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Odyssey of darkness envelops Buddhist circuit

- Night journey by road from Bodhgaya to Patna reveals grim power situation in hinterland

A journey of 130km from Bodhgaya, the site of the revered Mahabodhi Temple, to Patna is an eye-opener on why chief minister Nitish Kumar’s pledge to improve the power situation in the state by 2015 remains a distant dream.

The stretch is part of the Buddhist tourism circuit, frequented by visitors from around the world. But a ride down the highway on the evening of Wednesday left a trail of unanswered questions on whether Bihar’s people living in the hinterlands would get a reprieve from the “dark” ages.

The trail of darkness started from Gaya town. Inverters kept some roadside shops illuminated, but most of the houses along Swarajpuri Road and Station Road were dark.

Station Road resident Naveen Kumar, his wife Geetika and her cousin settled in Ahmedabad were enjoying cola at a local kiosk. “Power cuts might bother you, not us. We are used to darkness,” Geetika told her cousin.

Dubbing Nitish’s promise of not going back to the people for votes if the power situation did not improve as “a political gimmick”, Naveen said: “In reality, Nitish can do precious little on the power front.... You will perhaps not see bulbs glowing anywhere in Gaya.”

Right he was. Around 15km away, candle-lit shops along NH-83 at Bela in Belaganj block in Gaya reflected the bleak power scenario in the district. Most of the villagers appeared immune to dark nights. “This is nothing new, sir. Hamara din sham ko khatam hota hai. Dus saal pehle bhi aise tha, dus saal baad bhi shayad aisa hi rahega (Our day ends after dusk. It was the same 10 years ago. It will perhaps remain the same 10 years down the line),” said primary school teacher Kaushal Kishore, choosing potatoes at a roadside shop.

The scene was the same at Makhdumpur in Jehanabad district. Bulbs were burning bright only at a roadside liquor off-shop. Tipplers seemed to have practised to perfection the art of mixing alcohol and water in the dark alley nearby. “Our job is easier in the darkness,” said a youth as he took a swig from a bottle.

The district headquarters of Jehanabad, infamous for the 2005 jailbreak, was also pitch dark. Barring a marriage hall “illuminated by a generator” and the railway station, there was no sign of light. Anil, the driver of the car this reporter was travelling in, developed cold feet when asked to stop for tea. “Is andhere mein kahan utrenge sahib? Jehanabad zilla paar ho jane dijiye, phir chai pite hai (Why do you want to get down in this darkness? Let’s cross the Jehanabad district and we shall have tea).”

The journey continued. Flashes from headlights of vehicles coming from the opposite direction were the only bright spots in the sea of darkness that enveloped us till Dhanurwa in Masaurhi block. There, bulbs powered by generators were glowing in all the 10-12 paan (betel) and tea kiosks. The lad preparing tea at the stall said: “We have power for a couple of hours. We manage with generators.”

With renewed energy after a steaming cup of tea, the journey to the capital resumed. Around 15km off Zero Mile in Patna, the lights were back. Illuminated streets and glow signs greeted us to the state capital.

Perhaps Buddha smiled. So did we.