A quick drive through Gorakhpur
Taking in for a brief moment, the de-facto epicentre of India's political capital
It's a bit rattling to land up at an airport that, let alone a lobby, doesn't even have a parking lot. Passing through a group of local policemen, you step out of an iron gate, on to the main road, with dozens of people closely gawking your every move, staring at your bag, as if you were a jailbird.
That's your first impression of Gorakhpur, before you drive ahead a few kilometres to sense a small-town that is like any other - with malls, multiplex, loads of branded showrooms, desi restaurants lining the streets full of young men/women whose choice of clothing would fit urban-regular anywhere else.
As would their conversations that I saw them make at the Jagran Film Festival that we'd brought to their town. These boys are shockingly with-it on stuff about movies, web shows/series. A few girls navigate on Tinder as well. But, no, they didn't find me worthy of a right-swipe, and therefore a quick chat. So, well. Damn it. Basically small towns in India, of late, you'll notice, inevitably appear better in reality than in one's imagination, given our expectations, produced chiefly from news reports, are ridiculously low. It's the same with Gorakhpur, which is both a university-town (I see a huge AIIMS campus coming up), and a railway-city, with the station-wall facing the main road, that never stops.
It has the world's longest railway platform. In the vicinity of which are numerous hoardings advertising engineering/medical/English coaching classes. The connection between the two is obvious. Education alone guarantees a train-ride towards a better world beyond. What's the point of that station otherwise?
People left behind, I enquired, either do "business, or naukri [job]." Those unable to locally find either, and no luck with higher education as well, probably explore options to work with their hands elsewhere. As did writer VS Naipaul's Brahmin ancestors, who left Gorakhpur to serve as indentured labour in Trinidad, in the late 1800s. If not for them, Naipaul wouldn't have been the most famous (albeit third-generation) descendant of this town that currently piques people's interest, mainly because the best-known, living gentleman from Gorakhpur is one, Ajay Bisht, better known as Yogi Adityanath, who renounced his parents to take up priesthood, plus politics, as a perfect professional combo.
One of Bisht's direct spiritual ancestor was Mahant Digvijaynath (long-time MP), who took cognisance of Ayodhya's Ram temple issue in 1949, which led to the placement of statues of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita inside the disputed structure. Bisht's immediate godfather, Mahant Avaidyanath (also long-time parliamentarian), headed the movement thereafter, which resulted in the demolition of the mosque in 1992.
Only a couple of years before he became Yogi (followed by back-to-back Lok Sabha victories), Bisht used to be a stylish bloke, wearing bandana, dark shades, delving in student politics for ABVP, at a post-grad college in Rishikesh.
I learn this from Bisht's hagiography - titled The Monk Who Became A Chief Minister, published by Bloomsbury - along with stuff on his daily 'janta darbars', where as head of the Gorakhnath Mutt, and spiritual heir to Mahant Avaidyanath, Yogi Adityanath would deliver instant justice, over people's personal and professional disputes. He would see his pronouncements - mostly related to government matters - through. For no official would discount a letter from the Mutt, for fear of having to deal with Yogiji himself, or a large, young self-styled army, called Yuva Vahini, that swears by his word.
The Gorakhnath Mutt is a vast temple complex, with guest-rooms, and multiple enclosures offering the faithful separate sections to pray to Gods of their choice - Ram, Shani, Vishnu, Bal Dev, scores of others -along with statues of rishis/sants/mahants, deep in meditation. This is no different from any other grand religious complex you'll visit.
But for the sheer number of regular young boys in saffron tees, you notice, on a bright Monday morning, hanging around, as you walk further into the compound that has a neat hoarding of Yogi Adityanath, now the Chief Minister of the nation's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India - uniquely signifying in the home of Gods, the new existential marker, 'here and now' (power and patronage), besides the usual, 'there and after' (life beyond death).
Like any other fly-by-night traveller, I lazily employ the services of my cabbie to gauge opinion: He hasn't heard of the famed 'Romeo Squad' that actively protects women against unwanted men. He'll vote for Modi, seduced by his promises. He doesn't have anything to say about Muslims in Gorakhpur ("You can't tell one from the other, unless they step out in a juloos")…. Frankly? I'm not working on a story, either. That's done - for the moment, anyway.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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