Monday, February 23, 2009

If you lived in Orissa between 2004 and 2006, don't ever go there again.

You will be disappointed.

Oriya girls are very pretty, of course. But I wouldn't go out with one for the same reason that you wouldn't eat dinner off a hospital floor. Of course the floor is sterlised and germ-free, but as a choice of cutlery it somehow seems inappropriate.

I was in Bhubaneswar last weekend. I was expecting it to be a pleasant trip down memory lane, but it turned out to be the most depressing time I've had in the recent past. (If you can't type the word "depressed" on your mobile phone in less than 2 seconds without looking at the screen, call me. I would love to see a relic the giant wheel of evolution left in its wake. Really, turn the dictionary mode on and try it - it’s like punching in a Morse code! "going" too, for that matter)

I never thought I'd say this, but for the first time since I set foot in Bhubaneswar in mid '04, I didn't feel at home there. But then, I never thought I would say Wyk! Mag die duiwel jou haal!, but I just did.

The roads are now mirror smooth and a mile wide. Not at all as I remember having left it 3 years ago. The airport lobby looks more like an airport lobby than a medieval poultry farm. New malls have sprung up where there was once barren land. When the landscape of the city changes, something happens to it. It loses its personality. Bhubaneswar isn't the quaint little town I once knew. Instead it had become a bustling city astir with activity.

As I was being driven around in this suddenly-unfamiliar city, I could see disconnected fragments from the past. An old restaurant here, a familiar banyan tree there. It was a ghost town. Maybe change isn’t always a good thing. The medieval poultry farm was cramped and dirty, but it had a charm that a thousand mass-produced Coffee Day outlets cannot match. Bhubaneswar didn't have malls or multi-storied car parks, but then it wasn't run-of-the-mill. I sort of liked the narrow streets, come to think of it. Orissa isn't a place you go to armed with a briefcase and a Wi-fi phone. No. You go to Orissa when you have a couple of months to spare and spend the time in a hazy mix of motorcycling and drugs.

But it was heartening to see that some things have not changed yet. Locals are still astounded by the sheer complexity of an escalator. You still get Ghuguni at 5 AM for 5 bucks a plate. You can still get a tolah for 5 bucks. (Yes, I checked. Although it used to be Rs.3 in '06, I remember. That's a CAGR of 29.1%, which is still higher than the inflation of most other essential commodities.)

My reluctance to make fun of all things Oriya is matched only by the ease with which I know I can. I don't want to talk about it. It was really sad to see that Bhubaneswar had all the symptoms of a city which had succumbed to ambition. I decided that I will never go there again. I love Bhubaneswar too much to see it decay into prosperity.