01 January 1970
#WeekendReads

Bhopal Diary

Bhopal enchants you, bewitches you, and charms you. You spend a year or two years or five years in Bhopal and leave and settle in some other place.

Bhopal diaries.
Bhopal diaries. Shutterstock

I am yet to come across a man or a woman who once lived in Bhopal and did not fall in love with the city.

Bhopal enchants you, bewitches you, and charms you. You spend a year or two years or five years in Bhopal and leave and settle in some other place. But you forever fondly remember Bhopal. You eternally long and yearn to return to the city. But Bhopal is like your long-lost first love. You wistfully think about the city but never visit it again.

Why are people attracted to a particular place? Because it’s on a hill? Are there beautiful water bodies? People? Culture? Climate? Food? Some historical value? Bhopal has a bit of everything.

Bhopal is just north of the Satpura Ranges and hence its surface is hilly and seesaw. You get the feeling you are in a hill station. Visit any place on the crest (like the Vidhan Sabha building or the Shamla Hills) at night.  Watching the illuminated city from the height, you will imagine thousands of glowing fairy lights have been casually left in a massive, dusky cauldron.
 
Bhopal has three lakes and that is unusual for any other state capital. The best thing about the lakes – they are in the middle of the city. You see them while you are on your way to your office. People of Bhopal love and take pride in the lakes. Their banks are landscaped and you can leisurely spend your evenings on the banks.

My first visit to Bhopal was for a couple of days in the month January in 2002. I was pleasantly surprised to find Bhopal cold but sunny. I had got used to the sunless and fog-filled winters of north India. Till then I had lived or visited only those places that were straggling, crowded and congested. I was amazed to see the wide streets of Bhopal. It seemed to me like a city of boulevards. In Kanpur it seems that the buildings on either sides of the street are eager to hug each other. You can barely see the sky. Not so in Bhopal. I found the sidewalks unoccupied and I could freely walk on them. The older district of any city like Kanpur or Lucknow is congested and crowded but you will find yourself being squeezed in Old Bhopal only on the eve of Id-Ul- Fitr.

I moved to Bhopal towards the end of 2002 and it was my home till 2008. After an incident I concluded that Bhopal is inhabited by the friendliest of all people I had encountered in my life till then. I would visit the bar in New Market in the heart of Bhopal whenever my parents would be staying with me. It was on the first floor. It was a proper licensed bar but seemed more like a speakeasy. It had a low ceiling that you could have touched with your hand. It had no windows or ventilators and the two naked bulbs were not enough to light the place properly. Every table was rickety and grimy. I once went there late in the afternoon. The bar was empty save for four young men at another table. I took out a cigarette from my pocket after a few swigs of vodka. I held the cigarettes between my lips and patted my pockets for the matchbox and realised I didn’t have one. I replaced the cigarette in my pocket. I noticed one of the young men at the other table rushed downstairs. He presently returned and came to my table. He lit a match and held it in his cupped hands before me. I quickly took the cigarette out and lit it. I blew the smoke out and raised my head to look at him. I smiled at him and said loudly with a nod, “Thanks a lot.” He gave me the matchbox and retired to his table. Somebody took pain to offer a light to a stranger; I was overwhelmed.

My flat in Bhopal was on the fourth floor. Hills at some distance were visible from the balcony. The colour of the hills was never the same.

They would be bare and brown at the peak of summer. They turned green after it had rained. The cycle continued year after year. I learned the lesson of life.

Returning back to the idea of falling in love with Bhopal - a small part of your heart breaks and stays in Bhopal as you leave the place. At the same time, you pick a small piece of Bhopal and keep it in your pocket to make up for the lost piece of your heart. And you forever continue loving the city.