The greatness of a people and its moral progress can be judged by the way they treat animals.
– Mahatma Gandhi
On the way connecting Varanasi to Sarnath Buddhist sanctuary, there is a large fruit and vegetable market called Panckoshi Fal Mandi. Intrigued by the non-tourist atmosphere, I decide to stop for a visit.
In Varanasi, 80% of the population is vegetarian. Hinduism is based on the principle of ahimsa, nonviolence, and killing animals is regarded as an unclean act. A vegetarian diet is also considered healthier than an omnivorous diet and therefore able to guarantee a longer life.
Despite the religious precept, not all Hindus are vegetarians. Many eat eggs and poultry, but never cow meat. Cows are in fact considered sacred animals, universal mothers who generously give their milk not only to calves but to all creatures. The high percentage of vegetarians in Varanasi, possibly due to the sacred nature of the city, makes fruit and vegetable markets privileged places for social exchanges.
I sneak through the narrow streets of the market, with the idea of stealing some stealthy shots, but I immediately get noticed. People point at me and talk to each other. I’m afraid they will drive me away so I’m about to retire, when in fact I realize that they are yelling at me to greet me friendly!
The vegetable shops stop me at every booth, asking me where I come from and begging me to shoot a portrait of them: in a few minutes, a small crowd gathers around me, curious to take a peak at my pictures. They laugh, they have fun, they tease. They’re as happy as a bunch of kids.
Time goes by really fast when it’s fun, but I think I’ve been holding back too much so I try to get back to my cab. At every step, someone asks me for a photo. I start to worry about filling all my cards. And I’m only at the beginning of my trip to India!
Then a man gives me a shy nod. I approach his cart. He has two intense, melancholy eyes like a Bollywood star. He also wants a picture, but is ashamed to show it to others. In fact, he doesn’t want others to see me take it. When I show him the preview, he almost looks away.
“You look gorgeous, pal. Be proud!”
Beauty that is ashamed of itself is not an unusual phenomenon in Asia. It is enchanting.
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