CITY LIGHTS

As In­dia’s small towns as­pire to turn into me­gac­i­ties, Patna’s makeover – pre­ceded by years of mis­rule and an­ar­chy – has been the most dra­matic!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - by Aasheesh Sharma; pho­tos by San­jeev Verma

AM­AGAZINE RE­CENTLY called him The Lost Re­former of Patlipu­tra for the devel­op­men­tal makeover of Patna. A few weeks be­fore the Lok Sabha set­backs, for­mer Bi­har chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar was busy an­nounc­ing the cre­ation of the long­est WiFi zone in the world.

Patlipu­tra, which was later chris­tened Patna, was founded in the sixth century BCE by Ajat­sha­tru, the em­peror of Ma­gadh. In his book, A Mat­ter of Rats, a short

bi­og­ra­phy of Patna, au­thor Ami­tava Ku­mar says that Patna might be among In­dia’s most iconic cities, but its glo­ries ap­pear firmly lodged in the dis­tant past. But the Patna of 2014 ap­pears to be high on an edgy cock­tail of the quaint and the con­tem­po­rary.

Till re­cently, de­spite be­ing a state cap­i­tal, Patna was brack­eted with non-metro cities of small town In­dia. To­day, rid­ing high on de­vel­op­ment in­dices, the city ap­pears to be in a tear­ing hurry to move from Tier 2 to me­trop­o­lis in spend­ing power and in at­ti­tudes. Em­bold­ened by im­prove­ment in law and or­der, the people of Patna, or Pataniyas as many of them call them­selves, are fu­elling an ex­plo­sion in nightlife not seen be­fore.

It’s The Time To Disco

Ramji ki chaal dekho… Aankhon ki ma­jaal dekho.

Tatar, tatar, the chart­buster from Ram-Leela, is play­ing at The Disc Man, Patna’s only night­club. A trio of Ran­veer Singh acolytes is busy giv­ing the sev­enth ren­di­tion of the ‘dan­druff move’ with a swag­ger. “It is ironic that a song from a movie with the sub-ti­tle ‘goliyon ki raasleela’ is de­manded most by my clients,” rues DJ Sam, who goes by just one name. From stand­ing up to the ter­ror of Ran­vir Sena’s pri­vate mili­tia to dancing to Ran­veer Singh num­bers is a radi- cal de­par­ture for Bi­har’s youth.

Ar­pita Ko­mal, a 27-year-old den­tist, takes a break from twirling to Lon­don thu­makda to say that the city has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the last three years since she went to Nasik to study medicine. “Not only has the law and or­der be­come bet­ter, our par­ents, too, have be­come lib­eral about my friends and I go­ing out dancing, al­beit with a 9pm cur­few.”

A 9pm cur­few might not be a big deal in an­other city, but for many res­i­dents of Patna, who re­mem­ber the break­down in law and or­der dur­ing the reign of for­mer CM Lalu Ya­dav, even ven­tur­ing out af­ter sun­set was unimag­in­able.

Not far from the ar­te­rial Ashok Ra­j­path, where the 20km WiFi zone, the long­est in the world, be­gins, Patna’s young and the rest­less are busy re­claim­ing the city’s once-vi­brant nightlife.

At the up­scale P& M Mall owned by film­maker Prakash Jha, the crowds are queu­ing up to watch 300: Rise of An Em­pire, even at 10.15pm. Umang Saraogi, 23, who runs his steel busi­ness on the bustling SP Verma Road, says watch­ing the 10.45pm show suits him. “Four times a month, my friend Manav and I end up watch­ing a film at this hour. And we don’t miss any Hol­ly­wood re­lease.”

The WiFi Ef­fect

The first phase of the 20km free WiFi zone, stretch­ing from Ashok Ra­j­path in the east to Sa­guna Mor in the west, via Fraser Road and Dak Bungalow go­lam­bar (round­about), was launched on March 31. Three-fourth of Patna’s traf­fic runs through it. Al­though the avail­abil­ity of free WiFi has im­pacted the lives of many Patna res­i­dents, says Atul Sinha, MD of Bel­tron, the im­ple­ment­ing agency, it has ben­e­fited the stu­dents the most. “Stu­dents from Patna Women’s Col­lege, Sci­ence Col­lege, and Patna Med­i­cal Col­lege, who take this route, can now use their gad­gets free of cost,” says Sinha.

At the in­cep­tion of this zone,

Not far from Ashok Ra­j­path, where the 20-km WiFi zone be­gins, Patna’s young and the rest­less are busy re­claim­ing the city’s once-vi­brant nightlife

In the Patna of 2014, the techie and the rick­shaw-puller both swear by the In­ter­net and are en­joy­ing the fruits of free WiFi

an un­likely con­sumer on the other end of the WiFi spec­trum, an au­di­ence that tech­no­crat Sinha wasn’t talk­ing about, is hold­ing forth on the fruits of free WiFi. San­jay Mahto, 28, a rick­shaw puller, says he needn’t go to a paan ven­dor to buy down­loaded Bho­jpuri item num­bers any longer. Now he can do it free of cost on his phone. “My favourite is Rakhi Sawant’s Katta Tanal Du­patta Par.”

At the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fash­ion Tech­nol­ogy (NIFT) cam­pus, stu­dents of sec­ondyear de­sign are busy dis­cussing fore­casts for Sum­mer 2014. “Apart from sites such as Pin­ter­est, street fash­ion blogs help us dis­cover global trends,” says Anindita Datta, a stu­dent from Kolkata. “Be­fore free WiFi, we had to do the surf­ing at a cy­ber café.”

Bad Old Days

A decade ago, the cap­i­tal of Bi­har, one of the old­est liv­ing cities in the world, was a sym­bol of law­less­ness. How bad were things, re­ally?

The sto­ries al­most sound apoc­ryphal. Take the case of a restau­ra­teur who booked a new Maruti Zen, the first book­ing in Patna, af­ter pay­ing a six-fig­ure pre­mium. Hours be­fore his fam­ily could take a ride in it, hench­men of a dreaded don-politi­cian, re­lated to the then CM, al­legedly drove it away from the show­room. So scarred was the en­tre­pre­neur that he shifted to Mum­bai. An­other IFS of­fi­cer, who was robbed of his car at gun point, tells HT Brunch he was re­luc­tant to even lodge an FIR since the of­fend­ers could have harmed his fam­ily. “There was a wave in the 1990s when hun­dreds of Patna res­i­dents sold off their new cars and bought sec­ond-hand Fi­ats to avoid get­ting kid­napped,” he adds.

Sip­ping a lime soda at Pind Baluchi, the re­volv­ing restau­rant on the 18th floor of the Bit­man Tow­ers, Patna’s tallest build­ing, Amiya Bhushan, a 45-year-old film­maker, says the un­in­hib­ited revelry and the brave new lights of the Patna of to­day have to be seen in the con­text of the dark­ness that pre­ceded it. “An en­tire gen­er­a­tion of bright, young Patna res­i­dents, lost 10-15 pre­cious years of their lives into a black hole of an­ar­chy. Since there was lit­tle eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, kid­nap­ping-for-ran­som was a boom­ing in­dus­try. But a

crack­down on crime has re­stored people’s faith,” says Bhushan.

In his first term, for­mer chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar set up fast­track courts that con­victed nearly 66,000 crim­i­nals – in­clud­ing three mem­bers of Par­lia­ment. He also filled thou­sands of va­cant po­lice posts and ended po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence in law en­force­ment.

Since the Janata Dal (United) came to power, the num­ber of kid­nap­pings for ran­som in Patna district re­duced from 35 in 2004 to just 7 in 2012, ac­cord­ing to po­lice sta­tis­tics. Sit­ting in the con­trol room near Gandhi Maidan, Manu Ma­haraj, SSP, Patna, says the in­te­gra­tion of the city sur­veil­lance soft­ware and the Dial 100 sys­tem along with the de­ploy­ment of CCTV cam­eras is a first in In­dia.

Patna’s Porsche Bil­lion­aires

Since the law and or­der are bet­ter, people are eat­ing out and fine din­ing op­tions have sprung up around Gandhi Maidan, says film­maker and restau­ra­teur Pranav Sahi, a mem­ber of the city’s old elite. Be­fore 2005, those driv­ing im­ported cars were few. Now, sales of Mercedes, BMW and Audi are on the up­swing, adds Sahi.

En­tre­pre­neur Nikhil Priyadarshi, for in­stance, turns heads with his Porsche Boxster S, priced at slightly less than a crore. The au­to­mo­bile dealer with in­ter­ests in con­struc­tion and hos­pi­tal­ity says Pataniyas al­ways had the money, but a sense of se­cu­rity and bet­ter roads have trig­gered a race for buy­ing the fan­ci­est set of wheels.

Cul­tural Re­nais­sance

The law­less­ness of the last decade and a half led to an over­all eco­nomic and cul­tural de­cline, says so­ci­ol­o­gist Shaibal Gupta of Patna’s Asian De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute. “People were con­cerned about their well-be­ing be­fore they could think of cul­ture,” says Gupta.

But that ap­pears to be a spec­tre of the past. Jour­nal­ist-au­thor Priyanka Sinha, who at­tended this year’s Patna Litfest, says book lovers braved a driz­zle to throng the Patna Mu­seum premises. “Vikram Seth, who re­cited his trans­la­tion of the Hanu­man Chal­isa, was mobbed,” adds Sinha.

Till about a few decades ago, says Dr Ajit Prad­han, a sur­geon who or­gan­ises the Patna Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val, Pataniyas from all classes of the so­ci­ety, pas­sion­ately pa­tro­n­ised the arts. “In those days, even rick­shaw pullers would stop their work to lis­ten to Pan­dit Jas­raj if he was per­form­ing at Gandhi Maidan at Dussehra. At the Patna Litfest, we want to re­vive that tehzeeb. Our ob­jec­tive is to be like Tehran in the days when even taxi driv­ers dis­cussed Rumi’s po­etry.”

For­mer diplo­mat, Pa­van Varma, best known for his writ­ings on the In­dian mid­dle class and present-day ad­vi­sor, cul­ture, to the chief min­is­ter of Bi­har, says few In­dian states dis­play the yearn­ing for a greater cul­tural menu as strongly as Bi­har does.

One of the show­piece projects of Patna’s cul­tural yearn­ing is the 56,250 sqm Bi­har Mu­seum on Bai­ley Road, be­ing built at a cost of ` 400 crore. Con­tem­po­rary artist Su­bodh Gupta, an alum­nus of the Patna Arts Col­lege, says the facelift for the mu­seum, to be com­pleted in 2015, is be­ing car­ried out by Tokyo-based ar­chi­tec­ture firm Maki & Co, that has also done

The in­te­gra­tion of the city sur­veil­lance soft­ware and the Dial 100 sys­tem with the de­ploy­ment of more than 150 CCTV cam­eras is a first in In­dia

the Aga Khan Mu­seum in Toronto. “One of the iconic sculp­tures on show will be the 2,000-year-old Di­dar­ganj Yak­shi, along with ter­ra­cot­tas from Gaya,” adds Gupta, who was part of the jury that fi­nalised the ar­chi­tects, in­clud­ing Martin Roth, di­rec­tor of the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don.

The Patna Cy­borg

Along with the winds of con­sumerist cul­ture, Patna has been un­touched by the flip side of ur­ban­i­sa­tion. The city’s con­gested pas­sage­ways of­ten wit­ness traf­fic log­jams, road rage and pol­lu­tion.

The lack of phys­i­cal space means lux­ury cars run cheek by jowl with rick­shaws over open drains, and away from the main thor­ough­fares, piles of garbage end up in the city’s by­lanes. Thanks to its hap­haz­ard de­vel­op­ment, says film­maker Sahi, the city may be­come un­live­able in the next few years, free WiFi notwith­stand­ing. Patna can’t project it­self as an at­trac­tive IT des­ti­na­tion till the con­ges­tion in the city is eased, says DM Diwakar of Patna’s AN Sinha In­sti­tute of So­cial Stud­ies.

In A Mat­ter of Rats, Ami­tava Ku­mar al­ludes to rats as a sym­bol of the city’s de­cay as well as re­silience. Is Patna ready to move from a mat­ter of rats to mat­ters of the com­puter mouse? Pro­fes­sor Shanker Ashish Dutt of Patna Univer­sity says, in Bi­har, a state where Gau­tam be­came Sid­dhartha and Ma­havir was born, rats and mice can hap­pily con­tinue to co­ex­ist. “It is typ­i­cally go­ing to be the new Patna Cy­borg: The rat as an or­gan­ism and the mouse as cy­ber­netic in­stru­ment,” he jokes.

RING IN THE NEW The rick­shaw, that en­dur­ing icon of the Patna of the past, doesn’t ap­pear like an anachro­nism in the long­est WiFi zone in the world near Gandhi Maidan, the commercial hub of the city; a scene at The Disc Man, Patna’s only night club (be­low left)

FEED­ING THE FRENZY Since law and or­der is bet­ter, people are ven­tur­ing out in the evenings and fine din­ing op­tions have sprung up on Fraser Road, Ex­hi­bi­tion Road and Bor­ing Road, around Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, the nu­cleus around which the city re­volves

THE BUT­TER­FLY GEN­ER­A­TION At the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fash­ion Tech­nol­ogy cam­pus, stu­dents of sec­ond-year de­sign dis­cuss fash­ion fore­casts and the colour of the sea­son. The free WiFi helps them browse sites such as Pin­ter­est and street fash­ion blogs at their con­ve­nience

ON A HIGH NOTE Non-Bi­har stu­dents at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Patna, say the pres­ence of big city frills such as cof­fee shops, ice-cream par­lours and malls doesn’t make them feel out of place any longer. This wasn’t the case when they first joined col­lege a few years ago

A MAT­TER OF TASTE Dr Ajit Prad­han, or­gan­iser of the Patna Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val with his wife An­vita (above left), wants to re­vive the city’s lost tehzeeb; film­maker and restau­ra­teur Pranav Sahi and his wife Su­mita at the elite Bankipore Club

TURN­ING HEADS En­tre­pre­neur Nikhil Priyadarshi with his Porsche Boxster S. Sales of Mercedes, BMW and Audi are on the rise in Patna

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