Long long ago, in the glory days of Indian civilization, there used to be a kingdom called Magadh, one of the erstwhile Mahajanapads of India. Though the world remembers Porus and his famous clash with Alexander, it was Chandragupta Maurya who put an end to the first invasion of the Indus and Ganges by the West and established the Mauryan Empire. This was the age that gave India it’s own Machiavelli in the form of the shrewd Kautilya, whose Artha Sashtra is something I believe should be a part of the curriculum in any B school of the world. The kingdom centred around its capital, Pataliputra and thus began India’s peaceful invasion into foreign lands holding the hands of a powerful new religion, Buddhism. It was the land that gave India its greatest emperors. This was the land that not only nurtured the World’s Greatest Religions but also gave Modern India its direction post independence holding the hands of Ashoka. And here in Pataliputra, known today as Patna I continued my love story with Bihar.
The first thing that struck me was how an entire civilization had been wiped off by the hands of time. Today the glory days of the past are remnant only in the names of hotels around me, Chanakya, Maurya, Pataliputra Ashok etc etc. The town is an urban jungle like most other capital cities in the country, the only difference being that the right of the road has been clearly distinguished here. In Patna, the first right to use the roads lies with the cows, next come cars with the red lights, then auto rickshaws, then the cars with the yellow lights, then rickshaws, then motorbikes with helmet less riders and finally to the common man. In fact, Patna is the only city where rickshaws are allowed everywhere. A capital city with no public transport! I think this has been accepted by the people around.
Like other Indian Metros, Patna too is witnessing the coming up of a large number of flyovers. And when it rains like it has been raining for the last one month, things go completely berserk. Standing instructions are always to leave the road to the buffalos under such a situation. The city is the first in Bihar to experience the entry of Modern Retail and it would be interesting to see how things turn out in the long run.
But everything put together, I find Patna a nice city. The Gandhi Maidan at the centre of the city serves as the heart of Patna. It has its own Cannaught Place in the form of Maurya Lok which serves an amazing variety of Panipuris. The Sanjay Gandhi Botanical Garden, which laymen like us will call Patna Zoo is the ‘Patna ki fefra’ by its own admission. The Ganges is nearby making everyone admit that it’s all right to waste water in ‘jis diesh mein Ganga behti hain’. The people of Patna also have a favourite pastime wherein they take you to visit the House of Laloo. Though the erstwhile first couple of Bihar has shifted from their famous Anne Marg residence, their new house still has hundreds of visitors lined up every day for the ‘darshan’. And there are shamianas put up for them.
The month I spent at the capital of Bihar was enlightening. Always of the opinion that as a free citizen of a free nation it’s shameful to be afraid of anything anywhere and at anytime within the boundaries of the country, I was pretty chilled out. But then one night during the course of returning from work, scenes from Omkara, Shool, Apharan and Kalyug kept flashing before my eyes. Every story we hear has a beginning in a grain of truth.
And yet, four of us could safely walk back to our hotel in the dead of the night without any worries after a rather eventful show of Partner in the night show at a nearby movie hall, where they serve free samosas to ‘Diamond’ ticket holders.
Classics heard while at work in Patna,
“Look at your side. That’s where the Indian Airlines Flight crashed sometime back.”
“You want a helmet? Don’t worry, no one will say anything.” (Personal Safety????)
“Do anything in Patna. Just never get on the wrong side of the Police.”
“That’s the police station public set fire to yesterday,”
“Sir, we know why you are here.” (Something I did not want further clarification on)
“Sir, Madamji bhi saath aayi hain kya?” (Spluttered tea all over)
Nothing remains complete without a mention of the splurge I make on food invariably wherever I go. In that aspect, Patna is an expensive city, something I found very strange in Bihar. Even before the floods hit the state, the cost of the vegetables in the mandis had been higher than I had witnessed in Calcutta. Anyway, Patna is a heaven for anyone who loves a good dish of mutton. In fact, after seeing Chicken Dosa on the menu at a hotel in Bangalore I had convinced myself that few things on an Indian’s platter could surprise me, and yet there was an extremely popular dish called Chura Mutton. It’s basically a mutton preparation accompanying a healthy dose of chura. Next in line would be Litti Chokha. If there’s anything Bihar eats more than Samosas, it has to be Litti. And then of course there is Makahana, something that seems to grow under water and the seeds pop up like American corn at your nearest movie theatre. It seems that’s the biggest export of the Mithila Belt.
Most of us, including me, make this direct connection between the Bhojpuri dialect and Bihar. But the place where I have been for a considerable time now, swears by Maithili. The Maithili songs are immensely melodious, specially the folk versions. It seems it would not be a bad idea to research a bit on the origins of the folk music but somehow work prevents me from doing that.
Bihar continues to struggle under the worst flood in decades.