It was in mid 1960s, much before I was born. My mother shares her experience about Bhubaneswar at that time.
The new capital was under construction, quite apart from the old town. There were vast open scrub fields, mostly covered with laterite soil and bushes, ups and downs surface, for miles around. The link between the two settlements, one a historic corridor and the other a baby town were only a few dusty narrow roads. The main mode of commuting was bicycles and occasionally a few cars and government jeeps.
As my mother recalls the serenity of the old town, full of tranquilities, and the water pond at Kedar – Gauri was so fresh and pure. As a child she with her friends used to take dips in the pond whenever she visited Bhubaneswar. There were hardly any tourists except a few Bengalis from neighbouring Calcutta (now Kolkata) who hopped on their way while returning from Puri to pay visit to Kedar – Gauri.
Cuttack was the largest town (it was not a city though) in Odisha. There were a few government run buses (one in every hour, from morning to evening) connecting between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. People working in the new capital had to travel to the central bus stand near the AG square to commute to Cuttack. It used to take one hour. For all major purchasing, the residents of Bhubaneswar solely depended upon Cuttack.
At that time most of new Bhubaneswar’s population worked in the state secretariat and other government offices at clerical level. Their earning was meager. So, in the first half of the month, the market saw hectic activity and the second half almost nil.
In the 60’s and early 70’s, the whole of modern Bhubaneswar, on the other side of the national highway 5, was covered by Chandaka Forest. Today’s major residential, educational and IT hubs were covered with forest at one time. In-between there were tiny villages, like Patia, Kalarahanga, Damana, etc. The villagers from these villages who were growing country vegetables in their fields used to go all the way to new capital to sale their produce. In the evening they used to commute back in groups riding their bicycles. On the narrow lanes there were criss-crossing of nallahs, near Acharya Vihar, Sainik School and Damana. They used to burn tires or dry straws for light and to protect themselves from wild animals, mainly tusker elephants while commuting back to their villages. This may sound like fairy tales for the generation that have not seen the Bhubaneswar of past.
In the mid 1970s, I was a child growing up in Sambalpur, a town, 300 km away from Bhubaneswar in western Odisha. I remember once we had gone to Bhubaneswar on a holiday. We stayed with one of mother’s relatives in Unit – IV AG Colony. On a Sunday we went to Nandankanan for a picnic. We boarded in a bus which took us to Nandankanan via Khandagiri caves and the Chandaka forest. The present Nandankanan Road, which is a hub for IT industry and other corporate houses, was either not existent or not significant. It took us nearly two hours to reach. The journey was through a dense forest tract and in-between valleys. There were no settlements for miles around, quite contrast to what today the road has been transformed. There are now high-rise apartments and high-tech research and incubation centres.
In the early 1980’s Bhubaneswar’s look changed dramatically. Large circles were laid at Rajmahal and Master Canteen showcasing the heritage of Odisha. Roads were widened and lit with halogen bulbs. Slowly new shopping centres emerged at important junctions; one such was the Asoka Market at Master Canteen. There were scores of swanky shops which opened up at Market Building, the famous being the Kalamandir, and near Station Square. The residents of Bhubaneswar were no more dependent upon Cuttack except when they had to buy material in wholesale for the occasions like wedding. There were also town buses introduced in the city in 5 or 6 routes connecting Mancheswar, Lingaraj Temple, Nandankanan, Vani Vihar and Old Town.
But despite all these developments Bhubaneswar was full of open spaces. Cycle rickshaws were the main mode of public transport. One could count the number of auto rickshaw plying on Bhubaneswar’s roads in finger tips. The airport was too small. There was only one direct flight to Delhi and one to Kolkata. I remember there used to be heavy demands to introduce direct flight to Mumbai, the country’s financial capital.
There were not many schools in Bhubaneswar. Odiya medium schools were mostly preferred by middle class children. The Capital High School in Unit 3 was most sought after. Among the residential schools, Sainik School was well-known. The DM School in the campus of RIE (formerly RCM) was yet another sought after school. In English medium schools, only elite mass could afford. The popular ones were St. Joseph Convent, Stewart and DAV Unit 8.
BJB College was the only major college for higher education. Only those who secured very high percentage could get admission in BJB. The other government colleges were Ramadevi for girls, Rajdhani and College of Basic Education in OUAT. The opening of XIMB in late 80s opened up a new chapter in management education. There was one private engineering college, Orissa College of Engineering at Rasulgarh.
I remember, as a middle class boy I had also desire to become an engineer. But there was no scope for me in Bhubaneswar and I didn’t get through the joint entrance examination. Thus, the only left option was in Bangalore or other locations in South India, which never worked out.
Street food has been always popular in Bhubaneswar. In the 80’s when we were growing up it was bara and gugni, which were so tempting through their fragrance, size and taste. Now days we miss them. There was also local chat which we enjoyed a lot. Towards the end of 80s, the influence from Kolkata was witnessed in Bhubaneswar’s street food as roll, cutlets, chops started dominating. Still Chinese food was not a part of Bhubaneswar’s street food culture. Restaurants were very few. Only Priya in Unit 3 and Venus Inn were major joints selling South Indian snacks.
Among the high-end hotels, the late 80s was the beginning. Hotel Swosti, Hotel Oberoi, Hotel Konark and Hotel Kalinga Ashok had opened up catering to the demand of high-end tourists and VIP visitors. With relation to entertainment, Bhubaneswar had hardly anything to offer. There was no night life, no pub, no bar, and no multiplexes. Keshari and Sriya complex were only theatres. But their conditions were far better. Odiya cinemas drew huge crowds in 1980s. I remember as a child I often watched Odiya movies. But after 90s, all that changed as I moved to Pune for higher studies.
All those of years of my childhood and teen I had strong attachment with Bhubaneswar, a city which was laidback and sleepy, yet was deep rooted in tradition. But today when I visit Bhubaneswar I find it similar to any another city of India. It has lost its old world charm. It has become more cosmopolitan in terms of people and culture. Today I see, students and job seekers from other parts of India flocking to Bhubaneswar as it has become a hub for education and IT industries. The food culture has changed much. People have money. Cars of all models and brands are plying on its burgeoning roads. High-rises up to 22 storeys have changed the skyline of Bhubaneswar. Malls, multiplexes and high end specialty restaurants have emerged all over. The taste for food has changed dramatically. Pizzas, hotdogs, Mexican, Chinese, continental, sea food have been the flavours of the town. There are more than a dozen of cafe coffee days. There are also dominos, subways, baskin robbins, pizza hut, and so on. People, especially the younger generation prefer to talk in Hindi rather than Odiya.
The air and train connection have increased dramatically. Now Bhubaneswar is connected to all metros and major cities by air and train. Very soon it will have connectivity with international destinations.
Its internal commuting system has also changed drastically. City buses now connect with most parts of the city. There is also mushrooming of auto rickshaws.
Amidst all these developments I find myself sometime lost. People have reduced visiting their friends and relatives houses. There are no more Khatti of youths as it used to be in the 80s and 90s. I still do not know how to react to the speedy change, but as long as it is happening organically I think we should all appreciate the process of change.
( He is a native of Bhubaneswar, living in Ahmedabad. Archaeologist by training and educationist by profession, he has worked extensively in Mahanadi Delta and Chilika Lake during his archaeology career. His main focus being Buddhist monuments, ancient cities (their rise and decline) and ancient ports (maritime history of Odisha). Presently he is working with Educational Initiatives (www.ei-india.com) as an educational specialist. He is also writing a historical fiction on Indus Valley Civilisation at present and developing multimedia based learning tool on ‘India – My Country’.)
Photo Courtesy– trekearth.com