Sunday, December 27, 2009
Early December I had to plan a quick holiday to my home town Bhubaneswar to be a part of the mostly unplanned year-ending weddings of friends and relatives. The sojourn was demanding from the beginning as I had to opt for the 40-hour long train journey from the west-cost to east coast of India with air tickets suddenly out of reach after the wedding rush began.
As every unwanted event in life provides us with some pleasant surprises, this laborious journey provided me with the opportunity to finish ‘Sea of Poppies’, a five-hundred page long novel by Amitav Ghosh, which I had my hands on for the last six months.
Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa state in eastern India, is a large, expandable and beautiful settlement but without the million plus population that every large Indian city possesses.
As the wedding season was in progress I had move throughout the city which exposed me to the newly developed roads, malls and hospitality infrastructure in the city. It was a surprising and refreshing moment to discover the beauty of your hitherto neglected sleepy town after struggling nearly a decade in the dismal infrastructure of some supposedly largest and most developed cites of the world.
I understood the with population just under a million, radius stretching over fifty kilometers and initial town planning by legendary Le Corbusier, Bhubaneswar remains one of the best definition urban cities in India along with Chandigarh, also designed by the French architect.
The largely unmanaged yet clean structures of hundreds of Shaiva temples, Jaina and Buddha caves surrounded by numerous water bodies and greenery intermingle gracefully with the clean, western swanky buildings. The good thing is that most people of Bhubaneswar can still see the sky in the morning and evening, get their vegetables from the garden and buy their grains annually from villages in the outskirt to beat inflation.
Middleclass, confident, moderate and aspiring is how the city represents herself in the first decade of the new century. All is well in the political and administrative epicenter of this small eastern Indian state. But like acid test paper a certain part of the city its changes colour everyday to showcase the distress in the hinterland. The road stretching from Bhubaneswar station to the legislative building always hosts quiet protestors of various sort amid small policy cover.
Most protestors are people from the tribal dominated non-costal parts of the state where world’s largest miners and steel makers are waiting to set shop. Most protests are about losing land, insufficient compensation and rehabilitation. As mining related protests dominate, real issues like malnutrition, hunger, lack of health facilities and illiteracy take a backseat.
Some of my friends from Delhi and Mumbai made some passing comments at the hoardings across the town. “Like brokerages, asset management companies grabbing every corner of advertising place in Mumbai … steel, ingot and billet companies do the same in Orissa.
Soon I discovered the truth in their observation Bhubaneswar airport there are two-dozens of hoardings of natural resource firms. One of the most controversial projects had a large hoarding depicting a happy tribal family with a caption larger that the photograph saying, “Mining happiness for the people of Orissa.”
My neighborhood pan shop endorses ‘Surana billets’, my dilapidated primary school walls had ‘Vijay saria’ asymmetrically painted on it and to my horror I discovered the lichen adorned walls of my boundary bears the names “Too Strong saria,” written in cheap brick colours. I quickly removed the stains and breathed easy.
As mining advertisings are creeping on everything in this coastal city discontent and people’s war is creeping in the vast tribal plateaus of the state.