Being in Patna takes quite a different meaning and colouring for me on this trip. Out of 450,000 indentured immigrant workers who came to Mauritius, the first post in the Great Experiment in contract sugar workers, from 2nd November 1834 to 31 May 1924, more than 250,000 came from the then Presidency of Oudh, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The majority were from the Bhojpuri belt.
Sone Ki Chidiya
How can one be in Patna and not be compelled to think of the glorious ancients, medieval and immediate past history, ups and downs, foreign invasions and their impact and the happenings gripping the State of Bihar currently? There is a tendency still operating in people’s minds to downgrade Bihar and look down upon its people. Even my driver from Benaras had that attitude of superiority telling me ‘yahan sab kuch kharab he, yahan ke log ye bhasha nahin samajhté hein!’ Actually speaking of Bihar means in fact the glorious story of ancient India itself. At one time, it was Bihar that was known as the Sone Ki Chidiya – the Golden Bird of India and in fact of the whole world. It was a land of great saints, sages, powerful kings, emperors, profound knowledge, abundant minerals, great prosperity and wealth. It was from the sacred land of Buxar in Bihar that the great sage Vishwamitra first chanted the famous Gayatri Mantra. The great Gautama Buddha spent his lifetime traversing and halting at different regions of Bihar preaching the words of Brotherhood, Compassion and Peace. This message has spread throughout the world and has become a universal religion of modern times.
Fabulous City of Pataliputra
When one is in Patna, how can one not think of the glorious and fabulous ancient city of Pataliputra that thrived at this same site 2500 years ago? From which reigned powerful kings and emperors, the greatest being Ashoka the Great whose Mauryan Empire in the kingdom of Magadha covered almost the whole of India and spread till Afghanistan in the North West. How can one not remember that it was Bihar which gave India its first President? – in the person of the learned political leader and powerful advocate Dr Rajendra Prasad hailing from Jiradei of former Chappra district?
It was in Bihar that Mahatma Gandhi put his satyagraha weapon to test in the indigo movement in Champaran. The Biharis gave immense and fervent support to Gandhiji. The 1857 First War of the Independence of India started in Bihar with the spearheading movement of the Royal Veer Kunwar Singh, Raja of Jugdishpur, Arrah, Bhojpur.
The Biharis give some of the best and topmost policemen, administrators, army shotguns, intelligentsia, and academics of India. The pronoun “I” does not exist in Bhojpuri for that matter. The Bhojpurias speak of Ham (we) in the Royal Sense! They are all Emperors, like Ashoka, their forebear – from the beggars to the top brass!
How can one not be reminded that the girmitias coming from the different regions of Bihar have peopled the former plantation colonies which form a sizeable chunk of the Indian diaspora of 30 million?
And it is this population that has given some of the greatest political iconic figures and stalwarts of the world such as Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam who led Mauritius to Independence, President Cheddy Jagan of former British Guyana, Sir Anerood Jugnauth current Prime Minister and former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Shrimati Kamla Prasad Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and the first woman Prime Minister of the diaspora, and so many other distinguished personalities in the field of art, diplomacy, literature and economy.
Hindi and Bhojpuri Honoured
The Biharis of Mauritius have given a distinction to both Hindi and Bhojpuri, making Mauritius the International Capital of both these linguistic heritages! Indeed, outside India, the greatest number of Hindi writers totalling some 70-80 come from the Bhojpuri speaking people of Mauritius, who have enriched the diasporic Hindi literature by producing more than 300 books in Hindi prose and poetry. They are some of the most prolific Hindi writers with the Bhojpuria Abhimanyu Unuth topping the list. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his historic visit to Mauritius in March this year was amazed and visibly impressed by this profusion of Hindi works in Mauritius. This is the gift of the Bhojpuria people. This year the Government of Mauritius has sent the Nomination Dossier on Bhojpuri folk songs and dance-the Geet Gawai for inscription on the World Patrimony of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In August 2012, the Government of Mauritius created by an Act of Parliament the Bhojpuri Speaking Union.
The Bhojpuri people have taken their rich legacy of rites and rituals, way of life, food and dress, jewellery, languages and oral traditions, modes of prayers and folk religion and many other ancestral aspects of life and civilizational ethos to all corners of the world in both primary and secondary immigration movements. The valour provided in times of necessity and trials and tribulations by Veer Hanuman, the Mahaveer has earned him a shrine known as Chabutra all over the diaspora, with the red jhandis flapping alongside in the wind as a symbol of his strength.
Biharis Brought Also Their Plants
The Biharis have also taken along with them their plants and sacred trees such as the auspicious paan ke patta, genda (marigold) flowers, kassaili (supari) Areca nut plant, the tulsi, the bel plants, the madar and pankar, not to speak of aam and kathal. The food delights that have emerged from the Bihari cuisine throughout the diaspora have given some of the most loved fast foods. The dalpuri is outstanding in this regard, whether in Mauritius where people queue up for them on street pavements or in South Africa, in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Guyana or in New York and other new diasporas! Also most enjoyed are the khichri, kadhi badhi, puris, khir, podina ke chutni, alooo chokha (chatini pomme de terre), baigan bharta (chatini bringelle), parathas (faratas) etc. I could go on elaborating on these tasty food delights and other aspects of Bihari presence in Mauritius.
Current Political Situation
While in Patna, my mind is retained by the current political situation which is in a total state of flux, agitation and uncertainty. Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister for more than ten years gave a new direction and dimension to political rule in modern Bihar. His alliance with Sushil Modi of the BJP who became his Deputy gave an unprecedented stability and hope to the people of Bihar itself, Indians in general and Biharis all over the world, pride.
It was thanks to GOPIO International through the dynamic leadership of Mahen Utchanah its Chairman, that the Government of Mauritius invited Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to Mauritius in July 2007. It was an unprecedented move and set a good chemistry between the political class of Bihar and Mauritius and new aspirations to the peoples on both sides. It was the first time that a Chief Minister of Bihar had come to Mauritius and stayed for such a long period of ten days! The charismatic persona of Nitish Kumar captivated the hearts of Mauritians.
The imposing statue of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam at the initiative of Nitish Kumar, in Central Patna, near Gandhi Maidan is a tribute to the People of Indian Origin in the diaspora. It has been a long cherished desire of people of Mauritius to have a Mauritius Bhawan in Patna. This could also provide suitable lodging and boarding to people in search of their roots, with reliable guides, tourist guides and an office to help in specific diasporic tourism or cultural tourism of Bihar and economic exchanges. Focus could also be laid on the shared Bhojpuri cuisine and exchanges of cultural tours from both sides as well as other literary activities. I hope this project will be taken seriously by both sides.
But the fallout of Nitish Kumar with the BJP after sixteen long years of positive coalitions, as well as skirmishes within the JDU itself brought a turbulence for the Government. The recent rift with Jiten Ram Manjhi has caused further hurdles. The Legislative Assembly Elections slated to be held this year has kept all political leaders on tenterhooks, weakening the political clout of Nitish Kumar. Widening rifts creating more factions bring more challenges for the charismatic leader, once touted as a challenger to Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India.
Published in Print Edition – 5 June 2015