Cuttack: As a kid, I had heard of Bali Jatra as this huge gathering of people on the bank of the Mahanadi, where you can get anything and everything under the sun. Over the years, media reports stated the grandeur and spectale of the event. I have seen the faces of my Katki friends and collegues light up at the mention of this mega fair. And everyone has a version highlighting different aspects of Bali Jatra.
I have always been curious as to what was all the fuss about, what attracted such assemblage and why was it so deeply rooted in the emotional state of being of the people of Cuttack. But over the years, the daily grind of life, peppered with a little procastination hindered me from taking the road leading to the mela.
After a week of planning and organising, I, along with two of my collegues in tow decided to beat the Monday blues and finally go and see Bali Jatra. Prior to our departure, I was given a crash course on what time to visit, where to go, what to do, what not to do, whom to ask for help, who and what to avoid, what to relish, etc. that made me feel as if I was prepping for a battle.
The eventful drive to Millenium City involved a flat tyre, a delightful lunch at the famed Bijaya dhaba along the NH and alarming fuel levels. Finally, when we reached Bali Jatra ground at around three in the afternoon, it took me a minute to register the view in front of me.
On the riverside, 47-odd acres of land have been taken over by hundreds of kiosks, shops, stalls, booths, counters and canopy tents with thousands of people milling around.
Gigantic ferris wheels dominated the scene along with loudspeakers blaring from all directions. There were booths selling various types of combs only, fishning nets suspended like curtains from branches of trees, idols of gods and goddesses in every imaginable sizes, colourful women’s accessories beckoning every passing female, rows and rows of handbags, clothes and utensils of iron, brass and stainless steel.
From eateries to real estate, from gym equipment to condiments, from furniture to educational software, from home decor items to transportable ATMs and coin vending machines, Bali Jatra indeed has everything displayed, advertised, sold and bought. This carnival is a shopper’s delight, but here’s a catch: No plastic bags are allowed, so you have make your own arrangements to carry the spoils of war.
It was indeed mind-boggling to notice the number of innovative offers and discounts sellers were offering to buyers: Buy-one-get-one-free ice-creams and kulfis, innumerable masalas, ketchups, pickles offered at discounts, plastic furniture at har-ek-maal prices, et al. Every entrepreneur, big or small, old or novice, were present.
We tested our rifle-aiming skills at the balloon shooting stall, strolled along the Mahanadi bank, screamed our lungs out on the not-so-joyful-and-scary-to-death rides like the Octopus, Break Dance and Tora Tora, bought incredibly funny whistle caps and stuffed our faces with thunka-puri, chat, kachori and slurped golas.
As the sun went down and a slight chill crept upon us, the entire Bali Jatra ground began glittering with lights and the crowd grew thicker. The police control room looked like a command centre with many alert security personnel stationed to maintain law and order and others, scarttered around the venue, vigilant and observant to the every movement.
We then walked back on the sandy tracks under the smudgy orange glow of the setting sun to the parking lot. As we began the homeward journey, the images of Bali Jatra flashed upon my inward eye, luring me to embark on another trip to the fair.