Vijayendra Mohanty shares what it is like to be from the oft-forgotten state of Odisha in his signature light-hearted way.
I am an Odia. Which is another way of saying that I hail from the south-eastern Indian state of Odisha. You might remember it from news footage of 1999 when a super cyclone killed thousands there. Lately it has jumped in and out of news because of a six-year-old marathon runner, a sicko (with whom I share my second name) who raped a German tourist, and a regular starvation death story that is never far from the surface.
I am no ardent proponent of Odia nationalism but the common Odia nevertheless, is pretty much faceless. Think about it, ever heard an Odia joke? Think Sardars, think Madrasi, think Mallu, think Bong. An Odia, on the other hand, comes from a state that, to all appearances, doesn’t even exist.
So here’s what you always wanted to know about an Odia but were afraid to (read ‘didn’t bother to’) ask. Lot of stuff here might shake you out of much cherished beliefs. I suggest you brace for the impact.
For starters, the question ‘So, what is Odisha like?’ (considered an ice-breaker when conversing with Odias) is very likely to get you an empty stare. At the most you’ll get a “so, so” or a “umm… hmmm… huh?” sort of answer. Odisha is a state like any other state. Full of Odia-speaking Odias. There are the temples and the beaches and the thousand-year-old townships to be sure but seriously… which state doesn’t have them?
You will also do well to remember that the ice-breaker question in question is often a dead giveaway that you are trying to break the ice.
Also, not everyone in Odisha battles starvation on a regular basis. The state has more than its fair share of poverty yes, but I have seen obscenely obese Odias as well. Skinny specimens such as yours faithfully have different reasons for being the way they are.
Someone once walked up to me in Chennai and told me that his cook back home was an Odia. I noticed that the gentleman was pleasantly plump and I was proud of my fellow Odia. I for one, can’t cook even if my life depended on it. Many Odias can’t. Many can. Its just the way things are.
As far as I can tell, Odias also tend to congregate less than others. Odias outside of Odisha very rarely seek out other Odias to start something of an Akhil Bharatiya Odia Utthaan Samiti. They usually mix in with whatever people they are surrounded with. You won’t know there’s an Odia amidst you until you ask out aloud, “Is there an Odia amidst us?” in which case he will raise his hand.
This is not to say that there haven’t ever been roaring Odias. Look up a gentleman called Fakirmohan Senapati. He didn’t roar as much as he could have but he drove people mad all the same. If he had lived in this age, I am sure he would be an A-List blogger.
I personally feel Odias mellowed down after they discovered it works better than tearing down buildings and rampaging across nations. If Ashoka could be tamed by doing nothing, could the rest of the world be much harder to calm down?
Hold your applause. Call us the first civilisation to realise the importance of silence. Thank you! Run to the nearest Odia and get an autograph. Now!
– Vijayendra Mohanty