Sunday, August 01, 2010

Patna Redux

As a thumb rule, you generally know inside out about the place you live in. More so , if you grow to like the place. And if you are an outgoing person, the knowledge is even more exhaustive.  I am from Bihar. So, naturally I am supposed to know a lot about Bihar. Or at least about the capital city, Patna  . But I have never lived there, never loved it and to add to that , I am not an outgoing person. So , whatever I am going to write might be a grotesque piece of imagination, rather than being a candid assessment. But then this is my blog. My space, my rules and my wishes.  As simple as that.
I have never lived in Patna. I lived in Ranchi for a good three years which were among the best of my life. Patna was not a party to those years. Actually till I was in class VII I only used to listen stories about how good the zoo is, how good the museum is and blah blah blah till the time I visited them in class VIII. But you can only like a city because of museums and zoos, not love it. Love can only happen if you connect with it. I never connected with Patna. It was too in your face. It seemed that to survive you have to spike up your daily parlance with an abusive word or two in every sentence. And I have never been an abusive person. It also seemed a tad superficial. They have a very famous Hanumaan temple there thronged by hundreds of devotees every day. But outside there are tonnes of filth lying around .  It is as if the people care only about what is inside the temple not outside it.  Opposite it is the Patna Railway station which has a banner proclaiming ironically, “Divinity resides in cleanliness”. Ranchi in comparison is much coyer for my liking.
It is not as if Patna is dirty all around. Well, for instance the politicians used to be dirtier. But in one aspect , Patna is like Delhi. Have you observed one thing during rains in Delhi? The roads all through the city are waterlogged but the ones in Lyutens’ Delhi are as if they exist not in Delhi but in some hilly area. NDMC takes credit for that, but I think even if MCD were in charge of those roads , it would have been the same. Likewise in Patna, the places where the politicians live are as spot free as ever. When still in power, Lalu Yadav proclaimed that he will make the Patna roads as smooth as the cheeks of Hema Malini. Apparently she was not amused and replied, “Bloody Cheek that joker!!!” So to amuse himself, Laloo contented himself by making the roads outside his house as smooth if not smoother forgetting about the rest of the city. He left pot-holes for the rest of the city to ply on. So when their time came , the people took pot-shots on him to leave him a large number of potholes to ply his trade on. So the government changed. And around that time the city started to change as well. The city started to shed the moniker of being the city of Laloo and kidnaps. The first change happened by default, the second because of a little effort from the government. Both still exist, but that is all about them. But I am not going to talk about those changes. I presume that I am not qualified enough.

As I mentioned earlier, it was in class VIII,  that for the first time I visited Patna to live the image it had in my mind. A city of a  zoo, a museum and all that. The zoo was fantastic as was the museum , but the image did not last long. It is not the zoos and the museum which build a city. It is the people who live in it. A government at best can provide with you law and order and at worst, it won’t care who is executing his own free will in which fashion. But it is the people who breed the legacy of the city, nurture it, preserve it and give it its importance. Delhi is Delhi because of Delhites not because it has Lal Qila. But , Patna was different, sadly. It was as if it was too afraid to come forth. It existed for its survival. But then it was a poor city with a majority of its people trying every day to ensure the possibility of the next. It left them too less time to be genteel people. But the things have changed as I noticed recently. And more than the fact that the change in government is responsible for that, I think it is because of a  simple reason- More Money. Patna is not a cosmopolitan or a metropolis. But for all its vagaries, it is a proper urban city. And like any other urban city, it has benefited from the dotcom boom, share market growth, economic rise and the sixth pay commission. And money changes the way you think. And in a small city like Patna, it can bring about a cultural shift. And for good or for worse, that is what is happening.  People are getting more time and they seek ways to indulge themselves in that free time. Time and money make for a heady combination. So several shopping malls have been coming up . There are no multiplexes yet, but Patna had never had a strong cinema- viewing culture anyway. Otherwise they wouldn’t still be producing movies like  Azab Devar Ke Gazab Bhaujai  in Bhojpuri. Also as urbanisation increases, the tendency to break up and form nuclear family increases. So there is more time for the housewives. We might be a so called patriarchal society, but the homes are still run by the ladies. And if they have the extra time, everyone else in the family –more so if nuclear- has extra time. Extra time and extra money make not only a heady, but deadly combination. Coupled with a government which is keener on providing good law and order- at least in the capital city - , you can see several families at public hangouts well beyond nightfall. A few years back staying outside your home in Patna after 8’o clock in Patna was probable choice only if your business happened to be slitting people’s pockets and throats and you were not a doctor. Another change which probably has happened with free time and lack of options is that daily soaps started to generate huge viewership among the ladies. Even the channels were not slow to recognise that and now there are quite a few shows on air with Bihar as their backdrop. With the serials, the ladies get handy number of topics to discuss about among their neighbours which determines the current fads and trends. This is especially more important in a city like Patna because the principal garment for the ladies there is still the Sari which is the same with the serials. But still even the serial- watching culture in Patna in quite different from the metros. For example, unlike the metros,  there housewives still know more about the lives of their neighbours than they do about Pratigya or Anandi.

But Patna ,in my opinion, is passing through a stage which throws befuddling paradoxes at almost every turn-the type which can often be found in cities striving hard to project a different than usual image. It is facing a question which can be both tough and simple to answer. To create a reputation or emulate it? But Patna must remember that a city stands out because it has qualities worth standing out. Delhi is as different from Mumbai as chalk from blackboard is. Mumbai though a mere 2 hour drive from Pune is quite dissimilar from it as the discussion here suggests. Patna citizens cannot be Delhites or Mumbaikars or Pune-wallahs for the simple reason that they already exist. A Van Gogh goes for 139 million bucks while its copy goes for a mere 200. We always think that copying somebody is easier, but being you is far easier. After all, you do not have to put any effort while doing that. But sadly , for the present Patna seems to revel in the paradoxes.
 There are more vehicles , more traffic jams, traffic cops are visible for a change. But still I could see quite a few cars with no number plates roaming freely. You can still blare through a red light if you have another red light on the top of your vehicle even if it is a privately owned one. The zoos and museums still attract more crowds on weekends than any mall or cinema hall. While I was returning back to Delhi, there was a young couple in my compartment. They were speaking Maithili, a local language instead of Hindi and the lady was dressed in a Sari wrapped around in a conventional manner. The lady slept in the upper berth opposite to mine and the husband in the side upper berth. Around 2 am I woke to go to the loo, and saw that the upper berth was empty and the lady had quietly slipped into the side upper berth to sleep with her husband . By the morning, both of them were back in their respective berths and a while later , the lady was discussing with her mother-in-law (presumably) whether to keep fasts on Mondays or on Thursdays for her husband again in chaste Maithili.  More than being caught in a paradox, they were faced with a kind of quandary. I hate to think that but were they feeling apologetic about behaving in a “modern” manner? I could only smile for an answer. If I could isolate myself, the coming years are going to be demographically very interesting for sure.

But for now, the Patna of now was summed up for me by a hoarding put up by a milk food product company called Sudha . The hoarding had a football on an octopus and the caption read , “FOOT-PAUL”. It wore striking resemblance to the spoof hoardings Amul has been known to churn out so creatively through decades.
Sadly, it was imitation at its worst. And Patna will do well to learn .

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