In Love With The Unhurried Pace Of My City, Says Panchami Manoo Ukil

“Country roads … take me home … to the place … I belong …”

Everytime I’m returning to Bhubaneswar, I can’t wait to be back. To the incomparable comforts of a city that is home.

I came to Bhubaneswar when I was five years old – in the early seventies. I remember it was the time when spring was stepping into summer, and, the huge mango trees in the sprawling garden had burst into inflorescence, their umbrella canopies layered with pale pistachio-green spears of tender mango blossoms. The air was fragrant, the sense of openness was liberating. The love for the place was instantaneous and kept growing over the years. I went to boarding school in Jaipur in1976. At that time, almost no one in my school knew where Bhubaneswar was, and I was always asked if it was in Bengal. Today, I preen with an overwhelming sense of pride,when the same unknown city is declared as the number one smart city in India, and is the only Indian city to feature in the global list of smart cities.

As I write this piece, I look out of the window of my office to see a lane completely shaded by entwined top branches of trees. Bhubaneswar was a clean and green city in the seventies and eighties, with forested outskirts barely a few kilometres away, and, now, after more than forty five years, and a super cyclone decimating a huge number of the city’s trees in the interim, I’m so relieved that my city remains one of the cleanest and greenest cities in India.

As Ekamra Kshetra, my city’s heritage roots are unique and timeless. The stunning temples of Bhubaneswar stand testimony to our unique style of architecture, the sheer number of temples reflecting not only architectural prolificity of our kings, but also their consciousness about preserving our history, culture, and tradition. I love the “Rukuna Ratha” celebrations of Lord Lingaraj on Ashokashtami, as also the beautiful “Dola Vimanas” during Dola Purnima and the ISCKON Ratha Jatra. I never get bored of repeated visits to the temples in the old city, with the iconic depictions unfolding new tales on every visit. Now, with Ekamra Van and its rich repertoire of botanicals on the banks of Bindusagar, our temple trail is truly an enriching and therapeutic experience. I’m proud of being a part of that historical landscape which converted a demolisher and devastator king to an apostle of peace.

Bindusagar

In the eighties, one of my friends moved to Bhubaneswar from Delhi as her father had joined Nalco. After a few days of getting used to a “slow and sleepy” place, the north-Indian family had decided that Bhubaneswar was going to be their retirement destination. They bought a home in Palashpalli, and even though they ultimately did not settle here, they make an annual trip just to unwind, calm down the pace, and destress.

For me, this is the essential and inherent character of this beautiful city of Bhubaneswar – it’s unhurried pace. Even as it transitions from an unheard of small town to a smart city, Bhubaneswar has managed to retain that leisurely pace to an extent. We Bhubaneswariyas still remain cocooned from the frenetic rush that’s built into lifestyles in other cities.

Bhubaneswar’s cycle rickshaws

As single roads in the city double and quadruple, “talkie” cinema halls rub shoulders with multiplexes, ‘ek number haat’ and market building compete with layered shopping malls, Burma General Stores metamorphoses into Kalamandir, Casino Rolls shifts location, bungalows convert into multi-storeyed apartments, ambassadors and fiats give way to snazzy rolls royce, audis and BMWs, cycle-rickshaws get grounded for autos, bus stand moves from AG roundabout to Baramunda, multi-national companies set up Infocity, traffic snarls create momentary chaos, etc, etc, yet the city continues to move in its unhurried pace, calm and mostly unruffled.

Sriya Square

Today, Bhubaneswariyas may not be indulging in the once ubiquitous midday snooze, but a certain laid-backness defines them,enabled by the pace of the city, which is what makes Bhubaneswar a habit for it’s inhabitants and attractive for it’s visitors. I guess this is also the reason behind Bhubaneswariyas and of course, Odias, in general, happily lacking aggression and killer instinct, and just being satisfied with what they have.

In the last few years, the city’s famed cool evening breeze of summer has made a come back. Spring and summer evenings laced with this breeze are one of the city’s most distinctive and enduring memories. At a time when air-conditioners were far and few, it was this breeze, almost poetic in flow and sweetness, that lent succour to warm summer evenings. As the city expands its limits, we have our open and green spaces in the many beautiful parks interspersed into the urban landscape. Today, Bhubaneswar has a smorgasboard of restaurants, small and big, with every cuisine on offer. Eating out is popular and the eat streets are always crowded. It holds a place of pride in the field of education as a prominent education hub with students of the many modern sought-after institutions lending a youthful charm to the people scape. I love the fact that we are now experimenting with cycle tracks and “Raahgiri”, even as biker clubs, bird walks, heritage walks, music in the park, art in public spaces, literary, music, and dance festivals, theatre, and lot more are being woven into the city’s activity agenda for it’s citizens, thereby inducing a cosmopolitan feel to the city.

I’m hooked to the “abhada” of Ananta Vasudev temple and Boya “kora-khai” as much as I’m crazy about Lingaraj lassi, Ramadevi chaat and Master Canteen gupchup. I can’t have enough of watching the orangey-blue dusk skies at Bindusagar or feeding fish in the tank at Mukteswar. I revel in the festive spirit of “baara maasa- tera parba” which seizes Bhubaneswariyas in an infectious frenzy of activity on roads, and, in the market place, radiating the buzz and energy of finding joy in the simple things of life. That all of these have survived generations of Bhubaneswariyas, speaks volumes of the sense of attachment with our beloved city and its underlying ethos.

And as an avid birdwatcher, I’m besotted with my city’s avian diversity. Our urban green spaces and immediate forest outskirts are home to many species of birds, and during our bird walks, we have listed close to 180 species of birds in Bhubaneswar. What I deeply regret however, is the complete desertion of Bhubaneswar by house-sparrows, who have been our chirpy companions for generations. Also, I’m sad about the disappearance of the hordes of vultures, the natural city scavengers that were seen until the late-eighties.

City scavenger that was seen until the late-eighties

On the other hand, I’m thrilled with the presence of the rarest of rare Pale-capped Pigeon/Columba punicea that inhabits one of our most populated city parks. Birdwatchers from all over the world come to Bhubaneswar to see this rare avian species which is listed as “Vulnerable” by IUCN. All the more reason why Bhubaneswar city authorities must adopt this bird as the official bird of Bhubaneswar Smart City, just as all other major cities have their official birds.

The rare Pale-capped Pigeon/Columba punicea that inhabits one of the most populated parks of Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar is an amalgamation of tradition and modernity, of rootedness and smartness. It’s a comfort zone out of which one would move out only as a compulsion arising from circumstances. Fortunate are those who have been able to stay on without break. Also fortunate are those who have managed to return after years of rushing through life, to the lap of a city that still cares and shares. As I watch my city bloom and get smarter, I say without hesitation– My City, My Pride!

Author: Panchami Manoo Ukil is a birdwatcher and conservationist and founder of The Bhubaneswar Bird Walks. She is Chairperson of Ila Panda Centre for Arts and Founder Trustee of The Wisdom Tree Global School. She calls herself a die hard “Bhubaneswariya”

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