Archive for the ‘Bihar’ Category

(Just thought I’d post this piece for posterity and for the record. This is the original piece sent to Tehelka, which was abridged for publication. It appeared on July 12, 2014. The link to that story is here.

Genes are a mysterious element in our system. It’s funny how they work behind-the-scenes.

My parents separated when I was around three or four, so whatever I heard about my father was from my mother – that he used to be a politician, journalist, lecturer. If there was more she didn’t tell me, and if she did, I was too young to remember. I only saw him as and when he occasionally dropped in at our place in Bhagalpur from Patna over the weekend, stayed the night and left in the morning. He scared me, because he had a volatile temper and used it at anyone and everyone, for any random reason. In my teens, I learnt he was a socialist and politician, who had been close to the late Jaya Prakash Narayan. Also, that his father had disowned him, when he joined the freedom struggle. Apart from that I didn’t know much else, and didn’t care. As I grew old enough to think for myself, I knew he was what I never wanted to be.

My first brush with journalism was when I was fourteen. I wrote an angry letter to a film magazine about a film I saw. They published it. I was shocked. Even more shocked when they sent me a cheque for 50 bucks. That was my brief flirtation with journalism, because I ended up working in the hotel industry in the 1980s.

In my twenties, rebellious and unemployed, a friend offered me a sub editor’s job at a local daily in Pune. I grabbed it. My father once came from Patna and asked me if I would ever become a News Editor. I said I didn’t know. I was a trainee sub editor earning 600 rupees. In the thirteen years after that, I became Assistant Editor of the daily. Then in 1994 my father passed away and neither I nor anyone from my family went for his funeral. It wasn’t possible anyway although I flew in to see him a week before he died. I don’t know who performed his last rites.

From Assistant Editor in a single-edition newspaper in Pune to a Chief Copy Editor at a seven-edition national newspaper in Chandigarh, to a Deputy News Editor at the same newspaper in Lucknow, I was now running the news desk. The day the editor called me to hand over the letter appointing me News Editor of the Lucknow edition, I broke down in her cabin.

Some years later, I settled again in Pune. I had quit journalism and gone into corporate communication. I took up teaching on a friend’s advice.  After all, twenty years was a long time to be in journalism. At my first lecture at a local college, I froze. Thankfully, that never happened again. I’ve been teaching journalism and occasionally PR for seven years now and a few hundred youngsters around the country are now my ex-students.

Then, like everyone else interested in writing, I began blogging (, even as I returned to journalism a few years back. One day I was trolling the worldwide web and out of sheer curiosity I typed out my father’s name, and something popped out that left me stunned and turned my world upside down.

It was my father’s bio data in a book on the politicians from Bihar. It read: Educated in Darbhanga, Patna, Banaras and London; Left studies to join the non-cooperation movement, 1920; Assistant Editor and later Editor, Desh, 1921-23; Sub-Editor, Searchlight, 1924; Went to England for higher study and law, 1926-31; took part in the Civil Disobedience Movement, arrested and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, 1934-35; founder member, Bihar Socialist Party, 1934; Secretary, Bihar Socialist party, 1935-36; taught in Kashi Vidyapeeth, 1936; Editor Sangharsh, 1937-48; Secretary, UP Congress Socialist Party; Principal National High School, Lucknow, 1939-42; participated in Quit India Movement, 1942; arrested and detained, 1943-45; member, National Executive, Socialist Party, 1948; Editor Janata, 1948-69; member Praja Socialist Party, 1955-69; left politics and resumed teaching at Patna; died in 1994.

Truth be told, I really didn’t know my father at all.

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 28, Dated 12 July 2014)


I was reading a Facebook status update about train passengers in Patna without confirmed reservations who barged into a reserved compartment and locked themselves in, thereby effectively denying legitimate ticket-holders entry into the bogey! There are only two States in the country where such a thing can happen – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh!

I remember writing a blog post after the Assembly elections when Lalu and Rabri were given marching orders by the electorate in 2010 and Nitish took over. I had also said in that blog post that it would take Nitish at least two decades to put the State back on the road to some semblance of prosperity.  After that, I had heard that Bihar had been changing for the better. For Nitish Kumar it must have been like climbing Mount Everest.

His biggest problem would have been to change the mindset of people who have lived in the belief that if they want something that is not theirs they don’t ask if they can have it, they just take it. In other words, the Goonda culture. That is Lalu’s legacy which has filtered down to the man on the street in Bihar. The kidnappings, murders, etc are all part of that legacy. And that is what I hoped, Nitish would change. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening, though I sincerely hope I am wrong.

So when I read the FB update I remembered an incident during a trip back from then Calcutta to Bombay sometime in the mid 1980s. When the train reached Kiul there were just four of us in that IIIrd sleeper compartment, which meant that at Patna, there were berths reserved for the rest who would be boarding. What happened next was a fascinating replay of what happens at most railway stations in the East and North on any given day. Those with reservations got in and got comfortable. Then a train conductor appeared outside and shouted to those clamouring for a seat or berth to form a queue. I marvelled at the order he had managed to put things in.

Then he stuck both hands out and as passengers trooped in, they put money in the TC’s palm! I watched mesmerised. It was like clockwork — opening his palms, closing his palms once the money was in, putting his hands in his coal pockets, and then pulling them out for the next round. He soon got tired and called for help to pocket all the money! There are, I think around 74 berths in a IIIrd sleeper, but there must have been at least double that number in the compartment before the train left Patna.

I took down his badge number and name and on my return to Pune, wrote a letter to the railway minister. About a year later I got a reply from the ministry, which stated that they had conducted an inquiry and found that there was no TC with that name or number on that route, and no such person at Patna Junction either! The letter helpfully added that since I was sure of the TC’s identity they would be having an identification parade at Danapur Junction on a given date, so I should be present.

I wrote back to the railway minister telling him that I wouldn’t be attending any ID parade, because after a year it would be impossible for me to identify a man I saw on a dimly lit Patna Station. I added that having been born and lived in Bihar I knew exactly what could happen to me, if I ever landed up there to identify a crook!

It is these incidents that have given Bihar a bad name. So let’s hope for Nitish’s sake, that whatever happened at Patna Junction recently was an isolated incident, and not a sign of things to come – or return, to what they were during Lalu’s time.

Yesterday while watching a Hindi news channel, I came across a clip of a voter being interviewed. This guy was a non-resident Indian, who hadn’t missed a Bihar election since he migrated to the US some 40 years ago. During every election he flew down to Bihar and cast his vote. When asked why he did it, he said “I love my state, love my town Darbhanga, and consider it my duty to vote.”

Bihar is going to elect a new chief minister and both Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are expecting to win. For someone who spent his first nine years in that chaotic place, I won’t be surprised if even that happens! I generally have a very low opinion of Bihar and very few good things to say about it, whenever I’m asked, because I think, and so do a lot of others, that it’s beyond repair.

I don’t know how good a chief minister Nitish Kumar is, but Biharis tell me that Bihar has changed for the better ever since he took over and he is doing his damndest to restore some sanity there. But the problem is that politicians before him have so totally ravaged its resources that there is very little left to salvage. It’s a bit like pumping life-saving drugs into someone in the final stages of cancer. If Dr. Nitish Kumar can cure Bihar of this terminal illness it would be a miracle. So, unlike the conscientious Bihari from the US, I am, unfortunately, unable to generate that kind of enthusiasm for the place.

I too was born in a small town of Bihar called Bhagalpur, and till my father’s death in 1995, we owned ancestral property in Darbhanga. When I flew down to Patna from Mumbai in 1994, to visit my critically ill father in Darbhanga, I don’t think I was prepared for what I was about to experience. From the time I got off at Varanasi airport to the time I finally left Patna, it was one unpleasant experience after another.

I was hit by an overbearing stench as I exited Patna Junction well after midnight looking for a hotel. The reason for this was that the conservancy workers were demanding a pay hike and thought the best way to bring that to the notice of the government was to pile up garbage over a foot high on the road leading to the town from Patna Junction. Then there was a power cut in the town and only the big hotels could afford to keep the power running. I was stuck in one that couldn’t.

The next day I set off for Darbhanga and on the way my brother’s friend gave me an account of the horror stories about the badlands of Bihar. About how kidnapping had become a way of life; how the ministers and other high profile politicians were themselves in on the cut from the kidnappers; how businessmen were now keeping hired guns and electronic surveillance in their homes for protection; how women were abducted when they were travelling with their husbands, whisked away at gunpoint and raped.

(I did have one pleasant experience in Patna sometime in the early 1990s when I was returning from a friend’s place. As I was looking for a rickshaw to take me back to my sister’s place in Pataliputra Colony, I was stopped at a police post. I had downed a few and the cop could obviously smell the whisky on my breath. When the questioning began to get a little interrogative, I said I was a journalist. Immediately the questioning stopped, and the cop asked me to get into a parked Maruti Gypsy and set off. I had no clue where he was headed till he asked me the house number. I realised I was on a familiar road and he soon stopped the Gypsy at my sister’s place! I wondered what would have happened if I had not disclosed I was a scribe.)

So as as we reached Kansi Simri, it seemed like any semblance of civilisation had been left far behind. Filth and squalor greeted us as we made our way to the village. My father’s palatial house was, itself, crumbling and I think it mirrored the general decay of the place. I mean if the ‘zamindar’ of the land was living in such a dilapidated surroundings, what could you expect from his village?

One evening I decided to go walkabout in the village and was even more appalled by what I saw. After nearly fifty years if this is what our villages had been reduced to, I thought there was something drastically wrong with our system. I could see the hunger and deprivation in the eyes of the naked children playing in the dirt. They say a hungry man is an angry man. How long, I wondered, before someone decided they had had enough and picked up a gun?

You could blame the politicians for fanning the flames, but do you think anyone would turn to violence as a means to an end, unless he realised that all other avenues were closed, and the gun was his last act of desperation. I asked a couple of villagers why they never approached the collector or the local leaders for help and they shrugged their shoulders. That said it all – complete apathy by the administration and a slow and hardening realisation that it was each man for himself and the devil take hindmost. Can you blame them for turning naxal?

They say people get the government they deserve. For years, people conned by his mantra of social justice, voted Laloo to power. All he did in the decade or so when he was CM was to fill his pockets and completely bastardize the post of the chief minister. If the people of Bihar vote Laloo and his cohorts back to power, they deserve no better than to wallow in the poverty and criminal way of life that had become a hallmark during his time.