|One of Aurangabad’s many pink buildings. (Below) A Shiva temple in the town. Pictures by Deepak Kumar
The zaniest thing about Aurangabad is the boring sameness.
It hits you as soon as you enter the dusty south Bihar town on the Grand Trunk Road.
The highway dhaba with the huge truck parked before it is pink. So is the small schoolhouse a few yards away. And the cluster of houses across the road could not have got that gaudy coat of pink more than five months ago.
And so on and on. Walk down the town’s main road, or dive into its bylanes, pink walls stare at you from everywhere — faded pink, gaudy pink, shocking pink.
Can there have been a mistake' Perhaps this is Jaipur, the Rajasthan city that Maharaja Ram Singh had painted from head to toe in the colour of the blush to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876.
But no, this is Aurangabad for sure, ringed not by forts and palaces but by the jungles of Palamau, the stamping ground not of foreign tourists but Maoist guerrillas.
Does the key then lie in Aurangabad’s reputation as “Bihar’s Chittaurgarh”, whose former Rajput landlords still trace their lineage from the royals of Rajasthan'
“No, it’s because of the Maoists that we are a pink city today,” explained Ravindra Singh of JK Motels.
Or rather, because of one man’s search for a way to lift the town’s sagging morale as crime and militancy pushed it to the edge of despair.
It’s just about a year ago that, as the area’s sub-divisional officer, Arvind Kumar Singh, had had his big idea: the way to make the residents feel proud of their town again was to wield the paintbrush all over it.
Singh, transferred to Mungher in January, said the idea came to him after a visit to Jaipur in January 2006. “What better colour than pink, which symbolises good mood, soothing sight and good feelings' Pink also fosters communal amity and harmony.”
The inevitable smirks, raised eyebrows and, sometimes, downright resistance followed. But within weeks, the SDO’s enthusiasm had infected the whole town.
By May, more than half of Aurangabad — shops, houses, schools and hotels — presented a rosy picture. The more circumspect waited till October, not willing to take a chance with the rains.
Most government buildings — the collectorate and the offices of the district magistrate and the police chief — stayed yellow like before but the SDO practised what he preached at his daftar.
When his transfer order arrived, the official left the town 90 per cent pink.
A few weeks of life after Singh, however, have been enough for the town’s resolve to start fading like the last skin of paint on its walls.
“We won’t give another coat of pink to our shop after the rainy season. What’s the use'” said Satish Kumar Singh, a seller of iron rods and pipes on the town’s main road.
The “pink movement” is dying, agreed Sushil Kumar Singh, the former Aurangabad MP who, too, has given the facade of his mansion a layer of pink.
“The reason is, it was just a psychological tactic to keep morale up, not a realistic solution to our problems. After the SDO’s transfer, there’s no one to peg away at people to keep the city pink,” the Janata Dal (United) leader said.
“The idea was well-intentioned but utopian. The government and the people will have to take up realistic socio-economic and administrative measures to stamp out Maoism.”
The signs of health, if not its colour, slowly deserting the city become obvious as one travels through Aurangabad, one of the state’s most backward regions. Ramshackle thatched houses and scrawny, half-starved people line the rutted Aurangabad-Rafiganj-Patna road.
And in every mind lurks the fear that the Maoists, who killed 500 between 1987 and 2000, would return to carry out another Nonahi-Nagma or Laxmanpur Bathe.
The lull in rebel strikes during the pink movement was just a coincidence, said Anil Singh, a contractor. The real reason was Nitish Kumar coming to power.
“Besides, contractors and builders are paying taxes to the Maoists regularly. We have bought peace with money and obedience.”
“Yes, all of us are still living at the mercy of the Maoists,” MLA Sushil Singh agreed.
The man who used the town as a canvas for his vision, utopian or not, has taken it stoically.
“It was a novel and well-intentioned move. I had formed a committee of citizens to carry out the pink movement,” Arvind Singh said over the phone from Mungher. “It’s up to my successors in office and the residents now to keep the ‘pink city’ identity alive.”
District magistrate Virendra Kumar Pandey said he wouldn’t let the dream die. “The administration is still encouraging people to give their houses a coat of pink. The government has instructed us to paint all the 100 school buildings coming up under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in pink.”
But townsfolk don’t care any more. Arvind Singh’s “people’s committee” stands dissolved.
“Aurangabad needs better law and order, prosperity, electricity and peace, not a Jaipur gloss,” iron-pipe seller Satish Singh said.
Motel owner Ravindra Singh didn’t even want to discuss the subject. “Yeh sab drama zyade din nahin chalta (such dramas don’t last long).”
The first flush of excitement gone, Aurangabad is blushing with embarrassment.