I know I’ve come to record place, not people, however, separation of the two is impossible. Everything is reflected in the river. Was Italo Calvino writing about Varanasi in Invisible Cities? The river sustains its people being the life blood for irrigation of the delta as well as a source of water for the plants and animals in the surrounding area. I learnt that there are gangetic dolphins found only here, they’re blind but have perpetual smiles on their faces.
It has been interesting how quickly the strangest things become normal here. The shock of seeing a cow sorting through rubbish on the side of a road or standing in the middle of an alleyway that you’ve got to brush past to get where you’re going, old men will tap the cows as they walk past making sure the gods and goddesses know it is them passing.
The constant dismissal of tuk tuk and rickshaw drivers asking ‘where you are going?’ is another quickly learnt skill, however the existential nature of this place always throws that question in a particular light, they just want the fare, but after shaking my head and hand I again silently ask myself, ‘Where am I going?’ The question is only compounded by the continual state of being somehow lost but on my way somewhere.
But the Ganges is always there, perhaps it’s her reassuring presence that leaves me unbothered by the constant inquisitive stares I receive, every part of every day. It is funny that I have come to a place as an artist in residence to observe and participate in this new and brilliant place, yet I am the one being observed. The gaze is reversed. It becomes a shocking event to witness a European tourist. I am jolted back into my skin. I am reminded that I’m also this oddity and I observe these western faces with similar interest, is that really what I look like?