Let’s Make Madhya Pradesh Hip Again


Let’s Make Madhya Pradesh Hip Again

Illustration: Sushant Ahire/Arré

Last night, I went out on a date with a woman who happened to be from Kolkata. During our conversation, she had so many stories to share about the people and places from West Bengal. From Satyajit Ray to Rabindranath Tagore, and biryani to rasgulla, it was fascinating. Then she asked me what my state, Madhya Pradesh, was famous for.

I scrambled my brain to come up with interesting titbits about Madhya Pradesh, and all I could think of was the sex temples of Khajuraho, which depict threesomes, orgies, and bestiality in all their glory, or the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. Considering both these topics won’t make great fodder for conversation on a first date, I decided to skip the question and ordered more alcohol so that both she and I could forget about Madhya Pradesh.

I have come to the conclusion that if it was not for its geographical location, Madhya Pradesh had no business to be called the “Heart of India”. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am sure several notable personalities have been born in Madhya Pradesh and the state is a crucial part of our country. But it is simply not hip enough. For example, while other states boast of delicacies like butter chicken, litti chokha, and beef fry, we are stuck with poha. Fun fact: If you offer poha to a homeless person in Delhi, he will spit on it and return it.

I took my agony to a friend from Bhopal. On hearing me whine, he was visibly pissed off and threatened to send me to Uttar Pradesh. He explained to me that what MP lacked in food, it made up for in tourist attractions, and the variety of places one can visit in the state was astounding. What varieties, I asked him. There are temples in Ujjain, he said. And? Temples in Amarkantak? And? Temples in Chitrakoot, and, hold your breath… temples in Omkareshwar. So then, just temples, huh, I asked him. That really pissed him off. What does Goa have? Just beaches, huh? Madhya Pradesh is like Goa… just for older people.

Now, it is not as if Madhya Pradesh does not have its claim to fame. In Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, Mowgli (the kid who grew up to become Baba Ramdev) is said to have been brought up by a family of wolves in Seoni, a city in Madhya Pradesh. In fact, Madhya Pradesh has preserved the legacy of Mowgli by still firmly maintaining the jungle raj.

I scrambled my brain and all I could think of was the sex temples of Khajuraho, which depict threesomes, orgies, and bestiality in all their glory.

But my hometown is not all doom and gloom. A visit to the state will take you back to the simpler times when there was not a shopping mall at every nook and corner. In an age of rapid industrialisation and climate change, Madhya Pradesh boasts of the maximum area under forest cover among all the states in the country. It is also one of the first states in India to actively engage in securing the right to information for its people. I believe like Rahul Roy’s acting career, Madhya Pradesh started out well but lost steam soon after.

In 2013, we gave the world Vyapam. When that scam unearthed everyone who was anyone finally took notice of Madhya Pradesh. It was like when Shirish Kunder came into the limelight after getting slapped by Shah Rukh Khan. I would have preferred Madhya Pradesh making news for being a leader in education or championing healthcare, but then I also would have liked to be born an Ambani. You gotta get by with what you got.

However, efforts are being made to boost the image of Madhya Pradesh since. The state government has been spending crores to promote Jal Mahotsav, the first-ever water festival in the country, which only my ageing aunt seems to be excited about.

Hey, but don’t judge us yet. If Donald Trump wants to make America great again, I think Madhya Pradesh can be cool again too. Its ministers just need to take a leaf out of the Gujarat model and project a heavenly image of the state. Doesn’t matter if we have to turn to Photoshop for some help.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has already started doing his bit by recently claiming that Madhya Pradesh is far better than America and England. Other ministers only need to follow suit. If they can convince everyone that Chambal River is way more majestic than the Niagara Falls, or that Warren Buffett eats poha for breakfast every morning, MP might have a chance at becoming great again.

If this happens, I won’t have to be tongue-tied on a date the next time when asked about Madhya Pradesh. Instead, I can freely boast about how the apple that Eve ate was actually produced in MP.