Agartala is a city which is more or less unaffected by the capitalist onslaught, which prompted me to visit this city to check out whether the city offers any alternative promise. Well, let me state at the outset that I am disappointed. I would have much liked to understand the politics of the place because the management of this city is undoubtedly under the complete influence of the politicians, both organised and unorganised. However, without knowing the local language, it is next to impossible to understand the politics especially in a short span of 3-4 days. Nevertheless, let me state that the Agartala City has thrown up a Congress MLA ever since 1998, but the Communists rule the Municipality; I am not sure whether the BJP/RSS have any significant presence in the city, but they have certainly set up bases in Tripura and are imparting preliminary training to their cadres, who, through their extrovert intervention in the societal matters especially involving disputes, might have gained some speedy presence in the politics of the city; and I saw one single poster of Mamta Banerjee near MBB college.
However, the politics also manifests itself in the day-to-day experiences of the people. Frankly speaking, I had no intention of getting involved in such experiences, but, unfortunately, I have got involved, nevertheless.
First and foremost, I have to make it clear that the majority of people here are very helpful, they, in fact, wouldn’t even differentiate between the outsiders and the locals; this might also be because the Bengalis, with whom I have had most of my interactions, and who dominate the politics in the state, are themselves a kind of Hindu Bangladesi refugees in Tripura, which has also led to insurgency situations in the past. However, there are a few experiences which make me believe that regional parochialism, which is an identity symbol of the right-wing politics, is also present in this Communists’ ruled city. And, one bad experience takes away in a single stroke what ten good experiences might have produced in the past!
Now coming to my bad experiences;
The People here use shared auto-rickshaws for urban transportation, which works pretty well and offers great flexibility, but only till the time the arbitrary rules of the rickshaw drivers don’t spoil the game. I must say I have traversed the whole city and beyond on these auto-rickshaws pretty comfortably until today when I could very clearly see the discomfort of the rickshaw drivers in entertaining the outsiders/tourists. The manifestation of the discomfort is also very interesting and also amusing. Ever since morning, I would be asked by the rickshaw drivers whether I was carrying the exact fare amount like Rs. 7, Rs. 8, etc., in exchange, to which I offered conciliation by agreeing to forego the small return-exchange amounts. However, at least one rickshaw driver threw me out of the rickshaw because I was not carrying the exact fare, and he was a Bengali. Incredible but true! The reason was not that I was not carrying the exact fare amount as I offered the same conciliation to him as well, to which his argument was that I was traveling alone, the rickshaw capacity was four persons and there were two other passengers already sitting in the auto rickshaw, and, if he would get a pair in the way, he would lose on them, so I should either offer him the exact fare or else I should pay him double the fare so that he could compensate for the prospective fare loss. Of course, this argument is arbitrary, incoherent, irrational, too far-fetched, and a clear manifestation of the unwelcome attitude/bias towards outsiders. But, why should I blame the entire system for this one off-the-cuff personal incident? Well, the answer is simple: it is because this might well not be an off-the-cuff incident unless I am being targeted by the bigger political forces, which, of course, is not the case. But, the bigger problem is that the system allows for such an occurrence to take place. Everything has been left to the local politicians, who, with their lack of knowledge and wisdom, leave scope for such arbitrary and biased behavior through the arbitrary systems and rules set up by them. I wonder which sensible system can allow for dislodging of a person for not carrying exact fare amount. This might also be a problem with the regional transport mini-buses, in which I have not travelled, and nor do I have any such intentions. Everything would have been fine if the state was offering the travel options for the tourists: they organise tourist packages through their tourism department, but, for that, they require minimum of three tourists, else the single person has to pay triple the amount. Anyways, the tourism website itself encourages the tourists to travel in locally available travel options by offering advisories like the tourists could take a bus to so and so place and locally available options like autos/jeeps, etc., thereon to the ultimate destinations. I don’t think this kind of urban transportation system can offer any alternative.
Eating out seems to be a serious problem in this city. Of course, there are five star restaurants, but they are not viable options for all. The problem is that there are no regular economically-priced restaurants like southern Udupis and northern Dhabas. There are plenty of road-side fast food joints, which offer momos, rolls, omelette, etc., but these things can’t be eaten at all the times, nor are these places very hygienic. There are some cafe houses which offer pastries, sweets, etc., and they are pretty good, but they can’t fill up for proper restaurants. The restaurants are either below-par or too expensive. Now, coming to my experience in the only restaurant I have visited so far. The restaurant wasn’t really on the economical side because the prices of vegetable curries ranged from Rs 125 to Rs 250, which is definitely not economical. A good lunch for two would drill a hole of at least Rs 500 in the pocket, so I would consider it an expensive restaurant. The service was greedy, pompous and indifferent: If I would ask for water, the attendant would present bottled water by default, irrespective of the order; if I would ask for Veg. Biryani, the attendant would argue that Biryani can’t and shouldn’t be consumed without a side-curry, so I should order one; if I would order for a soft-drink, he would bring the bottle at the table, open it right there, and leave it for me to pour it in the glass. The food was good but the service was pathetic, but I still left the tip. Why?!!
But, what difference does it make? To be very frank, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I am against fine dining and would like hygienically cooked, reasonably priced food to be served to all and sundry. However, the problem here is that this is supposed to be a Communist city, but the people over here determine the statusus by a person’s capacity to spend on food, which is obnoxious. I had a small talk with a fast food joint manager/owner who was running the joint with the namesake of a big popular restaurant, and he kept stressing the point that the high status elite gentry can only go in the namesake restaurant, so the conclusion is inevitable that there is recognized an elite class which enjoys the services of these five star restaurants, but the others eat unhygienic food; this is worst than capitalist cities.
I have had a seriously bad experience in lodging as well, but I am not discussing it because it has no established correlation with the scheme of this blog entry.
©2014 Ankur Mutreja