10 April 2016

I thought about Bihar

Our yoga teacher, who hails from Bihar, always has an item of the news he'd like to discuss with us during class. Often, he gets so carried away, that he winds up talking animatedly about it, and I have to provide rejoinders from huffing and puffing on the floor. This is how I heard about the whole JNU anti-nationalist incident, how I realised what odd-even meant to most folks, and most recently, how I heard about the effect of the liquor ban was having in Bihar.

It's quite nice for someone like me, who doesn't really keep up that much with the news, to have this Talking Head, so to speak, in my living room thrice a week. His political views are almost diametrically opposed to ours, so there's often a lively debate during the stretches, while we all argue about whose way is the best.

My house help is also from Bihar, and when the yoga teacher said the liquor ban was making everyone in Bihar “dizzy,” she came out of the kitchen, clutching a dustcloth, looking anxious. “What's happened in Bihar?” she asked, and he said, “Why, they've banned alcohol,” and she looked relieved and left, but not before he had engaged her in a Whose District Is Best conversation. (I'm tempted to side with her, only because she's from Madhubani, and I've always been partial to their art.)

Despite my father being posted in that state for much of my childhood and adolescence, I don't know very much about it. I have stray, scattering memories: once of a playhouse with a thatched roof, once of his collector's bungalow in Gaya which had two tortoises in the pond outside who I called Napoleon and Josephine. Of Gaya, my memories are strong—I remember being taken to see the famous Boddhisatva tree and that large garden, and a kitten we acquired for the winter holidays which died tragically of pneumonia. I had been allowed to ask a friend to stay for the holidays, and the two of us ran in and out all day, reading and bathing in the British era bathroom complete with porcelain tub, and ending the whole vacation with a play we put on for my parents.

But then, even though my father stayed on, he preferred to come to Delhi, where my mother worked and I studied, and as I grew older, the idea of a summer with nothing to occupy me except my own fantasies grew less charming. He had been back in Delhi for two years—very important two years, because this is when cable TV and the internet first came to India—and when he was posted back there again, those two things were greater than anything Patna could offer.

Anyway, so I didn't really think about Bihar beyond the occasional reminder that it existed. My father loved his time there, but I only remember it from some long ago summers, when I was too young to consider it as a whole. But the two people who I see the most often are from that state—so obviously Bihar is tied up more with my life than I think. What do I know about it now? Not a whole lot more. Thanks to these two people—I have a bit of representation—how that state votes for instance or how long it takes to travel to your far-off district from the state capital, which gives me an idea of the geography of it.

I think it may be time for me to pay Bihar another visit—this time as someone who was reluctantly linked to it her whole life—even though I may not get a good glass of wine (let alone any kind of glass of wine). If our fates are entwined—Bihar's and mine, then it's time to get to know her a little bit.  

(a version of this appeared as my column on mydigitalfc.com)

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