Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Indian summer - 2

Let's play a game. The name of this game is Where in the world is your favorite blogger?

Thank you for playing. Your favorite blogger is currently in a quaint little town called (read twice to memorize; there will be a quiz later) Vallabh Vidyanagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat. But I am sure that's like me saying that white dwarf WD 1620-26 is located alongside pulsar PSR 1620-26 A in the constellation Scorpius some 13000 light years away. (It's true. Look it up.)

Be happy, then, that I spent some time tinkering with Google Maps and GIMP (a free photo manipulation software, if you must know - sorta like photoshop for the poor) to demystify my location.

First, here is the good state of Gujarat. As you can see, it sits happily on the western edge of India, bordering the Arabian sea on the west and the south and Pakistan to the north.

Here is Vallabh Vidyanagar (if you are too tired of the long name, you can call it - as many locals do - V.V. Nagar), roughly 50 km (did I mention everything here is in kilometers, liters and kilograms?) from the coast.

And finally, here is my house within the town. Ignore the pear-shaped A, please. Focus on the fairly conspicuous black blot instead.
Blot marks the spot
And no, I am not afraid to reveal this house location on the internet. I do not expect a special forces team (or band of vicious thugs) to infiltrate the place anytime in the near future.

Gujarat (pronounced GOO-juh-raat), although actively settled more than a thousand years ago, wasn't formally given its statehood until May 1, 1960, some 13 years after India gained its own independence from the British. Mahatma Gandhi was born in Gujarat, and Gujaratis (that's what the people of Gujarat are called) take great pride in that fact. The capital is named after Gandhi, and every town and city (to my knowledge) here has a road named after him. I guess that's the state's claim to eternal fame. The native tongue here is called Gujarati and the alphabet looks something like this:

If you happen to know Hindi, you may recognize a lot of the characters (although the letters in the Hindi script have a bar on top). That's not a huge surprise because both Hindi and Gujarati are cousins and share a common ancestor in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit.

Gujaratis are known to be intrepid travelers and settlers and the diaspora is quite vibrant and active today. Despite the prevalence of Gujarati, both English and Hindi are quite widely used, especially in bigger cities. The Times of India, a leading national daily in English, has a very healthy readership. 24/7 cable news channels in English are very much in vogue these days, as are giant billboards advertising products ranging from cement to cellphones. In fact, a lot of old old school Gujaratis, the kind that grew up under British rule, are very proficient in English as all education back then was in English.

Vallabh Vidyanagar (pronounced Vuh-luhb Vee-diya nuh-guhr), V.V. Nagar for short, is a planned town that was established sometime in the 1950's. Its name reveals its purpose and mission. The word 'nagar' means town (or city). 'Vidya' means knowledge or education. And 'Vallabh' comes from Vallabh bhai Patel, who was born in the neighboring village of Karamsad and became one of Gandhi's closest associates. Although educated in England (like Gandhi), Patel gave up a lucrative law practice to join the fight for Indian freedom. After Indian independence, he performed the crucial task of uniting some 600+ princely enclaves littered throughout India, both through tact and force, and served as deputy prime minister.

Since it is the city of knowledge, V.V. Nagar is home to numerous colleges and trade schools. Apartments are usually rented out to boisterous college students and restaurants and coffee shops around schools are open late hours. The town gets pretty deserted during summers as most students go home.

With a population of about 29000, this is pretty quiet and nice place to live. I am glad I grew up here.

Allow me to close this installment and while you read and ponder this, I will enjoy a very succulent mango. Stay tuned for the next part and hope I don't melt in this sweltering heat!

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