Friday, March 06, 2009

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

A beautiful but divided city.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Delhi is like The Complete Works of Shakespeare. You may read just that book and nothing else in your whole life and you would still be wiser. But if go to other cities, walk in their alleys, talk to their dwellers, you would realize that how enlightening it is to read other books.

In other words: Shakespeare is great but not everything; Delhi is great but not everything.

I'm in Surat. I had come here with much reluctance. I mean why leave Delhi? It has everything – forts, palaces, tombs, bookstores, bazaars, malls, gardens. It has surprise streets, sweet secrets. It has character. It has soul.

But Surat, too, has all that.

I arrived in this town with some skepticism. This city maybe a diamond and textile hub but it has also seen riots between Hindus and Muslims. Worse, it lies in Gujarat, a state which would always stay in my mind where thousands of Muslims were killed in the beginning of the new millennium. Worse, the Muslim victims were denied justice in the aftermath of the riots. Worse, the state government which had turned a blind eye to the massacre was re-elected by Gujaratis.

So I was prepared to dislike Surat. I couldn't.

It's a beautiful city. Dirt free streets. Colonial buildings. Smooth roads. The old Surat is cleaner than old Delhi. Havelis are as stunning. Mosques are beautiful. There is Shahjahan's fort, Dutch cemetery, Parsi neighbourhoods and lots of vegetarian restaurants. (The Pizza Hut here has no non-veg option!)

Did I mention the river?

Like Delhi, Surat, too, has its river. But, unlike Delhi's Yamuna, Tapti doesn't divide the city into social hierarchies. It unites it.

In the night, people drive to the bridge, park their cycles, scooters and cars on the roadside, and sit by the balustrade. All sorts of Suratis come here: couples, families, solitude-seekers. Rich, poor. Hindus, Muslims. Women in saris. Women in burqas. The city lights twinkle into the river making it all look dreamy.

This late night dream world in which followers of different religions gather together at one place is, however, too unsubstantial to exist in the clear light of the day. Then Surat comes into its own. Its divisions are laid bare. Navigating through the city means crisscrossing Hindu part, Muslim part, Hindu part, Muslim part, Hindu part, Muslim part.

You don't find this kind of Jerusalem in Delhi. The Indian Capital might not respect its river but at least it respects its people. That's why Delhi is slightly better than Surat.

A Muslim Surati?

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

The Hindu Part?

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

The Muslim part?

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

Hindu part? Muslim part?

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

A divided city

Travel Notepad – Surat, Gujarat

21 comments:

Ajit said...

Worse, it lies in Gujarat, a state which would always stay in my mind where thousands of Muslims were killed in the beginning of the new millennium.

You betray your sympathies with every word. It is easy to forgive the partition of India, the expulsion of Hindus from Kashmir, the deaths of innocents at the hands of your beloved Pakistanis, is it?

Stay away as far as possible, the reek of your hypocrisy pollutes any place in India unfortunate enough to house you.

Its about Gujarat's Asmita said...

Why have you traveled to Surat? To work and stay, leisure (will leave in a few days), visiting any relative?
Your partisan comments about the city is highly unfortunate. Anyway I dont expect a Dilli walah to understand the charm and life of us Surtis. We believe in "Khai pine jalsa" - Eat, drink and be merry. There is no point in trying to reason out your staunch views about the state and the Godhra issue. Because you have a closed mind.
Look around Surat - the businesses, the per capita income, quality of life, connectivity, the civic body (It has been awarded for being the cleanest city after the Plague in mid 90s.)The entrepreneur zeal of its citizens. Here people believe in doing their work, earning money, spending it and living a good life.
I belong to the business community and you will be shocked to know that the Muslims who are especially in business still like Gujarat. What's your take on the Punjab militancy issue and the Sikh massacre?
You have choices in life - either you cling on to your outdated views, ostrich mentality and be bitter or go out and embrace life and its opportunities with open arms and LIVE LIFE to the fullest.

Magnus Linde said...

And the vitriol you spread, Ajit, will not bring healing to any rift

SURATfiRST said...

Good you changed your opinion on Surat after coming here. Surat has a rich heritage of coexistence.. and draws people from all over India like a magnet. Amongst the cities of Gujarat, Surat holds distinction of having the highest cross cultural population. From Kashmiris to Keralites and from Assamese to Marwaris.. all of whom have made Surat their second home with the flourishing textile trade. So much so, that the original Surtis are now a minority. I happen to be a true blue Surti proud of its status. Visit my photoblog on Surat www.suratfirst.blogspot.com and you can see and checkout a lot of Surti culture, places and people of Surat.

Ajit said...

Rifts are bridged, not healed. Your thinking, Marcus, is as muddled as your metaphor.

Puneet said...

hello mayank..
before anything else, i will like to say. for last couple of months, i have been a zealous followers of your blog. and an ardent fan of your writings. it was basically i was moved to delhi around the time, and was looking for some blog focused exclusively upon delhi.
now, to what i wanted to say. though i like your pieces, but at times i feel that your views are very constricted and handicapped by your preconceived ideas about how things are. and how they should be. i know these ideas or notions are what make you who you are. and these help you write or present a view the way you do. but allowing a little leeway for what others feel or believe may actually broaden your idea of the situation. like even with this piece, before you started. you had already formed an opinion that it is unfortunate that you are having to go to surat, and worse surat is in gujrat. i mean you have every right to love something but why to hate some place without giving it an actual chance. you could be sad at having to leave delhi and even if you werent excited by the idea of getting to romance a new city. you could atleast do it justice by starting with a blank page. giving it, a chance to make its own impression. even with surat, your impression of the place was good, clean, friendly, entreperneual but the whole article had a negative voice because you already had a idea which you were reluctant to let go of. unless you allow yourself to evolve along with your writings, you are gonna stagnate into a rot.
by no means do i think myself to be very just or best at understanding everyone's view of how the things are. i know, i am also very full of faults. but i thought, you may just like to ponder upon what i had to say.
all the best with your work. and have a nice stay at surat. though i will be waiting for you to be back in delhi. so that i can discover a few more secrets which this beauty has stored in the treasures of its heart.

Anonymous said...

Ajit's comment is so typical it makes me smile :)
killing is killing man ... naming another one doesnt justify the first ... whats wrong is wrong!

Asmita ... you are right, Mayank has a closed mind as he mentioned killing of thousands of people and feels for it ...but you, you are so open minded ...because you enlighten us by saying that who gives a hoot if some thousands people are killed ....Suratis eat, drink and be merry ... and Surat is a very clean city ...amazing!
I mean do you even read newspapers? Read about the builders segregating the people..? I suggest you google it...

To work towards a solution, you have first acknowledge there is a problem ...

Anyways, great work Mayank, hope you enjoy your trip!

I know gujaritis are very nice people with an amazing veg cuisine ... make the most of it..

God bless.

आवारा - যাযাবর - آطارا - Vagabond said...

Wasn't it Surat where terrorists planted bombs in every nook and cranny. Some of them were even planted on trees (I guess it is a technique to inflict maximum damage in terms of human lives).
I also remember that Suratis called it 'Vetaal Bomb'
(As in Vikram aur Vetaal)

SO-DEEP thinking said...

Surat like it's name is the "face" of our present. The face that looks the other way when injustice happens. The face that "sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil" because afterall Surat is in the state where Gandhi lived. i mean life is about "khai pine jalsa". Just like everyone reads a face differently, this city is read differently by different people, and indefferently by indifferent people. "khai pine jalsa" means to lead a good, wholesome life, not an indiffernt one. If you are not sensitive to your fellow human's pain then you will be when have to go through it someday. Blindly overlooking the facts of this "divide" just because you love your homeland is only ignorance.

SO-DEEP thinking said...

mayank I was impressed to see your pics in HT city man. Nice job.

SO-DEEP thinking said...

Ajith you are the fundamentalist here for assumnig that every one who sympathises with muslims is a Pakistani. You should be ashamed of calling Mayank that. Granted that he would have done better not assisciating a community with the riots because in the end Indians were killed and denied justice, but still learn to grab the sentiment rather than semantics.

SSD said...

Maano,
Glad you went to Surat and found treasured discoveries. Socio-political issues aside -- sometimes it is also breathtaking to witness another cities heritage. This life is a plethora of many many journeys -- much success to yours!

P.s. Asmita "The entrepreneur zeal of its citizens. Here people believe in doing their work, earning money, spending it and living a good life." -- hope your business was able to reach out to those effected by Narmada Sagar Dam, else, what good is material prosperity when one can easily live in denial. If my memory is sharp, water had entered villages, hence the children, cattles, men & women had to flee (wonder where to? hell can already prevailed!). alas, most still live in the slums.

Cheers,
SSD

Ajit said...

"SO-DEEP thinking", the implied profundity of your chosen tag does not, evidently, run either to orthography or to comprehending English.

You misspelt my name, and you misunderstood my statement. I said that Mayank loves Pakistanis, not that he is one himself.

As a matter of fact, Mayank runs another blog, Pakistan Paindabad where he has used the words "we Pakistanis" more than once. If anyone is claiming that Mayank is a Pakistani it is he himself, not me.

Anonymous said...

I think the author is right in having his reserved views about city in gujarat. Modi has made minds of open minded individuals so water tight that it is tough to see oppostion to modi's policies. Progress is not only about development, it has to include multivariety of factors which are too subjective to arrive at.
For asking about surat, we have to go to the muslims and ask them how safe do they feel in modiland after godhra. What its gujarati asmita it is use of verbose to dominate or legitimise rule

rohan said...

hi Mayank,

great blog...very interesting pictures too...thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

i am from surat...and have always loved my city. i went to usa for 3 years and got back...and can now see it in a more neutral way. i do agree with you that the city is divided. i am not too sure though that our whole country isn't.

overall, the successful man is happy in surat. the poor are definitely ignored...all the rich people including me have servants...i wish things were different...and i try my best to treat all as equals...but the truth remains something else.

well, thanks again for sharing ur views bro...

cheers,
rohan

Chiluka said...

Hey there

" Muslim Surati " -- Hope thats Typo --

Shouldn't it be "Surati Muslim "?

And Hindu part - Muslim part ..??
We never differntiate so.. thats since begining centuries ago-- not developed now a daz..

one main reason for that is "Food habbits " - nothing else..

Non vegiterian food has own smell - which may not acceptable by vegetarian one..

to support this arguments:
thats not purly muslims area -- Muslims, Parsis, Khojas, Vohras and all other non veg. eating community

Chiluka said...

Surat has soul too - Yes Mayank

Surat is diamond hub and textile hub - Yes Mayank

It is safe for "Sari" and " Burkha" to roam late night on dream world - river bridge -- Very correct Mayank - thats possible only in Gujarat if m not wrong Mayank.

Gujarati elect state government - Correct Mayank - As the state covers under same constitution and Democracy Mayank.

Surat is not similar to Delli — True Mayank. It is similar to Mumbai which is also not similar to Delli Mayank -

Delli is good city — Correct Mayank - It should be as capital of shining country Mayank.

Delli is better then Surat — NO Mayank - It can not be.

Allow me to ans. this Mayank :

2004 ( 2005 ?) — I can not forget how m missed chance to visit one of my dream place ” Fatehpur

sikri” — and credit goes to one Delliwala - Rental car driver - who enlightned that he rescued

Hinduism singlehanded after refusing me to drive to the place of muslim. He did not realised that

steering was on his hand and not on mine - same time m realised that how correct Nader Shah was

by refusing ridding Elephant. … I till date regret and now do not know when will m can visit that

famous tomb and feel Sufism. — But I can take this on my chin. I am not thinking that all Diilliwalas

are fundamentalist. Bcoz I am NOT Racist - Simple.

Wish you could extend your ” Yatra” to my Amdavad and enjoy - all “Rojas” - Shah - E - alam Roja , Sarkhej Roja, Raja - Rani Roja, and Jumma masjid. Ahmedabad is much similar to Delhi - it obvious - coz one is capital of great state and another is of great country.

I would love to escort you in ” Millat nagar” and ” Juha pura” and show you development - if you wish me to do so.

Unbiased discussion are always well come Mayank.

Glade to know that atlest one outsider ( who doesn’t know gujarati) trying to understand actual situation. — Well come ” Marco polo” — Juz to remind — Austria and Hungery are cultural hub till time -
We only need to develop ” Thinking process” - thats all.

Bon Voyag Mayank

Regards

Chiluka
( Surat born Amdavad brought up - Gujju gal)

ps: I hope tehre is one typo in the article:

That should be : " Surati Muslim" not " Muslim Surati" :-)

Surat said...

Lovely Blog. Very nice

Vishal said...

MAS, i agree with socres of other readrs who commented that you are unidimensional in your reporting about Hindu-Muslim issues.

Refer to your statement "Worse, it lies in Gujarat, a state which would always stay in my mind where thousands of Muslims were killed in the beginning of the new millennium"

My Respons "Ok, what happened was bad, couple of hundred muslim killed once in the begining of the Millennium, but what about few million Hindus mercelessly killed in DElhi by maurading muslims over a Millennium, their temple destroyed, rubble used to build your beloved muslim monuments of Delhi, that is why there is no ancient hindu monument in Delhi, to see Hindu moments one has to go to Orrisa or Khajuraho or Hampi or South India aeven there those monuments were partly damaged by Muslim (seen the damaged temple in Mahabaleshwaram near Chennai and Hampi with my own eyez), all this Muslim monument heritage is built on the rubble of destruction of Hindu heritage"


You wrote "Worse, the Muslim victims were denied justice in the aftermath of the riots. Worse, the state government which had turned a blind eye to the massacre was re-elected by Gujaratis."

My response "Winners re-write the history, muslims won over Hindu kings and glorified their rule, british did the same, does that mean Hindua can demand to destroy monuments of shame in Delhi and reclaim our rubble and Build Glorious Hindu monuments to last couple of Mellinniem so future MAS can then obsessively report on their own proud heritage without being influenced by Anrundhati Roy's style (as in she is non-pragmatic radical champion of cause thus people do not listen to her, change can be brought by being appealing and being respected by various stakeholders so they atleast listen even if may not agree). Let us not turn a blind eye to the killing of several million Hindus over a Melllinneum by Muslims in the name of being secular, those who do not leanr from history, histry will catch up and will destroy them again. Let us atleast reverse the erased history of Hindus (no its not about Hindu raj or glory of Hindu but about acknodleging and highlighting forgotten and bringing to light history of native religions (Hindu/Jain/Sikh/Buddhist) erased by agressors like muslims.

Well there is no nation for Hindus.

There is no history of Hindus.

Capice and peace my friend ...... a suggestion if you are reporting then as a journalist please provide a blanced view of both side and if you write about past then take a long-term view e.g. it is ok to report on a moment or a day in Surat but if you bring to fore killing of muslims in past then balance it with rage of Hindus burnt in the train and mellinia of destruction of Hindus and their culture by muslim vultures ... or atleast use the words 'alleged killing' cus it is yet to be proved in the court of law.......common please use basic journalistic ethos and ethics.... though I am no one to preach as Im not even a writer let alone journalist ..............
its ok we agree to disagree .....

Vishal said...

Basically either refrain from talking about religion-based conflict or if you do then provide unbaised and balanced reporting from all view points rather than personal opinion ..... Im assuming your blogs are journalistic and not personal accounts (if they are then ignore my comments)...your freedom to choose which perspective you wish to write your blogs (journalist vs personal popinions) ... but let readers know in advance which one.

Vishal said...

@ Anon in response to his/her following statement "For asking about surat, we have to go to the muslims and ask them how safe do they feel in modiland after godhra".

I ask you Anon "ask any non-muslim in India, how safe do they feel visting a muslim dominated area in last 1000 years". Also why assume Modi did it, it is yet to be proved in the court. Use the word 'allegedly' untill its proven.