Anything is possible provided there is public pressure, and political will. The Varanasi that we were entering was a classical example of this belief of mine. The road which were now driving on was six-laned, barricaded, with a divider in between and plantation all around. Intermittently we could see raised pedestrian bridges for people to cross the road, since it was other wise impossible to cross due to the barricading.
A few minutes ago we had passed the Varanasi airport on our left side. The airport, back in our time, was situated outside the city limits, in a rural area adjoining the city. Currently, however, there is hardly any feature by which one may call it a rural area; it is just another periphery of the city. Wide roads, swanky cars, and cosmopolitan public. The only thing separating it from the city is the actual distance itself, approximately 28 kilometres till the campus of the Banaras Hindu University which is the other thing that Varanasi is famous for, besides its temples, and it’s ghats.
The official name of the airport, which we passed on our way to the city, is, however, Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airpot, named after the second Prime Minister of India, and the one responsible for the ‘White Revolution’, and the ‘Green Revolution’ in India. ShastriJi, as he was lovingly called, was a simple man, born in a family of limited means, and rising through the different strata of society to finally occupy the top post of India. He had lived and studied in Varanasi, and was awarded the ‘Bharata Ratna’, the highest civilian honour in India, posthumously, and thus the airport was named after him. Incidentally, his surname ‘Shastri’ was not a surname at all, but a title bestowed on him by the Kashi Vidyapeetha, the college he attended, by virtue of his having successfully completed a bachelor’s degree from there. Shastri Ji saw the country through the Indo-Pak war of 1965, and passed away untimely after signing the Tashkent agreement, a city in present day Uzbekistan. The cause of his death was hotly contested by his family, and has remained a mystery till date, spawning a huge amount of investigative literature, theories, stories, books and movies.
Another stalwart associated with the holy city of Varanasi is, of course, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University, and known all over India by the epithet of Mahamana, the great soul. But, more on him and the founding of BHU later…..
To be continued…..
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