Isn’t it incredible how quickly time passes when we are focused on anything but time? This past week has been a testament to that as our group has grounded itself even further into the exploration of India, of our unit of 15, and of global relationships with what has become our current home.
Last weekend we had the privilege of visiting Saurabh’s village, Mudahua, which is located just over an hour south of Banaras. As we left behind the noise and bustle of the city, we were met with vast tracks of wheat fields, sporadic outcroppings of rocky hills, and large herds of goats. Once at his home, Saurabh’s family greeted us with malas, tea, and shade. We sat and rested, listening to his grandfather’s poetry and played with some of the local children who came in, curious about our presence. After a lunch of freshly made daal, roti, rice, and subji, we walked through field after field of wheat to the farmhouse, a place where family members stay during busy harvest times. We lay in the shade of large mango trees and listened to the quiet of the afternoon; occasional laughter from children mixed with near and far bird calls were the only sounds we heard. That evening our group returned to Banaras to prepare for the week.
Our schedule was impacted on Monday when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to Assi, the area where we are currently staying. The preparations for these two global leaders’ visits had been evident for many days. The roads in our neighborhoods were re-paved. New light posts were erected, flowers and trees planted, trash bins set up, public toilets built. On the banks of the Ganga-ji elaborate signs made of sand and marigolds were built. It was impossible to miss these changes as they were taking place. In the morning on the day of their visit our group went up to the rooftop of our Program Coordinator’s home to get a view of the road they would be driving in on. Visitors and locals alike lined the roads holding cardboard French and India flags. Large banners and signs fluttered from buildings. A sense of jubilation and curiosity was in the air. A large motorcade of over 25 cars drove up, and briefly we were able to glimpse the waving hands and smiling faces of both Prime Minister Modi and President Macron. We then returned to our Program House where we watched the rest of their visit streaming from a local news channel. Their visit prompted interesting conversation about local and global politics and the complexity of these types of visits.
Each week in Banaras our group has had a different focus. This past week it was on the diversity of religion in the city. Students have had a chance to go to evening aartis–Hindu religious rituals–on the Ganga-ji. They have visited Buddhist temples and Hindu temples alike. We met with a member of the Dom caste who told us about his experiences working at the burning ghats on the Ganges. Towards the end of the week we spent one morning learning about the Muslim population in the city and visiting two mosques with Salman sahib, a local of Varanasi. One mosque, pictured here, is located on the river, and is a protected site. The other is the oldest mosque in the city. Our group had the opportunity to ask Salman sahib questions about Islam, Muslims in India, and mosques in Banaras. It was a wonderful way to begin our day and to launch into conversations about religion and come to deeper understandings about the role religion plays in daily life here in this city.
All in all we have been busy. Mid-course is approaching fast and we will have much to share soon.