Tuesday, February 25, 2014

what happened to the flower garden?

i wonder whether it is inevitable that institutions decay with time. i am in orissa at the moment where i used to live and work a decade ago. at that time, as a staff of unicef, i would visit some districts, and stay in the circuit houses. the large, airy rooms with high ceilings that were cool even in summer, the well-tended garden, the excellent food - all were a delight. often, though, it was not possible to get accommodation in these places as government officials would be visiting or passing through and staying there; or sometimes a politician and his hangers-on.

though circuit houses in smaller districts were in some state of disrepair and looked poorly kept (where i was sure that neither the coir carpet on the floor or the sheets had not been changed since the days of the Raj), the ones in the larger, busier districts were not so. air conditioners had begun to be introduced, as well as geysers in the bathrooms for hot water.

the circuit houses at mayurbhanj and balasore, therefore, came as a shock to me when i visited them now. i am still at the balasore circuit house as i write this. this is set in a large ground with the long building looking out on a small enclosed garden around which a path winds it way. winters were a riot of colour with the garden full of roses, and the path lined with flowerpots with marigold, petunia, calendula, anthurium, pansies and others.
The Circuit House at Balasore: where have all the flowers gone?
the verandah of the circuit house had more flowerpots hanging from the wall, trailing flowers. it was a cheerful, warm place.

when i arrived here earlier this week, i was dismayed to see the place. the circuit house itself had a deserted look, not a flower to be seen anywhere in the compound. a row of upturned flowerpots sat forlon along the driveway.

the building looked decrepit, with water having seeped through the walls in many places, the place full of cobwebs and dust. i was put up in a shiny new building at the back - a two-storeyed building of steel and glass and concrete and false ceilings - new, and poorly maintained already.

i spoke to the khansama whom i remembered from my earlier visits - he has been here since 1982. his face lit up when i recognised him and asked about some of the people who used to live in the district. and also asked him what had happened to the circuit house. he said very few people come here now, with the two legislators from the area having their own homes nearby. the post of the manager was vacant, with the head clerk being given additional charge, and he had enough to do without bothering about this place. the khansama was growing old in loneliness and with little to do and only an occassional visitor to look after. i asked why the new building had been built when even the older one was not occupied, though of course he would not know. i encouraged him to think about at least putting some plants in the pots that were lying around, even if he could not tend to the entire garden, though i am not sure whether he will follow up on it.

the circuit house was not deserted, though. a group of people on election duty were there - they would leave early morning and return only for dinner.