Live From Gujarat #1

Almost a month back, when I was all set to move to Gujarat, I put up a post in Facebook covertly poking fun of a certain Mr. Development. It is common knowledge that I’m a secularism-spouting, slightly-pretentious, arguably-naive new kid on the block and hence by principle I was against Mr. Development. So I stepped into Gujarat rather curious to see the much-touted “development” – I was all set to report the level of deceptiveness of all those articles that was buzzing around every Indian’s ears.

My first day in Gujarat was pretty much what I expected. The road connecting the airport to the Old Ahmedabad city started deteriorating exponentially as we moved away from the airport. Filthy roads crowded with chaiwallahs (pun not intended. Honestly!), roadside vendors, not to mention hoards of animals, vehicles that buzzed around with little or no regard for traffic or the lives of the pedestrians, women with every inch of their body covered to protect themselves from the unbelievable dust… the scoffer in me grinned like a maniac. See..! This…this right here is the development you were talking about huh?? What a Modification of the truth!

And so I started my life in Gujarat with a certain sense of peace. I was right after all…who doesn’t love hearing that? (Even if you are the only person who is saying it!) Nowhere I looked could I see even the ghosts of the much-touted D-word. All was well.

It started out with little things. Like how I could walk around at 9.00 in the night without a care in the world, reassured at the sight of the police vans at every other junctions. Or how I am yet to sit through an hour of power failure. Or the beautifully paved roads lined with sturdy & shady gulmohar trees on either side. It was with no little horror that I realised that I have been sighing in contentment a tad too often for my comfort! “So…?” I argued with myself. “It wasn’t as if I was hosting chai pe charcha. And I wasn’t even impressed with what I was seeing.”

And then I went on a trip to Ahmedabad City.

As you might have heard, thanks to the relentless media music, Gujarat is home to one of the largest man-made lakes India, the Kankaria Lake. It was during the journey from Kankaria Lake to ISKON Mall in Ahmedabad that I first came across Janmarg. Janmarg, which means ‘the people’s way’ in Gujarati, is a rapid transit bus service system that was inaugurated in late 2009 by the then Chief Minister Mr.You-Know-Who.

Now Janmarg…Janmarg blew my mind. As a civil-engineer who has often lamented on why-can’t-India-have-a-comfy&attractive-public-transport-system, to say that Janmarg had me drooling would be the understatement of the year. Dedicated lanes just for public transport which ensured zero traffic-jams, smart-cards for ticketing, numerous flyovers, automated buses and middle-of-the-corridor bus stations…I had goosebumps by the time I got down at the destination. Later I heard that the Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited went so far as to offer free rides to commuters for three months before commissioning the service to get suggestions, most of which it implemented. I seriously contemplated rearranging my priorities and, at a weak moment, inching over to the dark side.

No kidding.

So what’s with those dusty roads and emancipated kids selling chai on the road-side, you ask? The covered up women and the dangerously speeding vehicles…the roads with not one speed-breaker or pavement or a shadow of a cop… Turns out I hadn’t chosen the best galli of Gujarat to shack-up in those initial days.

Funny it didn’t dawn on me earlier considering how everywhere I looked, kajal-rimmed eyes and paan-smeared lips had smiled at me.

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