There are spools of mini stories in my head. I see girls frolicking about with complete abandonment. The fields beside them are lush and green speckled in yellow – the mustard effect spreading across acres. There is an easy gait and pace of life amongst the locals here that makes me envious. It’s just them gliding along on their cycles.
I see men seated on mats playing a round of cards as a cow nudges a passer-by for food when not poking its heads into unattended homes.
There’s a boy ankle deep in water in the rice fields luring a goat towards him in a dog-like manner -- with a stick.
|The easy gait|
A huge tree catches my attention which on closer inspection I realise is in fact two trees – their roots are conjoined at the bottom. But the ticket-collector in the train interrupts my flow of thoughts.
I see empty tracks running parallel alongside my train. My brain seems to be conjuring captions. And yet again I miss out on clicking yet another photograph. This seems to be my constant affliction – to click or to soak in the moment. This is what has led to the spools of stories. But I digress.
|Absorbed by the world outside|
Inside the train I watch the dexterity with which the vendors prepare and sell their edible wares; every single time. They have perfected the composition. It’s almost music-like. I, for one, have sampled everything so far. The setting sun demands my attention back to the world outside the train. I can see the setting sun’s reflection in a water body through the window opposite from me. It’s a pulsating orange.
|Nevermind the Gujarati newspaper in Bihar|
|A different kind of lemon tea|
With the lights dimming down on the outside my focus returns to things that get seemingly missed by the naked eye (let alone by the camera).
The cow nuzzling its calf…
The changing hues of the grass in all shades of green…
The little kid trailing behind struggling to keep pace with the rest of his family…
The tree beyond the haze that looks like it’s waltzing by itself…
The gaggle of swans cackling together…
I slowly switch to eavesdropping on co-travellers in the train. Politics seems to be on everyone’s mind. The same is true about family. I eavesdrop on a dad making plea requests with someone on the phone on behalf of his kid who is studying away from home.
What’s evident is that when all of the above transpired, I was traveling by train.
What isn’t evident is where this entire sequence of events transpired. After all, the picture I’ve recreated through words is very commonplace.
So what’s in a name, right?
Because the moment I tell you that everything I described is from my time solo traveling through Bihar, you’ll shoot the most quizzical look you can at me as if to suggest that such things cannot occur there.
Why? Because it’s Bihar.
Good news: You aren’t the only one.
More good news: I’ll help change that notion for you.
|Pongal in Patna - who'd have thought?!? #IncredibleIndia|
A little rewind:
“You’ll be going to Bihar” they said and in that same instant my brain oscillated between ‘Challenge accepted!’ and ‘OMG! Death knell!’
Back home, family and friends who knew what my geographic coordinates would be reassured me constantly with a ‘Be safe’, ‘Stay alert’, and ‘Take care’. Few others supplemented that with a ‘You’ll be alright’. To me all the messaging seemed to suggest one thing: As if moving to Delhi (from Mumbai) wasn’t (bad) enough, you’re now going to Bihar. And that too for a month!
Thankfully no one said that out aloud.
Contrary to what seemed like a deportation of sorts, the purpose of my stint in a state that is on nobody’s travel priority list was my Fellowship through which I’d take technology to the grassroots in India to bridge the data divide. That’s why I’d moved to Delhi. And that’s how Bihar happened.
|Just another day on the streets of Bihar|
|That I cannot recall a single instance of cat calling should say enough about Bihar.|
So what’s it been like in Bihar?
Numero Uno on the list of things to be figured out whilst moving to Bihar was accommodation. It was now more or less apparent that I’d need something of a base in Patna. I dig homestays but there wasn’t one I could find here.
Through Divine Intervention (no pun intended), I found an abode with some nuns. For a brief moment my life felt straight out of the scene from Jab We Met where Kareena’s character lives with some nuns in Manali; except I wasn’t going through heartbreak. Sure I’d left behind a place I called home and everything else I was familiar with when I moved to Delhi so in the process I may have ruptured a few ventricles in either heart valve! But I digress…
So while the nuns ensured I had hot piping meals, all the blankets I’d need to stay warm through the wintery nights and figured my way commuting through Patna, in return I could merely help with fixing loose computer cords (reasons why the keyboard wouldn’t type), fixing fonts (why Hindi would read as gibberish) and figuring out why the radio app wouldn’t play on the smartphone!
|My humble abode in Patna|
It could be Bihar’s geographic location in what’s come to be known as the ‘notorious north’ that puts it in this awkward bind and perhaps the demeanour of its people that one is intimidated by everything about it.
But back on the streets of Patna, where I found myself 80% of the time navigating my way from one NGO to the next, people were not just approachable but extremely helpful. I could walk up to anyone – be it a passer-by, the fellow at the pan shop or the auto-rickshaw driver. It was seldom, if ever, a matter of ‘let me see who looks safe to walk up to’.
So what happened when I walked up to a local to seek directions?
a. They’d direct me on exactly how I needed to get there, or
b. They’d smile sheepishly (mostly men) or apologize (mostly women) if they are unable to help out.
|Everyone everywhere in all of Bihar was just as approachable|
I would end up being on the go throughout the entire day. So I’d figure my meals on the go too; especially lunch. While on most days eating at a road-side food stall would suffice there were days when my hunger pangs demanded a more fulsome meal.
That’s how I entered a dabba one afternoon found myself a seat at a table already occupied by two men and placed my order. A couple of seconds later my brain registered something: I was the only female at the dabba! I voraciously wolfed down my meal – aloo gobi with butter roti – chomped on a few radish slices and then I was off again.
|The infamous litthi-chokha|
|And droolicious sweets from Dakbangla Road in Patna|
So there, for all the eyes that were rolled and gasps that were let out (mine included) Bihar belied them all. And if there’s anything besides my experience that’s been stuck in my head, it’s a Twain quote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
|In my quest to #ExperienceHumanity, here's the everywhere I've been in Bihar|
|Making the most of public transport within and around Patna|
|My auto-rickshaw came with woofers. Does yours?|
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P.S.: SocialCops (www.socialcops.org) is accepting applications for the next cohorts of its Himsagar Fellowship starting May and July. If traveling far and wide to meet local organizations in remote parts of the country and creating a voice for communities that have never been heard before sounds like something you’d be interested in – application details are here. (http://fellowship.socialcops.org)