Sunday, December 12, 2010

DAY 71 – In Patna

Santhosh, the driver of JD Goswami, Member Technical of the Railway Claims Tribunal, passed on the following wisdom to me yesterday, while driving me to the sights of Patna.
·         “Patna mein sab ghunge aur behere hain” (In Patna, all are deaf and dumb).
·         “Gaya mein bina ped ka pahad, bina dimag ka aadmi aur bina pani ka shehar hai” (Gaya has hills without trees, people without brains and a town without water).
·         “Hit the auto before it hits you”.
Spitting, pissing and honking are the most visible to an outsider visiting Patna. The gents of this city indulge in these three without remorse, regardless of the situation, environment or company. In fact, many times one will mistake these to be group activities. It is not uncommon to see the driver of an auto or car, duly opening the door of the vehicle in motion, to disgorge a small waterfall of red liquid, the result of a severe pounding of beetle leaves and nuts in a constantly engaged mouth. Just as in urinating, the place or the company is totally irrelevant. The city of Patna must be the most noise polluted city in the country, with the cacophony of horns to be heard for miles. It must be conditioning for the honking produces absolutely no results as the human beings and cattle on the roads behave in just the manner they wish to and are unmoved by the sounds generated. There is not even a glance to see the reason for the honking. The mix of traditional and modern means of transportation makes the navigation through the city torturous – hand carts, carts drawn by bovines and horses, cycle ricks, autos, all crowd the same road. One thing that strikes you as you cross over to Bihar is the simplicity of the people and the respect they have for others. All through my stay in the State I did not hear a ‘Thum’ or a ‘Tu’ in a conversation; it was always ‘Aap’. The respect with which a boss treats his subordinate is another remarkable feature of this State; the welfare of the latter and his comfort is always the concern of the former.
I experienced this with KD Sharma, the officer deputed by Deepak to take me around the sights outside Patna. We had decided on a 7 am start to be back before dark. However, the driver Raju arrived an hour and a half late; his excuse was accepted without any exchange of hot words. On the way, Sharma enquired of Raju if he had had his breakfast. When Raju replied in the negative, Sharma took a break at Dhaniyawah (despite being late), for a cup of tea and to provide breakfast for Raju. The shop of Sanjay Kumar is where we stopped over. He claimed that the ‘Litte and Chowki’ that he serves is ‘international’. Raju accepted it to be very good and the tea was definitely good. Sanjay Kumar was a driver for many years and got ‘grounded’ due to kidney disease.
PK Mishra was our guide for the Nalanda tour. He explained that ‘Nalam’, Lotus, stands for the power of learning and ‘Da’ is ‘to give’. Hence, Nalanda was the place where the power of learning was passed on. The excavations till date provide proof of the existence of Nalanda between the 5th and the 12th century AD. Belief is that Nalanda is much older, but the fragility of the area does not permit further excavations to prove its correct vintage. The excavated area of 1 sq km gives a fair idea of the life in the great seat of learning at the time. It is reputed to have been host to 10,000 monks and 2,000 teachers at any time. The rooms of the inhabitants, the teaching centers, the prayer area, the walkways, the temples are all remarkable structures in brick. The Great Stupa is the centerpiece of the ruins. The Chinese traveler Hueng Tsang lived and taught here for 6 years in the 7th century and reportedly transported 657 Satras to China, thereby spreading Buddhism in that land. The libraries in Nalanda were so extensive that they burned for 6 months when it was ransacked and put to flames in the 12th century by Khilji.
Rajgir is an important destination for Jains and Buddhists with Mahavira and Buddha having spent a lot of time here. The ‘Sona Bhandar’ is reputed to be an impregnable double locker of Bimbisara. The caves show definite indications of doors; they cannot be opened, even cannon balls had no effect. There are some inscriptions in the caves, which is supposed to be the ‘key’ to the doors – a la Indiana Jones. A short distance away is the Chariot wheel marks and shell inscriptions. The Chariot is reputed to be that of Krishna and the inscriptions date back to the Mahabharata period.
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is divine. This is where Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree. The original was cut down by Ashoka’s wife, being jealous of his attention to it (nothing new?). However, a sapling of the original tree was carried to Anuradhapura by Sanghamitta, the daughter of Ashoka. Later a cutting from the tree provided another at the site where it now stands. The site of Buddha’s enlightenment is known as Vajrasan or Diamond Throne. The original temple was built by Ashoka over which the present temple was built in the 6th century. Devotees and pilgrims from all over the world have congregated at the temple for the ‘Tipitaka Chanting’ under the Bodhi Tree between the 2nd and 20th of December. The entire temple premise is an ocean of red and yellow, with rhythmic chanting resonating all around. The Temple area has a large garden with two huge bells and facilitates meditation. While leaving the temple I got my name inscribed on a grain of rice.
The 80 feet statue of the Buddha is awesome. The statue has 10 of his disciples standing in attendance all around the Buddha. A couple of samosas and tea was what was required to start the return journey to Patna. After that we travelled through Jehanabad and its surroundings where people would not venture out after dark till five years ago. Today the road is busy and there is traffic all through the night. One could also see police patrols all along the journey. One more reason to toast the CM. Sharma stopped at a small shop at Dhanruya to make me sample ‘Lai’, the local sweet. I was hooked instantaneously and bought a half kg of it. Litte and Lai are definite takeaways from the Bihar sojourn.

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