One paintbrush to destroy it all
A call to all who love Varanasi, or love the colours of India

May Heaven keep the grandeur of Benaras
Arbour of this meadow of joy;
For oft returning souls — their journey’s end.
In this weary Temple land of the world,
Safe from the whirlwind of Time,
Benaras is forever Spring.

Ghalib (1835)

In his landmark book Everybody loves a good drought the iconic journalist P Sainath tells the chilling story of the extinction of the Khariar bull in Orissa. The government schemed to create a new breed of high-yield cattle by introducing an exotic new stock and forcibly castrating the indigenous Khariar breed which was famous for its yield, as well as an integral part of the community tradition. Not just did the Khariars get wiped out — over the plaintive protests of the local community — but the new variety never survived. Disaster at an unimaginable scale.

History shows us that time and time again that simplistic mindsets, with no capacity for community engagement and cultural and social nuances, destroy value accumulate over millennia. India is the ultimate heteroculture, its spirit striking out in every possible direction, be it language, food, belief, practice and colour. Simplistic mindsets are the ultimate bulls in this china shop.

Earlier this morning I had my blood chilled again, and the fear bleeds on to these pages. In an NDTV story the District Magistrate of Varanasi innocently declares (5:34 in the video) that there is a plan to paint all the ghats of Varanasi in one ‘old stone heritage color’.

Yes, that’s what being bunched in the stomach feels like.

And I know we’ve felt it often these last few years as many things that are fundamentally heterogeneous in India have been sought to be ‘painted in one ‘heritage’ colour’, but there is no way to paint back the sepias, the sandstones, the reds, the pinks and the aquamarines. One brush will destroy them all.

[photo credit — Atur Agrawal]

It remains unclear whether the repaint will be for the actual ghats or the ghat-buildings as well, but in both cases much stands to be lost.

What else will be painted monochrome? Kindly, get off our ghats.



If you love Varanasi as much as I do, and stand for the many colours of India, then do add a comment so that we can stay connected and do whatever little we can to stand for what makes sense, and against what’s potentially destructive. One person you can reach out and offer your support to is Vrinda Dar of the Kautilya Society who has made this her life’s work.

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