The “Other” City—Varanasi and the Reintegration of Western Identity

  • Abstract:

    Varanasi (also known as Kashi and Banaras) situated on the banks of the river Ganges in India is considered the holiest city according to Hinduism. The city-river forms a sacred complex which attracts millions of devotees, travelers and tourists every year, spawning numerous representations of the city ranging from academic works to travelogues and novels. This paper intends to study the postcolonial literary and cultural representations of Varanasi and analyse the ways in which the sanitized modern Western self, predicated on the disciplining of bodily functions, gets destabilized and remolded when confronted with the chaos, dirt, death and squalor in Varanasi. The paper argues that in the select writings, Varanasi forms the diseased and wasted other of the archetypal well-administered and “clean” Western city and that intimate, everyday encounters with wasted humans, corpses, diseased bodies breakdown the carefully constructed identity of the Western narrator/protagonist and results in the forging of new organic linkages with the human and non-human elements in the environment and precipitates the evolution of an expansive, spiritual and more ethical self. The paper will incorporate insights from human geography and waste studies to flesh out the observations.