Where are you going?

by Gabriella Sonabend

On Sunday, my first day back in Varanasi; I walked a path that I know well. I wound around traffic and I ignored the men who turned to stare at me as they passed on their bikes. I hopped from one pile of rubble to another and I watched the progress in the road widening project. I passed vendors and rickshaw drivers who now recognise my enormous strides. I recognised people all along the street and they remembered me too. Yet still, on every street, at every corner I passed people continued to ask me ‘Where are you going’.

At first when one arrives in Varanasi, (or indeed anywhere in India), the constant ‘Where are you going?’ is often relatively useful as people seem keen to point you in a direction, which although may not be the one you are seeking, but always proves interesting in some way. You feel as though your journey is continuously being tracked and you are reminded always of your next destination. After a month of living in one location in India, ‘Where are you going?’ begins to resonate with a completely different sound. Weeks in this city have taught me that I am going nowhere in particular, either mentally or physically. I am simply shifting backwards and forwards across the architecture and the shabby infrastructure of this strange place, always attempting to find somewhere solid to plant my feet. The ‘Where are you going?’ has become an uncomfortably deep and philosophical echo which follows me across the city. It has become a projection of my own doubts and anxieties. Where am I going? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but somehow in Kashi; where people travel for years to finally rest here and leave the perpetual cycle of life, the question seems more pertinent.

It was strange to be back here. Being in the North, immersed in a completely different culture, has created space for silence in my mind. That silence still remained so I was able to daydream as I walked along the streets, but somehow this made me feel disconnected as if the intensity I had been experiencing before my holiday had evaporated. I did not feel at one with the city. I felt almost oblivious to it, my thoughts were elsewhere with the people I have recently met and the stories we had shared. I felt deeply frustrated with myself. Had I undone all the work I had achieved in weeks past, or was I simply entering another layer of the city? I have yet to tell.

The season is shifting fast and quality of the air is changing. Suddenly it is lighter; the dust does not cling so fervently to each breath. The mornings are now cool carried in a dazzlingly peach coloured light. People are beginning to walk around in jackets and shawls and somehow the city seems quieter as if it is preparing for a retreat.