CUTTACK: My city’s name is an anglicised distortion of Kataka, which literally means fort - a reference to the ancient Barabati Fort around which the city initially developed. The city was earlier also known as Bidanasi Katak (meaning Bidanasi military base) during the days when Barabati Fort was in existence.
Besides, the city is also known as the Millennium City as well as the Silver City due to its history of 1,000 years and famous silver filigree works. Cuttack was founded in 989 AD and was the capital of Odisha for almost nine centuries, before Bhubaneswar was made the Capital city in 1948.
The old and the most important parts of the city are centered on a strip of land between the Kathajodi River and the Mahanadi river. The extended city Cuttack today stretches from Phulnakhara across the Kathajodi river in the south to Choudwar in north across the Birupa River, while in the east it begins at Kandarpur and runs west as far as Naraj. It’s an amazing unplanned city, crisscrossed by a maze of streets, lanes and by-lanes, which has resulted in the city being oft referred to as a city of Bauna Bazaar, Tepana Galee [city of 52 markets and 53 lanes].
Having stayed in Cuttack for over six decades, it has become an inseparable part of my persona. A lot of people dream of migrating to greener pastures, but I cannot think of doing so. For me, there is no place better than Cuttack.
Cuttack is the city of “Khatti” [chat with friends], Dahibara Aloodum and Bullfights! Cuttack is a city for everyone – the rich and the poor alike. I still remember the evenings when the lamplighter would come with a ladder as darkness set in, and light the street lamps. Those were the days, when we used to ride bicycles with dynamo-charged headlights, which not only lighted up the dark lanes of Cuttack but also taught us physics [Faraday’s law of induction].
On a few occasions, I have rammed my bicycle into resting bulls which often merged into the darkness in the alleys. It used to be one of the best cities of India with a multicultural cosmopolitan ethos. Dussehra, Kali Puja and Kartikeswar Pujas were celebrated with great pomp and ado.
In summer for weeks, we spent sleepless nights watching Jatras at night [midnight to dusk]. During Poila Boisakh, we got a chance to see famous Bengali troupes enacting Jatras. Also, during our teens, we also got to see besides Hindi and Odia movies, the latest Bangla films too as they were all released in the theatres then. Besides, a number of cine festivals were organized in Cuttack in the 1970s.
Cuttack was also the epicenter of literature, art and culture in Odisha. Kalindi Charan Panigrahi penned his ‘Maati ra Manisha’ here, so did Pratibha Ray with her ‘Yajnaseni’. Cuttack nurtured all forms of artistes including the legendary singer Akshaya Mohanty.
It was also the home of Odissi maestro Kelucharan Mohapatra, who ran a dance school here. The renowned classical flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia used to stay a stone’s throw away from our home. He joined the All India Radio, Cuttack, in 1957, until he was transferred to Mumbai. Incidentally, when he was asked to move to Mumbai, he did not want to leave Cuttack - that’s the magic of Cuttack.
Cuttack has also been a major sports hub of Eastern India. The Barabati stadium is the only test cricket centre of Odisha. Very few know that this stadium was the first concrete-covered stadium of India. In the fifties, sixties and seventies, Cuttack was perhaps the only city capable of hosting the national games; it hosted it twice in 1958 and 1970. Oh boy, how I feasted on the 1970 National Games! Thank you Barabati Stadium for giving me glimpses of legends like footballers Chuni Goswami , Thangaraj, Habib, hockey stalwarts Ashok Kumar, Govinda, Ajitpal Singh, Surjit Singh, cricketers – Clive Lloyd, Gibbs, Kallicharan and our own Ganguly, Sachin and Dhoni and …….. We often bunked school to gatecrash into the stadium often chased by lathi-wielding policemen. The great swimmer Mihir Sen, who is the only man to swim the oceans of the five continents in one calendar year (1966) is also from Cuttack.
Cuttack is “The Ultimate Health Care Destination for the Poor”. For Odias, nothing is bigger than the Bada-Deula [the big temple], the abode of Lord Jagannath in Puri. And the place next to Bada-Deula for Odias is Bada-Medical , i.e. SCB Medical College in Cuttack which recently celebrated its platinum jubilee last year. But few know that this hospital is almost as old as Kolkata! i.e., three centuries.
When Kolkata was born, the seeds of this hospital were sown by the Marathas to cater to the pilgrims trudging to Puri, especially during Ratha Jatra, subsequently, the dispensary was upgraded to a Medical School by the visionary Dr Stewart who also started Stewart School, a premier school of Odisha. I feel so proud to have studied in both institutions.
I went on to practice and teach in SCB medical college and hospital for the larger part of my career. In the field of education, Cuttack despite its small size is a leader all the way. Besides, the medical college, it boasts of a state-run law college – the Madhusudan Law College, the world-famous Ravenshaw College [now a university], a National Law University, Biju Pattnaik Film & Television Institute of Orissa, and so many other major institutions. Incidentally, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose was an alumnus of both Ravenshaw Collegiate School and my own alma mater, Stewart School. Cuttack holds it own in the field of judiciary. The Orissa High Court is located in Cuttack.
It has provided to the country three Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, late Justices Ranganath Mishra and GB Pattanaik, and Justice Dipak Misra. Cuttack is often referred to as the city of advocates and doctors due to the density of these species in Cuttack! Finally, any writing on Cuttack would be incomplete without mentioning the two illustrious sons of Odisha who were born here – Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and Biju Patnaik.
Both need no introduction, but being a Cuttacki I can’t desist from quoting this Encyclopedia Britannica description of Biju Babu as an “Indian Politician; who parlayed his fame as a World War-II aviator, anti-British freedom fighter and commercial airline entrepreneur into a political career, notably as Chief Minister of Orissa”. To me, Biju Babu is perhaps the most underrated Indian of our times. Lastly, Cuttack is synonymous with Bali Jatra [Voyage to Bali], which symbolizes the glory of the Odias, when the kingdom of Kalinga stretched from the Godavari to the Ganges in the North, and Odia kings ruled even Sri Lanka for a while.
It is a celebration of the Odia traders who sailed from the banks of Mahanadi in Cuttack across the seas to different parts of the world, especially Bali island. Bali Jatra starts with Kartik Purnima with boats let loose on the waters of the river Mahanadi, commemorating the historic voyages, along with Lord Kartika veneration. This is followed by a mammoth trade fair lasting a week, in which you can buy anything- from peanuts to Harley Davidson bikes!
Every Cuttacki wherever he/she is during this festival longs to be in Cuttack and savour the Thoonka Puris among other cuisines. To conclude, I can’t help end this with these lyrical lines I heard during one of the Jatras – fillers or ‘Dooaris’ sung by a couple: “Moon Cuttack Sahar Babooooo, Naam meraa Babulaa. I’m Sahar ki ladki – Naam mera Albelaa …. Moon Nache, Moon Gaye, Moon Cuttack Chandi Jaye ………”
Prof SP Singh is Chairman, Kalinga Gastroenterology Foundation, Cuttack; Formerly Prof & HoD, Gastroenterology, SCBMCH