Sometimes, the view of an outsider makes you look at your own home through different eyes.
I was in Bhubaneswar last week for a friend’s wedding and was accompanied by two friends (both stand-up comedians).
The plan was to attend the Reception, and also conduct an Open Mic (which went very well, thank you for asking!), and come back. Now, both these guys had already begun ‘writing their sets’ about Orissa. Much of their impression of Orissa came from media images, and jokes like the ones I often crack (‘I am from Orissa. I only crack poor jokes’).
These two guys were probably expecting tribal warlords at the Railway Station, holding spears and dropping off bears into the Ladies Compartment. In a way, they were shocked to find normalcy.
Bhavneet and Mukesh were completely bowled over, remarking on the wide roads, the pleasant winter weather, and the lack of noise and chaos. Travelling, it is said, changes who you are, and how you look at the world.
Either that, or the copious amounts of pot we had consumed through the journey.
But it was when I saw my hometown through their eyes that I began to realise the overwhelmingly calm blanket that Bhubaneswar seems to wrap you with. I don’t mean this in a ‘Wah! Yahaan toh sheher ka shor-sharaaba nahi hai sort of way. Bhubaneswar generally is a peaceful, calm place.
The biggest home-grown stores close for two hours in the afternoon so that everybody is allowed two hours of sleep. A tradition that these asshole nationwide malls are trying to destroy, those fuckers!
The roads are wide, planned out, and perfect for both humans and bovines. I noticed that in any part of the city, you’re more likely to hear birds chirping than vehicles vrooming. It was only on this trip that I realised the value of a planned city.
Bhubaneswar was designed by Otto Koenigsberger, a German architect and city planner. In 1948, it was decided that Cuttack had too many issues (like spectators throwing bottles into cricket grounds), and couldn’t sustain itself as the state capital. Bhubaneswar was named the new capital.
Since it is a planned city, much of Bhubaneswar is visibly divided into two parts. Government-owned land, and private property. In fact, through much of the newer parts of the city, a road divides the two, with government land on the left, and private property on the right.
I spent a good part of my years in Bhubaneswar in government flats, and often found the entire setting stifling. The roads that turned at 90 degrees, the endless lines of houses that looked identical, stood still in the afternoon heat and bustled about in the evenings – a flurry of Chintu, Montu, and Pintu playing on the road in front of the identical houses. I remember feeling stagnant, tied down.
Visiting those parts after a decade, I can see the difference between the two faces of the city. Private property is like a gigantic mushroom, growing larger, brighter, more grotesque as the years pass by. Buildings were torn down, and replaced by taller ones. Shops and hotels having migrated to greener pastures.
But the government owned parts of the city are still the same. I rode through the streets and soaked in the sights and the smells, exactly as they were. I found the same houses, the roads that turned at 83 degrees (age having taken a slight toll). At some places, I could have sworn I saw the same cows from my childhood. Everything as they were, like a painting from Gryffindor Tower at Hogwarts.
I can’t recognise the part of myself that found this suffocating. I had left as Samuel Coleridge – heady, impulsive, and swooning with the force of the storm in my head. I had returned as William Wordsworth, noticing the mundane joys of the world, getting inspired to pen a poem titled The Solitary Creeper.
I spent a good week in Bhubaneswar. Lazy days, and charged up nights.
My evenings in Bhubaneswar have had a fixed pattern for a few years now. As the sun sets, I walk out into the market and help myself to a nice, round gola of Bhang. I then walk about to my favourite part of the city – the Sarkari Bhang Dukaan – and smoke some good weed.
As darkness envelopes the city, I walk around, visiting friends who are drinking, the nights a blur of red, black and gold. (Gold, because golden colour Activa).
This time though, I paid closer attention to Bhubaneswar. I took in the sights and the sounds and the smells.
And on one such night, I made a resolution to myself. A weak, tottering resolution, but a resolution nonetheless.
When I reach the age of 35, I will retire from the hustle bustle of life. I will find a house in a government colony in Bhubaneswar, and retire.