Shekhar Gupta, in the Indian Express, last Saturday, echoed some of my sentiments about Bihar (though I disapprove of the headline 'Stirrings in a Hopeless Land'... who's hopeless? Not the people of Bihar, definitely!).
Bihar is beautiful.
Well, not all of it. The killings aren't pretty. The Ranvir Sena or the Maoist extremists and other private armies aren't pretty. The breakdown of infrastructure is sad. (When I drove through the state, I finally understood the phrase - gaddhhe mein sadak - meaning, the road in the potholes. There was no road! Only a series of disjointed potholes. The drive would have been easier if there had been a kuchha dirt path, instead of a badly constructed tar-road).
But for all that, Bihar is pretty.
I loved the way the women held their heads high; unlike Rajasthani women, their faces are open. Their shoulders are thrown back, as if they cannot be shamed into submission. Worked to the bone, perhaps, but not cowed down.
I loved the way the mud huts blended into the landscape - brown, small, self-contained - like the people themselves. I loved the morning glories blossoming wild on the rooftops. And the way the pumpkins and Torai creepers wound their delicate tendrils on thatched rooftops.
I loved the little puddles and the small village ponds, with the ducks in them. The fields beyond, lined with mustard, ready to burst into sunshine colours. There's a vulnerability to the landscape here, mixed with a malleable optimism. I love the dark stretches that show no sign of having known the human touch. I love the fact that high speed-breakers are built on a road, which cuts across fields, with water-pipes running underneath the speed-breaker. I love their bright rickshaws.
There's a lot to love about Bihar, really.
But, as Shekhar Gupta mentioned too, most people bad-mouth the state without ever having visited it. Bihar apparently stands as a byword for the worst in India - a total breakdown of law and order, a messy political wrestling-pit, infrastructure in a soup, flight of talent and a total lack of confidence.
I'm not saying, things are great. I'm sure every person who's been to Bihar has his/her own favourite horror tale that he/she recounts with great relish at social dinners. I'm also sure these are true stories.
But things are equally bad in other parts of the country. Bihar doesn't deserve so much negativite publicity. My friend Reshu's daddy, Manoje Nath (who is also a cop) points out, the average Bihari is a prisoner of his own image. He lives and works in Bihar and deals with the worst the state has to offer. And if he can find beauty and hope in the place, the rest of us should just shut up and help, instead of cribbing about the place and its people.