Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fests & Feasts

I have never been to the Jaipur Lit Fest #JLF). Over the years, by all accounts the event has grown  both in stature and scale. So, I was tempted to go there this year – work schedule permitting – and had discussed it with a friend, who I thought would also be interested to come along. But, over the last few months – I have been reading saturation coverage of a series of “fests”  – which made me quite skeptical. There was ThinkFest Goa, LitFest Mumbai, InkConference Jaipur, Sun Burn Fest Goa, Hug Fest Bandra, LitFest Jaipur and now even a Lit Meet (#KLM) in Calcutta. Somehow, I got the impression that these events were becoming big business and turned into jamborees for the upwardly mobile, nouveau cultural chatterati – especially the chic parvenu intellectual set of the Capital and a handful of their culture cousins from Mumbai and Bangalore. Now with Twitter being the flavor of the day, time-lines were choked with incessant tweets from those “who were there”. This only reinforced my take of what these events were all about and finally – the shameful affair of Salman Rushdie  and the Oprah spectacle at #JLF put the “Q.E.D” stamp on it for me. So, you may call it a confirmed case of sour grapes – but I was glad that  we couldn’t make it to Jaipur and instead went to Bhuvaneshwar and Puri for a long weekend. 

Bhuvaneshwar is a city I have come to like. Work takes me there often and sometimes I have been able to combine a little break with that. I see it gradually transforming into one of the nicest state capitals we have in India today – with shades of Chandigarh, which is - unarguably - a class apart. But, what’s more remarkable is the development happening there on the social and economic front.  Quietly, Bhuvaneshwar has become an education centre – an eastern clone of Bangalore. Once with only XIBM (Xavier Institute of Business Management) – it now has a clutch  good Engineering and Management Colleges. A visit to the local CCDs (Café Coffee Day) one can see a microcosm of the changing face of the city’s youth. It now boasts of many good schools – including the KiiT International  – and will soon have an IIT of its own. With Infosys and others opening shop – Bhuvaneshwar can claim modest success in the IT field too –  drawing on the good supply of technical graduates from the local institutes. Things can only get better – if large investment comes in with POSCO and others. The present BJD government has a reputation of being clean and progressive. One only hopes there is continuity in governance for Bhuvaneshwar and Odisha to reach their full potential.
While what Navin Patnaik and BJD have achieved in Bhuvaneshwar is commendable indeed – the same can’t be said about the rest of Odisha. One particular area that hasn’t received the kind of attention it deserved is , I think, Tourism. If Bhuvaneshwar could successfully follow the Bangalore model to become an Education and IT Centre – it could easily emulate Kerala for development  of tourism with its treasures of the sea, back-waters, lakes & lagoons and forests. Both Gopalpur and Puri are wasted – the latter especially with its unplanned growth. Chilka has the potential of being an international tourist destination – if proper infrastructure is developed around it. Bhitarkanika (http://www.bhitarkanika.org/) is the largest sanctuary of crocodiles and the home of Olive Ridley Turtles – but very few know of it. The forests of Orissa are one of the most beautiful in the country – now largely rendered out of bounds by the Maoists insurgents. But, planned development could change that – as it has in many countries including Nepal in our immediate neighbourhood. One hopes in the next round – the government would turn their attention to these softer aspects of development.


Short breaks are sometime more rejuvenating than long holidays. While the latter helps in recuperating drained spirits and cure fatigue – the former is like a quick re-charging of batteries or letting off steam from our daily pressure-cooker existence. Spent 2 wonderful days in Puri with friends at their company guest-house. Enjoyed pleasure of doing nothing  - except sitting with feet firmly up in the balcony watching the uninterrupted view of the seas, long walks, massages, gorging on simple home-style food cooked by the guest-house staff and the mandatory single-malt in the evenings. The visit to the temple on Saturday morning was like a restorative soothing balm. The overnight train journey both ways provided an added relaxation – compared to the madness of early morning flights at the chaotic Calcutta airport. And, the surprise of meeting an old school friend – after many years – in the rail coupe pleasantly wrapped up the mini holiday.