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An overdue ode to Indore, indeed!

Updated on: 10 April,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

You only have to step outside saturated metros to truly sense India’s urban aspirations

An overdue ode to Indore, indeed!

Indore’s Sarafa Bazaar, a night market; (inset) Suman Chourasiya outside his Lata Mangeshkar museum

Mayank ShekharReaders, help me here, because I’ve looked for long: Is there any poetry/shayari that the great Rahat Indori (1950-2020) wrote specifically as ode to the city he named himself after? 

Neither is there a painting by his fellow Indori, MF Husain (1915-2011), I know of, that he dedicated to this mercantile, middle-India town. 

Although Husain’s ‘horse series’ was apparently inspired by the equestrian landscape of Chhawni (cantonment) area, he observed, growing up, in the 1920s. Chhawni, circa 2020, is a busy, business district. Like most of Indore. 

The further you drive from main town, the constant sense you get is of a major city coming up! Easily at the cusp of the next ‘Punengaluru’/‘Poonangalore’ among India’s Tier II, or Phase II of post-reforms development

Dr Sachchidanand Joshi, another great IndoriDr Sachchidanand Joshi, another great Indori

Consider the wide road to Rau Circle—with “multi-yaa” after multi-yaa (Indori for ‘high-rises’), under construction—where I come across the city signage, with two arrows, pointed straight, to New York City (NYC), and Mumbai, right up ahead!

For the longest I’ve been visiting Indore, I’ve inevitably heard from locals—bragging about how India’s top consumer products first get launched/market-tested here, to Indore’s nightlife, the country’s best—“this is mini-Mumbai”, after all. 

Which is an affront, of course. The only connection being, Indore is to Madhya Pradesh, what Mumbai is to India, or NYC is still to the world—commercial capital. Indore is visibly cleaner than both Mumbai and NYC.  This is a recent achievement of the city’s municipal corporation, that took Indore from #149, among India’s cleanest cities in 2014, #25 in 2016, to nation’s #1 for seven years straight since; up until 2024, as we speak. Locals make much of this. As they should. They can see the change. 

One aspect you might observe about Indore’s streets, as densely congested as all Indian cities, is the sheer lack of stray animals—whether dodging/harassing pedestrians, or feasting on filth. None. This must make animal-lovers happy. 

In what might be a first, Indore’s municipal corporation strictly adopted a no-stray-animals policy for the city; surely (or hopefully), in a phased manner. This should’ve helped as much with civic hygiene as dustbins, solid-waste management, or imposing fines on litterers.

It feels good to be in Indore. Soon as you land in Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Airport, with the hoarding welcoming you to “Devi Ahilya ki paavan nagri (pious town)”. Only that Queen Ahilya, it is said, visited Indore only twice in her life. 

She shifted her capital to the serene Maheshwar, nearby, with her aesthetically under-stated fort, overlooking the majestic Narmada. Can’t recommend Maheshwar enough. Bollywood actor Vijayendra Ghatge, in Indore, once pointed me towards it. Ghatge, I learnt later, belongs to Holkar dynasty. 

Of which, history has been kindest to warrior, religious philanthropist, Ahilya Bai (ruled, 1765-96), dubbed devi/goddess, like Gandhi is sage/mahatma, or Ashoka, Akbar are great. 

Apparently, she encouraged trade and commerce in Indore, foremost, by taxing low-to-zero, instead of piling on state revenues for personal wealth. 

Wide-angle, Indore seems somewhat a pure-veg, largely non-alcoholic town, even more than Ahmedabad, but it equally worships money. Perhaps there’s no poetry in money, so Rahat Indori wrote on weightier concerns. 

There’s perceivable fun in money, which draws one to Indore, across income groups—hanging at the numerologically named, 56 Dukaan street, with an open-air radio station, or similar, standalone eateries/joints, oddly called “chowpatty” (sea-beach), all over. 

Making an entire city seem Delhi’s Chandi Chowk, buzzing all-year, over seriously experimental, plant-based snacks, beyond the outmoded obsession with sev!

I don’t know why Indore, particularly, loves to be outdoors, at night. Maybe, it’s the oppressive summer. We do know Sarafa Bazaar, India’s only night-market (for street food; packed/on, until morning) has existed to protect shops—selling jewellery, on the same street, during the day.

There’s safety in crowds. Rather than dead nooks/corners. Mumbai has known this. Old Indore too. The symbol of new or newly rich Indore, of course, is the mall—Phoenix Citadel, in faux European-Mughal architecture, modelled on Italy, sold as “Central India’s largest.” 

As if the centre is not the geographical middle, but a wider direction in itself. Indore falls on Western Railways line. The biggest rail hubs near it are Ratlam (Western) and Khandwa (Central). That the Indian Railways skipped the huge Indore for an arterial junction, connecting the rest of India, gave the city its somewhat unblemished, unique character—that’s what writer-polymath Swanand Kirkire suggests.

Swanand, travelling with me, is a famous Indori. Maybe he has a point. Indore certainly appears a city, once confidently distant and quiet, hence full of undiscovered gems, for the outside world. Such as late Indori film critic, Sriram Tamrakar, whose encyclopedia of Hindi cinema (first such in Hindi), we’re in Indore to inaugurate.
Or the seemingly 80-plus, Suman Chourasiya, who drives me from the book-launch to Rau Circle—on way to Mumbai, NYC—for a pilgrimage, to his home, that’s a temple to Indore’s Lata Mangeshkar, housing 50,000 gramophone records, 7,600 of which contain all of Lata’s songs! 

Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, under another Indori, Sachchidanand Joshi, has offered Suman a fair sum for his private collection.

“What’ll I do with that money?” 

Suman says, throughout telling me about people he’s known, only to add, “Woh shaant ho gaye!” That person’s no more. Same for that city, perhaps?

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14

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