Baazigar – Week 19 : Patna

The villages of early civilization came up next to rivers as they provided water for the villages and fertility for the fields. Then the temple became the standard unit found in every Indian village – it was also the tallest building in the village out of respect. Then came the industrial revolution of sorts and cities, with benefits of water supply systems and industrial buildings started coming up anywhere and everywhere. With the evolution of careers and jobs came the need for rejuvenation, recreation and relaxation. This is where the maidan came. Every major city in our country has the maidan in the center of the city. Some have managed to endure while others have breathed their last. One of the several good things the British did was to give the maidans their due importance, as most major Indian cities of today developed and prospered in their era.

And Patna is more than a city. It’s one of the oldest continuously populated cities in the the world. That is why it has so many massive temples of all beliefs and so many important railways stations and rivers. And the Gandhi maidan is thus a fitting throbbing center of Patna – constantly providing a reflection of the city’s several moods, interests and quirks. On winter afternoons, people lie down under the sun for a siesta. There are people who tell stories here. They carry snakes and monkeys and don’t always show “kartavs” but tell stories full of intrigue and drama regarding their adventures. At any point, 50 people must be watching these performances and it takes a lot of skill to hold this rather impoverished audience long enough and then get them to shell out a few rupees for it too. Youngsters from outside town who come here everyday to attend IAS, engineering, medical and accountancy classes, lay out a blanket in the garden and study in the afternoon lunch time to prepare for the impending test. Kids of all ages play cricket – the bowler mostly throws the ball with a full run up and the batsman mostly plays one shot – the slog to the on side. But the matches are always played with passion and desire to win. A guy is teaching his girl how to ride the scooter across the jogging track. Now you know just as well as I do what wonderful opportunities to accidently touch or feel things such an enterprise can provide. At one end of the ground more than a hundred policemen are having their packed lunches, laughing and joking loudly in sweet earthy Maithili. The parade rehearsal for Bihar Diwas on 28th Feb is going to begin in a bit.

( Read : The entire Baazigar Series – Kunj’s chronicles on Kashmir, Amritsar, Mcleodgunj, Mussoorie, Delhi-Gurgaon, Mughal Sarai – Varanasi, Bangalore,Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Puri, Dantewada, Kanha, Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan,Kolkata and Ranchi.)

And at one corner of the ground is the massive Gandhi memorial, just erected a few months ago. In the nights, when the rest of the ground is shrouded in darkness, the statue looks worth every bit of the Rs 10 crore the government claims to have spent on it. During the day, Gandhiji, like everyone else, is just another part of a massive maidan. Repair works are already on for the flooring of the memorial just 2 months since first it was made. I ask the guard about it and he tells me everything is Bihar is made on the 60:40 principle. So if they claim this was made in 10 crores, it means 4 crores went into making it and rest went into bribing the powers that be. Only an Indian can create a structure looking worth 10 crores in 40% of that amount. So if a Gandhi memorial has to put up with this extent of adulteration, surely an employment scheme named after him cant be any different.

 

The security guards and several others who had joined by now, told me how MNREGA is the next big nest egg for the government to make money. All of them were keen to tell me how this new wave started by a new Chief Minister was yet to percolate down to their levels and grant them any tangible benefit.  As if to reiterate this point to me, the next day, my trip to Rajgir met with a familiar fate. I had last been to Bihar 13 years ago, when on our way to Rajgir, our buses were stopped by dacoits and 10 buses were looted one after the other over the next 3 hours. And here I was in a train and it had been waylaid by bandh supporters who held the main line to ransom for 3 hours. There were a few compartments which were looted too and I dare not comment on whether the two were connected. It is this bandh which provided me with my inspiration for my story so I can’t really complain about missing the chance to see Nalanda University for the second time in my life.

 

 

On this day of many further delays, I met a student of Patna University who stayed in a village near Pawapuri. He wanted to join the armed forces. He abhorred kids in his junior college who carried mobile phones, acted very tentatively around girls and was crazy about How-to books because they gave him inspiration to do well. He told me the selection procedure for National Defence Academy and prima facie it seems a scary mixture of Roadies and MBA entrance. We got to discussing religion and he told me how he found his religion to be very limited and narrow. He belonged to a higher caste and yet wanted to change his religion when he grew up. I asked him if he contemplated not having a religion at all. To which he asked me if I believed in God. I told him I felt I didn’t need to follow a religion to believe in God and he looked at me as if I was smoking something strange. I told him about my travel plans and he guessed I must be writing a book or something. We parted with him noting down my name in his favorite diary and this acute feeling that maybe we could have spent longer knowing each other. I have earned a lot of friends these last 5 months or so, but he became the first one who is now certified by Facebook as well.

And then there was this merry band of cooks at the guesthouse. I don’t know what struck me but I spent an entire day helping them cook food for the guest and what a day it turned out to be. The custodians of the decidedly Marwari vegetarian kitchen were all pukka Non-vegetarians, creating compromises of Chicken Tikka Masala for a living. There is a certain intimacy to the Bihari version of Hindustani which is different to the more sophisticated version they speak in UP and the sing song variation of Jharkhand. Dirty, sweaty men of the kitchen indulged in locker room talk about their wives. One of them even talked at length about the weather making him horny and the effect of a nice chicken meal on his wife’s sex drive. They talked about women in general is such unacceptable ways that I couldn’t help but cringe about but its good to be able to define the depths of man’s attitude towards women. They were otherwise joyous people professing their love for Ravi Kishen in no uncertain terms. After a very enjoyable day, I thought I’ll repay the favour by giving them a dash of Gujarat by taking them to watch Kaipoche as they had shown me Bihar so wonderfully. After a rather underwhelming film, they came out complaining saying why would I spend my hard-earned money on such a movie when Zilla Ghaziabad was playing next door!

So I leave for the Himalayas now. Gangtok is apparently experiencing sub-zero temperatures right now. This project had initially started out as a six month stint in the north east, living next to the Teesta River and writing a novel. So it’s good to finally go where I have been longing to go forever.

– Kunj Sanghvi

( Read : The entire Baazigar Series – Kunj’s chronicles on Kashmir, Amritsar, Mcleodgunj, Mussoorie, Delhi-Gurgaon, Mughal Sarai – Varanasi, Bangalore,Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Puri, Dantewada, Kanha, Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan,Kolkata and Ranchi.)

(Kunj Sanghvi will be writing about his experiences in each new city every week on InsideIIM.com. At various junctures on this trip, he’ll be found working over cups of coffee in coffee shops across the country. He’d love to meet, talk, discuss with anyone who’d care to meet him; just to know the city and its people better. Follow him on twitter here – @kunjsanghvi. He blogs here.

About Kunj – Kunj Sanghvi is a B.Com graduate from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics and MBA from Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA). Prior to plunging into this adventure he was a Senior Manager at Hindustan Times. He has also worked with whatsonIndia.com in the past. )

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