographic because it allows me to concede to my doubt that a self-​conscious ethnographic recording, with all the fidelities of note-​taking and scouting for voices of fellow participants, might have yielded a different texture of narrative content and expression. Also, I am long harnessed to Hindi literature’s generic discursive traditions of ‘atma-​ katha’, ‘aap-​beeti’, and ‘jeevani’ that render legibility to the different aspects of the autobiographical, so it is fitting that I must make that connection apparent.

Chapter 2 1. Annemarie Mol’s (2002) use of the term ‘body multiple’ emerges from her chronicling of a Dutch, hospital-​bound, biomedical ‘doing’ of a disease (and illness) named atherosclerosis. The named disease is done through various ‘co-​existent’ ontologies of evaluating, inspecting, reading, interpreting, consenting, differing, and curing. These ontologies, within the biomedical epistemological premise, are mediated by words, radiological images, histological scans, and other medical modalities of diagnosis and prognosis. For us what matters here is that the named disease, ‘atherosclerosis’, becomes a synecdoche for the materiality of body and the medical doing of the disease becomes an equivalent to the medical doing of the body. However, we witness in her elucidation that this body is multiple and its multiplicity is constituted through and within different hospital practices. Ontologically, the body multiple straddles for consistency between more than one (the leg, the pathological tissue, the patient’s voice etc.) but less than too many (if need be, the roughest case history can be coherently narrated by the hospital staff). My paraphrased use of the city multiple departs from Mol’s depiction because in my case neither the name is one (to her parallel instance of atherosclerosis) nor can the city be narratively cohered into one (to her parallel instance

148 Notes of the body). Harish Naraindas (2014) posits Mol’s ontological portrait of the bio-​ medical body-​multiple on to larger social matrices of antagonistic epistemes: primarily biomedicine and Ayurveda. The context of his ethnography is an urban, upper-​middle class young woman’s pregnancy and her desire to have a ‘normal’ (non-​cesarean) delivery for her future child. Her parallel participation in the contesting medical epistemes pitches her in a situation where the mother must risk her own death or anticipate a congenitally deformed or dead child. Naraindas, thus shows, how the contestations between different medical epistemes create extreme situations for the pregnant subject. The two epistemes cannot unite to give her a best of both worlds medical experience of pregnancy and child birth. These epistemes and the ontologies do not ‘hang’ together and in fact fall apart. In my case, what seems to be ethicized is precisely this necessary condition of choosing one place over others. The ethical interactivity in the usage of the names allows not a ‘hanging’ together of many place-​names and many people but a dynamic ‘sliding’ and ‘side-​shadowing’ of the many place-​names and many people in relation to the city. This is indeed why and how I call it the city multiple. I want to thank Pradeep Jeganathan for his engagement on this multiplicity question during a seminar colloquium at the Department of Sociology, Shiv Nadar University in 2018. Jeganathan’s insistence that these different place-​names are in fact different places was crucial in how I eventually arrived at my present position. 2. A brief, excellent essay by Devi Prasad Dubey titled ‘Varanasi: A Name Study’ (1985) is sufficient to provide an exhaustive historical inventory of the different city names. Dubey records the following Buddhist names of the city: ‘Surundhana’, ‘Sudarsana’, ‘Bahmabadadhana’, ‘Pupphavati’, ‘Rammnagar’, and ‘Molini’. He further writes that ‘the Mahabhasya of Patanjali states that businessmen called Varanasi by the name of “Jitvari”, for they reaped great profits there. In Puranas, some other names of the city, like Avimukta-​Kshetra, Mahasamasana, Anandakanana etc. have also occurred casually’ (1985: 351). Dubey further cites adjectival Shaivite names such as ‘Rudravasa’, ‘Shankarpuri’, ‘Sivapuri’, and ‘Sivarajdhani’ invoked for the city at different stages. He also provides a list of names that occur in Puranas: ‘Kosala’, ‘Srinagari’, ‘Gaurimukha’, ‘Apurnabhavabhavabhumi’, ‘Tapahsthali’, ‘Mahapuri’, and ‘Dharmaksetra’. In the twelfth century AD, the city was also designated as ‘Thaganam Stahanam’ (the abode of thieves) (1985: 351–​ 353). Finally the Prakrit version of Varanasi/​Baranasi, Banaras, found greater usage in the medieval times and subsequently the city was christened as Benares by the British. In between, in the seventeenth century AD, Aurangzeb is said to have named it as Muhammadabad with state coins issued under that name but clearly it did not find an enduring usage. Dubey’s essay is useful in providing a descriptive chronology of the usage of these ‘many’ names. One may decipher from early scriptural and archeological sources that Varanasi and Kashi were always more or less interchangeably used names for the place, while many of the other names, cited above, were used intermittently as testimonies of praise (sometimes ironically, as in the case of ‘abode of

Notes  149 thieves’). But the two names Varanasi and Kashi persisted. The two became three with the growing popularity of ‘Banaras’, and then ‘Benares’ followed to make it four. An originary tracing of the place-​names in terms of what they mean is typical to the writings based on Sanskritic sources. Dubey shares this premise with scholars like Niels Gutschow (1994) and Hans Bakker (1996) who follow the names route in locating the differing (re)sacralization of the place. However, because of this methodological reliance on origin and not on the surefooted ground of usage of these city names, their historiography is at its weakest when it comes to the names Banaras and Benares. It is not a surprise then that, Dubey can only think of Banaras as a ‘corrupted’ name. He writes: ‘The name of the city was corrupted by the Muslims during the medieval times into Banaras. Abul Fazl the court historian of Emperor Akbar (16th century AD) reports that Varanasi was commonly known as Banaras. In the 17th century AD, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb made an unsuccessful attempt to change its name to Muhammadabad but this name was never accepted or made current. It apparently appeared only in a few state documents and coins of the time, and died down very soon after the death of the idol-​breaker emperor, and Banaras remained as Banaras’ (1985: 353). For a more recent account on the question of Indological historiography and living spaces in contemporary Banaras, see Gaenszle and Gengnagel (2006). 3. Here is a brief explanation from Chatterji on the use of ‘side-​shadowing’ as a concept: ‘While foreshadowing and back shadowing are the two most commonly known techniques used to break out of a sequential ordering of narrative time, side-​shadowing allows us to think of the present as consisting not just of events that occur but also of unrealised possibilities. Thus many of the characters and episodes that appear in the Mahabharata also feature in stories outside the textual tradition. Characters in folk stories often acquire a certain aura because they resonate with characters found in the Sanskritic—​recognisable yet with different life trajectories.’ (2012: 265). 4. Basso writes: ‘. . . the idea persists in many quarters that proper names, including toponyms, serve as referential vehicles whose only purpose is to denote, or “pick out,” objects in the world. If a certain myopia attaches to this position, there is irony as well, for place-​names are arguably among the most highly charged and richly evocative of all linguistic symbols. Because of their inseparable connection to specific localities, place-​names may be used to summon forth an enormous range of mental and emotional associations, associations of time and space, of history and events, of persons and social activities, of oneself and stages in one’s life. And in their capacity to evoke, in their compact power to muster and consolidate so much of what a landscape may be taken to represent in both personal and cultural terms, place-​names acquire a functional value that easily matches their utility as instruments of reference. Most notably, as T. S. Eliot (1932) and Seamus Heaney (1980) have remarked, place-​names provide materials for resonating ellipses, for speaking and writing in potent shorthand, for communicating much while saying very little’ (Basso 1991: 76–​77).

150 Notes 5. I thank Anirudh Raghavan for bringing attention to this aspect during my seminar talk at the Friday Research Colloquium, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. 6. See Dubey (1985), Gutschow (1994), and Bakker (1996). 7. Talking of Persianized Brahmins, the well-​known Persian-​Urdu poet of Delhi, Mirza Ghalib (2018) wrote a poetical ethnography of the city visiting it on his way to Calcutta, the colonial capital of nineteenth century India. Like other instances I have cited, in Ghalib too we find a sliding of names between Banaras and Kashi. 8. It is not to be missed that the present day Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; Hindutva cultural organization) office in ‘Kashi Prant’ is located in Aurangabad (Mahmoorganj).

Chapter 3 1. BHU was formally known as Sir Sunderlal Hospital. At present it is colloquially referred as BHU hospital or just BHU. Owing to its century long good name and great repute for efficacy, BHU has become the progenitor of various clinics and hospitals in the city. Partly, this is the case as many of the trained and retired medical fraternity run their own clinics and nursing homes across the city. This, however, only explains the medium range medical ecosystem of the place. The sprawling infrastructure of private hospitals, on the other hand, has introduced competitive levels to BHU’s stature and are increasingly able to absorb the brimming number of patients coming to the city. A common promotion of the medical practise in the city —​be it private, charitable or the governmental—​is done through periodic camps organized across different neighbourhoods and occasionally in the satellite villages and other cities as well. This is the reason why the city has come to function as a medical metropolis of eastern Uttar Pradesh. 2. Here is the list of the abbreviations and names of relatives used in ­chapters 3 and 4: Mother’s father (MF; Nana), Elder sister (eZ), Elder sister’s new born son (eZS), Elder sister’s husband (eZH; Brother-​in-​law), Younger sister (yZ), Two maternal uncles (MB1 and MB2), Maternal aunt (MZ), Paternal grandmother (FM), Maternal grandmother (MM; Nani), Mother’s relative-​in-​law (MZH; PS). It may appear odd to have these abbreviated, abstract signs in lieu of terms and names of relations. In the field of kinship studies, right from the start there has been an undertone declaiming the reduction of relationships to a language of mathematical signs. In a more recent critique, John Borneman (1996) argues that the abstractness that these signs carry hide and gloss over severe forms of inequality between different existent relationships. For example, x is married to y is denoted as x =​y in kinship terminology. My use has a somewhat different entrypoint. Since I started studying sociology at the university I often carried the conversations home to my mother and sisters. In these discussions, I began using my kinship

Notes  151 signs to make small charts over my mothers’ descriptions of family lines and names of relations. My use of these signs is in this particular cathected context. 3. I have taken the term ‘perforated sheet’ from Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children (1981).

Chapter 4 1. The three central concepts that I use here namely, ‘wept statement’, ‘tuneful weeping’, and ‘crying meeting’ (milni/​bhet) have been put forth by the socio-​ linguist K.M. Tiwary (1978) and extensively used by the ethnomusicologist Steven Feld (2012 [1982]). Following is a detailed description from Tiwary on how he characterizes these concepts in the context of North India: ‘What is meant by “wept statement” is that as the women weep they make statements on certain well-​defined topics and themes. These statements are not simply spoken or uttered as other statements are spoken and uttered; they are given the form of weeping; hence, they are wept statements. These statements can be made only through the act of weeping. If weeping is suppressed, the message is changed beyond recognition. In other words, these statements admit of no paraphrases. They carry a rich emotional charge which would be lost if they were simply spoken aloud without the accompaniment of weeping. They are more like sung statements or statements in poetry. The women are fully conscious of the emotive power of these wept statements, and they do all they can by means of vocal embellishments to enrich the emotional content of their statements. Thus, it is institutionalised weeping prescribed as the right kind of response to given social situations. But only women are privileged to make use of this mode of communication’ (Tiwary 1978: 25). Tiwary further notes that ‘the weepers weep out well-​made statements; their weeping is tuneful; their wept statements have a marked structure’ (Tiwary 1978: 25). Steven Feld reviews Tiwary’s summary description and describes how he takes it forward in his own work on the Kaluli weeping song expression: ‘Tiwary [describes briefly] (1975) “tuneful weeping” as a communicative mode in Northern India. Women’s “wept statements” are verbal messages in weeping intonation, delivered while shedding tears. The social situations for this are specific, as when a woman marries and leaves her own village for that of her husband. On the appointed day the woman, kin, and friends tunefully weep on each others’ shoulders; their wept statements have marked refrains that use appropriate address terms among weepers. Tiwari notes that with age one acquires skill in this mode. Tuneful weeping is also heard at visits, meetings after separation, and one particular phase of mourning. In all of these cases, the texts discuss personal relationships between weepers or memories of past times. Although Tiwary describes the code of this tuneful weeping as an articulation of verbal form and melodic intonation performed while shedding tears, the actual processes of construction, manner of interpretation, and linguistic denomination are not

152 Notes described; these will be the points of departure for a description of Kaluli expressive weeping’ (Feld 2012 [1982]: 88). I add just a sliver to the rich discussions of Tiwary and Feld by situating the practice of tuneful weeping as an improvisation within the dual settings of hospital and home. 2. One formal way in which this memory of the dead is predicated is centred on patriliny. Pitrgathik is the day of the week when the paternal, male, relative (mostly the father) has died. On this day, starting an auspicious activity is avoided and specific restrictions on food are followed. 3. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) carries the English title as ‘The heart doesn’t fall into line’; ‘The heart refuses to listen’ (1991). The film borrows inspiration from another Hindi film of yesteryears ‘Chori-​Chori’ (1956). Chori-​Chori (echo words: ‘secretly-​secretly’) in turn was inspired by the American film ‘It happened one night’ (1934). 4. Here is the complete poem by Theodore Worozbyt (2003) titled ‘Sadness’: deceives even the closest and most beloved reader. Sadness listens to a pit bull grunt, like a pig, in the rain. Not weight, but the space inside a mass, sadness moves in rigid molecular patterns, is slow, waves slowly. In its vocabulary, O and Ah remain silent. Without a towel nearby, sadness never takes the luxury of a bath. Sadness, the chummy doctor, injects serum after serum into sunset, but the water wakes up as blue and enticing as ever. Sadness says, Say me! and leaves a small ink footprint upon official papers. Sadness shuffles little deaths like cards played without cash. Sadness made this up: the house burned with the cats and photographs, and everyone flew to safety on translucent wings.

Chapter 5 1. The poem refers to a ‘deep’ and ‘silent’ conversation between the pyres of Harishchandra and Manikarnika ghat that is realized through the shifting colour of flames emanating from the pyres. The poet writes that it is as if the fire and

Notes  153 light of the pyres were together dispatching ‘morse code’ signals relaying their own experiences. These lights emerging from the pyres join in another conversation with the neon lights, sleepy bulb lights and the vapour lamps of the ghats (Gyanendrapati 1999: 69). 2. Barrett narrates it in the following way: ‘After hearing countless opinions and anecdotes, I decided to formally interview two dozen people on the riverbank on the subject (of varying observations and interpretations of the river’s pollution). A couple of cosmopolitan looking young men told me (in Hindi) after their bath that the ‘the Ganga is certainly pure. Mother Ganga is giving salvation to the whole world, be it cattle, be it sparrows, be it dogs, be it man.’ Then (in Bhojpuri) they said, ‘Certainly [the Ganga] is polluted. You are seeing it, aren’t you? You have the proof.’ On another day, a fisherman spat a large mouthful of paan into the river so that he could more clearly give me the opposite answer in similar terms: ‘Certainly the Ganga is pure. Can you not see it?’ I replied on both occasions with a sideways nod: ‘Yes, certainly. I see.’ (Barrett 2008: 41). 3. Following is an excerpt from Rajiv Gandhi’s speech: ‘The Ganga binds us together. It imbues a unity amongst our people. It makes us one civilization, one nation. The Ganga is a symbol of our tradition of tolerance, of synthesis, of poise, it is a challenge to the dark forces that undermine our unity and integrity that try to subvert our ethical and traditional values. These forces of violence and separatism, casteism, of petty self-​seeking loyalties, parochialisms, and linguistic and other fanaticism are the forces which threaten to tear India apart. Today, we should pledge, from here on the banks of the Ganga, to fight and uphold the unity and integrity of India, not to be cowed down by terrorism, to preserve our traditional values, our civilisation’ (Gandhi 1989: 162). 4. In May 2018, I collaborated with Grain Media, UK Documentary production house hosted by Al Jazeera on ‘Winds of Change: Eco-​Cremation in India and Green Power on Samso, Denmark’. This project discusses the increasing use of the permanent iron bars for the wooden pyres, see https://​​program/​earthrise/​2018/​5/​22/​winds-​of-​change-​eco-​cremation-​in-​india-​and-​green-​ power-​on-​samso 5. Mark Twain in his travelogue Following The Equator (1897) writes: ‘A word further concerning the nasty but all purifying Ganges water. When we went to Agra, by and by, we happened to be there just in time to witness the birth of a marvel, a memorable scientific discovery, the discovery that in certain ways, the foul and derided Ganges water is the most puissant purifier in the world! This curious fact, as I have said, has just been added to the treasury of modern science. It has long been noted as a strange thing that while Benares is often afflicted with the cholera, she does not spread it beyond her borders. This could not be accounted but for. Mr. Henkin, the scientist in the employ of the government of Agra, who concluded to examine the water. He went to Benares and made his tests. He got water at the mouths of the sewers where they empty into the river at the bathing ghats; a cubic centimeter of it contained millions of germs; at the end of six hours

154 Notes they were all dead. He caught a floating corpse, towed it to the shore, and from beside it he dipped up water that was swarming with cholera germs; at the end of six hours they were all dead. He added swarm after swarm of cholera germs to this water; within the six hours they always died, to the last sample. Repeatedly, he took pure well-​water, which was barren of animal life, and put into it a few cholera germs, they always began to propagate at once, and always within six hours they swarmed—​and were numerable by millions upon millions . . .For ages and ages, the Hindus have had absolute faith that the water of the Ganges was absolutely pure, could not be defiled by any contact whatsoever, and infallibly made pure and clean whatsoever they touched it. They still believe it, and that is why they bathe in it and drink it, caring nothing for its seeming filthiness and the floating corpses. The Hindus have been laughed at, these many generations, but the laughter will need to modify itself a little from now on. How did they find out the water’s secret in those ancient ages? Had they germ-​scientists then? We do not know. We only know that they had a civilization long before we emerged from savagery’ (Twain 1897: 499–​500). 6. The following account is drawn from an extensive interview with Mahant ji on SMF in June 2009. Mahant ji is a well-​known figure and much information was available about his initiatives through research essays and press coverage (Time magazine had covered Mahant ji’s initiatives in its 2nd August 1999 issue). Thus, instead of reaching out to him right at the beginning of my research I approached him much later. This worked for me because in the interim period, I learnt about the Doms’ side of the story which was not as widely covered in most press coverages available then. 7. The plan of ‘Integrated Wastewater Oxidation Pond System’ based on ‘biological control’ is a ‘return to the bacteriophages’. In my interview with Mahant ji in June 2009, he claimed that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had ensured that his ‘project’ would be taken up. Sure enough in the ‘Save Ganga Mission’ announced on 5 October 2009 by the Indian Government, SMF was included. However, for a variety of reasons it could not be realized as Mahant ji had hoped for. At the bureaucratic level, I could not track the case any further. For a fuller picture of the entire project, see his own essay that charts out the plan (2005). 8. This was part of the project headed by Professor Vipin C. Kalra of Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology, Delhi. I am grateful to Prof. Kalra for discussing the relevance of the Bacteriophages in the context of his project during our meeting in June 2016.

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Index For the benefit of digital users, indexed terms that span two pages (e.g., 52–​53) may, on occasion, appear on only one of those pages. Figures are indicated by f following the page number Aajkal, 34 aghor practitioner, 136–​37 Alley, Kelly D., 110–​14 alleys, 36–​37 American Kinship (David Schneider), 19–​20 Arnold, David, 110–​12 asceticism, 43 Aurangzeb, Emperor, 36–​37 autonyms, 27–​29 Ayodhya, 29–​31 Baba Kinaram Aghorashram, 55 bacteriophages, 4–​5, 7–​8 Banaras (Benares, Varanasi, and Kashi), 2–​3, 7–​8 Eck's illustration, 29–​31 ghats, 7–​8, 11–​12, 26 Hindu-​Muslim unity, 37–​38 history, 32–​34 as ideal place to die, 128–​29 legends, 39–​42 Motichandra's account, 32–​34 'orientalist' construction of, 32 as the paramount place of Hindu pilgrimage, 32 reaching by bus, 25 reaching by plane, 26–​27 reaching by train, 24–​25 referentiality of place, 29–​31 religions in, 36–​37 sacred geography, 29–​31 testimonies, 40, 41–​42 times of before and now, 42–​43 traditions, 34–​39

Banaras Hindu University (BHU), 45, 51–​52, 128–​29 Banarasian mango, 36–​37 Barrett, Ron, 110–​14, 134–​36 Bäumer, Bettina, 116–​18 BHU hospital, 55 biological oxygen demand (BOD), 122–​25 Bismillah, Abdul, 38–​39 Bloch, Maurice, 9 calendrical bathing festivals (nahan), 125–​27 Caton, Steven C., 53–​55 charan-​paduka, 118–​21 ‘chita-​ samvaad’ (conversation of pyres), 105–​6 construing the death, ways, 82–​ 84, 88–​91 hospital death, 129–​30 corpse, 3. See also dead/​death acknowledgement of dead, 3 different names, 3 madh, 132–​33 as multiple condition, 5–​7 corpse carriers, 53–​55 cremation rituals, 21–​22, 84–​97, 106–​ 10, 133–​34 antim kriya, 138–​40 consumption of crematorial remains as prasad, 116–​18 crying-​meeting (milni) scenes, 95–​97 parvah (funerary care), 5–​7, 105–​6, 118–​21, 133–​34 ritual bathing, 91–​93

162 Index crematorial architecture, forms and formats, 118–​21, 119f, 123f electric crematorium, 84–​86, 106–​10, 112–​14, 118–​21 in-​door cremation, 118–​21 manual cremation, 118–​21 open air cremation, 118–​21 Danish crematorium, 112–​14 Das, Veena, 10–​11, 12–​13, 53–​55 dead/​death, 8–​11. See also construing the death, ways Deleuze's views, 10–​11 depicting, 10 with desire, 8–​11 facial and bodily complexion, 114–​16 as irreducible surface of names, 137–​38 link between sexuality and, 9 as maati (Clay) and body, 127–​31 as madh (cadaver-​ carcasses-​carrion) and laash (corpse), 131–​34 as multiple condition, 5–​7 as murda (not-​living, dead), 134–​37 names in Banaras, 21–​22 objectification and abject reducibility of, 137–​38 physical scenes of, 130–​31 remains of, 138–​40 social condition of, 19–​20 touching and handling, 131–​34 truth of, 16 dead relatives grandfather’s death, 97–​98 grandmother’s death, 98–​101 sister’s death, 101–​4 death feasts, 88–​93 Death in Banaras (Jonathan Parry), 1–​2, 14–​15 death pollution, 91–​93 Deleuze, Gilles, 1–​2 Dom funeral workers, 106–​10, 130, 131–​36 Eck, Diana L., 29–​31, 41–​42, 47–​48 economic bargaining of funerary work (Domghouse), 14–​16

electric crematorium, 84–​86, 106–​10, 112–​14, 118–​21, 131–​32 Elliot, T.S., 29 environmental pollution, 3–​4, 105–​6, 110–​14, 111f, 125–​27 polythene, 116–​18 father death of, 55–​80 as dying relative, 71–​80, 82–​87 as relative, 61–​71 Forest of Bliss (Robert Gardner), 1–​2 funeral capital, 3 funerals, 1–​2 funeral travellers, 14–​15, 18–​19, 21–​22, 53–​55, 128–​29, 130 funeral travelling and cremation, 5, 55–​ 80, 81, 84–​86, 88–​91 accompanying chants, 53 funerary geography, 53 funerary speech/​sighing speech, 12–​14 Ganga Action Plan (GAP), 112–​16, 122–​ 25, 132–​33 Ganga river, 3–​4, 21–​22, 106–​10 Aarti, 125–​27 bacteriophages in, 4–​5, 122–​25 bathing zones, 125–​27 cremation pyres, 125–​27 discarded and immersed abject entities, 116–​18 as a microbial form of life, 122–​25 Gyanendrapati, 114–​16 Hankin, Ernest Hanbury, 122–​25 Harishchandra ghat, 7–​8, 11–​12, 26–​27, 53–​55, 56–​57, 84–​86, 103–​4, 105–​ 10, 118–​21, 125–​27, 130 Heaney, Seamus, 29 Hiltebeitel, Alf, 27–​29 Hindu anthropology, 43 Hindu civilization, 106–​10 Hindu dead, 1–​2, 17–​18 Hindu death, 137–​38 Hindustan Machine Tools (HMTs), 88–​91 Hindu world of funerary Banaras, 1–​2 hospital, 3, 18–​19

Index  163 in-​door cremation, 110–​12, 118–​21 Integrated Wastewater Oxidation Pond System, 122–​25 Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), 132–​33 Kashi: City of Traditions, 34–​35 Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Cultural Tradition, 45 Kashi ka Itihaas (History of Kashi) (Motichandra), 32 Kashmir Shaivism, 116–​18 Lévi-​Strauss, Claude, 27–​29 life, concept of, 10 living embodiment, 82–​84 mahamaansh (extreme flesh), 136–​37 mahaprasad, 136–​37 Manikarnika ghat, 7–​8, 48–​50, 55, 125–​27 manual cremation, 118–​21 monographs, 43 mourning, 88–​91 names, 27–​29 tuneful weeping, 82–​84 ‘wept statement,’ 82–​84, 86–​93, 98–​ 101, 102 Muslim weavers, 38 necronyms, 27–​29 Needham, Rodney, 9, 27–​29 N.K. Bose Foundation, 17–​18 NKBF, 43 open air cremation, 118–​21 paan, 36–​37 Parry, Jonathan, 9, 15–​16 parvah (funerary care), 5–​7, 105–​6, 118–​ 21, 133–​34, 138–​40 place-​names, 23–​24, 51–​52 activation and deactivation of, 29–​31

irony in, 29–​31 maximal approach, 29–​31 more than a/​one name, 27–​29 referentiality of place, 29–​31 sacred geography, 29–​31 polythene, 4, 116–​18 postcard bookmark, 11–​12 pravah (river run), 5–​7, 105–​6 public grieving and collective mourning, 5–​7 Radcliffe-​Brown, Alfred, 9 raking, 133–​34 Ram, Aghoreshwar Bhagwan, 136–​37 'Ram naam sat hai' chant, 53 Sacred Science Review, 43 Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF), 122–​25 Saraswati, Baidyanath, 17–​18, 39, 43–​45 Kashi: Myth and Reality of a Classical Tradition, 39 sexuality, 10–​11 Shivling temple, 106–​10 Shri Kashi Vishwanath: Aastha aur Vyavastha ka Prashn, 45 siddhi (ritual transcendence), 136–​37 side-​shadowing, 27–​29, 36 sighing speech, 12–​14, 53–​55, 105–​6 Sukul, Pandit Kubernath, 39–​40, 41–​42 Varanasi Vaibhav, 39–​41 Swachh Ganga Abhiyan, 122–​ 25, 132–​33 teknonyms, 27–​29 trickster, 36–​37 Twain, Mark, 31–​32 Twort, Frederick, 122–​25 utraana, 116–​18 Varanasi Bus Terminal, 25 Varanasi Junction, 24–​25 Vishwanath temple, 46–​47 Voices of Children (Veena Das), 82–​84