Category Archives: Bhubaneswar

Sarathi-Baba-wallpaper

The Rise and Fall of Sarathi Baba

I’ll be honest with you.

I have always wanted to be a Baba. I have the long hair, and the ability to talk for hours. I also possess the innate ability to sound profound while discussing the difference between urad daal and masoor daal.

On a deeper level, growing up in an ashram exposed me to the works of a number of spiritual gurus such as Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Osho and UG. I have giggled at some of their teachings, read through some over and over again, and gaped in wonder at the simplicity of some of their preachings.

So the desire to be a Baba was always there.

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The last few years haven’t been great for Babas. There was Nityananda, who raised a symbolic leg in a private chamber with his devotee. There was Asaram Bapu, who has been convicted of raping two teenage girls. There is of course, Sant Ram Rahim Singh Insaan who has decided to inflict cinematic torture on the world through his films. And finally, that dude in Haryana whose guards started shooting at the police when he was wanted on murder charges.

But these might seem like minor hiccups, as the Baba industry is the second oldest profession in the world. It is only a matter of time before Indians latch on to another Baba.

Sarathi Baba knew all of this.

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Sarathi Baba was the first big mover in the Baba market in Odisha. The market had been fragmented by Satya Sai Baba, Asaram Bapu, the new-age secularism of Shirdi Sai Baba, and the Silent Sect of Sisters – the Brahmakumaris.

However, it was a case of local connect. These were all Babas preaching in Hindi/English. There was a need for local flavour, to activate local language settings. The suave, English speaking Babas like Sadhguru or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar do not attract too many people in Odisha.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

And that’s how Sarathi Baba shot into the limelight.

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Sarathi Baba spoke in Odiya, dressed up in yellow clothes, and bellowed from the television set every morning. While Babas are supposed to stay away from worldly pleasures and generally adopt an ascetic waistline, Sarathi Baba looked like he ate four katoris of gajar halwa a day.

When people dug into his past, it was found that Sarathi Baba used to sell paan in his village and gradually transformed into a yogic guiding light of the state. This gave me a lot of hope for a number of reasons.

Sarathi Baba cooler

You may achieve enlightenment later, but right now, you need Symphony Air Cooler.

Apart from spiritual reasons, one of the reasons was that I kinda look like the dude on the left after a chicken biriyani

The picture on the left is me after a Sunday afternoon chicken biriyani.

In a few years, his devotees began to increase. He released MP3 albums in his Phata Mangeshkar voice, his devotees wore lockets and bracelets with his pudgy face on it. Sarathi Baba opened new branches of his ashram in nearly every city in Odisha, with his main attraction being a cement cow that could give milk!

Please watch the video at your own discretion. It shows honey flowing out of Baba’s feet. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted about its authenticity. 

 

While most Babas like to stay away from familial bonds, Sarathi Baba proclaimed to have a son. This young man (quite literally) threw his weight around, and was partially responsible for the earth slipping from its orbital axis.

Life was sailing smoothly for Sarathi Baba, when like most Babas, he decided to take a break.

The plan was simple, he would come to Hyderabad for a few days with a lady friend, chill out in an unknown land, monetise the benefits of being a Baba with all those tax cuts, and return to his holy land. Except for one crucial point.

ALL WAITERS AND BARTENDERS IN HYDERABAD ARE ODIYA.

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It happened before you could say the word ‘motey’. A curious waiter with a smartphone clicked a few pictures of a portly man who bore a striking resemblance to Odisha’s most famous Baba. In the picture, Baba was seen watching TV in the hotel lobby, ordering beer, and biting off chicken with aplomb.

Sarathi Baba Hyderabad hotel photos

It didn’t take long for the pictures to spread like wildfire. The hotel records were thrown open, and it was found that Sarathi Baba had ordered three Kingfisher Strong beers, and chilly chicken. That Baba was not only spreading his wisdom, but also his sperm. The 22 year old girl who had travelled with Baba immediately told the world (from behind a red handkerchief) that she had been harassed and forced to travel with Sarathi Baba.

When Baba travelled back to Bhubaneswar, he was arrested at the airport. It was a sad end to a colourful yellow career that held a lot of promise. Baba’s son was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate, and as can be seen from this Pulitzer-winning news byte, often engaged in vices like eating mutton pakoda and looking like Ramesh Powar.

 

Sarathi Baba’s ashrams were seized. Odiya people went back to the much safer Baba Ramdev and his Anulom-Vilom. Sarathi Baba got trolled by Odiya people in strange, weird ways.

Sarathi Baba Audio CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

sarathi-baba-cartoon

Caption says: ‘Whatever people say….DHHO!’

Sarathi Baba protest Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi wondering what he did this time!

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While it might seem comic, the story of Sarathi Baba taught me a few important life lessons. 1. If you become a famous Baba, always go to 5 Star hotels. Or to houses of rich devotees. Not Hotel Sunshine in Gachibowli, Hyderabad. 2. Never order three Kingfisher beers. Nothing good can come off that.

Meanwhile, the Baba market in Odisha sees a Sarathi Baba sized hole, waiting for me to fill it.

JAI SARATHI BABA!

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A short note on the bulls and dogs of Bhubaneswar

I have long believed that one can predict the status of a city by looking at the condition of the dogs. The stray dog is the only creature that has managed to co-inhabit urban and rural spaces with humans.

Everytime I visit a new place, I keep an eye out for the stray dogs. I have had to encounter them on dark, lonely roads, holding my breath and ready to scram at a moment’s notice. I have also had groups of stray dogs wag their tails and jump up on me gleefully.

In the bits of Himachal Pradesh I have experienced, I found the stray dogs to be healthy, friendly and generally Instagram-ready. Goa too has a healthy population of stray dogs, but with a dark, evil side. The stray dogs of Goa (tired of all the noise, littering and EDM bullshit) have become a fearful lot that bark and chase away lonely trespassers, romantics on scooters, and harmless drunks such as myself.

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When in Bhubaneswar, I spend most of the day lazing in bed, watching trashy films on the television, waiting for the sun to set. Once Surya devata has retired for the day, I step out to gulp down Bhang from the friendly neighbourhood chhennawala, and look for the guy who sells pre-rolled joints for 20 bucks.

As a nocturnal being, I have to encounter stray dogs on a daily basis, stuttering home late into the night, or walking into a shady lane where a peddler has set up his humble empire.

The stray dogs of Bhubaneswar are friendly, cordial and mostly interested in matters pertaining to their own business. I have never been chased by stray dogs – whether I was walking, stumbling, rolling, or being dragged up.

I pin this down to two reasons. 1. Bhubaneswar mostly goes to sleep by 9 PM. Stray dogs have been given their time and space to exist, and they reciprocate the gesture by being nice to the entirety of the homo sapien specie.
The second reason could be attributed to a recent proliferation of Shirdi Sai Baba devotees in the city. Sai Baba temples have sprung up around the city, and unlike other gods, Sai Baba’s principles are relaxed, secular and attuned with 21st century ideals. As a Shirdi Sai Baba devotee, you needn’t fast on Mondays, consume only salt on Tuesday, and offer your small intestine on Wednesdays.

Shiridi Sai Baba’s emphasis on providing for needy humans and animals, and the many pictures of Sai Baba with dogs at his feet, seem to have had a lasting impact on the denizens of Bhubaneswar.

THE BULLS OF BHUBANESWAR

I have been surrounded by cows throughout my life. In fact, if I could somehow avoid the dung and the stench, I’d go so far as to state that cows are among my favourite animals on earth.
Of course, I am partially biased towards the Buffalo, for reasons both spirtitual as well as Rastafari. [Read my blog on my favouritest animal in the world – The Buffalo!]

But that doesn’t change the fact that I have grown up around the sights, smells and sounds of cows. Like the family who’d been alloted a government quarter below ours, and had generously brought along with them three cows and two calves.

Amidst the brouhaha and worshipping of cows, we have doled out a rather raw deal to the bulls of the nation. Those that come from a sturdy lineage are castrated and sent to farms to work as oxen. Those that aren’t sent to slog in harsh conditions are retained only for the purpose of procreation. And yet, in our cruel, capitalistic world, we have chosen to deny bulls even that final pleasure – choosing instead to artificially inseminate the finest bull semen into cows – rending the bulls of India practically jobless.

All over the country, bulls roam around homeless and desolate. They haunt obscure lanes, surviving only on the sympathy of Facebook photographers who add a watermark and pimp the photographs for personal glorification.

The Bulls of Bhubaneswar however, differ from their brethren around the nation. Owing partially to the predominant Shiva culture that presides in the city, bulls are worshipped, respected and well fed. There are shelters that only take in wounded and aged stray bulls, shopkeepers feed them an eclectic diet of fruit buns, bananas, and (on bad days) cheap laddoos.

 

The bulls of Bhubaneswar amble about merrily from street to street, colony to colony, helping the laymen of the city absolve themselves of their sins by feeding them a banana. They are healthy, agile and nimble (in case a BMC towing truck happens to pass by). Bhubaneswar is said to have more than 500 temples, and this has spun off quite well for the bulls. They are a cheerful, happy lot.

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And as I stumble back home, drunk on the sins of the night, the two of them stand on the roads looking at me from a distance. They perceive me as neither a friend nor an enemy. Just a co-inhabitor of the same planet.

As I close the gate to retire for the night, I catch the bull swatting flies away with its tail, a wide smile acroos his face.

Like the logo of a milk production company.

Indian pet names thumbnail

The Slow, Tragic Death of Pet Names

The relation between ‘Good Name’ and ‘Pet Name’ has always fascinated me.

I love the fact that in India, your pet name is not a shorter form of your name, like Bill for William, or Chris for Christopher. Our pet names are living entities by themselves.

Pet names are fairly popular in Orissa, and the names given are fairly common too. Boys are named Pappu, Babuna, Ricky, Kaalia, etc. Girls are called Mamuni, Kunmun, Munmun and Baby.

Giving a child its ‘Good Name’ is a fairly well documented process. There is a complex assortment of beliefs thrown in – Astrology, Numerology, position of the planets, and the mood of the local pujari on that particular day. There is a lot of thought given, a few options are thrown around, and finally, one name is picked. Your Good Name sticks with you for your life, it becomes who you are. It connotes an emotion every time your friends hear the name. Your name becomes you.

And I have a theory that educated Oriya parents of my generation gave their children distinctly long, dramatic names. Shiva Sundar, Debashish, Biswa Kalyan – most Oriya names are long-winding and theatrical. I often joke that it is educated Oriya people’s way of asserting their educated status over the rest of society.

I am no exception. Sai Hrudaya Ranjan is not exactly what you’d call a common name.

 

But how nick-names come to be, has always fascinated me.

Since in Orissa, there are a few commonly used pet names, you have about 10-12 choices, and a pragmatic name is allotted, probably keeping in mind that there’s no other Pappu, Ricky, or Mamuni around. A simple, informal, pragmatic solution.

There is no feeling of historic importance, no histrionics or ceremonies – a pet name sticks to you, a second identity of yours. The one you grow up with outside school, the one your childhood friends call you by.

Some guys have two pet names. One that is given at home, and one that their friends give them. The second pet names are generally not very flattering – Chamba, for example. Some are so bad, they can be interchanged with names of actual pets – Litton, Chepa, Tara, Moti.

I have met a wide vista of pet names in my life. From the ubiquitous ‘Pappu’, to the exotic ‘Lord’, pet names have flashed themselves across my timeline of memories. Chintu, Chimpa, Jhikki, Popuna, Bapuni, Tippul, Babool and Litton.

I have lost my heart to many a Munmun and Kunmun. Sang imaginary songs of love to Chulbul, careful to avoid her sister Bulbul. Written letters to Pinky, Rosy, Reena and Baby.

Pet names generally abided by a simple rule of thumb. They had to be short (maximum 2-3 syllables), easy to remember (Chepa, for example, leaves a distinct imprint), and unique (but not too unique, like Chamba).

Now, this is where I got a real raw deal.

Much of my childhood was determined by this one particular relative. They weren’t really related to us in anyway, but asserted an unbelievable amount of control over what I did. Someone there gave me the most fuckall pet name in the history of fuckall pet names – Puppu.

I remember when my folks would come to visit me at school, and we’d be walking in lines, when all of a sudden, a shrill voice would ring out,

‘Aye, Puuuupppppppppppppppppuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu……………’

A long, intense call that echoed in my ears for about five minutes. I remember being embarrassed by my pet name; I’d look down and walk as quickly as I could.

Folks at school had no idea about the pet name though, as we were referred to by our initials. And admittedly, SHR sounded remarkably more suave and nuanced than Puppu.

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However, I have noticed a strange phenomenon of late.

Oriya people have started adopting strange, anglicised names for their children. I happened to teach at a school in Bhubaneswar for about six months, and the names I came across had no resemblance to the ones I had known.

They were all neutralised, shorn of any MTI – sterile names like Nivaan and Ayaan and Aman and Aabhya.

Of course, I have no right to comment about the names parents choose to give their children. I can’t sit like Bishen Singh Bedi, complain and crib. Naming your child is something you have complete rights over. That’s fine.

But it is the pet names that I am worried about.

Most of these modern names can double up as pet names as well. They are all short and unique, and assume the same importance at home and at school.

I doubt Aabhya, for example, would want to be referred to Bulbul? Nivaan is going to throw his iPhone 6 at your face if you call him Chepa.

In the way that smartphones ate into the market for alarm clocks, these modern names have extinguished the need for short pet names.

I am afraid in a few years, there will be no more Kalias in Bhubaneswar.

There will be no Tippul, with his group of friends on their bikes. No Bapuna hitting on Baby while texting Mamuni.

Pet names, I fear, will die a slow, sad death.

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(Featured Image Courtesy: Pran’s characters Billoo and Pinky, Copyright Diamond Comics India Ltd.)

BBSR

Bhubaneswar, through Bhang tinted glasses

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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(Feature Image Courtesy: Odisha360.com

Khotti

Kuch_Khatti_Kuch_Meethi

 

Every trip to Bhubaneswar is a reminder of how much the place has changed.

Bhubaneswar’s position in the growth curve implies a greater change than developed places. And as part of my walks around the city, the lack of this particularly fond Oriya culture of khotti struck me like a blow on the face.

For decades, khotti was an integral part of being an Oriya. As much a part as sleeping in the afternoon and eating a heavy dinner. A khotti had important social implications, it changed the way people looked at you. It was the place legends were created, reputations were built.

A khotti, at its most basic definition, was a congregation of friends in the evening, to chat and spend time together. Every person with a social life belonged to a particular khotti – some to more than one.

The location of the khotti played an important role in its popularity. The most popular ones were formed next to paan shops and Omfed (Orissa’s milk federation corporation) stalls. Some khottis were held near old temples, the more youthful ones near parks. Some were strategically held in front of ladies’ hostels – the men in a constant fight with instincts, attraction, and genes – to win the affection of comely women who lived across the road.

Large grounds worked favouribly for the establishment of the khotti, often lending its name to the organization (Police Ground Khotti, Football Ground Khotti). If there wasn’t a ground around, a tree was the requisite. No khotti was complete without a tree overhead. If there wasn’t a place to sit, bikes and scooters would be made to stand, and on top of them, the members would take their place, passing around cigarettes, or gutkhas, or whatever else the group chose to kill themselves with.

 

 

 

It is difficult to put a finger on why the khotti culture became popular.

But perhaps the most important reason was that there was nothing else to do. Back in those days, Bhubaneswar had no malls, no coffee houses, no book stalls, no pubs. In addition, internet wasn’t available everywhere, and at such breakneck speeds. Gadgetry was restricted to phones that could play songs, YouTube was a website you wouldn’t open if you were on a miserly internet plan.

And since there was nothing else to do in the evenings, every male member of the society attached himself to one or the other khotti. And once you joined a khotti, you lived with it through thick and thin, through earthquake or cyclone.

Khottis gave middle-aged men the freedom from their wives. They could bitch, smoke, chew paan and gutkha, and merrily paint the world red. Youngsters achieved the coveted feeling of ‘belonging’ to something, even if it was a motley crew of disillusioned college-goers.

A khotti had social presence too. Most khottis would have a Ganesh Puja/Saraswati Puja pandal attached to themselves. Cricket was the game of choice among the members of most of them. And after the game was over, the discussions would begin. Most discussions were bi-dimensional – bikes and girls.

With the advent of mobile phones, khottis became centres of hours of discussions around phones. There was always that one guy who had a posh phone, and in an era before Whatsapp, had nothing to hide in it. His friends played games on the phone, while others tried to fix deals with their acquaintances to buy or sell phones.

 

 

And every khotti also came with its own set of particularly peculiar characters. There was always the bhai of the khotti. With names like Jacky Bhai, Kalia Bhai, and Tippul Bhai, these bhais weren’t the sort who would organize serial blasts in the city. Not for them such violence. They concentrated on matters like sorting a guy who ogled at one of the khotti member’s ‘girl’ – even if she wouldn’t know of the gentleman’s existence. Or scaring a bunch of kids who wanted to play cricket on the same pitch that they did. Khotti bhais limited themselves to civilized disputes.

And every khotti also had the one idiot. The guy who spoke slowly and was automatically considered dim-witted. The entire evening would be spent in kicking his ass, asking him to get cigarettes from the shop, or laughing at fictitious stories of how small his penis is.

The bhai of the khotti would begin it, and on and on it would go, till darkness began to creep into the day, and everyone began to leave for their homes. If there was a reason to celebrate (somebody got hitched, got dumped, or identified a girl as his own), the night of revelry would begin from the khotti itself.

 

There was a sense of duty about the khotti. If you didn’t turn up for two days in a row, people would raise aspersions on your loyalty to friends. Everybody from college freshers to middle-aged married men belonged to one khotti or the other.

The khotti was the place where disputes were settled or created. The epicenter of rumours, the black hole of privacy. The most scandalous gossip, the most dramatic of stories – all originated from the khotti.

Of course, everybody else hated it. If you were lucky enough to have a girlfriend back then, you had to lie to her about it. Fathers considered the khotti with as much love as a stroke of polio in the family. And mother grumbled and complained about it throughout the day.

Mother: ‘Where are you going?’

Son: ‘Police ground khotti.’

Mother: ‘All day what you do at that khotti? All bunch of donkeysgettingtogethertoruinsocietyifonlyyouspentthatmuchtimeonstudiesyouwouldbe…’

 

And yet, in spite of the entire world talking ill of your khotti, you went to it everyday. You shared the laughs and the jokes, the bacteria from the street food, the shade from the same tree. For nearly every male in Bhubaneswar back then, a khotti meant the world.

 

And yet, I rarely see a khotti these days. There are malls, and the tall buildings that come with ‘development’. Technology has reached a stage where you could have a Google Khotti on your mobile phone. And yet all of these factors have eaten into khottis. Corners in streets have shops in their places. Buildings have sprung up from the ground. Streets are wider these days, shops have been razed to make place for hideous Vending Zones – where a bunch of shops are thrown together with an overarching colour of dirty dark green splashed across them.

Time has gotten dearer, and a million tiny things jostle for attention through the day. And just like that, in a few years, the custom seems like it belonged to an ancient time. A time when you stepped out of your house in the evening to be with your friends. To indulge in their idiosyncrasies, to laugh at their jokes even if they were narrated for the hundredth time.

Back then, your khotti determined your social life. In today’s time, you have to update a status, tag your friends to it, and watch sadly as five people ‘like’ it, three of them being your cousins.

Of Summer and Its Addictions

Isn’t it amazing how every year, when summer comes on, people will point it out to you? They’ll hold their collar and shake it vigorously and say, ‘Yaar, it’s so hot, na?’

Like they’re just back from a 12 year vacation to Pluto and realised how hot it is in India in summers. It is summer, guys. It will be hot. Get over it.

 

I got over it long ago. Years ago, in my childhood, Bhubaneswar was notorious for ‘Sunstrokes’. It was the first time I had come across the word – sunstroke. I imagined that the sun would smile down warmly on a person, there would be a blinding flash of light, and the man would drop dead right there. Later, I learnt it is a heartbreakingly painful process. The person would first dehydrate, and then die as every drop of water in his body dried up, minute by painful minute.

But all of this wouldn’t affect me one bit. For I had just learnt how to ride a bicycle.

There are very few joys in the world compared to learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.

There is a sense of freedom, of joy, your bicycle being your horse, and of the world being your playground. There are no limits to your enthusiasm, your imagination, and the heat of the summer is but another obstacle – to be trampled upon and left behind.

And since I had just learnt the fine art of riding a cycle, I didn’t want to step inside the house. And so I was given a simple solution – Tie a wet cloth around your head if you want to step out.

The intention was to keep my head cool, wet and dehydrated. But what really happened was a combination of many things:

a)    Children and elders alike sniggered when I crossed them, a wet towel wrapped around my head.

b)    The cloth began to smell damp and funny after a point.

c)     The dampness around my head would result in me feeling dizzy after half an hour, and I would return to the house.

 

Again, this was a time when there was no internet, no cable television (since I was being honed to become a good citizen of the country), no cricket happening.

And all through the summer, I felt a strange thirst.For liquids. An insatiable need for liquid to run down my parched throat.

My hunt led me on to the roads in the afternoons. And the options in front of me were not very vast. And yet, I didn’t shy away from trying them all out.

 

Firstly, there was Sugarcane Juice.

Back then, it was just two rupees, and it wasn’t very difficult to flick two rupees lying around the house and run out to the shop. It was cool, sweet, and affordable.

But then, it had its problems too. You can’t have more than two glasses of it. If you did, you’d have a sticky, sweet feeling. Like your lips have been chapped together by a weak adhesive gum.

And then there were the health issues involved with sugarcane juice. Friends telling you that they’d seen a man keeping his sugarcane in a ditch to make it fresh and juicy. And another friend telling you that his cousin had died of food poisoning from sugarcane juice. Also, after two glasses, your body craved some water, or some salt, or chillies.

And so, I struck sugarcane juice out of my list.

 

Then came the Tender Coconut.

It is cool, and healthy. No one had any horrific tales to narrate about tender coconuts. They were just tender nuts that had a sweet juice inside of them. Problem is, I wasn’t the only one who had realised this truth. And this resulted in the price of tender coconuts rising not so tenderly.

It was five rupees when I was a child. And then in a few years, it was ten rupees. And then, it was fifteen rupees, and then twenty, twenty-five, and thirty. And me with my money nicked off from home, would never be able to catch up in that race.

 

Golas, I have never been fond of.

Firstly, I had only seen it in films and TVs. Of people sucking on golas and chuskis and having fun. In Orissa, we never really had golas for a long time. And when they finally arrived, what a massive colourful disappointment they turned out to be!

It was the same chapped feeling between my lips that I felt after having one. Also, it took about 20 minutes to finish one. Any quicker, and your jaws felt like a yeti had smooched you and run its tongue inside your mouth.

Golas didn’t do it for me.

 

Cool drinks, I was never fond of. Of course, I got enamored by ads and wanted to have a wonderful, bubbly, soft drink in the middle of summer – just like they showed me in those ads.

But every soft drink in the world is the same for me. I enjoy the first two sips and the rest of it seems like a punishment.

Ice creams never worked for me in any which way. Whether it was the Chocobar, or the cups, or the Cassatas, or the expensive ones. None of them did anything for me. All I felt at the end of the ice cream was sticky hands, a sticky mouth, and a sweet aftertaste in my mouth that wouldn’t go even if I ate a live chicken.

 

Which left me with the only other option. Buttermilk.

Buttermilk is one of those things in life you cannot have any complaint against. It could be made thick or thin, spicy or sweet. It is healthy, inexpensive, and easy to prepare.

Needless to say, I was addicted.

But then, I realised that the dynamics of buttermilk-making had a larger role to play. It wasn’t as simple as taking buttermilk, adding spices, chillies, coriander leaves, some ginger, some black salt, and mixing them all together.

I realised that different places have different ways of preparing buttermilk. At home, they’re always overdoing it. They make it thicker than it should be, just to pander to some idea of ‘healthy, wholesome home food’, killing the end result in the process. And like mother’s hamburgers, mothers’ buttermilk is never the real thing.

Others would add too much salt, too less chillies, or not black salt at all. Temples would keep it satwik, adding no ginger at all. There were ‘jalachhatras’ – free water/buttermilk pots that were kept in the open, as a form of social service. These guys made the buttermilk too thin, in an obvious attempt to save money while saving lives.

When I was posted at the KIIT International School in Bhubaneswar, there was a stall that gave out free water and buttermilk. Even if it was light, it was delicious. And I shamelessly hung out there, having 5-6 glasses a day.

And yet, it wasn’t perfect for me. It was a little light, and come summer, I would begin my hunting for the perfect buttermilk.

Everywhere I went, I looked for the perfect buttermilk.

And everytime, I was disappointed. Vijaya, the state-run milk company in Andhra Pradesh wasn’t very good. It was too thick, as if the state was doing its bit to prove the purity of their cows and their milk.

Omfed, the state-run milk federation in Orissa skimmed over the chilly and ginger, making for a drink that seemed hollow in its taste. And I went from this place to that, looking for the perfect buttermilk every summer.

And then, a few weeks ago, I found it.

Jersey milk.

It’s a private company that has its operations in Andhra Pradesh. Like all other milk companies, its logo has a smiling cow as its logo.

It cost 6 rupees, and when I slit the packet open, I realised that my hunt for the perfect buttermilk was over.

Inside, stirred up in the perfect way humanly possible, was buttermilk, salt, chilly, coriander leaves, and black salt. It was so perfect that I didn’t even have to shake well before use.

And that is how I spend my summers these days. Hunting for Jersey Buttermilk in every shop, store, or mall that I come across.

And summer is hot, and sticky and sweaty and all of that.

But what do I care? I am addicted, and my fix costs me 6 rupees.

Roads of Bhubaneswar

Roads are not just stretches of cement that you travel on to go to a place.

You spend considerable amount of your time on them. They make you choose your time of travel, the vehicle you will mount, and how long you will take to reach your destination.

Riding on a road is not a task, it is an experience. 

Advertisements give us many reasons to enjoy the experience. Some are talking about the sublime feeling of cruising on a marble carpet, whereas the others are talking about everyday realities like a frugal engine and fuel saving. While Priyanka Chopra asks us why only boys should have fun, there are others asking you to Feel Like God.

But this is where reality strikes. 

If you are Salman Khan, you can run over a few people and still continue being human. For the others, however, you could be the Monthly Policeman Gift Provider if you don’t watch the road. 

In terms of absolute numbers, India has the most number of accidents in the world. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that of the total 3,90,884 accidents that took place last year, the majority were Road Accidents – a whopping 35% of all accidents. The report throws no light on the large number of people who slit their wrists after watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan, but one assumes they fall under the ‘Other Unnatural Causes’ category. 

Tamil Nadu and Goa have the largest number of road accidents. Goa, one can assume is because of all the booze flowing around. And Tamil Nadu, because as Rohit Shetty will tell you in his next film, is full of dhoti clad men who wear moustaches and drive Tata Sumos that are flying in the air. 

Not surprisingly, Bhubaneswar doesn’t rank in the list of places with the most accidents. And I am sure I know why.

Bhubaneswar has bureaucratic roots. It did not happen because the Portuguese wanted to set up a city with a port. Neither did it happen because a Mughal ruler wanted a holiday home in the summers. 

Bhubaneswar was commissioned as the capital city when it was clear (even 60 years ago) that Cuttack will not be able to handle the pressure of the bulls, and the politicians of the state at the same time. Bhubaneswar was planned as the new capital and an architect was assigned to design the town.

The roads of Bhubaneswar are not clammy or narrow. They are wide and well planned. A National Highway (NH-5) runs through the town, and the other roads are reasonably wide and airy. Unlike their bigger brethren, traffic jams here don’t really last for more than ten minutes, as research has shown that it takes about six minutes to shoo away an animal from the road. 

That is during the day. In the nights, the roads adopt a different character. They are not just symbolic of the journey of life. They are teachers of ancient wisdom. Wisdom that Ashwatthama learnt aeons ago, in the Mahabharata.

The wisdom that if you can’t save your ass, you are going to be dead meat.

 

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Flyovers are pretty much the in-thing on the roads of Bhubaneswar.

Every popular traffic spot has now been converted into a circular formation of vehicles, above which there is a flyover to reduce the congestion. 

The flyover that connects Jaydev Vihar to Acharya Vihar on the NH-5 has been placed right in the middle of the town. In the night, one gets a view of the entire city, snaking its way towards development, with all the white and red lights from vehicles forming a gigantic, shiny snake. 

This place is a favourite for photographers, who often line up to get a good shot of the town. It’s also a favourite for people who like to answer nature’s call, while they’re feeling on top of the world. 

But the flyover also has another striking feature. None of the lights on it work. 

The lights stand in the middle of the flyover, like gigantic shoots of bamboo that have curved arches on either side. They stand and watch the night pass by, but they will not flutter and come to life. Passive observers. 

And this is true of other roads as well. 

Of course, I mean other roads where normal mortals live. The roads in front of the Chief Minister and Governor’s residence are well lit. In fact, a trip to their abodes in the night might make someone think it is Diwali, with the sparkling rows of different light that pepper the path. 

But for lesser mortals, the roads are teaching you life lessons. Because, I guess once you’ve become a politician, you have already learnt everything there is to learn. 

Pick any road in Khandagiri, or Nayapalli, or roads inside colonies, and try to observe what is going on. 

It will be difficult, of course, because the lights don’t work. But look closely, and you will find men, women, and children learning to negotiate the challenges that the roads are throwing at them. The vehicles are cutting through darkness, giving the commuter the heady high of a jungle safari, within the confines of an urban space.

This is on a highway. To hell.

This is on a highway. To hell.

And then, just when you have made your peace with the lights, Mother Cow comes into the picture. 

I am sure if someone did some research on the number of cowsheds present in different states, Orissa would rank at the bottom of the list. 

Because all the cows are out on the streets. On every street, on every road, there will be a corner where the cows come to hang out. 

And the cows are not simply sitting by the side of the road. They are sitting in the middle, facing backwards, almost mockingly. Challenging you to do something about it. If you can. Knowing that you can’t. 

I have always believed that you can see how comfortable an animal is with human beings by looking at its reaction to humans. Dogs on the streets are generally ready to scamper if someone comes near them, probably because they have been pelted all through their lives. 

Cows, I think, have understood after all these years in India, that they’re a privileged lot. That they provide milk and meat and are worshipped at regular intervals and that there are 33 crores of Gods on their bodies. 

So comfortable have they gotten with their stardom, that they are out on the roads, strutting it out in front of human beings. 

Now, dogs and cows don’t generally get along with each other. But here, you will find two dogs lying on the road with a group of cows. They have both understood and accepted that they are cohabitants of the road, and they lay their head down to rest once the sun sets. 

And then, of course there are the regulars. Godmen in the garb of mortals who are helping you along your path to spirituality in their own little way. 

Like those two friends who will ride next to each other on the road, consuming half the road, while talking about crucial things like the boobs of a girl who just crossed them. Or the contractor who has lovingly used inferior quality supplies so that you learn from the potholes about the ups and downs of life.

Like the cyclist whose cycle has no light or indicator or a bell – teaching you that sometimes it is necessary to surrender to a higher power. Or the drunk man who is stumbling along to the other side of the road where the grass is greener. Or the little kid who darts across the road – a reminder that one has to pursue the smaller things in life. Even when there is a fucking truck coming from the other side in top gear.

They are all important life lessons. It is like a reality show where you take part. If you succeed, you reach home and live out another day. If you don’t, well, Game Over. 

So while you are riding on the roads of Bhubaneswar, you are not going from one place to another. You are constantly challenging yourself, you are becoming a better rider.

It is a journey within a journey.

The CAT Race

When I was doing jobs during my graduation, I would regularly be confronted with a question, “When are you going to start doing a serious job?”

Now, what on earth is a serious job? So for three years, I was a construction labourer doing stand up comedy on top of buildings?? Fuck that!

So anyway, I was doing my B.Com, and had no clue what I wanted to b.com. The natural progression of a B.Com student is to do an MBA – no two ways about it. This was in the time when new records were broken by placement cells every year, and the word recession was used in history books to talk of the Great Depression of the 1930s. I plunged in.

There was IMS and there was TIME. I chose TIME, though I don’t remember why. There was an entrance test which would be the basis of a scholarship. I won a 25% scholarship and I duly took admission. And thus began my MBA trip.

Every student, at some point, has gone through an MBA trip. There are some telltale signs of being an MBA aspirant.

  1. If there are more than three guys sitting together,the discussion will revolve around colleges.
  2. An MBA aspirant can rattle off details like fees, course structure, average placement packages with the snap of a finger.
  3. Being an MBA aspirant screws up the things you did earlier for the fun of it. If you liked reading, you’d be listing out must-read books for an impressive interview. If you like watching movies, you’ll be looking for classics. If you like singing in the bathroom, you’ll start judging yourself to see if you qualify to put ‘singing’ as your ‘interests’ in your CV. If you had the habit of reading the newspaper, you’ll now be making mental notes and trying to remember the colour of Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s turban.
  4. MBA aspirants will ruin a normal chai session and make it a board room group discussion. While normally any opposition would be met with ‘Chup kar, chutiye’, if you are an MBA aspirant, you can’t do that. You have to show passive aggression. So you disagree by saying, “I understand where you’re coming from, but you’ve got excreta in your cerebellum.”

Nobody, however, raises the most important issue. CHICKS.

Most guys won’t admit it, but the numero uno deciding factor is chicks. The query will be innocently disguised with questions like “How’s the crowd there?” But deep within, every MBA aspirant is hoping for Vivid Entertainment style action in the two years.

So I joined the herd as well. I would attend classes, and discuss politics, and shake my head when something was being spoken, and nod when I had no clue what was being spoken about.

I would talk to people, and talk about reading ‘MBA books’. MBA books are books that somehow make you a better manager. And ‘The Fountainhead’ tops the list. Now, I was on my own ‘Fountainhead’ trip. I had read the book. Reading ‘The Fountainhead’ for the first time is a little like losing your virginity. I wanted to do what I was best at. I began wondering if I was just going about the motions. I become disillusioned with what I was doing, and told my boss I wanted something to challenge myself. He patiently heard me out and fired me the next day.

I failed to see how the book would make me a better manager, but since everyone was orgasming over the book, I joined in.

I’d attend the classes every alternate evening. I did fairly well in the English classes, and my GK was decent. I didn’t understand much in the Personality Development sessions. I mean, it’s a goddamned MBA course, how on earth are you going to develop my personality by asking me questions? But I attended them, as they made my issues seem professional and serious. The Group Discussions I totally loved. You got to meet different people, and take any side you wanted in the argument, depending on how much you disliked the others in the group.

And then, there was Quantitative Aptitude. Changing the name doesn’t change the game – it was still Mathematics. And I have had a tumultuous relationship with it for a few decades now.

Amidst cubes, square roots, Fobonacci numbers, and derivations, I seemed like a guy who had just dropped in from a nearby cave. Quite naturally, I didn’t attend more than three classes.

This went on for more than a year. I got a huge stack of reading material, and felt really good. I didn’t give even a single Mock CAT, to avoid being mocked at. But in the back of my head, I had confidence in my abilities.

It all began with the dream.

I dreamt that I was sitting in a class. The walls were of red brick, and there were hot chicks all around me, discussing issues, nodding, and driving me crazy. It was quite inspiring.

It was around the time when a friend told me about this technique called ‘Creative Visualising’. You have to imagine something with full concentration – see the minute details, see everything about the place/situation you want to be in, and your brain automatically works towards it on a subconscious stage. This was easy. I had been creatively visualising Raveena Tandon for years now.

So I’d imagine my college, the grades, the classes, the smiles after a terrific placement package. I rattled off figures, dismissed colleges with the snap of a finger, and lived a happy life.

The day came closer, and I was hardly tensed. I gave the exam my best shot and left it at that.

The results were declared, and many of my friends did well. They encouraged me to go check out my score, but I delayed it on purpose, wanting to be surprised.

I finally relented and went to an internet café. I logged in, and checked the score. My jaw dropped.

I had scored 18 percentile.

I don’t know anyone who has gotten a lesser score in CAT. Sarthak came over, and I was too numb to talk. I stepped out, went to a paan shop, and smoked three cigarettes one after the other. I felt giddy, and asked him to drop me off at home.

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I am glad I didn’t do well in the exam. I would have gotten an average score, joined an average college, and been an average student. I wouldn’t enjoy it, and no amount of placement packages would make me feel like I was.

I am now studying Mass Comm, and I genuinely like it. I am still lazy with assignments and stuff, but it’s something I know I can do.

And what’s more, the walls of my classroom  have red bricks!

Champions!!

I grew up with stories of the World Cup. I have read magazines, watched reruns on Ten Sports, listened to Madan Lal speak for one hour, but I have never been able to fully grasp what it feels like when India wins the World Cup.

In 2003, it was different. I was doing my first job in a travel agency and PCO booth. There was a small black and white television that someone from the basti behind the agency would willingly donate to us. There would be 20 people huddled up there. Rickshaw pullers, guys who would disconnect calls on their mobile phones to make a call from the PCO, little children who seemed to have vowed not to bathe till India won the finals, and Shankia aka Shankar Ganjadiya.

Shankia lived in the basti behind us. He was always doped. During day, noon and night, he could be found crushing herbs in his hand, and stuffing them in his chillum, and blowing gyaan on people’s faces. He did nothing all day, but he had 5-6 pani puri carts that some kids ran for him, and so he was among the wealthier people in the basti. He would sit and the door, blow away smoke in the air and predict who would win the match. He was no Paul the Octopus, but his predictions (which were flexible and changed according to the situation of the match) made the experience of watching the match even more fun. He would look into the screen, close his eyes (like a warrior in Mahabharat), and then say, “Chauka jiba” (It’ll be a four).

On the day of the final, Shankia did not come to watch the match. I assume he had had a fight with someone and so he was pissed. When I went to his hut to call him to watch the match, he replied,

“Banda match dekhiba, maghiya. Jao ethu!”, which roughly translates to

“(random body part) match you’ll watch, mo-fos! Get out of here”

The mood in the final was somber right from the beginning. Ganguly won the toss and chose to field, and Zaheer Khan chose to sledge at Gilchrist. Both these decisions led to a score of 359 and Indian buckled under pressure. We used to sell cool drinks in the shop, and I remember opening a bottle of Pepsi and gulping it down like a 90s hero when he sees the heroine dance with the villain, whenever a wicket fell. The match was over in 40 overs, the next day was a Monday and I had to go back to school to learn Business Studies and Accountancy. It was tragic.

This time though, there was a difference.

Now, after two days, it has finally sunk in. Till Monday, I was expecting some London newspaper to break the news that the Pakistan match was fixed. Thankfully, the Interior Minister has some clout there.

This time, everyone was ready for the moment. Cameras were brought out when there were 30 runs remaining and poor Facebook was flooded with oily faces shouting out in joy. The screaming in joy, hugging, dancing on the streets and running away when the PCR van arrives have been done with. Now when I sit and write this do I realise that the feeling has truly sunk in. We are the Champions of the World.

So if I ever have a son, before driving him out of the house after his matriculation exams, I’ll have something to tell him. I shall tell him that I lived in the times of a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who had every feather in his cap except this one. Of how he was carried on the shoulders of Yusuf Pathan, which was surprising because the burden of the middle order batting never seemed to fit on them. Of how there was a particular captain who turned everything he touched into gold. How two fast bowlers called Nehra and Shreesanth took turns to become the most hated persons of the country. Of how Sehwag got out for a duck and a million dreams were crushed. Of Gambhir and the innings of his life. I’ll also talk about Yuvraj and Zaheer and throw in a little bit of gyaan about consistency and persistence.

I’ll also tell him that I was a total stud back then and I had six hot chicks writhing next to me when Dhoni hit the last shot, and I told them to get away from me as I ran out to the roads to celebrate. I know he wont believe the last bit, but what the heck!

We are the World Champions. I can say whatever I want !!

R.I.P. Orkut

A few months back, some friends were doing a Vox Populi, and the question was ‘Which is better – Orkut or Facebook?’

My answer was Orkut, without any doubt.

For most of us, surfing the web meant google or porn or sending cute e-cards to friends. Orkut brought a meaning to our virtual lives. We all had a name, an identity, and a Salman Khan DP. Orkut began the trend of being cool on the internet.

I am also partial to Orkut for the way it revived the cyber cafes in Orissa. After the desi-baba days of the early 2000s, cyber cafes in Orissa were losing business. You see, for half a decade, the cyber cafes were the melting pots of Oriya people of all kinds. College goers, couples, middle aged office goers, the local electrician, school children, and every few months, the friendly cops next door. It was a virtual Madhushala and they all flocked for their daily fix.

And the cyber cafes acknowledged their diverse clientele by breaking technological barriers. There was a cafe called ClassicNet. This guy was the Walmart among Cyber Cafes, simply due to the innovations he had brought about in the domain of one-handed surfing. So if you were sitting in ClassicNet, you would hear a voice going,

“Bhaiyya, isko kaise chalana hai?”

“Kuchh nahi, bas ‘Enter’ button dabao”

You see, the guy would add all the porn clips to the playlist in Windows Media Player, and keep them ready. All you had to do was pay him, enter your cabin, sit on the stool, and press ‘Enter’. Customer is king, you see. And even kings have their needs.

But the internet cafes were losing out to home internet connections, till Orkut struck us like a lightning. Cyber cafes were again full of people, college goers who were adding the latest Altaf Raja blockbuster to their profiles in the hope of getting that elusive girl in college. Though Orkut today looks like Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, it began it all.

Who can forget the excitement of seeing who visited your profile, and then disabling ‘profile visitors’ so you could check out girls’ profiles? And the profile pages that had the ‘Professional’, ‘Social’, and ‘Personal’ columns. The ‘Personal’ section, that had interesting questions like ‘Turn Ons’, and ‘Looking For’ – where guys would expect to see ‘Wild Sex with strangers’ on girls profiles.

Before Orkut, web surfing was a personal affair. With Orkut, it became a common thing where people could talk about. Having a cool ‘About me’ was a must. Something like, “I yam wat I yam. Its mah lyf. Skrw da wrld”.

And talking about each others Orkut profiles was the in-thing in college discussions. So one day, I meet this guy and he says,

“Dude, I saw your testis. They are awesome”.

I was like, “What the fuck? How did YOU see them?”

“Testimonials, dude. They are awesome!”

And the communities that everyone joined just for the heck of it. Joining a community was more so that you could show it off on your profile. There were communities for everything, there is even an ‘We love Antara Mali’ community. So you joined any damn community, the last activity in which would have been before you even started shaving.

And the ratings that your friends gave you. “You are 70% sexy, 50 % cool, 20% smart”. And the ‘scraps’ that you could send to your friends,

Everything was going well, before Orkut started to act smart. They introduced Privacy Settings. This killed half the joy of being on Orkut in the first place. I mean, who would want to browse a girl’s profiles if all her photos were blocked and she was ‘Looking for: friends’??

Gradually, Orkut began to ape Facebook for everything. There was more emphasis on users safety, which doesn’t make sense. We are a nation which zooms at 90 kph on rainy roads without a helmet. Whoever thought of users’ safety? Gradually, every feature on Orkut began to look like Facebook, including a ‘What’s on your mind?’ button. But Orkut was about mindless voyeurism. There was nothing on our minds when we surfed Orkut.

There were changes made every week to the layout and features, and the early Facebook users began to look down upon Orkut users. So if you were in college talking about the latest way to get colourful scraps to your profile, the FB user would give you a disgruntled expression, saying, “I am not on Orkut. I am now on Facebook.”

But Facebook is no comparision to Orkut. In Orkut, you could ogle at anyone for as long as you wanted. If you did the same on Facebook, you would get a

“You are my top stalker. Creep.” written on your wall the next day.

On Facebook, you cannot make ‘fraandship’ with anyone, as some people have even blocked the ‘Add as friend’ option. It’s more personal, more sauve, and as a result, sucks.

But Orkut was something else.