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Bhopal: My First impression

Helper4UWinner of iDEATE Unconvention
I traveled to this Saturday to attend the Finals of the Startup Oasis competition for Ideate Unconvention, Bhopal.

As the plane was getting ready to land. I looked out of the window for getting the first impression of the city which was the runner up in the Swachh Sarvekshan 2017. (the results of which had been recently announced). A part of me was skeptical since the both first and second places had been taken by cities in MP. But, the view from the sky made a part of that skepticism go away: I could see an Arial view of a green and decently planned city, with vast open spaces. I was already looking forward to a pleasant day ahead.

Got a cab and was soon on way to IIFM. It was 7.30 in the morning. I rolled down the window and eagerly looked around: Most cars were driving with windows rolled down. No honking of vehicles around and everyone seemed to be enjoying the drive, without any pretensions of being in a more “urgent” situation than the next car. So, no overtaking, no rash driving, no breaking of signals.

The air was fresh and smelled of rains. What greeted me was a feast for the eyes after Mumbai: clean streets, no garbage dumpsters blocking the roads, no piles of garbage waiting to be picked up, and wonder of wonders: no construction material piled around. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan seemed to have been taken really seriously here.

No vehicles blocked our way, everything parked in correct place.

As is my habit, I got talking to the cabbie about his city and where he lived. I learned that even the domestic helpers and unorganized workers in Mumbai lived in clean multi-storey buildings provided by the government, unlike the unhygienic, claustrophobic shanties found in most metros. I already liked the city and its administration!

IIFM campus, the event venue was another story: about 20 peacocks greeted me as I enter the gates. Everyone preferred to walk to the gate, about 2 km from the venue, explore IIFM Campus’s breathtaking beauty. Once outside, I could not help notice the well marked out cycling tracks. On inquiry, I learned that Bhopal even has on offer cycles on rent, and the bus stands usually have cycle stands too. So, you not only get a cycle but can ride it too! I was already in love with the city. And, you can also hail auto rickshaws on the app: something which I am yet to see in Mumbai, the city which survives because of autos.

There was more waiting to entice me.

Everyone was polite and well mannered, be it the guard at the IIFM gate who helped me recharge my phone while insisting that I sit in his chair and wait for the cab, or the IIFM students who not only attended the event but also accompanied us to the gate on our walk back. On my way back to the Raja Bhojairport, my cab driver even asked me if I would like to pack some dinner as the airport did not have too many food options!

Strangers in the mall and at the airport took time to look at the big 4 feet long take away cheque we had won, and…after reading it every single one made it a point to smile at me, congratulate me or even ask me about the event. I wondered how people could make out time to do that! Was it that the clean and green environment had had a soothing effect on everyone?

No one seemed to hurry, but everything happens in time, unlike most metros where everyone seems to be rushing around without much getting done.

Went to a mall to meet a friend in the evening, and another surprise awaited me:

Two cold coffees for Rs. 120, and an authentic dish of ChokhaBaati for just RS. 80…Involuntarily compared this with my city where a single coffee in a mall would have cost about Rs. 200. So, the city clean, green, well-mannered as well as cost effective. Wow!

On my way back, passed the Raja Bhoj lake. A vast expanse of water, but clean sparkling water, well maintained walkways. But again no litter even though crowds were thronging the place. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan again on display. And the cabbie actually took pride in showing off the lake, and all the other places that we passed by! And that is when I realized the simplest way to make any city worth living in is that everyone, irrespective of their social standing should have a reason to feel pride in their city.

Find a way to do that and automatically everyone will want to make their city better. Maybe that is why we are at our best behavior in a metro and worst in a local. Unlike a metro, a local has no aspirational value attached to it. How Bhopal administration did this will make for another piece of writing, another day. For now I will just say that I came back totally enamored by the place, ready to retire in the city if possible. After all how many cities can boast to have a real amalgamation of history as well as modernity without the negativity it often associates with?

Enjoyed my experience, learn more about my journey and Helper4U as an initiative here,