We got a chance to speak to Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, the acclaimed Indian classical dancer from Malaysia, during AirAsia’s inaugural flight to Bhubaneswar. It was here that we learned about his deep connection with the city.
Bhubaneswar is also where Datuk Ramli received his training and in many ways shaped him to be the dancer he is today.
When did you first travel to Bhubaneswar and what was your first impression of this city back then?
I first went to Bhubaneswar in 1978. At that time, I was learning Odissi (major ancient Indian classical dance that originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha) in Puri, and was obsessed with mastering it. I had travelled to Odisha from Australia where I was dancing professionally with the Sydney Dance Company. Later, when I found that the Odissi Guru I was looking for was then living in Bhubaneswar, I came to this busy and dusty capital of Odisha and stayed to learn Odissi.
Back then, almost 40 years ago, Bhubaneswar, was still a kind of ‘cowboy town’. It was divided into two distinctive districts – the old part (where the architecturally interesting temples are found) and the new administrative section with burgeoning squares and market buildings. Back then, both sections were completely overrun with rickshaws, bicycles, insouciant humpback bulls roaming just about anywhere. It felt like a maze of electric wires overhead and narrow dusty roads teeming with humanity amidst screeching sound of horns from gaudily decorated trucks and lorries. The flat roof nondescript modern buildings were ubiquitous. What fascinated me more were the wet market scenes especially those in the old parts of the city usually near a temple tank.
How has the city changed since your first visit?
I would describe the city as fascinating. Of course, like any capital city, Bhubaneswar is now the bustling administrative and commercial centre of the region and has undergone tremendous transformation. Now, it is more affluent. The roads are bigger, wider and the cars are sleeker and classier. In fact, one hardly sees the Ambassador, once the iconic Indian car, anymore. Street and traffic lights now feature along excellent roads; overhead crossings are now familiar structures, malls and shops, luxury hotels – you name it. New city-satellite townships have also emerged on the edge of the city. On the other hand, the old part maintains its hoary world charm and is almost the same as before – as if time has stood still for this part of Bhubaneswar.
How many times have you visited Bhubaneswar and what draws you back to the city?
Honestly, I can’t remember how many times I have visited Bhubaneswar. I usually travel to Bhubaneswar at least once a year but sometimes even more as I am often invited to perform, participate in conferences or some research projects. One can’t avoid but to pass through Bhubaneswar to travel to other parts of Odisha. I keep coming back because of Odissi and the many close friends I have made in Odisha. Our Sutra centre in Kuala Lumpur maintains very close ties with Odiyan performers and visual artists. In many ways, Bhubaneswar has become my second home!
Do you have a favourite dish or a favourite place to eat in the city?
My favouriste dish is a kind of traditional Odiyan sweet, called manda pita, which is steamed rice flour with jaggery-coconut filling. As for restaurants, there are now many new fashionable ones, not just within the hotel precincts but functioning independently with thoughtfully designed spaces, atmospheric settings and compelling cuisine and décor. My favourite restaurant is still the simple Dalma (Unit IV), which serves traditional and authentic Odiyan dishes.
How would you describe Bhubaneswar to people who are unfamiliar with this city?
Bhubaneswar is the gateway-city to Odisha. For me, three major cultural brands are associated with Odisha – Odissi, Konark (The Sun Temple, one of the great wonders of the world) and Jagannath (Main Temple of Puri). One has to pass through Bhubaneswar to get to these three iconic cultural phenomena of Odisha. In Bhubaneswar, you can also get the best of the produce of the land – textiles, food, sculptures, temples, folk and tribal handicrafts depots etc – anything your heart desires of Odisha.
It is also the centre of culture and arts: Odissi, museums, universities, and research centres are all found here. Festivals and happenings during the winter season make Bhubaneswar worth the visit. Apart from being the commercial and political hub, it has also become the intellectual and creative centre of the region with many conferences conducted here. To top it all, within the city itself are the jewels of temple architecture that represent the best of the region. And of course, there is Odissi! One gets to see many dance performances during the winter season (Nov-Feb).
Were you excited when AirAsia announced its flight to Bhubaneswar?
Absolutely! I believe that Odiyan culture is one of the best kept secrets of India. With the direct flight to Bhubaneswar, we are able to cut so much unnecessary travel time and cost to get to where the action is!
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bhubaneswar from Kuala Lumpur. For flight info and lowest fares visit AirAsia.com.