Saturday, November 29, 2008


The temple city of Puri is in some sense a dual city: there is an inner Puri, and there is an outer Puri - “inner” and “outer”, both spatially and culturally. The servitors of, and others associated in one way or the other with, the temple of Lord Jagannath are the inhabitants of the old, inner city. They are the original locals. A hundred years ago, Puri must have been a small and serene place. The wide beach must have been quiet and lovely. In fact it is still possible to spend an hour or two on the beach undisturbed, if only one knows which part of the beach to go to. A hundred years ago, medical professionals would ask their patients to spend time in the healthy climate of Puri to regain their heath. Thus the moneyed came from far away Calcutta – Kolkata of today, not just to recuperate, but to live a quality life as well, and built spacious houses along the seashore. The outer Puri came into being. In due course came affluent, retired employees, people working in educational institutions, hospitals, and government offices, hoteliers and others following secular, modern professions. The outer Puri flourished. The two Puris belonged to two different cultures; the inhabitants of the inner Puri considered those of outer Puri outsiders, and the latter looked upon the former as different. But there was no tension; there just couldn’t be, because the outsider-locals would go to the temple, and many of them every day, and the original locals in due course would join schools, and colleges, watch films in theatres, eat in hotels, and participate in the day-to-day life of the modernizing city.

One cultural artifact that has an uncertain future is “Puri boli”, a variety of Oriya, spoken by the original locals. Outer Puri by and large speaks standard Oriya. And as the outer Puri flourished, Puri boli felt the heat. Speakers of standard Oriya found it rude, often abusive, crude, and uncultivated. Even outsider-locals, let alone outsiders, have always found embarrassing the ease and unconcern with which it uses some words considered taboo in standard Oriya. Many call it dismissively as pandaa padhiari bhaasa, the language of the temple people. The standard Oriya speaking elite has succeeded, to a considerable extent, in persuading the speakers of Puri boli that they need to change - they must use polite language while dealing with the others. It didn’t surely impress anybody when some of them said that what the others called vulgar and abusive language is not so at all, and that such language is not excluded from even their home domain. We know that words are not taboo or acceptable, it is the powerful elite that decides which words are what. In a few years as the original locals would realize that the traditional temple-centred economic activities are not going to provide them a decent living, they would join modern professions, and in two or three generations would come to look upon Puri boli exactly as others today do.

Puri boli is a colourful style: exuberant, imaginative, witty, and metaphorical. When sarcastic, it can be devastating, and when friendly and welcoming, it can be charming, almost embarrassingly so, and in either case, it can be colourful. Quite apart from all this, it is the carrier of a rich history and culture built around Jagannath temple. In these times and with such hostile attitudes its future is uncertain. Hopefully some will be concerned.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I am not exactly a cricket fan, although I enjoy reading short articles about cricket – not just cricket matches; I read about cricket politics too, which, in the subcontinent in particular, can indeed be much more fun than many cricket matches. I have sometimes watched international cricket matches for an hour or two, especially when India was playing. And when it comes to Sourav Ganguli, I have always been interested in him, which should not be surprising - me coming from the neighbourhood of West Bengal. But I am no fan of his – not at all! Perhaps he is a great cricketer, perhaps he is not; I am not one who is knowledgeable about the nuances of the game to say anything with confidence in this regard, but if records are anything to go by, then he is certainly someone to be reckoned with. When he announced his retirement from international cricket, I knew I was going to miss him.

It’s not that he will readily fade into oblivion as far as cricket is concerned. Far from it. He will appear, perhaps more often and considerably longer, than he often did as he batted. He will be seen in the commentator’s box, and in the cricket field too offering expert advice to players, and telling children in cricket academies how to improve their game, and he will give expert opinion after the day’s match. We will know his views on cricketing matters, not excluding cricket politics, hopefully, from the columns he will write, and from the numerous interviews he will surely give to many channels.

Where I am going to miss him is in the discourse on cricket. There was ever so much talk around him. He was the subject of talk when he played well, and he was equally the subject of talk when he did not. His selection for the national team was as much the subject of debate as his non-selection. What he said was as much something to write about as what he did not, and what he evaded. Soon after he announced his retirement a distinguished parliamentarian from his home state made a statement suggesting that he had literally been forced into it, thereby opening up possibilities of some debate. One hardly knows, let alone talk about, the godfathers and detractors, real or perceived, of cricketers except when it came to Sourav’s. His spat with Greg Chapell was interesting discourse because of him; if many more wanted to hear his story rather than Greg’s, it probably had little or even nothing to do with cricket.

He attracted controversy, generated debate, and he was the one to talk about. And I must say with confidence that he had absolutely no competition from any cricketer who played with him (and who did not, too) in this respect. When he retires from international cricket, he will cease to be the subject of cricketing discourse in India. And this is where I am going to miss him.