My Cuttack had sprung to life, almost like a mischievous child ready for playtime after a nice afternoon siesta. The bamboo structures of tiny stalls, brightly colored tarpaulins, multi colored LED lights and the monster like giant wheels indicated that Baliyatra along was just round the corner.
Everyone in my Cuttack looked forward to it eagerly with the restlessness of a curious child. It was almost like a wonderland that ignited the tiny flicker of delight in the seemingly lost souls who struggled with the drudgery and monotony of everyday life. Baliyatra had artisans and tradesmen coming from all the parts of India and the people who visited it made sure that each of them indulged in some heavy banter coupled with silly laughter . Right from Dokra jewellery, Pipli Craftwork, Kashmiri shawls, Assamese bamboo handicrafts, Terracotta to Kandhamal spices, the festival had it all.
The dusty exhibition ground quietly witnessed stooping uncles with pot bellies, talkative aunties with intricately woven Sambalpuri sarees and heavy jewelry, their over active children with running noses and the lanky teenagers with crazy clothes, handpicking items from the stalls, bargaining vehemently and then swiftly moving to the next stall, feeling hungry and frustrated.
Amidst the cacophony of 90’s Hindi Film music, the loudspeakers suddenly blared “Buy One, Get Three Ice Creams Free.” With this, amidst the chaos, dust and confusion, the crazy crowd marched like an army of zombies in a single direction to the area of the food stalls, which happened to be the region of heavenly bliss.
The air was heavy with the smell of the deep-fried egg cutlets, the chicken rolls with secret Chinese sauce, the simmering alu tikkis and the ever rotating kebabs on skewers. It was amusing to observe contorted faces devouring the tangy gol gappas and mirchi pakodas. There were 101 types of dosas having the stuffing that ranged from creamy cheese to tangy mushrooms. On a crowded corner, one could notice a huge vessel on fire letting out the subtle aroma of Hyderabadi dum biriyani.
I had always loved observing this aspect of the festival : the happy faces giving out a satiated grunt as they devoured their favorite delicacies.
Many things had changed since childhood though. The Mathura cake stalls had given way to the brightly lit bakery with the flamboyant display of creamy pastries, cheesy pizzas and burgers with crunchy stuffing, the earthen lamps of the stalls had been replaced by blinding halogens. Also, there were human sized Mickey Mouses roaming around food stalls to cheer the chirpy children as they were coaxed to eat by their distraught mothers who were trying desperately to strike a balance with the oppressive heat and their dazzling attires.
As I gear up to visit Baliyatra with a big bag to handpick the variety of things I am going to buy, I realize just one thing.
A few years from now, I might be away in some other city or country, away from Baliyatra, but no matter what, Baliyatra can never be away from me.
[Reminisced & Relived by: Sarba Roy. Photos by: Riteek]