I have just come back from a wonderful 3 days in Ahmedabad after attending a cousin’s wedding with my huge extended family from around the world…a typical big, reasonably fat Indian wedding with multiple sub-plots and threads. In the end though, such weddings are all about the ability to spend time with family without interruption…with those who live in the same city as us, but who we don’t have enough time for on a routine basis…and with those who have come from far away, who we otherwise don’t get an opportunity to meet.
I also had time to observe the city!
I went for a run from the Marriott on Satellite Road to Vastrapur Lake using the 132 Ring Road. I always run facing the traffic, to minimize any chance of an accident. It didn’t really matter. Every now and then, I would be suddenly surprised by a scooter or bike that would whiz past me…going the “wrong way”. This sometimes happens in the early hours even in Mumbai with newspaper and milk delivery boys, but not to the extent I saw happening in Ahmedabad.
Even cars did the same thing. It was extremely unnerving to be focused on the oncoming traffic and then to suddenly without warning have a car or SUV pass you by!
Each day I could see that instead of taking the long way or going around and taking a U-turn, people would just drive in a completely nonchalant and unapologetic manner on the “wrong side” of the road to get where they wanted to. The driver of my car was unfazed when he saw other cars coming from the opposite side (including outside the Marriott)…in fact the oncoming traffic would accommodate those driving the “wrong way”.
Not only that, once when I received directions from a relative regarding one of the venues, I was told that I would have to take a right turn by going along the “wrong way”. I told him that I was happy to take a “U-turn” and come back and he said that it was perfectly OK to just drive along the side of the “wrong way”.
The other thing we all landed up doing the “wrong way” was the drinking. Suddenly we had to hide and use subterfuge and paper bags and mineral water bottles…things we hadn’t done since college days. It was fun behaving like deprived teenagers, but you wonder why the state just doesn’t do away all this rubbish. Everyone knows where you can get the stuff, everyone who wants to, drinks anyway…so why not just bring it all out into the open?
None of this is an allegory for the state and its people. Just because a few things are done the “wrong way” does not mean that everything else is “wrong”.
Each time I visit Ahmedabad, I am pleasantly surprised. Whether it is the wide roads, the gleaming malls, the new airport, the recently started rapid transport bus system, or the ongoing riverfront work…it feels like a city on the move. The number of “party-plots” available for weddings and parties outnumbers similar open-air spaces in Mumbai by a factor of 40:1. And if we have our “ganpati” days, Ahmedabad has its “Makar Sankranti”.
What Ahmedabad still however lacks are good stand-alone, fine dining restaurants and really world-class hotels. And it really needs some less insurality and perhaps a bit more cosmopolitanism. And a little less Gujarati and a shade more English. And as with any other city in India, some more civic sense!
But the city rocks…the “wrong ways” not withstanding.