Tag Archives: Bhubaneswar

Vizag_city_aerial_view

Goodbye Vizag, you beautiful, beautiful city!

If there is any place that I have a strong bond with (after of course Bhubaneswar, where I was born, and Puttaparthi – where I studied), it is Vishakapatnam.

A city with so much character that it needs three names to go by – the traditional Vishakapatnam, the outdated Waltair, and the more modern yuppy name – Vizag.

All through my childhood, Vizag was a relief from the mundane life that I led in Bhubaneswar and Puttaparthi. Puttaparthi was where my school was, and it was criminal to stay there during vacations. Bhubaneswar back in the 90s was so hot, even cold cakes sold like hot cakes. Every summer vacation brought with it news of 50 deaths due to sunstrokes. Also, my parents were conservative and their idea of vacation fun was to lock up the television when I visited home. The television was considered an obstacle in my pursuit of moksha.

The only relief from these troubles was going to Vishakapatnam – eight hours away, with four trains everyday – one for each of the platforms at Bhubaneswar railway station.

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Vishakapatnam wasn’t much bigger than Bhubaneswar, but offered so much more than temples and street food. My cousins lived in MVP colony, a sleepy residential colony that was large enough to qualify as a town by itself.

Nimmakai soda was sold on the streets for two bucks, and the said amount could be easily fleeced off grandmother by singing her a Mohd. Rafi song. It was a different matter that my cousins ran up a baaki  bill of 10,000 rupees in the neighbourhood goli soda shop!!

The BPL TV at my cousin’s place could not be controlled by my mother and was the source of some of the earliest movies I watched – Kondapalli Raja, Premikudu, and Baaghi.

Large, spacious roads shielded by trees on both sides, Vijaya milk delivered in the morning as MS Subbalaxmi’s Bhaja Govindam wafted out of every single house.  

The Young Rising Star Youth Club where my cousin played cricket every evening as I sat awkwardly at the boundary. Daspalla Hotel, where Kashmiri Pulao and Paneer Butter Masala was ordered every single time, as I hadn’t told my folks that I had turned non-vegetarian (still haven’t!).

But most of all, Vizag has that one feature that adds immense character to a city – a beach. The beach in Vizag is accessible, with every place in the city about ten minutes away from the other. The beach is a curious spectacle, with people from all walks of life getting on the rocky shores for a few moments of solitude. A beach allows you to switch off from the humdrum of everyday life and tune in to the sea. How can you remain in a bad mood as waves crash at your feet majestically?

Every trip to Vizag has been memorable – a welcome break from the mundane life that I was living. It was in Vizag that I serenaded a breathtaking woman, travelling to the city on the pretext of meeting my cousins, and singing Pehla Nasha on a sea deck restaurant. Ever since I entered my teens, Vizag provided me with excellent weed sourced from nearby Aruku. I once offered a man a joint while getting on the bus to Hyderabad, only to look down at his shoes and discover he was a cop!

Vizag was fun, eventful, and dreamy.

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After many years, I was travelling to Vizag – this time as a stand up comic. Me and Rohit Swain are travelling across the country with Silly Point – India’s First Cricket Themed Stand Up Comedy Show (Wow! What a subtle plug in – I’m Subtle Behari Vajpayee!!).

This time, I was not travelling to partake of the city’s beauty and serenity, but to give it something of my own – something I had created and curated. I was going to peddle my wares to the city that has given me so much.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a sellout show – it’s Vizag we are talking about! But in the same way that a parent ignores the kid’s spelling mistakes while showing her off to relatives, I was prepared to let it go. The show was organised in Kala Art Cafe, a tiny location with a seating capacity of 50, lemonade served to the guests, and a white screen for film screenings.

The stage was sweaty, and the mics refused to work after fifteen minutes – this was going to be a struggle! And yet, we persisted. The laughs came slowly at first, but grew stronger and stronger from there on. By the end of the show, we had won over the audience. It was like an India vs Sri Lanka One Day International at Vadodara where India needs to chase 287 but takes 48 overs to get there – bumpy, but successful.

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As the plane lifts off from Vizag, and the doors of the plane are shut to the salty, humid air of Vizag, I take a final look at this city that has given me so much!

With Andhra Pradesh now a separate state, Chandrababu Naidu has grand plans for the ‘City of Destiny’. The roads are getting wider, the buildings shooting out of the ground are taller, stronger, dapper.

And yet, in a strange, selfish way, I do not want Vizag to become a hotbed of development.

I want Vizag to remain as it is. A beautiful chutney of the new and the old. Mom and pop stores with intricate muggu outside the doors, goli soda bottles being bought by thirsty kids, Venkatesh films playing on tiny TVs during sleepy afternoons, Ladies Tailor – Fall & Pico centres next to Apple showrooms. And the outdated Bunny dustbins in VUDA Park.

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Of course these are but a nostalgic man’s fantasies. The City of Destiny is destined to transform into a zip-zap-zoom city. The muggu in front of houses will be replaced by cold, impersonal placards saying ‘NO PARKING IN FRONT OF THE GATE’.

But even then, I’ll come back and visit you. I’ll love you for who you are, Vizag.

Until next time then, Vizag!

***

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.