Sole trees on desi meadows of parched grass, geometrical angularity on sugar fields mid-harvest, asbestos roofs and abandoned control rooms of the railways - the elements one spots on the Gujarat landscape along its rail routes are mostly dull.
Much like its crops are the people of Gujarat. Frayed yet revealing solidarity in times of crisis are the Kathiawaris of Saurashtra - you'd think they muster their gall from the groundnut they produce. A race of accepted norms of beauty are the Naagars. It has been said about them, that they are a strain of the Aryans that have strayed into this side of the country (highly speculative); they are to Gujarat what the Bengalis are to the country. Intellectual, educated, artistically inclined, service oriented. Add to that the obsessive fairness prevalent in the stock and a brand of humour impossible to find elsewhere, one would imagine them to be exotic creatures. Insufferable they are.
The plains of Gujarat are not picturesque as in the North. They do not overflow with pretty mustard fields. The aridity of cotton and tobacco hits first by its sheer shortness and then its lacklustre textures. Their latent heaviness prevents them from dancing with the breeze even at full length. There seem to be no tips. The Patel-like thickset grand dames have no use for such esoteric charms. The sugarcane rise high, much like the tall Gadhvis tower above other communities, keepers of rights and what must be preserved within society - tradition, values, prerogatives. Men who will storm into a nationalised bank with guns and have the security guard seal the place from outside until the backlog is cleared. The police can only turn deaf ears. Yet they are the very same that come together when a Kurien rises to modernise the cooperative dairy development model and revolutionise the way the country drinks milk!
But as one trudges southward, the breeds change. Businessmen in Ahmedabad and Surat, though birds of a feather, would never flock together. The former know not the art of pleasant speech, the latter sound sweet despite the generous slathering of expletives. Their mangroves, their chickoo orchards, their berry trees seem to seep into their veins as the most pleasant to be around.
But what about where I come from? I suppose a city where one is born and raised has so many layers of meanings and connotations for different people at different junctures, that beginning at one's own birth, or one's ancestors', or the 2500 year old history of its erstwhile fort walled contours could all seem false or unfair or both. To say the least, Vadodara is myriad things to as many people as it lends itself. Twara n I have always maintained, it's the cosmopolitan with reachable boundaries. Like a lot of the metros and mega cities, the city is host and eventually becomes home to several communities from outside the state, and from across the country.
For want of a more emancipating word, traditionally the city is like a marriage consummate, a naive cultural space with little or no regard for conventions or political agendas or ideologies. It has been like a third grader's exploits in the laboratory accidentally successful in some inexplicable and purposeless way. The Emergency was marked by one of its earliest and most controversial turn of events here with the Dynamite case. Countless communities invaded, trickled in, emigrated, got transferred, stopped by and stayed in this city. Vadodara derives its name, among other explanations, but most simply and satisfactorily, from its banyan trees. वड़ in Gujarati is what the tree is called.
Much like the aerial roots of the tree are its people. Rooted, outgoing, earthy, individualistic, subdued, its strength. And don't be surprised if our educated bourgeoisie judge you correctly on the basis of what might seem insufficient data. As the Big B proclaims in the Gujarat Tourism advertisements, प्रगति की कठिनाइयों को दिल पे नहीं लेते यहाँ के लोग... (The people here do not take to heart the hurdles of progress) कुछ दिन तो गुजारो गुजरात में (Come spend a few days in Gujarat)!