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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Chhatarpur

Chhatarpur is a sleepy town in Bundelkhand. When we think of Bundelkhand, we think of villagers defecating alongside dusty roads, cattle sitting in the middle of those roads, basically an India stuck in time. Chhatarpur is surrounded by such villages but it is better, cleaner, more developed than neighbouring towns like Bijawar, Tikamgarh, Gulganj which are sleepier and dustier yet.

The roundabouts in Chhatarpur have been recently installed with traffic lights. The main road which runs from the Post Office roundabout to the Panna Naka three-way, has dividers too. The vehicles in the town do not understand these foreign concepts though. They try to squeeze through whatever space they find. Everyone is in a hurry although everything they need is within a one-kilometer radius.

The shopkeepers in Chhatarpur try too hard to please you. Not because they are wily, clever businessmen but because they want to be your friends before they can sell you stuff. The local grocer would give you free stuff to taste, the clothes merchant would show you every shirt, the fruit seller would return your money if you come back with a mango rotten from within.

As a kid growing up in those streets, I realized that not much happens in the town. True, there are 'bad' locales where men fire country-made guns at each other but in the colonies, the schools, the colleges, the offices--Chhatarpur remains by and large quiet. People sit in their offices and sip tea to get through their days. Housewives divide their days in nap times and TV watching times. Growing up there as a kid was fun because we could play outdoors. We had a large grassy plot of land in our neighbourhood. Kids from other colonies would come and we would form teams and play cricket matches that resulted in lifelong bitter rivalries. Nowadays, the plots have been covered by buildings and the kids have disappeared from streets.

Chhatarpur also is the city of narrow lanes and densely packed markets. The bajariya is the main market area of Chhatarpur and one needs a lion's heart to navigate traffic there. The market begins from the main chauraha and continues to grow denser as one pierces unruly cycles, men walking in groups, cows, women sitting in rickshaws and all other traffic things to reach the main market center. There, one had to leave their four wheeler at the side and enter the paved lanes wide enough for one and a half person only. Certain daredevils take their cycles and motorbikes inside the bajariya area. Inside, one finds shops of jewelers one after another. It is difficult to understand why so many people selling the same thing open shops so close to one another. A motley crew of other shops punctuate the jewelry shops at places.

Then there is the bus stand. Buses from the neighbouring cities and sometimes Delhi and Agra ply regularly from here. Since Chhatarpur doesn't have a railway station yet, the bus stand is the only way to get out of the city for the daily wage labourers. A peanut seller stands at the entrance of the bus stand. People flock around him and try his peanuts before purchasing a packet of five rupees. He seems to lose peanuts worth at least two rupees to the shameless tasting per customer. How he continues to stay in business is anyone's guess.

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