a story of patna


YOU CANNOT GET AWAY FROM IMPORTANT men in Patna. On street corners and traffic roundabouts, they stand on tall pedestals, solemn men saying not much at all, as if they have paan in their mouth and are getting ready to spit. Nearly all of them wear dhotis, and sometimes sport a khadi vest. They all wear glasses. The size of the paunch varies. The men often stoop; shallow chests, small paunches, sunken cheeks. A decrepit eminence. The only statues of youth are of the seven martyred schoolboys from the Quit India Movement of August 1942. The tall statues, forming a fluent tableau on a high plinth, were the work of a Bengali artist and were minted in Italy. Young sinewy men, wearing dhotis, holding high the makeshift flags in their hands; one of the youths is bare-chested, showing a powerful chest and muscles—entirely missing in the physiques of the men walking on the street below them. Still, no women. There is double irony in this. Patna is the capital of a state where many women successfully contest elections, but in many cases these women are wives of bahubalis, or strongmen, who have criminal cases lodged against them. Even when these women are elected, their victory belongs to others. A recent example is Annu Shukla, a legislator belonging to chief minister Nitish Kumar’s party; she won the seat vacated by her husband, Munna Shukla, who was barred from the election after a murder conviction.

more from Amitava Kumar at Caravan here.