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Bihar, the mansion that feeds on animal fear

Khagaria, April 28: The Muslim buyers at the Maunsi cattle-fair off NH 31 were excited to hear that I was from Calcutta. They had just bought two goats from the kisans who come to sell cattle and goats from the villages around Maunsi, to send them off to Rajabazar and Narkeldanga.

Their larger vans have all been taken away for election work, so cows are off the road to Calcutta for the moment. A herd of cows with immense horns ambled towards us, their necks strung together, looking bored and vaguely hassled. Their owner Rahil had failed to sell them.

When I went to talk to him, he looked terribly scared and immediately took out the receipts to show that he had paid taxes for what he had sold at the fair. He took me to be a tax inspector. This was not the first time I saw this look of helpless, cringing fear in Bihar.

I took out my camera, and the moment I tried to photograph the marvellous row of bovine heads, these abstracted creatures suddenly looked completely focused and came charging at me with their heads bent low. It was my turn to be terrified. As I ran with my camera, I heard Rahil and the buyers clapping their hands and shouting merrily: “Yehi hai Bihar, Kalkatta-babu, yehi hai Bihar.” Even the most downtrodden and fearful of Biharis have an absurdist sense of the madness conjured up by the very word “Bihar”. Terror and comedy mingle endlessly here.

Speaking of terror, the Muslim buyers all seemed to agree that their local RJD candidate’s bhatija, Rana Yadav, terrorised them more than Gujarat did, the saga of which, including Best Bakery, they kept up with. When a Muslim vyapari in Rana’s village protested against his extorting money from him, Rana had simply said: “Ei miyan, kya bolta hai, duniya se saaf kar dunga!” It was these men at the fair who directed me to Narayanpur in Khagaria district. They wanted me to see the castle that Rana Yadav’s chacha had built in that village. This man, the Khagaria RJD candidate, is Dr Ravindra Kumar Rana. He is one of the main accused in the fodder scam case, said to have amassed assets worth Rs 7.56 crore.

So we drove through the sunflower fields until we spotted from far the high towers of Dr Rana’s palace. It was at the entrance to Narayanpur village, looking like a nightmare of opulence in red and green, with brightly coloured synthetic saris hanging out to dry in long, gay festoons, and the drive-in packed with cars. A narrow, impossibly bumpy little road led into the village from the mansion.

Just outside its walls was a clutch of hovels where the Doms and their swine cohabited. We stopped a man limping along the little road and asked the way to the Dusadh colony. Again that look of animal fear. He thought we were from the mansion. His lips actually shook as he told us that he was just a Mochi going to the market, and scampered away.

We got to where the Dusadhs and the Mochis lived, in two adjacent colonies. Each sported a matriculate, who was hastily summoned to speak to us. The Mochis make chappals and are miserably in debt. The Dusadh Paswans are mostly migrant labourers.

Six men from this colony had been massacred in Assam recently. Those who managed to flee fondly remembered a Bengali labourer who had hidden them in his house and helped them run away. They all lived in Indira Awas ruins, having managed to recover after 10 years Rs 9,000 of the promised Rs 20,000, and that too after paying a Rs 1,500 “commission”. They get virtually no electricity, and Dr Rana never comes their way. When I asked what they thought of Rabri Devi, they all broke into semi-indulgent titters, and immediately turned to their wives hovering just outside the gathering of men. A frail young boy piped out his vision of the RJD: “Mota ko mota, gareeb ko gareeb.”

I asked them about the fodder scam. They knew of Dr Rana’s role in it, but they all again broke into giggles while talking about it. One of their boys had become an RJD volunteer with cap and badge. They pulled him in, tore off his cap and horsed about with him in mock brutality: “Chara ghotala' Yeh sala hai chara ghotala!” Then the inevitable happened. Two Yadavs came on their bicycles, quite obviously from the Rana’s palace, and stopped by. The shutters fell on the Paswans’ faces, the stories changed. The village lacked nothing: the roads were excellent, vikas rules and the chara ghotala is a set of false accusations: “Nirdosh Yadav ko galat phasaya.”

The tone of voice, the quality of laughter and the expressions on the faces — all changed with the Yadavs’ entry. Even the two matriculates suddenly looked baffled and benighted. I realised then that the best form of equivocation for them is to do the “clueless voter” act: “Kisi ko gira denge…”

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