Dear Odisha,

It has been a while since I moved to Amsterdam, a city I had always wanted to visit as a starry-eyed teenager. It has been a while since I’ve had a few warm tears trickling down my face when I bid goodbyes to my parents standing at a distance at Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik International airport. It has been a while since I have seen you.

You must be thinking that I must have forgotten about you.

Well, for a first few days here in Amsterdam, I must admit that I was spellbound by its beauty and charm. I would visit the Central area during evenings and be awestruck by the beauty of the canals, the spectacular Dutch architecture and of course the friendliness of the people. For the few days initially, I thought that maybe I had found the place which I was looking for all my life.

Commuters cross each other in Cuttack
Picture Courtesy: @photo_wala_dinesh

But then one day, when I was returning from office, I called up my mom. I could barely hear her. Through the chaos she told me that she was at the historical Bali yatra in Cuttack along with my aunts and cousins. Their plan was to have Dahibara Aludum with the extra dahi pani at the end followed by Chaat, Gup chup, Thunka Puri and Kulfi with extra Rabdi.

My heart sank a little. I managed to smile and hang up. I missed you badly then. I remembered the chaos of Bali-yatra and the absolute bliss I would have after buying bags full of handicrafts, jewellery, dress materials followed by mouth-watering snacks and sweets.

Then came winter and I missed you even more. I would remember the winter mornings in Bhubaneswar, where kids in colourful sweaters would go to schools, where through the fog, I could see the parks and gardens which were filled with brightly coloured marigolds, roses, dahlias and countless other flowers.

I remembered the wide roads of Bhubaneswar, the sounds of morning bells from temples in Cuttack, the Bada-Ghaghra waterfalls of Keonjhar, the delicious street food of every city, from Mudhi Mansa in Baripada to Rasabali in Kendrapara.

I was reminded of the countless picnics to Ansupa lake, Chillika, Barunei and Nandankanan. The Bana Bhojis during the winters with delicious mutton curry, ghanta, dali, fried rice and tomato khata.

The towering figure of a T-Rex at Nandankanan Zoo
Picture Courtesy: @khantiodiasaswata

On my way back from the office, when I would see countless people here in buses and metros sitting quietly, I would be reminded of the countless conversations I’ve had with friendly strangers in the Maa Tarini and Maa Jagadamba buses from Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.

Believe me, I thought of you on most of my days. When I visited Paris a few months ago, I looked at the Eiffel tower across the Seine river and I thought of the countless electric poles on the Kathajodi river.

While walking along a river in Austria, I was reminded of the fresh breeze of air brushing on my face as I would drive around the Ring road on the banks of Mahanadi in Cuttack.

The tiny huts in the foreign countryside reminded me of the countless houses along the rice-fields of my mamu-ghara in a tiny village of Kuanpal.

The quietness and orderliness of the public places in Europe would make me smile by reminding me of the laughter and chaos in Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and countless other Odia cities during Durga Puja, Dola Purnima and all other festivals.

Very often, when I would see impressively dressed foreigners in designer labels, I would suddenly think of the beautiful block prints of Sambalpuri handloom, wondering how would they look if they ever chose to wear it.

Whenever I had cheesecake in bakeries, I thought of the countless times we would pass through Pahala on the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar highway and have our own cheesecake or chhena podas and rasagollas melting in our mouths.

Everything that I saw and felt here, reminded me of your presence. You were right there, by my side.

On a weekend, when I missed you very badly, I chose to eat something that would take me to you when I closed my eyes. I and my roommate who is also a proud Odia made pakhala with alu bhaja and badi chura. We had it to our heart’s content.

A bowl of Pakhala with Alu Bhaja, Kakudi and Badi Chura on the side
Picture Courtesy: @fooddiariesss

That was a day when I realized that we might be away from you, but you can never be away from us, no matter which part of the world we are in.

Love you, dear Odisha.

Yours lovingly,
Sarba