Overwhelming Hospitality in the Sweltering Indian Summer!

Whenever I am in Patna I cannot forget the love and affection and overwhelming hospitality of all my hosts and hostesses since 1983, when I first made a tour of the Bhojpuri Belt in the company of Pandit Krishnadev Upadhyaya, a great Bhojpuri scholar, folklorist and eminent writer from Banaras.

I was highly assisted by Shri Ravindra Kishore Sinha and his wife Rita, parents and friends and stayed for long periods at his residence in Pataliputra Colony. He also gathered Bhojpuri poets, writers, artistes and held audition and other literary and cultural meetings in my honour. His friend late Shiv Ram Babu accompanied me everywhere even in dacoit infested areas and I was warned not to make overnight journeys in those areas! He also provided me with security.


One day I was at his residence in Patna while he was in Mauritius. As a scholar and researcher I am used to moving freely. But at that time with Harish being at the top leadership political platform of Mauritius in mainstream politics, my moves were watched. I went to do some research at the famous Art and Craft Museum opposite his residence without telling the security guards. Soon there was commotion, that “Madam gayab ho gayi”. They phoned Sinhaji in Mauritius. A search was made! When I was traced, I was given a good lesson by Sinhaji from Mauritius. Why you did not inform my personnel? If something had happened to you? You are a high profile personality and so on. And I kept quiet.

Today Shri Ravindra Kishore Sinha is a BJP MP of the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi. Shri R.K Sinha has always been faithful to the BJP ever since I remember. He formed part of the huge delegation of 150 delegates to Mauritius for the 150th Anniversary Celebrations of the coming to Mauritius of the Girmitias. That delegation was led by Bihar’s Shri Bhagvad Jha Azad, Union Minister of State of Agriculture, Civil Aviation and Food Civil Supplies at that time, though later he became CM of Bihar. The official delegation was led by the then President of the Republic of India. That 150-strong delegation which I had proposed to Shri Baleshwar Aggarwal, Secretary of the Antarashtriya Sahayog Parishad materialised and led to the first ever people to people grassroots meet between people of Bihar and Mauritius. Each delegate was “adopted” by a family in Mauritius and this resulted in a lasting bonding.

I have also enjoyed the hospitality of respected Shri Gupteswar Pandey, now ADG of Bihar Police who organised a monumental programme for me in Buxar and at the Sonepur Mela. He facilitates my research and activities whenever I am in Bihar. Not to mention all the District Magistrates of various Bhojpuri districts and the SPs, such as Mr Nishant Tiwari and his wife equally DM and now Joint Secretary of the Government of Bihar in Patna who helped me tremendously in my research and travels from North to South Bihar, by providing me with residence at the Circuit Houses, transport and other logistic supports. Dr Shila Sharma, a prominent gynecologist of Bihar too has helped me immensely in my work with her unbounded love, care and attention. She is in fact the first cousin of late Mrs Leela Gujadhur Sarup of Mauritius. Her father was a staunch Gandhian, and her mother Congress MLA for 16 years. The Government of Bihar has indeed compensated me for my efforts in promoting Bhojpuri language and culture and for building a cultural bridge between Mauritius and Bihar by honouring me with the Vishwa Bhojpuri Sammaan in July 2013 in Patna.

Jai Prakash Narayan

Bihar is also remembered for its fiery politicians like Jai Prakash Narayan who rose to all-India scale leadership with his socialist movement in 1974. In fact, the young JP, as he was known, was inspired by Gandhiji’s non-cooperative movement and started a Socialist movement and opening a political school for youngsters in the 1930s. I am currently putting up with the family of Swayam Prakash, respected coordinating editor of the Hindustan Times edition of Bihar and moulded in the staunch and forceful movement of JP. The father Shri Jamuna Prasad Singh, Founder Principal of Hari Ram College, Marwa, Siwan was a close associate of JP in his andolan. Swayam Prakash grew up in this stern socio-political atmosphere. It had a deep impact on the life and thoughts of the whole family including his sister Swayam Prabha, Mother Indu Devi who sacrificed her whole life cooking and serving – which reminded me of my chachi Champa Ramlallah who served Shri Bickrum Singh Ramlallah as a dutiful wife.

That is why I integrated very well in the family of Swayam Prakash. In fact, I am currently working on a project of Bhojpuri dadi nani ke kissa with Mrs Poonam Singh wife of Swayam. She has a huge collection of short stories in Bhojpuri which she heard in her childhood from her mother and narrated to me; many of these stories are known in Mauritius also. We are working on a joint project of publishing these kahanis-kissas. Mr Swayam Prakash attended the International Bhojpuri Conference organised by Shri Jagdish Goburdhun. Thus we have been associated with this illustrious family since a long time. Therefore my stay here is always replete with political, social and other reminiscences of the great JP and Mahatma Gandhi’s movement here.

Pranam

I arrived in Patna in a sweltering heat of 44°C from Banaras, covering a distance of 265 km by road, not always smooth due to heavy tear and wear by heavy duty trucks carrying loads of iron bars, cement bars and slabs and other such materials. I discovered that Patna is emerging as a fast-growing beautiful capital city of Bihar, quaint and urbanised while retaining its somewhat proverbial rustic aspect. Indeed, this is the charm of Patna. The people of Bihar whether urbanised bureaucrats or simple folks still greet you with a respectful Pranam and younger people still bow and greet the elders by touching their feet. That makes Biharis a most warm and emotionall people. They have a special bonding, and this should not be allowed to wither under the influence of the dry westernised urban culture of metropolitan living.

Bihari Cuisine

While in Patna, I came across a wonderful book on Bihari cuisine presented to me by the author Shrimati Shaila Jain from Chappar, with 77 simple to make Bhojpuri delights. The book is titled “Bihari Khanna” with mouthwatering savouries such as sattu (in Mauritius- sattua) dishes, chokha, bhunjia, tarkaris, dalpithas, saag, parathas, pakhoris, chutney and achaar, typical Bhojpuri sweets we cherish back home such as pua, thekua, dudhpithi, kasar, murabba, kheer etc. It is a beautiful colourfully presented book brought out in 2014, and published by Forty-two Bookz Galaxy, Mumbai. Mrs Shaila Jain is a philanthropic figure from a zamindari family from Chappra and directs an NGO meant for the advancement and empowerment of gramin (rural) women.

The second largest natural killer: Heat

Moving around in this scorching summer heat, it seems one is walking on fire with hot air blowing all around as if one is in a sauna bath. It can prove disastrous. The hot loo wind gives high fever which does not spare enyone. The heat wave and sunstroke has indeed taken its toll of over 200 victims so far. But if you are cautious, you have a bellyful of food and drink plenty of water, which I am advised by one and all, you will not be hit by the dreaded loo.

To beat the blistering sun’s effect the Biharis have devised many varieties of drinks and pakwan to cool down the simmering summer heat and keep on healthy: matha, aam sharbaat, fresh bel juice, jal jeera, nimbu paani, dahi, onions which should be consumed throughout the day.

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The Indian Food Mela – A Mouth Watering Experience

The annual Indian Food Mela is a cultural happening that has become a household reference now. The IWA – Indian Woman Association, led by Shrimati Savita Mudgal, wife of the High Commissioner of India Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal, is a very silent, quiet group which is not much mediatised and yet does considerable charity work through the contribution and genuine efforts of its members. The Indian Food Mela at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture (IGCIC) has become synonymous with the IWA. The two are inseparable. The taste of a mouthwatering variety of Indian food and snacks is so haunting that it lingers for long in people’s palates and they wait with impatience for the next Indian Food Mela.

People flocked from as far as Chemin Grenier, Goodlands, Flacq and indeed all corners of the island to have a taste of the Indian delicacies. Every year the crowd of food lovers goes on increasing like a tidal wave, to inundate the lovely premises of the sprawling IGCIC and its venues. Food makes people happy. For one day at least this year, on Saturday 6th June, happiness and contentment could be visibly seen from the body language of all those who came to enjoy the dahiwada, the aloo tika, the bhel puri, pani puri or chaat, the chole bhature or the idli dosa, the dal makhani, samousas, jalebis, the different biryanis, and other items of the Indian cuisine such as massala chai or the traditional thali all served hot from the frying pans, carahis or dekchis. Food lovers did not mind queuing up for that taste savoured once in a year.

At the Mela, people met and relaxed. Children too had their fun and frolic what with pony rides, face painting and games. People could also avail of the many varieties of spices for which India became known the world over. In fact the spice trade between India and Europe is often cited by historians and scholars as the “primary catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery.” And it is the Spice Route from Europe through the Indian Ocean that led to the discovery of the Mascareignas including Mauritius.

Women indeed are great achievers through their quiet force as shown by the Indian Women Association, and in fact the many Small and Medium Enterprises or the Geet Gawai groups. Mrs Savita Mudgal, herself a low-profile, charming lady, a scientist by training, steers her association of some hundred women, wives of Indian expatriates working in various diplomatic, business or economic sectors here or married to Mauritians, with a firm hand. They have helped various charitable NGOs and sponsored Jane Constance’s UNESCO musical performance in Paris. Their next move is to promote Yoga for Holistic Care and General Well-Being. The stress of modern day living indeed requires the efforts of more and more caring people to help make the business of living more pleasant and carefree.

*  Published in print edition on 12 June 2015

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