And then, as often happened in David Dhawan movies, Govinda and Karishma Kapoor, for no rhyme or reason whatsoever, start to dance to a song.
The song happened to be sarkaaye leyo khatiya jaada lage, one of the biggest hits of 1993 and 1994. The crowd at Sujata Cinema was in raptures. There are whistles and catcalls and people were dancing in the aisles.
21 December 2018. It is a cold and a hazy December morning. Carnival Cinema, one of the many multiplexes to have opened up in the city since I left it in late-1999, is playing Shah Rukh Khan’s latest release Zero. I walk in and buy a ticket, which costs ₹150. In 1994, a dress circle ticket at Sujata Cinema cost ₹11, the most expensive in the city back then. The popcorn cost two bucks.
SRK in 2018 does everything that Govinda did in 1994, except for singing a double meaning song. He sings. He dances. He tries to woo the heroines. He even goes to Mars. But all this doesn’t impress the audience. There is no whistling. No catcalls. And no dancing in the isles. The cinema audience has been gentrified.
A 20-year journey
In 1999, Ranchi did not have a single multiplex. Now, 20 years later, going into 2020, the big multiplex chains —PVR, Carnival, Fun Cinemas etc.,— all have a presence in the city. The heydays of single screen cinemas is over. Sujata Cinema (now known as Sujata Picture Palace) is a shadow of its former self. Shree Vishnu Cinema, the one closest to St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi, where I studied, is now a hotel. Sandhya Cinema is now SRS Cinema. Vasundhara Cinema, where Nadiya Ke Paar, the original Hum Aapke Hain Koun, ran for all of 52 weeks has been broken down and in its place stands a tower.
Of course, like any other small city in India, Ranchi had a couple of theatres which only showed adult movies; Mini Sujata and Plaza. While, for an average Indian, roti, kapada aur makaan still remains an issue, we have no such problems when it comes to cheap internet bandwidth. Watching porn, which used to be a community activity in a public space, is now a very individual activity carried out in the privacy of a home. Ranchi is no different on that front from many other small cities all across India.
But porn or no porn, going into 2020, Ranchi is an excellent representation of all that is not right about the Indian economy.
Ranchi became the capital of the state of Jharkhand on November 15, 2000. As we get into 2020, it is safe to say that in the last two decades, the city has changed on many fronts, including the fact that it has become a city. In 2001, as per the Census definition, with a population of 8.63 lakh, Ranchi wasn’t categorized as a city. By 2011, the population of the city had exploded by 30.5% to 11.27 lakh. During the same period, the population of the state of Jharkhand has grown by 22% from 2.69 crore to 3.3 crore.
But while the population has gone up, it faces the same malaise that many other small Indian cities do—a crippling lack of industrial activity that can create jobs. As the Economic Survey of Jharkhand points out: “There have been 28 new industries established under the Jharkhand Industrial and Investment promotion policy-2016, with a total investment of ₹18,117 crore, generating employment for 18,057 people." These industries were set up in the industrial areas of Ranchi, Bokaro, Adityapur, and the Santhal Pargana regions of the state. Hence, Ranchi got a part of this investment and new industry, at best, created a few thousand jobs in and around the city, which is clearly not much. Now, compare this to the fact that 210 MOUs worth ₹3.10 lakh crore were signed during Momentum Jharkhand Global Investors Summit held in February 2017. This implies a conversion rate of less than 6%.
In fact, industry’s share in Jharkhand’s economy has fallen dramatically over the years. In 2011-12, industry formed 45.8% of the state’s gross value added (GVA). By 2018-19, it had fallen to 34.9%.
The number of factories in the state has barely gone up from 2,556 in 2011-12 to 2,858 in 2016-17.
The shrinking of industry as a part of the overall economy has primarily been a pan-Indian phenomenon and Ranchi and Jharkhand are no different on that front. The character of Ranchi’s economy, representative of a slew of India’s up-and-coming cities, is also a good indicator for why India’s economic growth is now down to less than 5%.
Life in a young capital
After curtains come down of SKR’s Zero, I walk out of Carnival Cinema on to Ranchi’s main road, which is rather imaginatively called the Main Road. Right opposite Carnival Cinema stands GEL Church Shopping Complex. Back in the 1990s, this was the closest that Ranchi got to a shopping-mall. Rather ironically, it was owned by the Church (the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran (GEL) Church to be very precise). It’s here that I was hanging out sometime in mid-1990s perhaps when I discovered Altaf Raja singing Tum to Thehre Pardesi. A cassette shop owner was playing it full blast.
Ranchi had a whole host of cassette shops at that point of time. Of course, no one buys cassettes, or for that matter, music anymore. Many of the erstwhile cassette shops have either shut down or moved on to selling electronic products— everything from TVs to mobile phones.
The GEL Church Shopping Complex also housed Ranchi’s most famous restaurant, Kaveri. While Kaveri is still going strong, there are other popular restaurants which have sprung up in the city. A small survey among the locals tells me that the Yellow Sapphire, Breaking Bread, Nirvana, and Prana are quite popular in the city these days. Also, Ranchi has proper shopping malls these days, with the Nucleus Mall being the most popular mall of them all.
One of the major benefits of Ranchi becoming the capital of Jharkhand has been better roads. The highway from Ranchi to Patratu can give any national highway a run for its money on the quality front, and so can the beauty of the drive. In March 2003, the length of roads in Jharkhand stood at 11,391km. By March 2016, the latest data available, this jumped to 66,786km. Ranchi now also has a ring road to ease traffic congestion within the city. But despite this, the traffic within the city has grown leaps and bounds. As Anshuman Anand, who grew up in Ranchi and now works in Bengaluru, puts it: “It never used to take more than 20 mins to reach anywhere in Ranchi. Now, it may at times even take 2 hours."
The 2017-18 Economic Survey of Jharkhand states that the government has plans to introduce a bus service in the city. A metro rail is also proposed.
The power situation in the city has also improved considerably from how things used to be in the 1990s. The Ranchi I grew up in constantly faced load shedding. In May 1992, the city saw a 15-day power cut. The power lines from the Patratu Power Plant, which supplied power to the city, were pulled down due to strong winds and it took more than two weeks for the situation to get back to normal.
Having said that, there is still scope for improvement on this front. In September, ‘Ranchi’s first lady’, Sakshi Singh Dhoni, had tweeted about constant power cuts. Interestingly, 12.2% of households in the city still do not have access to a power connection nearly two decades after the city became the capital of a state.
In the middle of the long ambling walk, I soon come across a Café Coffee Day (CCD), slightly after the GEL Church Shopping Complex. A quick Google search tells me Ranchi now has six CCDs. At least, for those who can spend money, dating and hanging out with friends is now easier. When I was a student of St. Xavier’s College, hanging out meant standing in front of the tea stall outside college, having tea and smoking (for those who did) and watching the world pass by.
Of course, we had ample time back then to waste, with the Ranchi University session running a year late, and a three-year graduation taking four years to complete. Ranchi University now largely runs on time.
I continue walking on Main Road, and see many of Ranchi’s iconic shops, from Frontier Fruitstore to Punjab Sweethouse to Wool House. But along with the old there is the new. Big Bazaar, Shoppers Stop, Manyavar, Pantaloons etc., all have a presence in Ranchi. And that’s another benefit of becoming a state capital.
But other than the retail sector, Ranchi continues to be weak on the industry front. “What has changed though is the presence of private players in banking, insurance and the retail sector," says Krishna Manohar Kislay, who grew up in the city and now works in Kenya in the telecom sector.
Nevertheless, things seem to be improving for the better slowly. In the Ease of Doing Business rankings, the state stood 4th in 2017, after having stood 3rd in 2015. The outgoing chief minister Raghubar Das wanted to make Ranchi a textile hub. As Ranchi-based chartered accountant Vishal Singh puts it: “We already have Arvind Mills and Orient Craft here." There is a silk park that has been planned in Irba on the outskirts of Ranchi. There are also plans to set up a campus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Ranchi to encourage the textile sector.
Ranchi also has a software park (STPI). Having said that, the IT industry in Ranchi is at a very nascent stage. One problem that clearly remains is real estate. Acquisition of land in and around the city is not easy because of the limitations put in place by the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, which is a political minefield. One of the impacts of the lack of free land to build homes can be seen in the fact that the city has the highest share of slum population (19.92%) in Jharkhand.
Like many other Indian cities, there is a proposal to build a smart city in Ranchi as well. But on the whole, like many other cities of its size, Ranchi remains a purely consumption-driven city economy. This basically means that the best still leave the city in search of better opportunities, like they used to in the 1990s.
The major economic hubs are all vestiges of a different era... public sector companies like Central Coalfields Ltd., Central Mine Planning and Design Ltd., Mecon Ltd., Steel Authority of India Ltd., and Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC). HEC, which used to be one of the biggest PSUs operating out of Dhurwa, on the outskirts of Ranchi, has shrunk in size. The turnover of the company was around ₹683 crore in 2012-2013. It has since shrunk to ₹399 crore as of March 2018.
As I keep walking on the Main Road, I witness another major change. The cycle rickshaws are more or less gone and have been replaced by the Chinese e-rickshaws. My walk ends at Firayalals, a department store which is Ranchi’s most visible landmark. As I stand at Firayalals, I can see the Paramveer Chakra winner Albert Ekka’s statue before me. It’s around 5.30 in the evening. The sun has set. And it’s gradually getting dark. The traffic is at its worst. Scooters. Motorcycles. Cars. Chinese e-rickshaws. All mixed up.
From the corner of my eye, on the left-hand side of Ekka’s statue, I see a hoarding featuring Mahendra Singh Dhoni advertising one of the many brands that he does. Ranchi has changed in many ways over the last twenty years. But Ranchi’s biggest change in two decades has been Dhoni.
When I left the city in 1999, the world hadn’t heard about him. I had. But I had no idea that he would become the legend he eventually did. A city which was largely known for its mental asylum and for being a quasi-hill station for the Bengali Bhadralok was put on the world map by a freak who batted, kept wickets, and captained the way he did.
And a freak like Dhoni could have only come up in a city like Ranchi, which loved cricket but barely had any conventional cricket coaching available, ensuring that he kept batting the way he did. Dhoni has been Ranchi’s biggest change in the last twenty years. And India would have lost out on so much pleasure without him bursting on to the scene.
The trouble is, not every Indian city has a Dhoni to fall back upon.
Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He was born and brought up in Ranchi.