I live in the city of Cuttack, located along the banks of Mahanadi and its distributaries Kathajodi, Kuakhai, Birupa which run through the city.
It is one of those quintessential small towns in India: dusty roads, old buildings, open drains, narrow gullies, crowded markets, nonchalant cows with silhouettes of dilapidated rickshaws.
However unlike Gangs of Waaseypur, Cuttack does not have betel chewing local goons ornamented with sickles, knives and revolvers ready for war anytime and anywhere. It is quite a peaceful place with lilies of various hues blooming in ponds at random places. And it is also a place that prompts people to create vivid mental imagery about me the moment I mention it in my introduction.
It usually starts like this.
First, they imagine that I can never speak English without that typical small town accent. I know nothing about the subtleties of the modern-day life and would go blind in excitement if I visited a multiplex or pub. They imagine me watching soap operas and think I am pathetically unaware of the exciting happenings around the world.
A typical small town girl is branded as someone who wears salwar kameez throughout her childhood and teenage years, decked with gold earrings and glass bangles. She goes to the temple every Tuesday, has braided oiled up hair, dreams of getting married right after school,only to become the ideal daughter-in-law law with colorful bangles, sarees and a dash of vermilion on her forehead.
As I notice the change in expressions from delight to disgust to pity, I smile. I have no point to prove to people. Yet there are times when I feel like pouring my heart out.
I feel like telling them that I belong to the city with a rich legacy of 1000 years, a city where people of various cultures, castes and religions come together and celebrate Durga Puja and Eid with the same fervor.
Cuttack – It is not just a city. It is an era where one can see a wealthy businessman and a modest labourer, standing next to one another gorging on street food from the same vendor, where people stop and take the victim to the hospital after an accident, where one can still catch a glimpse of a grandfather and grandchild on the same cycle or Luna, where a modest rickshaw puller can teach a lesson or two about life, where people would stand up and support someone in distress.
Where people still have time to pause and adore small things, which others in big cities miss.
The small towns in India are like the typical mothers in the Bollywood movies from the 1970s where they embrace their children with open arms, irrespective of the economic or social status.
We may not be a metro or a smart city yet.
We may be small in size and may not have multiplexes and malls. We may not have gigantic skyscrapers but we have a big heart. We are simple, uncomplicated and always loving.
If you bucket us under ‘small towns’ – we smile about it. Because deep inside we know, we have big hearts!
Stereotyping cities and its people as ‘small’ on the basis of your imaginative assumptions is indeed an easy thing to do, it might seem to be a rational idea too. But let’s not forget every small town has a unique spirit and heart which should be revered. Only then can the horizons of the mind be broadened and the stereotypes can be broken.
Share your picture with us using #IamCuttack telling us what your city really means to you and we will try to feature the same.
Photo Credits: Riteek Das, Sarba Roy and a fantastic team of volunteers at Cuttack who braved rains to do this for us!