Agartala is a city more or less untouched by the capitalist onslaught, which prompted me to visit the city to gauge if the city offers any alternative promise. Well…let me state at the outset that I am disappointed. I would much like to grasp the politics of the place as the management here is under the complete influence of the politicians, both organised and unorganised. However, without the knowledge of the local language, it is near impossible to comprehend the politics in a short span of 3-4 days. Nevertheless, let me inform that the city has thrown up Congress MLAs since 1998, but the communists rule the municipality. I am not sure if 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 cadre, who, through their extrovert intervention in the societal matters esp. involving disputes, may have made inroads into 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 people. Frankly speaking, I had no intention of getting involved in such experiences, but, unfortunately, I have got involved anyways.
First and foremost, let it be made clear that the majority here is helpful.They don’t even differentiate between outsiders and locals, which might also be because the Bengalis, with whom I have had most of my interaction and who dominate the politics of the State, are Hindu Bangladesi refugees themselves, which refuge also led to insurgency situations in the past. However, there are a few experiences which make me believe that regional parochialism, which is symbolic of the right-wing politics, is present here in the communists’ ruled city as well. Also one poor experience undoes ten good experiences of the past!
Coming to my bad experiences;
The people here use shared auto-rickshaws for urban transportation, which system works pretty well and offers great flexibility, but only till the arbitrary rules don’t spoil the game. I must say I had traversed the whole city and beyond on these auto-rickshaws pretty comfortably until today when I clearly saw the rickshaw driver’s discomfort in entertaining a tourist. The manifestation of the discomfort was interesting and amusing. Ever since morning, I would be inquired from if I was carrying the exact fare amount in fragmented denominations like seven, eight bucks, to which I offered conciliation by agreeing to forego the small return-exchange amounts. However, this gentleman not so gently threw me out of the rickshaw for not carrying the exact fare, and he was a Bengali. Incredible but true! The reason can’t be non-availability of the exact fare as I offered the same conciliation to him as well, to which he argued that the rickshaw capacity was four persons and two occupants other than me were already seated in the rickshaw, thus if he would accommodate me too, he would lose on a prospective pair, so I should either offer him the exact fare or pay him double the fare amount, 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 incident? Well…the answer is simple: this might not be an off-the-cuff incident. The bigger problem here is that the system allows for such an incident to occur. Everything has been left to the whims and fancies of the local politicians, who, with their lack of knowledge and wisdom, leave scope for such arbitrary and biased behavior. I wonder if any sensible system can allow for dislodging of a person for not carrying the 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 intention to do so. Everything would have been fine if the State were offering the viable 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 viz. the tourists could take a bus to so and so place and locally available options like autos/jeeps, etc., thereafter. 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 udupis or dhabas. There are plenty of road-side fast-food joints, which offer momos, rolls, omelettes, etc., but such food can’t replace regular diet; also these places are not very hygienic. There are some cafes, which offer pastries, sweets, etc. These cafes are pretty good, but they can’t substitute for proper restaurants. The restaurants are either below-par or too expensive. 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 curries ranged from 125 bucks to 250 bucks, and a good lunch for two would drill a hole of 500 bucks, so I would categorize it as an expensive restaurant. The service was greedy, pompous and indifferent: If I would ask for water, the attendant would present bottled water by default; if I would ask for veg biryani, the attendant would argue the biryani can’t and shouldn’t be consumed without a side-curry; if I would order for a soft-drink, the attendant would carry the bottle to the table, pop the cork (in the air), and casually leave with poor me completing the non-essentials like pouring the drink 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 and the people here are determining the status by a person’s capacity to spend on food. I also had a small talk with a fast-food joint’s manager/owner, whose joint was the namesake of a big & popular restaurant. He kept stressing the point that only the high status elite gentry could go in the namesake restaurant, the rest visit him. The conclusion is inevitable: There is recognized an elite class, which enjoys the services of the five-star restaurants & the rest are destined to eat unhygienic food. This is worse than the 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