Vizag’s environmentalist tells how the city has changed in the past decade

vizag, decade
Jayshree Hatangadi

A die-hard environmentalist trying to save the diminishing natural topography of Vizag, an INTACH member, a dedicated activist who works with tribal children, Jayshree Hatangadi is a proud Vizagite who showcases Vizag’s heritage to the uninitiated. She shares her views on the city that she now has grown to love.

Vizag? No way!

“Oh no! Is this how it ends!? My mind screamed as the brakeless auto rickshaw hurtled down towards RK Beach and the driver bailed out. The accident resulted in a temporarily paralysed right arm with which I struggled for many years. That was in 1984. Meanwhile, I moved to Chennai and then to Bahrain. Though I had spent many happy summers here with grandparents, even having studied for a while at Visakha Valley, for many years I had bad vibes whenever Visakhapatnam was mentioned.”

Coming back

“As the prospect of retirement loomed in 2005, Vizag’s childhood memories were pulling at Sohan’s (my husband) heart strings. After considering all the pros and cons, we packed our stuff and despatched our container to Vizag. I had my misgivings, especially since having run a super active manpower intensive business operation in Chennai, Vizag seemed comparatively insignificant. Plus, the dark cloud of my 1984 accident skewed my judgement. Validating my trepidations, the city was pretty sloppy in 2005-2008. Having just relocated from a small but neat and modern country, we were deeply disappointed. But soon, subtle changes began to take place. The infrastructure improved and the city began to get some of the characteristics that gave it an urbane sheen. We began to feel more at home.”

Connections in the city

“One of the best aspects of moving to Vizag was interacting with relatives. As we get older it gets difficult to make friends, but Vizag has an ecosystem that encourages bonding. Soon I had a bunch of friends based on common interests. In a subtle way, Vizag grew around me and enveloped me in a feeling of comfort. In 2006, I started volunteering for a highly committed NGO with focus on tribal rights and primary education in tribal areas near Araku. My interest in art and culture also led me to get acquainted with Vizag’s unique past. Our ancient tribal heritage, Buddhist legacy, the eventful period under British colonial rule and its imprint on Vizag history fascinated me. The Vizag that I had imagined to be a quiet retirement town became a dynamic and exciting city.”

Miles to go

“There are several things that make me feel quite hopeless too. The apathy that our city shows to heritage and culture is a major downer. Our administration talks of myriad new hubs, centres and institutes but will not spend even a tiny amount on maintaining our existing historical sites. The very knowledge of Vizag’s rich culture is washed away in the blind quest to build something new. In the rush to modernise, our city is in the danger of riding roughshod over our God-given beautiful environment. Nonetheless, the city has more positives than negatives. Personally, I get up every morning rearing to engage with the day. There’s much to do for myself and for Vizag. Accumulating historical data of Vizag from all over the world, assisting in curriculum development for tribal children, distributing reusable sanitary pads to mitigate the effects of disposable pads, taking history lovers for a heritage walk, recording facts, writing documents…the list goes on.

If I have to sum up the last decade in Visakhapatnam, I would say “which decade?” It seemed like a week, an exciting week. Every day was filled with excitement and whizzed past. Visakhapatnam and I are on excellent terms. Gotta go! … much to do!”

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