Friday, 10 February 2012

Interesting Finds from Bihar

10 February 2012

These are some interesting things I saw, found or experienced while in Bihar last month. They were there irrespective of me so I can only claim that I found them very interesting, they caught my attention, left an imprint in my mind and made me write about them.

1. Potato is one of the major crops in Bihar. More than all the other states and communities, Biharis know how to treat their potatoes when it is time to eat them. Be it a simple vegetable preparation made by a housewife or some Sino-Indian fusion dish like Potato Chilly at a family restaurant in Gaya, one can relish the original taste of potatoes.

2. I had never came across discussion about Bihar as a popular tourist destination, but for those interested in history especially Buddhist history Bihar can be a really great place to be. Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Nalanda form a beautiful tourist circuit. The origin of Buddhist cave art for which Maharashtra is famous first started at Barabar caves near Gaya.


Barabar Caves, first of the Buddhist caves in India

3. Be it Assam, Maharashtra, Goa or Karnataka, migration of Biharis to many parts of India has been expressed as a concern. Certainly there have been disturbances with huge masses of these distressed people going to those places. But as against that I met two very interesting Maharashtrians who are earning their livelihoods in Bihar. Now this is something special when Maharashtrians are certainly not known for their entrepreneurial ventures in non Marathi areas.

a. While in Bodhgaya, after hearing our Marathi, the restaurant owner introduced us to a young, short and fair person clad in dhoti. Being a very cold night he had covered himself in shawl. He was looking at us without speaking a word. The restaurant owner told us that he is from Ratnagiri. I looked at him suspiciously since my native is from Ratnagiri and I did not expect it. The person spoke at last in his nasal but perfect Marathi. His name was Balu Marathe. His ancestors settled in Gaya 200 years ago. Their family has been working as priests for Maharashtrian families coming to Gaya for performing funeral rites. He was happy to meet a person with surname Patwardhan (me) since his mother came from Patwardhan family in Varanasi. He invited me to visit their place but I could not make since my visit was official one and my schedule did not allow me.

b. Again on another night in another restaurant in Bodhgaya. We came across one person who was taking some foreigners around. He was talking with the waiters and restaurant owners in Bihari form of Hindi. He heard us talking in Marathi and started talking with us in Marathi and told us that he was from Nagpur. Bodhgaya receives lot of Maharashtrian Buddhist pilgrims. He has now settled himself in Bodhgaya in the business of making arrangements for these Maharashtrian pilgrims but has also found his another niche by providing service to foreigner tourists. What I liked most was his expertise in dealing with people and fluency in all the languages he was using Bihari Hindi, Marathi and also English.

4. Bihar’s another very delicious sweet is Khaja. It is a crispy puff (like Khari we get in Mumbai) with sugar syrup thrown on it.. There is also one savoury version of it. Silav, a place near Nalanda is famous for it. Every shop in Silav advertises that its Khaja is unique. One of the shop advertises that their Khaja has been appreciated during a festival in Mauritius. I could not bring it back since carrying those puffs in unbroken conditions for days of my travel was difficult. If you happen to go to Nalanda, don’t miss this.


Khaja Shop at Silav, Nalanda (Photo courtsey: Mr. Kiran Padale)

5. Southern part of Bihar is a drought prone area which receives 900-1000 mm of rainfall annually. From the ancient times, people in this part of Bihar, called as Magadh, have built a complex system of canals called Ahar Pyne. Ahar is a water storage body and Pyne means canals. Water is diverted to Ahars. These are spread on very big areas sometimes few hacters. The water is then distributed through a complex network of Pynes. Many times these Pynes also feed the water to other Ahars. The water from Ahars serve two major purposes, one is irrigation and the other is recharging of ground water. Due to various reasons in the last 50 years, the majority of the systems have become inefficient or altogether defunct. This has led to a crisis. Many NGO’s are now working towards revival of these systems. If restored and developed, it will be a great boost to the entire economy of Magadh.


A Pyne

6. As per my opinion, the current poverty problem of rural Bihar is rooted in two main reasons. Huge social inequalities and very low land holding due to excess of population. There are various ways of addressing the first problem. One of which might be Maoism or Naxalism. This is not my area of expertise so I won’t write anything on this. The other problem can also be a scope for introducing technologies which are highly remunerative but very much labour intensive. One notable thing has happened in Bihar is that Sumant Kumar, a farmer from Gaya has made world record in rice productivity. Check this link for this and many other promising stories from Magadh,


Monday, 6 February 2012

Not in Buddha’s Bihar

27 January 2012
Well, this is not the right mood to start a blog post but I am writing this since I have some free time to pass and my writing instinct tells me to do so. I had got dysentery in the morning and I am right now sitting in a lobby of an average rated hotel which is most probably one of the few better ones in Gaya, Bihar. The hotel owner has not allowed me to extend my stay by two hours over the regular check out time in spite of my repeated requests. I have taken medicine and my problem has come under control now. I can manage myself well but my vehicle is going to pick me up after two hours as per the new schedule. Somebody said to me while doing my project visit that in Bihar that people have very little sensitivity towards others especially when they are dealing with strangers or unknown people. My current experience has accorded that statement. I have now developed a firm negative perception of Bihar which I had tried not to carry when I started off.
My work took me first to Bodhgaya. This holy place, where Gautama became Buddha, is a very big international tourist destination and the sight for pilgrimage for Buddhists. The road from Patna to Bodhgaya is the one which gave me my first impression of Bihar. It seemed that whole of Patna is built on the puddles filled with all sorts of garbage. In the alleys were roaming the dirtiest pigs in the country. The children were playing on the street in spite of this filthy surrounding. Majority of the people on the roads were either just idly sitting or seemed to be roaming purposely. The villages which I visited as part of my work also showed the same picture of poverty with no signs of prosperity anywhere. Even the few houses in the villages which were looking better than others gave a sense of decay rather than freshness. The women and men both looked highly anaemic. While on the road, I could see little signs of new development which one sees in majority of the places in India. We drove on bumpy roads which were connected by age old single lane bridges, majority of which were closed for heavy vehicles. Near one of the rail line I came across a railway coach in a derailed and upside down condition. That reminded me of frequent news about rail accidents which we always get from Bihar.
Bodhgaya presented a different mosaic altogether.  This town is visited by tourists from all over the world. At the Buddhist temples and monasteries, it was all dominated by monks in red or saffron. Many of the Buddhist monasteries from different countries were beautifully constructed and with absolutely clean and pleasantly designed courtyards. From Japan to Sri Lanka, Buddhists from many countries have set up their bases at this place. But moment I got out on the streets, I found that peace was turning into disgust. There were beggars running after pilgrims and there were mounds of trash just over the corner. During the evening, just outside the temple I saw drunkards, mostly locals, fighting with each other.
The centre of attraction in Bodhgaya was of course the Mahabodhi temple which presented a sharp contrast to any other pilgrimage sight in India I had ever seen. It was dominated not by the agents of worship but by the devotees themselves. I am not a religious person but I found this sight very spiritual. It was a very cold winter morning. The temple premises were filled with pilgrims and around all the three sides of the temple monks, were sitting systematically in rows and there were guided prayers. However my eye could not miss a huge part of the crowd mostly composed of the locals speaking local Hindi but clad in red clothes trying to disguise themselves as monks and not at all praying but more sitting expectantly like beggars. They were laughing amongst themselves and talking about the food which will be distributed shortly. I realised that I was not any more in Bihar where Buddha was enlightened.