Love takes me back to Patna when I am hellbent on hating it.
First, we didn't have good roads, a decent state of law and order, universities without good teachers. Now, we have the city in a grand churning of sorts - flyovers, roads, Malls, restaurants, pubs.
The city is in a state of flux - where to be and where not to be. Patna, like many of its migrants, is facing an identity crisis of sorts. Where to be, then, is the question of the moment - whether it should stop being a city which kept development out with its potholes, rising crime graph, chauvinistic sense of superiority, political pride in its Lalu brand of socialism, and fight back to be the city which allowed its people on its streets for nights spent on roads during festivals when people would feel one in walking - from one pandaal to another, where festivals will be more than just celebration around religious rituals, where festivals would also showcase popular art in all possible forms and a city which will go out of its way to embrace/accommodate/accept people, or just stand still?
Not the land of my birth, or the scintillating city of the scenic lakes or the singing pigeons, Patna still shapes my identity. In my 20 years at the place where I grew up half-sleeping, half-reading, I haven't spotted a single eye-candy pigeon. There are noisy cycle-rickshaws, women and men on roads including cattle, and loud autos. I can vaguely remember cuckoo and koels on the mango trees in our house. But not a single pigeon, like the ones at the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
Patna-lovers may prove me wrong, though.
Poems can, therefore, be written only on the cuckoos, or the cows with large, weepy eyes or the drunken elephants in the circus. For variety, one may go to the Patna zoo. But If I were to make a choice, it would always be the Toy Train that even adults love to piggyback on.
I have read novels on Patna, but the city, certainly, is much more. Its soul, its ruthless magic, its simmering angst, aborted dreams - I still await a book to narrate it to me.
I am looking for glimpses of a biker-girl who evoked awe, scorn, teasers from pedestrians when she set out for college, or on way to the British Libraray, melted in the rains as others gasped in horror. There is a smug charm in being so rebellious, so headstrong in that city. After hitting home, would there be endless caveats on how not to forget raincoats ever when it is not raining, or to pop Vicks action 500 when you sneeze? Or, would the act be simply ignored? I want a text to answer this for me.
I am so hungry, and I would say for donkey years, for the delicious murabba from Sweet Home and would even settle with its smell on some intelligent pages. I am even okay with a dull painting that celebrates its vivid, fearful colours. May be, Anunaya Chaubey, my strongest crush in college, my English professor, can parcel one to me. I remember his paintings, each celebrating life in the city-- its rickshwpullers, the Ganges, the streets..
Patna has no suffix or prefix attached -- it's named with no colour, no joy or magic. It is a plain, simple PATNA. Just like the rose, rain drops, or if i am allowed a little extravagence, pearls.
It touches you when you are open, when you are willing to be touched. And, when you look at it with scorn, it just lets you be, and at times, even bends in modesty. But it never complains.
An acquaintance from the hometown is writing a novel. I don't know the subject or the plot. May be, another God of Small Things in the making, in stream of consciousness that consciously keeps the city out because, as I am told, Patna can only be in the stories of people it has nurtured but never merit a story on itself.
I can only sigh and head for more libraries, loaded bookshelves with all my love to find it. Many think I'm crazy.
PS: If you are keen on Patna, try Patna Roughcut by Siddhartha Roy Choudhury. Don't look for a literary masterpiece but you can find much of the city here.