Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Barodian Year

A little over an year ago, on the last evening of August, I arrived in Baroda with a fever that I had picked up in the 32 hour long train ride from Madras. I didn't know if the autorickshaw driver over-charged me while dropping me to my guest house. I thought to myself this city too is like Madras (I was wrong), charging in multiples of Rs 50. Nevertheless, I checked into my room, and had a quick bath and completed my Avani Aavittam (the latest in the day I had ever performed it), had my dinner, and then slept off to wake up to the start of my career.

With the minimum levels of sanity restored by the morning of Ganesh Chaturti, I headed for my first day at work. The city has a pleasant calm. It must've rained before my arrival. Clouds were clustered. A drizzle or two now and then. Near-empty streets in the mornings. I spent my childhood in towns or little cities, and liked such cities without heavy traffic, and greenery to go along with it.

Right then. New place, nobody I know. Slowly got to make some friends at my guest house. I have gone through this before, but it was different the year before in Nagpur. Back then, it was a classroom of 60 people, and it was easier to know them all. Here, people from all walks of life are present, but they tread their own paths. A cross-road would start interactions. A dinner table at the canteen, or waiting for the bus stop or something like that.

I did find a good little bunch of people to dine on Sunday evenings when dinner wouldn't be served at my guest house. We would go around, rate South Indian food served in fake South Indian restaurants. There are a few exceptions of course, and those good restaurants know it. One of the best things about this city is the variety of cuisines that are on offer. There are those food chains you see in every city. That doesn't count. There are restaurants exclusively serving Punjabi, Rajasthani, Lucknowi, Kashmiri, Mughlai, Kannada, Kerala, Tamil, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican etc cuisines. And quite a lot of them are vegetarians! I know atleast three vegetarian pizzerias here!

The best South Indian restaurant in Baroda- 22nd Parallel

Did I not mention Gujarati in that list? There are so many dishes in a Gujarati meal that if I just tasted all of them, my tummy would be full! And you can't help it - you will want more. The local delicacies of fafda-jalebi are quite mouth-watering too. Gujarati food tastes sweet. And they have Gujaratized other cuisines too. You will find sweet sambars, sweet "chilly corn gravy", sweet upma, sweet samosa etc. If I am presented with a glass of sweet lemon soda at the end of the meal, all will be forgiven.

It was hard being away from folks back home and people to talk to. I had evenings to spend without knowing what to do for most of it. It was then that I started reading books, and they kept me company in the evenings. I'm not a voracious reader, and I don't even have a method for reading books. If at a book store, I would waltz into the section titled "Sports", and look for a book that would be worth a read. I've since read a half a dozen books or so between live sports and trips to the cinemas.

Watching movies at the cinemas became the second how-to-kill-time hobby. It would take away a solid 3-4 hours off the weekend. I tried to start liking science-fiction during this development, but I think that is beyond me. I couldn't stand more of a toaster turning into a car and eating the man next to it only to turn into flames and become a pig. Or something like that. For a small city, Baroda has a lot of multiplexes. Must be careful not to venture into the one that shows all movies only in Hindi, so you don't have to watch The Three Musketeeers on a Sunday morning in Hindi. But then, these multiplexes are costlier than the ones in Chennai.

I also had a good year with one of the things I love a lot - cricket. Playing the game was limited. The company would organize tournaments, and it would be fun to play 3 or 4 games a day. A big ground near my guest house, The M.S.U. Pavilion would be a spectacle on weekends, almost every bit of land being used up for playing cricket. Kids and adults would play together, people in their formals would turn up for a game before they go for work on the Saturdays. It was fun.

I had a better year with cricket beyond the playing. I made some good friends in the city who follow the game. I went to the Motibaug cricket ground to watch a couple of days' play of Ranji Trophy games. There might not be many more scenic places to watch a game of cricket. It is also a pleasure to watch the local boys Irfan and Yusuf Pathan from close quarters. A lot of people like cricket here, and they take pride in the performance of their team.

Motibaug Cricket Ground

I seemingly had a good year writing on the game too, and was invited to write at I also now have a new skill - transcribing audios - which I wouldn't have if I was not presented with the opportunity to do so at I'm very grateful to the two gentlemen there. Slowly over the year, my interaction with people connected to the sport grew, and I was able to use their inputs to build something special by April. Watching and following the game, although, took a hit. I couldn't any more sit and watch every single game that was on air, and accept that it is how life moves on.

Baroda welcomes people in and people become miscible with the culture of the city. There are people from many parts of the country here, this city is growing well on many fronts and that has attracted these people. It is a little India. Yet there is something distinctive that makes these people bond themselves as Barodians, and touch base as residents of this city, A Big Lil' City. The urban growth has not taken away the palatial beauty that is scattered across the city. The suits and ties by day turn into traditional clothes by night. Sandwiches at breakfast turn into samosas by evening. The most festive of all festivals was the anniversary of Shri Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, one of the most famous rulers of the land. That showed how much people hold on to the tag of being a Barodian.
Baroda, by dusk. City lights above the canopy of trees.

The people here are quite friendly. The Gujarati they speak is easy to understand (not completely, though) if you know Hindi. The men love cars. And the women are the prettiest I've seen anywhere in the country, and they are the most beautiful during the Navaratri, dancing the Garba. How thousands of people dance in unison without practice is beyond my imagination. It is such a beautiful sight!

In a city that has a lot to love, there are a few negatives. Barodians have this habit of blocking every passage available in any place. People stop to talk at the doorways, they are in narrow aisles in shopping stores, they walk the other way on escalators, park cars in the middle of the road etc. Baroda has less traffic than any suburbs of metro-cities., but somehow the streets of the city morph themselves into a giant headache on Sunday nights when I feel like there are more cars than people on the road. The city has countable traffic police, maybe half a dozen working traffic signals, and no traffic rules. And this last rant may be personal, and only because my arrival was timed so. For an year, I thought it was illegal for it to rain at Baroda. Like everything that is illegal, there would only be scarce appearances seldom leaving clues- for every drizzle before you could get out and get wet, the clouds would have disappeared. It does rain well now, though. Happy for it.

But surely you can walk past the static Sunday night traffic, give the little boy blocking your way a tap on his head and walk past him and find ways to cheer yourself up on a non-rainy day. This city has far many things to keep you engaged. So just take a train to reach the rather neat railway station of Baroda, or catch the next flight to Baroda, at the end of which you will notice that it takes only 10 minutes to get out of the airport after the plane lands, or zoom in on one of the best National Highways, NH08, plying by Baroda. This city is as lovely as it is simple!

It's been a lovely year at Baroda. Looking forward to spend many more here, albeit work might make that discontinuous batches of stay.