The Great Odia Camouflage Part 1

Reproduced from my blog

In the durbar of Akbar, there once appeared a polyglot. After marvelous display of his skills, he challenged the mighty emperor’s court to instantly ascertain his native tongue. Birbal was up for the game. He came close to the polyglot, embraced him and in a flash of second, twisted his arm intently. The polyglot cried out ‘Bou lo, marigali‘ (meaning, ‘O Mother! I’m dead’). He was identified as a native of erstwhile Utkal.

Five centuries later, there has been no significant change. It is hard to identify the quintessential ‘Utkaliya’ of Mogul era or ‘Odia’ of independent India, though they are everywhere. They lack a distinct identity in stark contrast with neighboring states like Bengal (where people swear by their Bangaliana) and Andhra (which, unfortunately, is undergoing a tumultuous phase currently).

Why has this been so? Why has this race (for the lack of a more appropriate term) been so meek and mild in ascertaining its own identity?

The reasons behind this unique camouflage are not too far to seek.

The current breed of young Odia people speaks an anglicized dialect of (possibly) the oldest language of the Indian subcontinent. Speaking, reading and writing the language with its true phonetics and grammar is looked down upon. It is the case with all Indian languages as such but in this part of the world, it is a malaise. Even vendors and auto rickshaw drivers speak in Hindi while dealing with non-native speakers. All shops and offices have English signboards. Odia is strictly an option. Even our Chief Minister cannot speak the language well after a span of fifteen years in office (No offence meant. He has done a lot to uplift the state). One cannot make out an Odia in Delhi or Bangalore. They literally blend with their adopted ‘hometowns’ (Or cities). There is no specific regional youth icon can look upto (Thanks to Dhoni, every Ranchi guy/girl boasts of being one). Often there are remarks like ‘Odia is like Bengali, no?’ Sadly, there are no guts in the tame Odia spirit to vehemently deny it.

Puri boasts of having the largest food market in the world (Ananda Bazaar in Sri Mandir) but most Odias are blissfully unaware, unbothered. Odia cuisine has enormous variety yet there are just a few places where one can get a taste of the region. It is much easier to eat a dosa in Odisha than search for a restaurant that serves ‘pakhala‘ and ‘saaga‘.

To be continued …