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.
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, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/grassroots-heroes-lead-rural-revolution-of-bihar/1/168028.html