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Monday, June 13, 2005


I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that my room was on the banks of the river Sabarmati, on the border between Old and New Ahmedabad. On eagerly drawing my curtains, I found a large tract of undulating land where the odd buffalo reposed restfully, boys played a merry game of cricket and flew a gay kite. Not a drop of water, nor any drop to drink in the midst of a protracted summer. Maybe the toiling denizens of Ahmedabad had taken the fact that it was a dry state literally

I was caught on the wrong foot more than once as I misread one road-sign after another—lulled by the seeming verisimilitude the language bore to Hindi. A-ha, I though, what a luxury-no need to add the “danda”—so much more time freed up. As it transpires, the differences are manifold—with a “ sha” letter turning out to be an “a”. Yet, an easy thing to do so and could have managed if needed to.

The residents speak Gujarati rather hurriedly , beyond my comprehension usually, It is a quaint accent that imbues their spoken English, which is endearing at times. I was quite amused to see the retailer, my colleague, the dealer salesman and a shopper all ebulliently hum the Spears anthem “ I’m not that innocent” in collective cacophony and with the quirky accent. I also learn that many natives do not like to speak in a language other than their own, and that has retarded their progress somewhat. They are deemed chauvinistic and inward-looking and though very enterprising—almost every family has someone abroad, or in business—they don’t appear to have an appreciation of the nation in any sense other than pecuniary dynamics. This reticence has accorded them an image of a community indifferent to and undeterred by the goings-on in India—some have even unkindly pointed the fact that not many join the Armed Forces, long construed as a sure sign of valour and patriotism. The rationale of eschewing English has been reviewed over the past decade, which has coincided with a marked improvement in the rise of schooling.

The city is chockful of lofty ambitions, purpose and effluvia—perhaps the most polluted capital in India—per cc of particulate matter, and this is inspite of stable roads and adequate town planning. Traffic is pertinacious and unrelenting, the drivers impatient to get ahead. I visited places on the wrongly-named Satellite Road, Ankur which I know quite well now, Ashram, Circuit Road, Relief Road, Lal Darwaza and Shahpur and Jamalpur closer to Old Ahmedabad.

Supermarkets and malls are quite attractive to those with an eye of what’s on offer for free, and hence they get a sizeable slice of citizenry at all times. On the whole, the place is cheaper than Mumbai which is not saying much. I was puzzled to find that Ahmedabad is considerably more populated than Pune, a bustling 55 lakhs including Gandhinagar, which has not quite lived up to the promise of a propitious start. There are over ten cineplexes and frequented by an increasingly upmarket and aspiring young crowd.

I found the city extremely divisive—never have I found the geographical demarcation between the two largest communities so pronounced, and it is a considered opinion that Old Ahmedabad is Trouble, and the pot of communal tension boils dangerously. However, this division had not spread to business, expectedly, and I talked to many Khoja muslim traders, who professed to be a more accepting, tolerant and generous subset. Certainly they were munificently charitable with their jamaat khanas

A sumptuous Gujarati thali, rounded off with aamras—not for the calorie conscious. No complaints –no regrets, just dreamy bliss.

As a parting shot, a nod to the unmistakable pulchritude of the land, Loads of them on two-wheelers and living it up. A pity to learn that most do not join the workforce in any capacity. I also belatedly realized that a favoured Bollywood actress actually looked Gujarati—her visage was longingly plastered all over town, and the product is doing well too.


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