Scraps from the steel plant adorn the streets, wide tree lined avenues invite you for a walk; marketplaces with small shops and tiled rooftops take you back in time, and large bungalows with beautiful lawns make you want to retire in them. Jamshedpur is a town made of dreams. And so, even though we have just landed here, we are so enamored by its charm that we are already out and about. Our first stop, presumably, is the world famous Tata Steel factory.
“It is unusual to see a factory in the middle of the town. But, since the entire town was set up because of the steel factory, it makes sense that the factory sits in its center,” says Sudip Das, a resident out on his morning walk. We nod in agreement even as we gape at its scale in awe. A little distance away is another place pivotal to the town – Jubilee Park. A tall statue of Jamshetji Tata overlooks the 237-acre garden that he had lovingly set up for his people. Interjected with lakes, jogging tracks, children’s parks, and even a zoo, it was designed by Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel (who also landscaped Bangalore) on the lines of Mysore’s Brindavan Gardens. The park, I am told, is decorated like a bride on 3rd of March every year, to celebrate the birthday of its founder Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata. Incidentally, the day is also celebrated as Jamshedpur’s foundation day.
Tatanagar, as the town is aptly called, is a haven for design aficionado. Its colonial buildings with clean lines, open spaces, and minimalistic design are lesson in architecture. Intrestingly, some of these were designed by Ratan Tata himself, much before he took over the reigns of empire.
The affinity for design is not only reflected in its MSM bungalows and tree lines avenues, but also in public institutions. The Russi Modi Center of Excellence with Romanesque Columns and Egyptian Pyramids is one such place, as is the bison horn shaped Tribal Cultural Center. The GPO, Regal Cinema, D’Costa Mansion, meanwhile display a deep Victorian Influence on the Steel City. Design however is not limited to public spaces in Jamshedpur. A walk along the residential areas highlights how even the most basic houses here are made with care. Public spaces, parks, stadiums, playgrounds, marketplaces, all find a place in every neighbourhood.
“If you like nature, you will love our town, if you don’t, it will make you fall in love with nature.” We are now at the banks of Subarnarekha, the river that surrounds Jamshedpur, and Krishna Dey, a housewife, is showing us around. From where we stand, I see hills and jungles beyond the river, a lone boy is swimming across and locals are helping themselves into a boat. “The ticket is only 1 rupee, do you want to go across?” Krishna asks me. I choose to stay this side and explore the town some more.
You can tell a lot about a place by its markets. We are now in the oldest and the most populous bazaar of the town, Sakchi. Colourful, crowded, and noisy the place is like any small town bazaar. Rows of food carts line the square; vendors peddle their wares. The small shops, old fashioned things, and simple people transport me to my childhood, but am brought back by the shrill noises made by the clanking of the Dosa guy’s griddle.
Food is everywhere in Jamshedpur: in every market, on every street, along the shady boulevards, and of course in fancy restaurants. Being a cosmopolitan place, the influences on its food and diverse and varied, and not restricted to Indian food only. “In the initial years, the town was full of Europeans. There were Germans, English, Americans, and they needed their kind of food. That is when the bakeries in Dhatkidi opened.” A stranger at Howrah Bakery tells me. Set up by Abdul Hamid Midda in the 1930s Howrah Bakery still caters to the town’s requirement of cakes and cookies. The variety and the prices make me want to buy everything but I make do with a few plum cakes.
With the sun down, the horizon has come alive with crimson hue of the burning slug in the factory. The streets glow in the golden light of lamps. Locals congregate at their favorite food stalls and students’ throng ice-cream parlors. Walking along the main avenue, Bishtupur, I come face to face with the unadulterated charm of window-shopping in a small town. Small shops, still untouched by commercialization, line the avenue. Swank cars parked alongside tell you that it is not the dearth of money but the appreciation of simplicity that keeps the place thus.
As I walk back on the glittering road, I am reminded of JRDs brief to the architect of Jamshedpur. “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens; reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks.” When he had said these words, 110 years ago, even he would not have thought that his town would remain unparalleled even a century later.