In my last post I had written about the trip to Puri and peppered it with visuals from Puri highway and Bhubaneswar.
Before getting away to a different destination one last remark about evenings at Puri. Puri is a great romantic get away for people who believe in a dream date who takes them to the sea beach in the evening, clear moon lit night and the roar of sometimes Turquoise and sometimes Lapis-Lazuli Bay of Bengal with your loved ones close by. Hmm! Keeping aside the romantic quotients, the Puri sea beach is well endowed with restaurants, inns, bread and breakfast and hotels. In the evening the beach transforms into a makeshift shopping ghetto selling trinkets, accessories, conch and mother-of-pearls, beach wear, kurtas and comfortable sleep-ins. If you are lucky then there might be a Beach festival running in the vicinity of the sea, a real visual bonanza. However, of the less luckier ones like me and for an affordable luxury one might like to hire one of the plastic chairs that cost 10 rupees per head for an hour and enjoy the evening in languorous silence sipping a local chai at 3.00 rupees, interrupted by nothing but the roar of the vast black stillness spreading upto the horizon.
This post will again have a lot of visuals, but not everything is going to be about the ‘beautiful’ and magnificent Odisha.
While the main highways and the roads are being cleaned, decorated and made a visual treat, there are loopholes in the maintenance of housing areas and suburbs. Take for example the most populated suburb Sailashree Vihar in Bhubaneswar. The suburb has houses and plots sold by the Housing Board Societies. There are attempts to build schools, parks, recreation centres and flower nurseries by the BMC (Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation) at several places throughout the locality. However, there is one basic feature lacking in the region — civic amenities. The by-lanes are mostly half-built, dotted with potholes and ditches, and left in complete darkness without streetlights. I understand the necessity of saving electricity, but do not comprehend the idea that roads and lanes should go without streetlamps. I still do not understand which logic is more essential — security of human lives or saving electricity? especially, when there are highways in Bhubaneswar which are lit up day and night with beautiful wrought-iron lamps. These lanes are infested with goons and petty thieves, who take advantage of the darkness and loot ladies wearing gold chains or earrings and snatch purses from people returning from office at late hours. Moreover, these by-lanes are so ill-maintained that most of the times the potholes are filled with mud and dirty water during rainy season, or else the water pipes which are supposed to water the saplings planted in the newly built parks, actually end up watering the roads and lanes, difficult to even swim through to the main highway 🙂 .
Conserving electricity is a great idea but then the need to conserve water 🙂 ? What about hydro-power? Well…what we conserve and how much we conserve also depends on our priorities and our insight into things and requirements great and small. These days in the name of conservation we waste more than saving.
A closer snapshot of this gorgeous puddle in the locality would perhaps benefit us a little more. So here are some more pictures of the same spectacle. Instead of parks, the lanes are being generously watered.
Let us move to some other trivial aspects of my traveler’s diary; to some aspects of my personal-professional life 🙂 . I started my career as a Lecturer in a small technical college 180 kms away from Bhubaneswar. I had just completed my Post-graduation and was doing my M.Phil when this job came my way. I considered myself lucky because in those days technical colleges were not very common in Odisha and that place gave me my first exposure to teaching and also to Internet. I learnt browsing useful articles and educational sites. However, now the scenario has changed — entire landscape of Odisha is flagged with technical colleges. A new college comes up each morning. There are at least 100 engineering colleges in Odisha (while writing this post). You will be surprised to know that more than 9000 seats are vacant at this moment (till Oct, 2009) in these colleges. And the quality of the so called engineering students and facilities in colleges — you should visit once to know better. Now the question arises – how much they deliver….??? People tend to question your credentials if you happen to teach or be associated with any of these colleges at any point of time. I have been questioned by interviewers time and again about the validity of teaching or working in these places while documenting it in my CV . I make it a point to retain that aspect as my first job experience out of a kind of defiance.
On one hand these colleges promise a degree in technical excellence and give a B.Tech or a B.E. degree to the students who opt for it. A degree is fine, but technical excellence is doubtful. Students go out and get some job in corporates and software sector but how far they rise and make a mark for themselves in the long run is an unsolved mystery. Coming to teaching, well there are many good students in Odisha who have either not opted to go out of the state or have neither the means nor the financial support to pursue higher education. Yes, there is a business and a clear-cut business motive, when the management can employ ten faculties for a cheaper pay packet why would they prefer one ‘academically better’ faculty who would cost them a fortune? What difference does this faculty make? The system is such that whomever and whatsoever the management hires, delivers ultimately in equal measure. I have reasoned about teaching in a ‘mediocre’ (that’s what the puritans call them) technical institution with one reply — “who is to be blamed for the mediocrity of any place? Faculty? Students? Management? Society?” Everyone — collectively. IITs or Central Universities, if they are to be considered as ‘hallmarks’ of ‘better’ education, are sustained by a collective will of all the above members of a society. Moreover, it is the “R” factor or the “Research” factor which puts them in a class apart. There are many such “technocrats” from the mushrooming technical institutions who may not even know that Linux is an Operating System or that MATLAB can be used to derive the diagrammatic projection of a set of data entered. But, that is not their fault (not 100%). The same students if they have the passion or the zeal to learn go ahead in life and opt for higher studies and return better equipped. As someone who taught, I confess that I did not myself do my homework as well as I was supposed to have done. The question regarding why other places in India are not at par in education, is almost like the last instance given in this post regarding the beautification of highways while leaving the by-lanes and the gullies to rot. We are in love with shortcuts and easier paths. How much we put at stake and what we want to achieve is something that the students, the faculties, parents and the government have to decide for themselves. For the time being however there is a mushrooming of engineering colleges which either promise to deliver or deliver in newspapers.
However, it is not the mushrooming of technical institutions or the ‘quality’ of education that affects me. I feel disheartened because of the lesser sympathy or let’s say apathy of the students and the society towards liberal arts, literature, humanities studies and cultural studies. I am not sure how are we going to sustain the superstructure of a megalithic educational setup, without sustaining interest in liberal arts and humanities? In Odisha the trend that seems disturbing is the general tendency to interpret humanities, especially language, literature and aesthetics as no more than Personality Development and Communication Skills or else Call Centre support system. I wish we realize and respect the immense potential concealed in roads lesser trodden, that is our own culture, and the government and centres for higher education consider these subjects with equal seriousness.
I have been taking you through the alleys of higher education and civic amenities. But, now we will venture a little deeper into the smaller towns, villages and the State Highway of Odisha. As we move from Bhubaneswar towards Berhampur (business capital of Southern Odisha, closer to Andhra Pradesh border), there is a diversion from the National Highway that takes you on a State Road towards a smaller district called Nayagarh. If you are a party lover and shopping freak, such destinations may not be your cuppa tea.
If you are an ardent nature lover, or if you are person on the lookout for adventure, then these are the right destinations or let’s say milestones for a traveler. However, be prepared to spend nights in Dawk-Bungalows or in smaller motels with mosquitoes and lizards. The roads are jerky, and you can find nothing but paddy fields extending as far as your eyes can take you or else small farming villages flanked by large banyan trees, dilapidated shops or else a freshly whitewashed primary school building.
The Primary Schools or Higher Secondary Schools are particularly interesting. Modestly built with limestone or red bricks, these schools are immaculately clean. The outer courtyard of the schools are neither cemented nor concrete. However, the earth and mud finish of the courtyards are swept and mopped with such perfection that one gets a romantic longing to return back to school days and study in these schools. Especially as townsfolk who have the ‘privilege’ of studying in Public or Convent schools, and who think that there is no education ‘alternative’ or matching our kind of education, these schools invite rethinking. In fact, some of the top educationists, civil servants, IITians, literary figures and doctors, actually come from these ‘humble’ educational set-ups and even ‘humbler’ homes.
There are a lot of things which are undergoing transformation for either good or worse. This time when I traveled to Odisha, I realized that there are still many things that haven’t changed like the evenings, the hamlets lit with one small lantern or the people who spend time gossiping about ‘bigger’ things like politics and terrorism with the local newspapers at their favourite tea and samosa stall.
There are also many things that have changed like the infiltration of liquor and goonda raj on a grander scale or the setting up of international schools charging a whopping 2-3 lakhs per anum from children of well-to-do families, and so on. This article does not aim to elucidate on either. You might investigate and find that out yourself. The purpose of this write-up was to take you across into a state that remains a mystery for many. From huge multi-star luxury hotels to the humblest dwellings, you can find all if you have the zeal or the curiosity to look deeper than the obvious.
Odisha is not to be understood as a state whose places are relative to the center or Bhubaneswar. There are many beautiful landscapes which do not come close to the perimeter of the capital. One has to look beyond the “golden triangle” of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar, in order to explore the essence of the land. I have not been able to capture those landscapes and their life and style for my readers. Maybe in some other post I might be able to write about those places….
Till then…bon voyage!