Friday, April 22, 2011

Apno Amdavad

Ahmedabad is one city I was always curious about. Somehow, I always had very good vibes about the city. If you ask me to count reasons, there are many. Most of the top ones are ‘snakes’ (i.e. snacks) of course- available everywhere and consumed frequently – Khamman, Dhokla, Khandvi, Dabeli, Vada Pao, panipuri,  Bhel to name a few. To top them all , the city is truly the Ice cream capital of the country- Vadilal, Havmore, Dinshaw , Natural and not to miss AMUL . That itself raises it several notches in my opinion .

Then it is  a  vegetarian’s paradise….a foodie city , a city with culture, cuisine and  most importantly the pride.  Yes, the last one is important because in last few days I have come to realize that I cannot tolerate cynics  and in most parts of my country, cynicism is the prevalent disease. “kuch nahin ho sakta!!” is something I hate to hear. It was therefore, so heartening to find a place where people speak about present and future also with pride , hope and optimism. Where despite notoriety of communal politics- politics by and large is based on development initiatives . Where despite corruption, things move and get done .

There is something in the city that moves people. Make them react about it.  Sir Thomas Roe  described Ahmedabad as a "goodly city as large as London” and Emperor Jehangir sneered that Ahmedabad was actually Gardabad (The City of Dust). But one must also remember that the 17th century Muslim historian Muhammad Qasim Firishta said that it was on the whole, the handsomest city in  the Hindoostan.  According to legend, the main reason behind Ahmedabad coming into existence 600 years ago is a love story involving Ahmad Shah, the city's founder. Teja, the gorgeous daughter of Asha Bhil who became queen of Ahmad Shah, wanted to remain close to her parents' home, and thus soon after marrying her, the sultan again came to Ahmedabad to be with his beloved . Camping on the banks of Sabarmati, he was surprised to see some rabbits which were being chased by his hounds, turned around in defence and confronting their attackers. Sultan's spiritual advisor explained that it was the character of the land that it inspired courage to timid rabbits and advised the Sultan that the site would be auspicious for his new capital. And this is how   the Sultan, who had been looking for a place to build his new capital, decided to locate it in what was then a forested area close to the river bank . He called it Ahmedabad. The incident is popularly described in a one liner: "Jab kutte pe sassa aaya, tab Badshah ne shaher basaya". When the hare chased the dog, the emperor built the city.  The city however remembers its beloved old man much more than that empress . Gandhi is a trademark in the city and its newly designed cousin Gandhi-nagar . The city, however  seems to be in a dilemma to  decide what to do with this trademark. While in the heart of it- every Guajarati is a very simple, God fearing  person  – but in real  materialistic world the community has walked far ahead. The dichotomy is very visible in their humble appearance and yet massive wealth , their love for roadside snacks and their swanky malls, their entrepreneurship and their faith in God – their ability to go ahead and their ability to cheat in taxes  . Very understandably, the city dreams to be the next Manhattten  or Shanghai.

M.K. Gandhi-the old man who claimed that his life is his lesson- continues to be the biggest hero in this city . I , however , visited his  sabarmati ashram in most unsuitable company. Cynical bureaucrats and Rusted engineers could hardly appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the place . They posed and clicked pictures , collected brochure and walked away saying that the place was “ nothing much” . For them the place was not even a mediocre picnic place . For me it was an oasis of peace amidst the bustling city . A place where time is frozen since Bapu left it . Except for the river front- which was very ill kept, I loved the serenity of the place . The house where he lived for years was so bare, so austere that it is difficult not to be moved by it . Unfortunately he continues to be judged by his politics. And not always very kindly.
            While roaming around the campus of IIM- the ace business school of the country , I think of Gandhi, of Ahmedshah and also the Scientist founder of this place- Vikram Sarabhai. Space Research to snacks- Ahmedabad is indeed a city of multiple colours.  

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