Saturday, 26 December 2009

Random Thoughts II

Of the city and its people

Written while at Guwahati in Jan-Feb 2008

Everywhere one looked in Guwahati there are huge building-complexes coming up. So much so that this time I had to made a special effort to show our guests some nice Assam type houses. I wonder whether there will be any left in a few years from now. How I wish that was not the case. These houses were once supposed to be ideal for the conditions in Assam, why is it that they are no longer favoured these days? Yes, land is scarce, true, but even when people build huge sprawling bungalows nowadays, they are rarely of Assam type. Wouldn’t it be great if some smart Assamese innovator applied modern technology in order to make the lovely Assam type houses fashionable again.

Still on land, it is incredible how high the price of land has reached these days – the going rate in G.S. Road I was told is one crore per katha! And still there is no dearth of buyers, there is no land left to be had. No wonder then that those who can are going a little outside the city to buy huge plots to build weekend homes in. We saw that happening when we visited a Karbi village, near Sonapur, in the outskirts of Guwahati. Seeing what was happening there made me feel very guilty, guilty about being an Assamese, about belonging to a class who have no qualms about exploiting the simplicity of these simple people for our own personal ends. This village has nothing much to show, they are poor, the men-folk are not hard-working. So, whenever they are in need of money, they sell a portion of their land to land-hungry Guwahati-wallahs who either build farm-houses there or create huge resorts for the pleasure of other well-to-do city-wallahs. How they get around problems related to reserved areas, I do not know.

I’ve asked around but I still don’t understand why the `resorts’ we have in and near Sonapur are called resorts in the first place. Just having a restaurant, a few birds in a tiny cage, a few ducks in a little pond and a few swings does not make a place a resort. My guess is that ‘resort’ is just a fancy name for what used to be called a ‘dhaba’ some time back. Whatever they might be, I still haven’t figured out why we need so many of them, that too all at the same place. If rumours are to be believed, most of these places are filled to capacity in the evenings: people go there not only to eat, but also to drink. Even the thought of how anyone can dare to negotiate the tricky curves between Sonapur and Khanapara and drive their families home after having even a peg or two fills me with horror. The few times I have expressed my concern, the gallant men have just laughed it off, telling me that living abroad has turned me into a coward. But I find nothing brave in their recklessness. It not just stupidly careless it is also highly irresponsible!

I guess I musn’t get started about other related issues that bother me no end like the non-use of seat-belts and the blatant violation of all possible traffic rules by everyone (most often by the VVIPs and the police forces themselves) for else I’ll never finish. These are all little things, but together they make a big difference. Having lived in Germany for sometime now, what bothers me most when I come home to Guwahati, is the fact that although most of the systems are in place, almost nothing can be made to work here as a normal matter of course. If I post a letter in a normal post-box, the chances are that it will never arrive, if I need to get something done at a bank, I might have to wait there forever unless I march up to the Manager and throw my weight around, if I fall down and break my leg help will come my way quickly only because the doctor happens to be my uncle’s brother-in-law, if we managed to get an elephant-ride in Kaziranga it was only because my mother rang up the Minister! And what is more, people seem to spend endless amounts of time boasting about these connections! How do the common people with no connections manage in this place, I wonder. Until I figure that out, it’s safer for me to stay put in Germany, I guess.

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