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Bihar: Small towns of memories vs small towns of tod

Bihar: Small towns of memories vs small towns of today

A church in Ara

The well-known Gandhian cliché says India lives in its villages. Many of us believe the opposite, namely it is cities that are the real showpiece of a culture. If I may suggest a compromise, it is really the small towns where you see the true face of a culture. Cities are too official and too put on! Villages are too diffuse – you need to sample a number of them to get the pulse of the region. But it is towns like Chhapra, Buxar, Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur, and Betiya where you meet true Bihar.

I have very fond memories of Motihari, one such town. I remember even as a child its small colonial bungalows, railway quarters and its crammed Meena Bazar never ceased to fascinate me. But the biggest gem to me was Moti Jheel – the central natural feature of the town. As a child I remember dreaming of going for a long boat ride over it. Quite sizeable, this large lake was called ‘mann’ in Bhojpuri, a term I failed to comprehend till someone explained to me that the lake is fed by a rivulet and is more like a stream stuck in a natural bowl! To this day, I don’t know the exact definition of the word, unless my informant did give me a correct reply.

Last year when I walked past Moti Jheel, I saw two images of it in front of my eyes. First, a great gift of nature that could turn Motihari into one of the prettiest towns in Bihar! The lake is simply enormous for a town the size of Motihari. Even a metro like Hyderabad celebrates its Hussain Sagar Lake, a major hub of the city along with Charminar as icons central to its identity! The second image was the dirty stinking reality in front of me! A great gift of nature lay below me, trampled, garbage-ridden and choking with water hyacinth that gave the illusion of a firm and green surface you could walk on!

Soon after this in 2009, I went for a day trip to Ara. After a long discussion on Bhojpuri folk songs with Pawan Shrivastava, an Ara-based lyricist, he insisted we walk down to his dream come true – next to the town stadium, we came to a mid-size pond which was refreshingly clean. There were stone steps all along and some furious construction seemed to be under way. Pavan Ji explained that this was a theatre designed by a local architecture student made to follow Pavan Ji’s design specifications. Part of the stage hung over water and the steps around the banks made the place look like a wonderful Bharat Bhavan from Bhopal, albeit on a smaller scale. But then Ara is small, after all! It doesn’t need Olympic size grounds!

Glancing at the map and its realized version, I could see the wonderful structure emerge out of water! Which is what it has now become, hosting plays and musical concerts when the weather permits! Nearby, a small neat park holds a fine bust of JP which looks like him, unlike many other statues in Bihar.  A hundred yards away, Pavan Ji pointed out, is an old church constructed for George V’s Sunday service when he passed through Ara, stopping there for a single day in 1911!

We sat for a long time under the shade of banyan trees that formed a semi-circle around the lake. Even in the hot month of June, the place seemed like an idyll that no one wanted to leave in a hurry. It was a great cocktail of tea, conversation with a well-informed expert, and just plain shade!

Our smaller towns, I believe can be raised from their dust-bowl status as places to visit, as towns away from cities!

One Response

  1. thnx for the article.motihari had enormus potential but only muzaffarpur was given preference.its shocking for a motihari native that the contemporary towns has a great diff.i would like to write for ur blog.pls reply

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