'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ahmedabad - The Month That Was

"You are moving to an unusual place. Gujarat and Ahmedabad in particular has very hardworking, organized, thrifty people. They are also generally openminded about outsiders coming over and settling down. But, ... yes, of late, a strong streak of religious bigotry has developed; and it has been systematically nurtured by Narendra Modi. And he is again remarkable, no other Indian Chief Minister comes close in efficiency ... and also a certain ruthlessness... So, you are in a very interesting place. Talk to people and you should find out more what really is going on!"

Such was a bit of sagely advice I received sometime back.

A whole month has passed by since we moved to Ahmedabad. I have not got to talk much to people - indeed the last month might well have been the least social of my life so far. But I have been walking around a lot, mostly in the newer western half of the city. And I read the papers everyday, something I did not do for well over a year in Pune.


Amdavad is hyped as a city seriously on the move. 'Nano' is a hot topic. There is also plenty talk about the new park that has come up around the Kankariya lake (I have not been there yet). And even more is being said in papers about the upcoming Rapid Transit Bus system which will have some of the wider roads reserving lanes for fast and swanky buses... and I am not going to say anything about the real estate boom...

I believe almost dogmatically that any city is as functional as its pubilc transport system, no more. On that count, Ahmedabad, with all its wide and smooth (by Indian standards) roads ranks rather low right now, lower than even messy Pune and imploding Bangalore. The main RTC bus station is a horror, dusty, stony and uneven and awfully congested, perhaps worse than 'Swargate'. Most of the buses to satellite towns and beyond, though they run on less polluting CNG, are in pretty poor maintenance. And the city buses (again CNG so they run more smoothly and spew far less smoke and are incredibly cheap) are very few - and farther between - even on arterial roads. The 3 seater autos are somewhat cheaper than elsewhere in India but no, they simply can't replace a robust bus service in a city of this size (equal to Pune and Bangalore in area in my estimate).

The present city development agenda appears to have a 'Let them have cakes' angle to it. I have serious reservations as to how a few special Rapid Bus routes will improve the city's connectivity as a whole. And there is talk about a new fleet of swanky (and more pricey) autorickshaws catering to tourists - and with drivers trained in the city's history and culture. And these will be named 'Modi Rickshaws', and that reminds one of Jayalalitha naming a series of Chennai city buses (among many other pieces of state property) after herself.

The railway system is mostly a sad joke. For instance, there is an apology of a single track meter guage line from Gandhigram to Botad-Bhavnagar.Just 4 slow trains run each way in a day and they are seriously crowded. It may not be a bad idea to double the tracks at least within city limits and maybe run EMUs (this is just one of the half a dozen or so railway lines in the city and even the very busy line to Vadodara does not have 'locals'). The fact is such prosaic measures as track doubling and EMUs are far less interesting these days to Indian city planners than metros, elevated railways, expressways and such(*). And yes, there is also the real possibility that the 'centre' might just be going slow on railway upgrades in Gujarat, ruled as it is by the 'enemy'.


A recent newspaper article was on the present patriarch of the former royal family of Sanand, the area (not more than 20 km from Amdavad limits) where the Nano car plant is coming up. The gentleman in question is in his early forties, fabulously wealthy, owns a fleet of luxury cars and is into very high-end hospitality business. He appears to be held in very high respect by the people of Sanand and feels "it is good when people, children to elders salute you; you have to earn this respect". The Prince also tells the newspaper: "I was born on an auspicious day and it was prophesied that I would do great things for the people. And now with Nano coming over, I sense an opportunity to fulfil my destiny." His advice to his former
subjects: "Welcome Nano. It will bring long overdue development to this backward area(a place where if you break your leg, you can't get an X-ray done)".


I hear conflicting reports/rumors about the Sardar Sarovar project. Someone said the water problem in the city has been conclusively solved by Narmada water. I also heard how several open spaces in the city have been (not always popularly) dug up to store this water, including the once heavily used 'Malik Shabban stadium' in the old city. I did see a river-sized and full canal on the way to Gandhinagar but I also saw several almost dry ones around Dholka, just 50 km from the city.


The other day, I saw a smart car pull close to a small group of shanties by the roadside. Some children in rags collected and a woman in a sumptuous sari and jewelry stepped out of the car and started handing out beautifully gift-wrapped packs - the kids in turn seemed to know how to 'behave' and waited patiently in a line.


We had a hardware engineer (he gave his name as 'Anwar')come over to set up the system - which had strangely and completely conked off. He was friendly and very talkative. As some automated setup was going on he asked me: "You are from outside Gujarat?" - our conversation had been in Hindi from the beginning.

I said: "Yes, Kerala". He has heard about the Onam festival ("What do you do on Onam?"; he was perhaps not impressed with my honest answer which went: "Nothing much; everyone eats a lot. And those who drink, drink a lot!") and that Kerala has a large Muslim population ("Heard many of our people, Muslims are there.")

I asked him in turn: "You are Ahmedabadi?".

The answer was "Yes, but our ancestors actually came from outside India!".

I guessed: "So, you must be a Pathan, then!"

"Absolutely. How did you guess? ... well, these days with all those cricketers, Irfan Pathan, Yousuf Pathan... everybody knows... My full name also has a Pathan in it - Anwar Khan Akbar Khan Pathan, that is me!"

Once the system was up and running, Anwar said: "Shall I play a devotional song dedicated to our Prophet?". I said fine. He copied a file named 'Nasheed' and played it. The lyrics were in Arabic. Anwar explains: "The Prophet (peace be upon him) once cut the moon into two with a wave of his hand - and rejoined the pieces(**). NASA has some footage which confirms that the moon actually was broken and put back together. They have not released it because then they can't go around claiming Muslims are terrorists!... Then once the Prophet (pbuh) picked up some stones and they chanted the declaration of faith in Allah..."

He went on to legends which say Christians, Jews and Muslims are all descended from Abraham and are half-brothers. "You know, there were so many Prophets. Quran Sharif says there were 124000 of them, some of them may have lived in our India too; just that we don't have their names."

He wants to know if there is communal violence in Kerala. I said: "Yes, probably, less people die there than elsewhere. But, riots do happen. The people in Kerala are just like people everywhere else.". Anwar says: "I agree, people are the same everywhere. I even went to Pakistan for a month, to attend a marriage. Indeed, I even had a marriage proposal from there, but my Abba refused. A cross-border marriage can be problematic - the security agencies on both sides will keep stalking you thereafter. It will be a big pain, he said!"

"Even Karachi is just like Amdavad, the same roads, the same crowds,... no difference. Even now, I don't feel like I am talking to fundamentally different people, you know ..."

He has something to say about people of his stock. "The Pathans *there* are not quite like us. They are very proud and a bit headstrong. Like in a crowded bus, if you ask a Pathan passenger to step forward a bit, he would say: "I fine where I stand, you don't decide where I should stand....". People there say, to argue with a Pathan is like trying to force a camel to sit in a rickshaw!"

His parting remark. "I am happy I got to talk about many things. Especially about 'Ilm' - nowadays, not many are interested religious matters... and yes, don't worry about your computer. It knows it has just been dealt with by a proper Pathan and will behave now. Just in case it gives any trouble, just remember Anwar!"


At the Thaltej crossing on the western edge of the city is a big building painted in a very dark shade of grey. A sombre looking colossal Siva sits in meditation next to it. The board 'Antim Dham' (~'final home') and a long chimney rising above declare the structure is an electric crematorium. The building has a big circular opening and above it is written: 'Prayer Hole' - an instance of the 'Cot-Coat' confusion, which forms a strange bond between Gujjus and Mallus. And elsewhere in the city, I saw an advertisement for 'apartments and *raw* houses".


(*) - Let me give here another instance of urban transport 'planning' from closer 'home'. The city in question is Bangalore - and its long-neglected satellite, Mysore. Not very long ago, a beautiful, tree-lined highway used to connect these cities. Then someone came up with the bright idea of widening the road and all those grand trees were promptly cut down. Then someone else(?) had a brighter idea and work began on an altogether separate expressway and this construction went on and on (probably it still is going on), with allegations flying thick and fast as to who among the local political and other bigwigs ate how much of the allocated funds.

And all along, the sole Bangalore-Mysore railway link has been a single track line with just about half a dozen trains running one way a day. No question whatever of 'locals' (which would have made daily commute an easy and dirt-cheap possibility) and stuff!

(**) - Wikipedia says: the legendary Keralan king Cheraman Perumal, reputedly one of the first Indian Muslims, witnessed this miracle while enjoying a moonlit night atop his palace (in Kerala). The celestial phenomenon made such an impact on Perumal that he immediately left his kingdom and went searching for an explanation - and the journey took him all the way to Arabia where he was received into the then new religion of Islam.


  • At 1:46 AM, Blogger Anurag said…

    Very interesting pieces, Nandu. How are you? What are you doing in AHD?

    Take care.

  • At 7:13 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks anurag, for the appreciation.

    a partial answer to your queries in the next post :)

    and the rest of the answer is that geometry remains a .... hmm preoccupation?


Post a Comment

<< Home