Being Berhampur

Through the eyes of a streetstrider

If you ask a man on the streets of Berhampur what you will find here that you won’t find anywhere else, he probably think for a long time and say “Nothing special.”

After you have passed him and gone ahead to talk to other people, something nice will strike him, but he would just shrug and be on his way.

If, however, on his way he finds you again, he will tap you on the shoulder and start telling you about bizarre things. Like the Baagha Naacha (Tiger Dance) of Thakurani Jatra (Festival of the Mother Goddess).

Grown men, painted all over in yellow and black, invite the spirit of the Tiger inside their bodies and walk from door to door performing acrobatic moves to a standard drums-and-cymbals rhythm. They do so to please the Mother Goddess, who through her blessings, has given them a job or a child or a present that is better than their past.

And then our man on the street will also tell you about those who follow a more violent path of devotion.

Through the Danda Naacha (Dance of the Punished) some young and middle-aged men submit themselves to the mercy of the Mother Goddess and accept any public shaming or punishment that is meted out to them.

For over five hours, they sit in the burning sun, going through ritual after ritual of repentance and atonement. For them, it is their way of washing their sins and pleasing the Goddess, in the hope that she will bless them with prosperity and virility.

For the rest of the street, all of whom invariably take a day off, it is a spectacle of divine intervention.

Danda Naacha (Dance of the Punished)

But, our man will quickly assure you, not all festivals are so painful in their poignancy. There is of course the wedding season, which brings with it the promise of simple pleasures and times well spent.

There is no way you will come to Berhampur in the wedding season and not be lured away by the multiplicity of sweets and scents swarming around a household readying itself for a farewell or a welcome. Boys and girls sit for days on end making boxes after boxes of laddoos and pitthas, showing how the way to a Berhampuria’s heart is literally through their stomach.

And it need not even be the wedding season for you to realise this.

Our man will point you to the street sides and corners and you will find people of all ages with a piece of folded leaf in hand, waiting for the Gupchupwallah to give another round of their favourite delicacy.

Gupchup, our man will tell you, is comfort food.

You passed the unit test? 
“Let’s get a plate of gup chup”.

You feeling like the world is crushing you under its weight? 
“Let’s get a plate of gup chup.”

And if this little trip to the gupchupwallah can’t lift your moods, you can always catch a city bus and chill out at the Gopalpur Beach.

The beach itself might not be the cleanest place you’ll find, but the wind and the waves and the beach hawkers will more than make up for it.

And if you are, like our man on the streets, more of the quiet kind, you can retire to the backyard of an old Berhampur house and talk to relics of yesteryears telling the history of a place that sits right in the middle of things still new and things almost forgotten.

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