(The beautiful step wells are so very unique to Gujarat. Every visit to Adalaj ni vav leaves me mesmerized)
For most of my adolescence, Gujarat existed only in my school geography books. Even when I shifted to Delhi from Bhubaneswar to pursue my higher studies, Gujarat didn’t really figure in the mini India classroom of JNU. Looking back, I can recollect now that I had a Gujarati classmate. But her identity as an alumni of Stella Maris (Chennai) mattered more to us than her being a Gujarati. Gujarat figured in my life only when I got married to a Gomulu (Mallu born and brought up in Gujarat). Of course, my quest for bread and butter (orange marmalade too) brought me to Ahmedabad. I have been here for many many years now. As Gujarat celebrates its Formation Day on May 1, here’s a love note (need not be all sugary) to this fascinating land.
Sunny side up: It’s my belief that there’s a Sun and then there’s ‘The Gujarati Sun’. The sun is really over-active in this part of India. And the summer here seems like one never-ending Punjabi wedding or a Bollywood pot-boiler. You don’t have to go out here to get a sun stroke. You can get it sitting in your house (if it’s not air-conditioned). I still can’t understand why there are so many ‘glass’ buildings in Ahmedabad even though you have sizzling sun burning bright for almost eight months in a year. Not that Odisha has Switzerland like weather. But even in the peak of summer, Odisha receives nice, mint-fresh spells of rain and thunderstorms. No such good luck, here.
Food for thought: To celebrate the Gujarat Day, I cooked giloda nu shaak (Coccinia Grandis). My Gomulu hubby loves it having it with Gujarati khatti mithi dal. In my wildest dream, I never thought that one day willingly I would pack this sabzi in my lunch-box. I am not a great lover of Gujarati food. I can only have it once in a while. I am more of a rice, chicken curry, gobi alu or biryani person. But, I am improving every day. At the moment, I can perfectly recognise dhokla, khandvi, khaman even from a distance of 500 metres. But I still can’t bring myself to eat ‘dal dhokli’ or ‘sev tamatar.’ When I see somebody having ‘aam ras’, I gently turn my face away.
And I fail to understand why street food is so expensive here in Ahmedabad. I was born in a ‘poor’ state and I am used to having lipsmacking, absolutely inexpensive street food in Odisha. But then we don’t have Mercs lining up to have dalwada from a street vendor (like it happens in Gujarat). And, being largely a vegetarian state, you can’t buy eggs as easily as you can in the Eastern parts of India. In Odisha, most paan shops also keep a crate of eggs. I miss that luxury here.
Honey, it’s all about money: There’s a saying in Odisha that Lakshmi and Saraswati can’t stay in one home. So, without having much choice, we celebrate Goddess Saraswati in Odisha. For us, Basant Panchami is a big festival. On the other hand, Lakshmi really rules in Gujarat. But I must say, Gujaratis work hard to earn the blessings of the Goddess of Wealth. I remember one particular incident some years back during a visit to Odisha. When I asked a cycle rickshawallah to take me to my aunt’s house, he promptly asked somebody else to do it. Coz he was busy in a game of cards and generally having a good time. Money can wait, pleasure can’t. It’s almost impossible to find a plumber and electrician in Odisha who will give you a wonderful service on time. The standard answer is ‘aasuchchi’ (I am coming). Even God can’t predict his arrival. The service industry really sucks there. I have wonderful experiences here in Gujarat so far as the service sector is concerned.To earn money, you got to respect the labour that goes behind it (to earn it). On this account, Gujarat scores very high. Talk of innovative business ideas, Gujaratis win hands down. Entrepreneurship is in its soil.
Mind your spelling: Move over all those comedy capers on television.The real entertainment industry is the signboards in Gujarat. So, ‘Bangle shop’ becomes ‘Bengal shop.’ ‘Pant’ is ‘Pent’. ‘Chinese food’ becomes ‘Chenese/ Chineez’. And not to miss ‘Go slow: Accident porn area.’ ‘Paneer capsicum’ in a restaurant menu becomes ‘Paneer Kepsikam’ (it can’t get more innovative). The list is endless. Just keep your eyes open and enjoy the show.
B for Ben/ Bhai : For the receptionists in my earlier offices, I was Deepika Madam. For friends, outsiders I was plain Deepika. Now, suddenly I became Deepikaben after coming to Ahmedabad which was too hard for me digest. In the initial years, I kept on insisting over the phone that “I am only Deepika…” Interestingly, the other voice always kept on forcefully calling me “Deepikaben”. All letters from local people addressed me as Deepikaben Sahu. And those who knew my husband’s name addressed me as Deepikaben Murlibhai Sahu… (Oh God!) (how I dreaded those letters not for the content but for this never-ending name only). Interestingly, there are some who still ask me “How’s Mr Sahu?” And when I say “No, he’s Mr Menon”, they find it hard to digest. When I was applying for my passport, I went through hell cause I have still retained my maiden name. To top it all, I get many invitation cards which say “Deepikben Shah.” For almost three years, I got my mobile bills in the name of Deepakbhai Shah (till I threatened them with dire consequences as I couldn’t accept the gender reversal). But, with time, I have learnt to pick up the phone and say “Yes, Deepikaben speaking.”
Falling raindrops and flooded streets: Rice, fish curry, mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil and pouring rains — that’s early childhood memories. Sitting for hours near a window and seeing the rains lashing against the lamp post back at home in Odisha always comes naturally to me. Rains bring back smells of wet earth of a land I left years back. They bring back memories which come and kiss on the cheeks but then gently go back again to the never-ending paddy fields of a verdant earth. Rains falling on the roof of my house lulled me into sleep in those carefree days. They were not just falling rain drops they were like God singing lullaby in the middle of an otherwise silent night. Rains bring back images of Ma waiting with a towel as I returned from school all drenched. Rains bring back memories of me and my younger sister dancing away to glory in the garden just as the clouds became darker and darker. I miss that lashing rains in Ahmedabad. Give me wet clothes, umbrellas, soaked walls but give me Odisha’s almost magical monsoon. And I am longing for that sentence to hear — “There’s a low pressure today.” Being in Gujarat for more than a decade has killed my tender romantic image of rains. I long for rains in this dry, arid land. Yet, the trauma of wading through flooded streets takes away the sheer joy of soaking in the rains. I wish, someday real ‘development’ will happen. The streets will be as ‘dry’ as the state is on paper. I will enjoy the rains without worrying about ‘how to reach home.’ Mr Modi, I hope you will listen to this ‘Make in India’ request.
PS : I must add in the end that I live in a posh locality in Ahmedabad because I have a Hindu name and surname. So, my birth in a Hindu family has been a privilege. 2002 still brings back memories of deep pain, anguish. It’s also true that Gujarat has given me mobility even in the middle of night (unthinkable in many parts of India). As a working woman, I enjoy being here in Ahmedabad. Roaming around the city at odd hours. Without any fear or pressure. This land has given me much love, warmth, affection, support in critical moments and priceless friendships. Above all, it has given me a home. I will be always grateful to this land.