Talk of the times at local khattis - State politics takes centre stage

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By ASHUTOSH MISHRA
  • Published 29.01.12
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Bhubaneswar, Jan. 28: From chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s supposed reluctance to learn Odia to Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s alleged soft corner for Brahmins, everything is grist to their mill.

The capital’s talking shops, khattis to locals, survive on titbits laced with political innuendoes. Apocryphal stories come from sources as diverse as the panwallah or the tea-stall owner, whose business revolves around the khattis.

“Pyari babu is doing his best to turn Biju Janata Dal into a party of Brahmins. In the last election, he gave tickets to as many as 66 Brahmins,” said Daya, the young tea-shop owner, without whom the MLA colony khatti, one of the oldest in Bhubaneswar, remains incomplete.

The gathering, be it morning or evening, includes politicians, aspiring MLAs, bureaucrats and even businessmen. “Ministers such as Prafulla Samal and Pratap Jena also drop in occasionally, as do a number of MLAs. Intelligence officials either join the conversation or eavesdrop. Everyone gains for this is where you pick up the latest gossip and make profitable contacts,” said Sukant Sahu, who has been presiding over the talking sessions here for the nearly the past 20 years.

But it is Daya, who almost invariably steals the show with his one-liners. “You know, had Naveen babu wanted, he could have learnt at least three languages in the 12 years he has spent in the state. But he refuses to learn even Odia because it helps him keep pesky supplicants at bay,” he says.

Latest political developments such as the sacking of agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy are hotly debated. “Maharathy ra sat mas pare chhua janm hela (Maharathy delivered after seven months),” quips Daya in his inimitable style. What he means is that the Pipili MLA lasted barely seven months as minister.

Panchayat elections keep the khattis busy. Candidates often drop in looking for free advice and catchy campaign slogans. Prospects of parties are discussed at length with the majority opinion invariably going in favour of the BJD. “The Congress and the BJP are useless. They have failed to take the issues of the day to the villages. The ruling party is the obvious gainer,” reasons Daya.

Sukant nods in agreement. “Naveen Patnaik is the happy-go-lucky type acting every bit at the behest of Pyari babu, which suits him. But his party continues to do well,” says the bearded chief patron of the daily gathering at MLA colony.

Better known to the regular attendees as Brikhyamul (under the tree) khatti, it started with Srikant Mishra, a teacher interested in all the subjects under the sun. Over the past 20 years, it has been held daily without fail.

“I remember we had our talking session even on the day the supercyclone hit Bhubaneswar in 1999. We sat in the office the then Biju Sena and food came from the house of one of the MLAs,” recalls Sukant, a witness to many political upheavals which he and his colleagues discussed threadbare over endless cups of tea and cigarettes.

Khatti lovers also throng the tea shop next to Jayadev Bhavan. Chairs are duly organised and talking sessions stretch endlessly as the chaiwallah ensures a constant supply of tea. A watering hole of journalists and politicians with intellectual pretensions, the two khattis held here have contributed significantly to the planning of some politically significant agitations. Some of the members actively took up the Pipili gangrape case and claimed victory when Maharathy put in his papers.

Yet another gathering of people takes place every morning at the Old Bus Stand. But the turnout is comparatively low and most of the participants are nearing 50. Left-leaning intellectuals appear to be in love with the place which, however, is yet to find favour with others.

Camaraderie and fellow feeling go hand in hand with the khattis, most of which organise monthly feasts with generous patrons picking up the tab. “Rice and dalma (pulses mixed with vegetables) are the staple on these occasions. Fish and mutton also figure frequently on the menu,” says a member. But what the talk-addicts need the most is food for thought for they, like the famous Urdu poet, firmly believe that “Baat niklegi to bahut door talak jayegi (When the talk begins it will go far).”