Saturday, February 4, 2012

Patna diary…

This is a guest post. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Just for the record, English translations were added and are in purple.

    Call me disloyal. Look down on me for the way I am going to write about the city where I have spent three quarters of my college life. But let’s face it, there are certain things to be said, howsoever hard they seem to be. I don’t mean to touch any regional chord there, by way of what I am writing here. If it’s any consolation in that regard, I hate the so called God’s own country as much for certain things. But that’s another story for another day. You could question my knowledge for the criticism that follows. But before you judge me, let me just say, my source is just my experience for over the past three years. I guess that’s enough with the foreword. I am referring to Patna, the erstwhile Pataliputra. Now, like most of you, I had a time when the name Pataliputra flashed down the memory lane, a land of prehistoric importance where legends of mighty Mauryan warriors lay dormant, where blessed laureates and scholars invited wisdom and wealth to the land. But that now, is past tense. To a certain extent, it is not even past tense. It’s like such a time never existed.
     You ever happen to be at a place willingly and had a sudden realization it was all a bad idea to be there, all of a sudden? The other day, my roommate Joji found out that someone stole his mobile phone with an active sim. So obviously we had to register a complaint with the police, so as to avoid any complications, should the thief misuse the sim card. My roommate didn’t know Hindi, and I, being the master of all south Indians who spoke broken Hindi, had to go with him. Well they say, prepare for the worst. So we both expected a Bollywood style police station where authorities roamed around half naked with blithe unconcern for the supposed-to-be activities. To our shock we discovered that it was worse – there was no building for crying out loud! All we saw was an open air makeshift for a police station.
“Un-frigging-believable” said Joji.
“True dat”
     There was a wooden table right in front of copious amounts of rubble and sand that once belonged to a police station. Occupying the chair adjoining it was a bald policeman who wore his pants and a vest with no belt. He had a belly that could put a pregnant woman to shame. He was writing something illegibly on a pale yellow sheet of paper.
“Well at least he has his pants on. That’s a good sign.” I said.
“Let’s get this done fast and leave.” Said Joji.
We approached him. My heart was pounding so much faster than when I set out for the mission. I was afraid if he could hear my heart beat.
“Mmm?” The baldy spoke with nonchalant attitude without looking up from the paper.
My roommate signaled me. I am the interpreter.
“Sir, we would like to file a petition.” I finished in one nervous breath. The policeman jerked as though he heard something in German. My roommate looked at me with a distaste that suggested- “Hindi dude, Hindi.”
Sir, ek petition file karna chahiye tha(Sir, I needed to file a petition)
   He looked up at the both of us. Then he asked us to stand nearer to the desk. Then he did one of those disgusting things one does with pan paraag in mouth. Boy did his mouth look red! I had no clue how to file a petition in the police station. He explained for five minutes the procedure which I still don’t know. There was enough Bhojpuri in that to compose a poem for God’s sake. My roommate was looking at me for the translation any minute then. He must have thought I am processing the Hindi dialogues. Well, my database is empty as long as it is Bhojpuri. My pride was hurt, not being able to be of any help to him. I spoke to the policeman in part Hindi and part English and finally imparted the idea that what we had to do involved a mobile, and that my roommate didn’t know Hindi and that we both are from Kerala. The police man lightened up like a bulb. He pulled two chairs and signaled us to sit.
   I beamed at my roommate for the abrupt display of hospitality from the baldy. He waited till we settled. Then the law abiding police man smiled at the both of us and rubbed his thumb and index finger. Luckily, for that, all over India we have only one language – that of bribery. We didn’t concur. We told him we didn’t have the money. The policeman looked disheartened. We slowly stood up and thanked him for his time. He kept on saying “SITT”. I wondered why he was asking us to sit. When we don’t have the money what more could he possibly do? May be he accepted credit cards too? Policemen these days!
     Bribery is nothing confined to Patna. But there are so many dimensions to it, one needs to ponder about. Why was there a sudden display of charity when he came to know we were from outside the state? Why did the scornful face suddenly turn all sweet and drooling at the first mention of Kerala? For so long this revolted my mind. If it was just the greed for money, one would understand. But it’s not.  It’s a mixture of traditions and practices carried over years, it’s because there is none to question them. It’s either that people are too ignorant to bother or they are too much in love with the system. Don’t ask if you don’t want to be in pain. Their ideology is as simple as that. Illiteracy and lack of public awareness are something that they are born into. In my eighth class civics I studied that in India, the rich becomes richer and the poor becomes poorer. Well, here you can feel it with your own very eyes. The higher strata are going higher and the lower, lower. There is no such thing as a middle class. If you consider education, the creamy layer always makes to the IIT s or other such reputed colleges. The remaining ones migrate to other states. So the higher class doesn’t have to question the system, whereas the lower class is either too ignorant to or too fearful to. Speak about the legendary city where one of the pioneer universities of all time – Nalanda was founded!
    Remember the times you needed bladder control big time? Well, it’s over once you are in Patna. You take a long walk, you feel like it, you do it. That is all to it. You can practically litter anywhere. You might find more people beside you along the footpath rather than in a public bathroom. There are times when a beautiful sunset is accompanied with moist air that carries ammonia from the west. Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But the issue is serious. When one person does it, it’s not an anomaly around here. The second person joins him because he doesn’t know to question an act. Rather he doesn’t have to. “Hey I am brought up that way, why would I care where he urinates? It’s his bladder, someone else’s place.” It’s always someone else’s place. And as long as you don’t care, it always will be. And when they say, Shri Buddha walked this land, I just ask “Really? This land?” The wall adjoining my hostel building was such a ‘someone else’s place’ for long for the pedestrians. You know how that stopped? Someone from my college pasted ceramic tiles bearing pictures of deities of all religions on the outside walls. Now none dare open his fly in front of the wall. With just the right amount of sarcasm, I can now say ‘Gods guard our walls’. Now, few of them know too, that cleanliness is Godliness.
   Speaking of Gods, I have never seen a place where temples are so unkempt. Once I found myself circumambulating Lord Shiva’s idol where a woman was lying across. So I had to jump over her each time. To top it off, the devotional songs make you want to put your fingers right through your ears and swirl them inside your brain- unbearable to an unbelievable extent. And sometimes they make parodies of heartthrob Bollywood songs to suit the purpose. I appreciate the fact that they are trying to make the songs lovely, but parodies of Sheela ki jawani and Munni badnaam hui aren’t as devotional as one would expect them to be.

    The story of corruption doesn’t just end with bribery. The other day there was a documentary on primary school teachers and their inexperience. Inexperience will be too good a word for them. It was about their stupidity to soul sucking levels. What else would you call a daring woman who has no qualification whatsoever but teaches primary school children sunde, mondae, tusdae  instead of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and who doesn’t know how many days there are in a year? Ask her what one plus one is, she might as well say “It’s out of syllabus”. So goes the primary school education. Political propaganda is really promising always. Here nothing changes on these levels whether the ministry changes or not. For that, all we need to do is, raise questions. Make them fear and understand the importance of the positions they hold. They could shut one mouth, or two, may be ten. But when thousands ask? As long as the public don’t do what they are supposed to, history repeats itself. When the first person raises his voice against it, they would know, that this blatant disregard for law by the very own people who are supposed to guard them can’t just go anymore, than it already has.

     A security bodyguard carrying a gun, walked out of a vehicle that managed a sudden halt in front of our college gate yesterday. He directly marched to one amongst us, and asked.  
Ye admission kahan hota hai beta?” (Where are the admissions done?)
It’s not everyday we get such a query at the very entrance of an IIT. Though taken aback, he replied with composure-
Bhaiya, idhar JEE se admission hota hai(Here, admissions are done through the JEE)
Wo to main sambhaal lunga. Admission kahan hota hai ?” (I will handle it. Where are they done?)
It’s not important what conversation ensued. It’s one thing to laugh about the audacity of that person to ask such a thing. I had no idea how he was going to sambhaal (handle) that? May be he or his boss was someone to whom none said a no, ever. I don’t feel intellectually challenged by that person’s strident outcry to meet some authority about a lateral admission into an IIT, but what appeals to me is his guts. He might never be able to get the required IIT admission for whoever he is trying for, but if he had the remotest idea of trying for it today, this way, then who knows, someday he might actually be able to – because this is a land where no one knows to say ‘NO’.

They say ‘ask no questions and hear no lies’. But one could actually afford to hear a few lies rather than to know a regrettable truth later.

Guest post by Devan Harikumar
Dear readers, click to visit devan’s blog. eureka, devanexpresses…!


  1. Any idea when was this post done.. Coz the Patna he has described is long gone, or so I am told by my bihari friends.

    There was a time when lawlessness and violence go hand in hand in patna but its changed now. Last year, it was the state with highest growth rate, in India. Even more than Delhi, Mumbai (Maharashtra) , Bangalore (Karnataka) etc.

    Since Nitish Kumar has taken over, there are only good things to be said about Bihar. He has changed the outlook of the whole generation.  Last election he won with a promise of development when everybody else was shouting religion and caste.

  2. This post was written last week though I can't say for sure when his experience occurred.

  3. Hi Naren,
     The police station incident occurred in the September of 2009. The primary school documentary was of last year. (It's in the news). All other incidents are day to day ones. I totally agree with you on the recent changes, Nitish kumar's works etc. Patna is much better a place to live in now than what it was few years ago. But all I have written are facts and are later than the August of 2008.