Kankaria Lake,Ahmedabad.Image Courtesy:The Times of India
Wednesday, July 20, 2005. That was the first time I came to Gujarat, aboard the 5636 Guwahati – Okha Express, with my father. The train entered Gujarat around Dahod and continued to Ahmedabad. I was awestruck that it wasn’t dark even as late as 7:30 pm. Although I had read about the relative time difference between the easternmost and the westernmost ends of our country, experiencing it firsthand was almost jaw-dropping. I told my father and turned out, he was wondering about the same. It was his first time to Gujarat as well. We got down at Kalupur Junction in Ahmedabad (officially known as Ahmedabad junction), booked into a hotel and after spending the night, went to Gandhinagar in the morning. When the GSRTC bus got through the streets of the city, what was remarkable was the roads. Clean, 4 lane tracks throughout the journey with flowery bushes planted on the dividers. While this may not come as something novel or spectacular to most Gujaratis, those coming in from other states like me are pleasantly surprised. We met another boy and his father who had also come from Arunachal for admission purpose. We both got admission in GEC, Bhuj. Enroute to Bhuj, the bus stopped at the State transport canteen at Bhachau. My father, who prefers rice to rotis, asked the person who brought us our Gujarati Thaali,” bhaat aur milega na?” (we can have more boiled rice,right?). The guy said yes. There was just a small bowl of boiled rice in the plate as against 2-3 rotis. Father quickly finished the rice and asked him to bring some more. He said,” There won’t be any more rice. You can eat as many rotis as you want.” Father was perplexed. On top of that, the dal was sweet. That was our introduction to the Gujarati way of food. It’s been more than 10 years here for me. Almost 40% of all my life, I’ve lived here. And in that duration, after overcoming the initial awkwardness and language barrier, I’ve come to love Gujarat for all it represents. Here are the 10 reasons for that :
A peaceful society is a must for any state or nation to grow. For all the talk about the 2002 pogrom, the last 13 years have been relatively peaceful here. Happily, there has been no major communal flare-up and life has been smooth for the general public. This has led to great advances in growth and has been a major reason in boosting investor confidence.
Image courtesy :travelrage.wordpress.com
It’s 1 am. 4 girls, on their scooters, are returning home from a night of Ras Garba and Dandiya revelries in the Navratri season in Ahmedabad. They stop at an eatery to have fresh fafda-jalebi and tea.
Now consider this
statement from then-Delhi CM Mrs. Sheila Dikshit after the murder of journalist Soumya Vishwanathan in the wee hours in October 2008, “All by herself till 3 am at night in a city where people believe…you know…you should not be so adventurous.” While the less said the better it’d be about the mentality of our politicians regarding women,their dress-up and their place in society, the fact remains that many places in our country remain dangerous for women even in broad daylight. This is not to say that there are no crimes against women in Gujarat, but the occurrences are far less than in other states.
Low Crime Rate:
A related point is the low overall crime rate in this state. While there”ll always be some unsavoury incidents, Gujarat is by-and-large a place where you can feel very safe at any time of the day. Here in Bhuj, we have foreign tourists exploring the walled city at nights in their own groups without any fear of being mugged. Definitely a good thing.
Gujaratis are a helpful bunch. People just love to help each other. Let me give you two examples.
A guy came to Bhuj to take admission in GEC, Bhuj on a Saturday with his father. Somehow they couldn’t complete the admission procedure that day. The father couldn’t stay till Monday because of some pressing concerns at home. They met a middle-aged guy. After chatting up with him and appraising him of the situation, the guy asked the father not to worry and that on the coming Monday, he’ll get the boy admitted, acting as his guardian. He kept his word. The person turned out to be a lecturer in R.R.Lalan College,Bhuj. The boy in this true story is my friend Praveen Singh.
Another example is the landlady of the apartment where I live. She just doesn’t treat us as tenants who have to be contacted when she has to collect the monthly rent. On occasions like Diwali, Holi and other festivals, she invites us to her home to have snacks and tea because, as she puts it,” chhokrao ghare thi dur hoy etle ekla feel karta hoy ane ghar ni yaad avti hoy aava prasango par, to makaanmaalik tarike aapdi e faraj bane ne kaink to” ( youngsters feel lonely and homesick at such occasions so as landlords, we have a duty towards them ).
Gujarati thali. Courtesy :travel.cnn.com
People who come from other states might find it odd that both the daal
and the shaak
(vegetables) are served sweet in hotels, not salty as they presumably should be. Also, people here eat very less rice, just about a fistful at the end of the meal. People think that Gujaratis, especially the Hindus, don’t eat meat. While the bit about rice holds true across the state, many coastal fishing communities like the Kharvas
have a lot of fish-based dishes. A Kharva
friend of mine once even brought cooked Octopus from his home. Apart from that, the multitude of snacks that Gujaratis make even found their way into popular media in the 2009 film 3 Idiots when Kareena Kapoor tells Aamir Khan of her wonder at the names of the various delicacies sounding like missiles and bombs. But jokes aside, faafda-jalebi, dhokla, khandvo, thepla, bhajiya
and the rest are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The authentic Gujarati cuisine features a wide variety of courses(depending on the season) alongwith the Gujaratis’ beer, chhaas
( buttermilk), without which no meal is complete. Also it’s not that all the dishes are sweet. Quite a few are salty. Apart from that, one can find all manner of eatables for the fasting people, right from farali theplas to farali kachori
to even farali pizzas
!!! Although initially i did feel odd about the food habits of people here, over time i have grown to love Gujarati Thaali.
Reliance Industries Ltd petrochemical plant, Jamnagar. Image Courtesy : www.rediff.com
Gujarat is the no.1 state in the country when it comes to the ease of doing business as a recent report
by the World Bank pointed out. It is also one of the leading states in many industries like petrochemicals, automobile, electrical power generation, textiles, cement and salt, among others. While there do remain some concerns
over inclusive growth, a thriving industrial sector means more jobs which, besides providing for the youth of the state, also brings in migrant workers from states like U.P., Bihar, Assam, W.Bengal and others.
Consider the following:
- In 2001, there was a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, with its epicentre near Bhuj.
- The riots took place in 2002.
- Heavy, repeated floods almost every year.
- Bomb blasts in Ahmedabad in 2008.
Every single time Gujarat has faced a natural or a man-made disaster, Gujaratis, like all resilient communities, have fought back in the face of vicious odds and have come up triumphant. The 2001 earthquake saw an outpouring of worldwide grief and assistance. The state government did its bit by providing relief in sales tax
to industries to facilitate industrial growth. That resilience is inspirational when one is faced with difficulties in life.
A crucial indicator of a state’s growth is the amount of electricity it provides to its people. Gujarat has uninterrupted power supply in almost all cities and most villages as well. In fact,after the addition of the Tata and Adani power plants at Mundra, Gujarat is now a power-surplus
As i mentioned in the beginning of the post, the roads in Gujarat struck me as great on the very first day. They are, according to another study
done by the World Bank, close to international quality. Not just the inter-district highways, even the district roads are of very good quality and in the case of any damage to the roads, they are promptly repaired. You don’t have to face the bumps and troughs while going from one place to another. Good for passenger, the vehicle’s engine, mileage and reduced transit time. Consider this. The distance between Bhuj and Ahmedabad is more than 350 km. With some luck, you can traverse the distance in 4.5-5 hours, despite having to consider delays for toll booths and traffic.
The nine nights of Navratri are a time for revelries and community building.There are big, corporate garba venues and then there are the sheri garbas (street garbas) where members of the particular housing society organise Navratri festivities. Irrespective of the venue though, there’s participation of people from all walks of life, school-going kids to homemakers to retired couples. And then there’s the dance! Oh, the dance! Whether you are dancer or not, you can’t remain unaffected by the pure unbridled joy that bodies swaying to the beats and the dhols brings. Everyone in town goes to garba and joins in the dance. They even manage go to their jobs in the morning after all the dancing. Remarkably, people find energy to do that for 9 straight days, some in spite of observing fasts for the whole nine days. Also, Navratri is an occasion for the youngsters to mix and mingle,an occasion when they can go out at nights without worrying about getting parents’ approval.
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