You Bihari! You £$%#@!

Circa:  2006 A.D. Route: Poona – Jamshedpur. Services: Azad Hind Express, Indian Railways. Scene:  A typical 3AC compartment – with a youngster trapped amidst – a family of five with three annoyingly hyper-active and argumentative kids on only four reserved berths; an old lady, from the southern extensions of this vast country, yapping her way to glory; and a middle aged couple munching on the popular snacks of the region and utilising the floor as the waste bin.

 

The wondrous services of Indian Railways had ensured that the passengers of that particular services – get to travel no faster than a bullock cart (comprehending to the ever increasing demand to “enjoy the scenic beauty of countryside India”), halting at every signal post constructed on that route (to facilitate the realisation that none of these posts stood without a reason) and derive the immense pleasure of a stuffy, non-functional AC coach (in order to motivate passengers to use regular sleeper class coaches and improve on fuel efficiency).

 

Old Lady, who was from some obviously indomitable state of Southern India, had some amazing ability to convert her thoughts into the words and to blurt them out without the application of any filters, and was flaunting, very precariously, her “prim and proper” self. First, it was the turn of the oh-so-innocent middle aged couple who had had Bhel-Puri, Kachhi-Dhabeli and others of the sort, while feeding the poor and hungry floor more than their own beloved stomachs, on the topic of hygiene and cleanliness, and garnering a total oblivion in return. The wife had managed a perplexed look on her face and was looking towards her husband for a respite and a riposte, but fortunately he was unperturbed.  Without the lack of vigour, she turned her energy towards the kids – the kind she claimed to have mastered in her school as she was an English Teacher. Lessons on the importance of discipline and obedience poured on the poor souls unblemished and vehemently. The compartment was turning into a ‘Moral Science’ classroom.

 

She was gloriously yapping to the innocent kids, “Everybody must do their own work”, when her lecture was interrupted. “Everybody must do his or her own work…Not ‘their own work’…a common Pronoun error” a voice broke. The poor, ignorant youngster had no idea then, what wrath he had unveiled on himself. The old lady’s jaw dropped. She could not believe her ears or eyes. How dare an indecorous and insolent young fellow who was still busy in his cell-phone, make such a preposterous remark at her?

 

Old Lady: (Turning towards the youngster in utter disbelief) Excuse me?

Youngster: (with his eyes still fixated on his phone) It is a very common grammatical error, where the pronoun is not in agreement with the number of nouns it is referring to.

Old Lady: (with “How dare you?” expression on her face) What?

Youngster: (now giving her a casual look) Yes! Everybody and own are the mismatch here – plural and singular. Hence, instead of their, it should be his or her. I hope I am making sense.

Old Lady: (trying to calm down now) Yes! Very Much! Thank you for the correction. (Forgets about the Moral Science lecture) So…Where did you do your schooling from?

Youngster: (again…Casually) DPS.

Old Lady: (with excitement) DPS, Bangalore?

Youngster: (with a perplexed look on his face) Do they have a DPS there? I am afraid; my knowledge is limited about the expanse of the fraternity. I am a DPS, Bokaro Steel City, alumni.

Old Lady: Oh! Alright…So your father works in Bokaro Steel Plant, but you are from Kerala?

Youngster: (with signs of disgust on his face) What made you arrive at this conclusion?

Old Lady: (with some sense of pride at her derivation) Well! For one, you have very good English, and second you look quite the Mallu.

Youngster: (Irritated) I apologise to be continuously disappointing you, but I am from Bihar, and Bhojpuri is my mother tongue.

Old Lady: (in disbelief again) But…But that cannot be.

Youngster: (somewhat mockingly) Again an improper sentence, or rather, an incomplete sentence. There has to be a verb or noun at the end of the sentence. For example “But that cannot be true or correct”. Now, may I have the pleasure of knowing why that cannot be true or correct?

Old Lady: (getting back to her “prim and proper” self) That is precisely the reason why it cannot be correct. You don’t sound like a Bihari.

Youngster: (with disgust) Excuse me! Then, according to you, how do Biharis sound like?

Old Lady: They do not have such good English and their pronunciations are even worse. How come you have such good English?

Youngster: (muttering mockingly) What can you say? My Mom and Dad conceived me on the banks of Thames and my Dad even went a step ahead to sprinkle those holy waters on her womb.

Old Lady: I am sorry!

Youngster: (smiling and now audibly) To break your preconceived notions, all the educated Biharis I have come across, do have a fabulous fluency in and knowledge of, English. Without being modest, I can confidently say I am not even a noteworthy example. In fact, I am astonished that you being an English Teacher are startled at my English.

Old Lady: (perturbed by the retorts) Son! I have been into teaching for the past 22 years. I have been in Jamshedpur for 6 years now, teaching at two of the best schools the city has, and I have never come across a Bihari student who could dare point out my grammatical errors. Let alone the grammar, the pronunciation is an even bigger issue. You must have had very good teachers at your school.

Youngster: (muttering again) Then what did you think? My Mom gave me the chutney of Wren and Martin’s English Grammar and Composition, instead of gripe water, to help me digest my food?

Old Lady: (perplexed look)

Youngster: Obviously my teachers had a good role to play in my education but that does not single me out. As far as pronunciation is concerned, according to me, Biharis have the best and the most correct. We speak the clearest and pronounce each word as it has been described in the oxford dictionary. Anyways! Since we are having this conversation, please oblige me with your description of a typical Bihari. I promise, I will take it very healthily and in the right spirit. Also, my answers might help you understand us better (and he smiles a wry smile).

 

 (The explanation will follow soon…)

I Drive – Bokaro to Siwan via Koderma on NH-31…Part 2

(Recap: I had started for Siwan, Bihar from Bokaro Steel City, Jharkhand(Now) in a Maruti 800 with 3 of my cousins at 5pm in the evening. We had to cross the dangerous valleys of Koderma, in the night and around 10pm we were just about 30kms from that dreaded place.)

Koderma 32kms is what the mile stone read. Fear, more than anything else had encroached me then. All the excitement and adrenaline rush had taken a back seat. Thanks to horrifying scenery created by Lord, and the absence of any other vehicle. I was pushing the sorry little car to its limits, taking the liberty of empty roads. Somehow, Big Bro was also not bothered about the speeds at which we were going. Everybody, I guess, was thinking of getting out of that place, as soon as possible.

There was also an added problem in those days; Mechanics and garages catering to Marutis were not that readily available as they are now. My nerves started rattling when I was able to feel that the car is hiccupping on pressing the throttle hard and was not getting the appropriate response. Damn! Why now? I still thought of continue pushing it. Did not even inform or hint at any such behaviour of the car to any of the bros.

But Big Bro noticed the sweat on my forehead and got concerned and tried avoiding. He ordered “Tell me!” and I uttered everything. Now everyone was scared. On the edge of their seats, urging me silently and without words… “Go faster buddy! Get us out of here before this Car breaks down!” And we were in the Ghats now. The curvy roads began. Whooshing of wind past our Car and probably through the trees was all we could hear. And to top it all the road was blessed with innumerable potholes. I was not able to push the car past 60 km/h and had to break a lot, and as used to I removed the foot off the accelerator paddle for braking, the hiccups were increasing in intensity turning it into jolts. We were shit scared. I pulled the choke knob(Yes! The earlier versions did have choke knobs) a little, not to let the idling go down.

But, something was definitely wrong and I was damn scared that the Car can go kaput anytime. What could it be? Radiator not working? Heat? Naah!…The weather was too cool to make the engine boil. The Coil? Nopes! It’s a new one. Then…then…then…Oh Shit! Blockage in petrol supply…The garbage in petrol tank must have blocked the filter, and now there is very little supply of fuel to the engine. I panicked. Pulled the choke knob a little more.

My brothers still hanging on to their seats, looking both ways for any suspicious looking thing. In the middle of the Ghats, it became even more silent, as the rain had stopped and we were able to listen to the crickets making those irritating noises from their legs. And suddenly, out of nowhere a couple of headlights flash in the rear view mirror. What the heck? There was no vehicle ahead of us which we overtook, there was none behind for the past 40-50 mins, then from where did this thing come? All my bros turned back, trying to figure out which vehicle is that from the shape and width of the headlights. It cannot be a car. Not even an Ambassador(the famous HM Car)…and the gap between the two is not wide enough for it to be a Truck. Then? What the heck is following us? And why?

I started pushing the Car harder, overlooking a few potholes but the car refused to go any faster and that ‘thing’ was gaining on us, very quickly. Everyone had panicked by the time it was close enough to be recognised as a Mahindra and Mahindra Commander Jeep. It overtook us comfortably and two hands started waving, asking us to stop. Well, when it came in front of us, through our headlights we could make out, it was a Police Jeep. Believe me, for the first time in all our lives(and especially in Bihar), we breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Police. We stopped immediately, although Big Bro was a little sceptical of them and asked me about all the required papers and DL. I had all. I turned off the engine and we all stepped out. For the first time we witnessed concern in the eyes of Policemen. They asked very politely – Where are we heading? Why so late? And after getting convinced they offered to escort us out of the Ghats. Phew! What a relief…Right? Nopes…Wrong!

When we stepped back in the car, the car refused to start. I kept on cranking, it wasn’t responding at all. I mean the battery supplied enough electricity, the dynamo enough charge, the engine cranked…but there was no fuel supply. Damn! The Policemen kept watching…as we came out perplexed and hassled. We got clear instructions from them – Make it fast…or even they would leave. Big Bro asked them to wait…I quickly went under the petrol tank …and again an expert comment from the Policemen…Why am I not under the engine and under the petrol tank?

What bloody? You be concerned with your job of protecting us…I know what I am doing…Did I ever ask, why you are not present and places you should be present? Anyways…I quickly took out the Petrol filter…asked Rahul to hold the outlet pipe closed tightly to prevent loss of petrol. When I brought the filter in front of the headlights…another shock was received…It was choked to its max capacity. And it is impossible to clean it now. Plus, they were not meant to be cleaned…They were replaced every time. Now what? Can’t connect the fuel pipe directly, as the garbage would damage the engine cylinder and piston lining.

Just then it struck me that we have another Petrol Filter in the boot, although dirty, but in a better condition than the current one…and by the time it reaches the maxed out condition we will be in some city…in the morning where we will be able to procure a new one. Thanks to Dad…who had foreseen such a situation and not disposed that filter. Quickly fetched it from the boot…put it in place…and wham! In two cranks the car started. Smiles spread across…even on the faces of those police men. Thanks also to the Policemen who lit up the chassis from below with their huge battery torches. It was scary for them too, to stand amidst that jungle in the middle of the night with just a .303 being there saviour.

Well, we were escorted out of the jungle by them, as promised…soon we crossed Koderma city. Through Newada, Bihar Sharif, we reached Patna at 6 am in the morning without any hassles. The Filter worked fine…and I guess we had drained out a little amount of garbage when we spilled a little petrol while changing the filters. We had a sumptuous breakfast at Patna. All of us slept for about an hour waiting for a garage to open. Bought the Petrol Filter, got it fixed and sailed off again.

One flat tyre replacement(sans the help of any of the bros, as they did not know anything) and one tea break were the other two halts we took. And by 1 pm we were in our village. The Children had started running behind the Car, as they always did(as the only other vehicle which frequented our village was either an HM Trekker or the Horse Cart) upon seeing a Car. The news had reached our house, well before we could reach that a Car has entered the village. Everybody was at the gates waiting desperately for us. All the faces had a big question mark drawn in bold fonts. What had happened? 🙂 Well…we gave our answers. Enjoyed the festival there on..

But, even to this day…I wonder…What if the car would have broken down there… in the absence of any Policemen?

 The lessons learnt:-

 

  • All Indian Policemen are not Bad.
  • As small a part as a petrol filter can be crucial, so you better get your vehicles double checked by professionals before embarking any long journey.
  • Never travel in the night, especially when you know that the route isn’t safe.(What rubbish? We all know that…Right?…Still, please do not travel in your personal vehicle at nights)
  • Never ignore the Tool kit in the boot. Always have the minimum required tools well oiled and clean.
  • If you learn to drive do learn to – at least change a flat tyre, if not anything about the engine and repairs(Though I feel, knowing a little bit won’t harm).
  • Don’t make trips(at least such long ones) based on your whims. The reality might be quite different.

Well, I learnt all these ‘Don’ts’ on that very trip, and they have helped since then – a lot.

I Drive – Bokaro to Siwan via Koderma on NH-31

Chhatth is the biggest festival for us Biharis. Celebrated for 3 days, it is an occasion for a family reunion. And it was the same for me…rather us. It was Chhatth of 1998. I was a 10th grader and my2nd Terminal Exams were ending just a day prior to Chhatth. Our hometown rather the village being around 400 kms away from our the then temporary residence, My Mom and Dad had left for the place 3 days ago. And to my utter disbelief they had planned a nice surprise for me. I was asked to drive our car from Bokaro to Siwan(our hometown)….Yippee! Yeah!  The only catch being 3 more of cousin brothers, who would reach Bokaro after my exams get over, would accompany me to Siwan…and 2 of them being quite elder to me would make up for Mom and Dad’s absence(of being watchful and guiding) on the trip. I had no issues with that. A drive of over 8 Hours. Superb! Mind blowing! …In fact, I was so elated with the idea of such a long drive, that I finished my 3 hour long paper in just 2 hours and 15 minutes(and eventually managed to just pass)…and rushed home.

Big Bro(Rajan Bhaiyya – as we used to call him) and Rahul (the only one younger to me) were already there. Only Babloo Bhaiyya kept us waiting a little bit. In the meanwhile I double checked the car. Engine Oil – Up to the Max Mark. Brake Oil – Full. Coolant – Full. Gear Oil – Max Mark. Headlights – Working in both dipper and High beam. Tyre Pressure – Ok in all the 5 tyres. Tool Kit – Appropriate. Petrol Filter – Quite Clean (1998 was still the time when we used to get Petrol mixed with loads of debris to increase volume and max the profits for Petrol Pumps). Fuel – Full. Explained the route map and pit stops to Big Bro. I had done quite a homework on that department. The road map of Bihar in size 18” X 24” had the  entire route we were supposed to take marked in red. The distance between each pit stop and expected time marked, with the help of thread and scale provided in the map. All the important towns and villages we would cross – underlined. Big Bro was quite happy with my work and I was super excited. We were all ready to rock…Sail on to my first road trip(sort of) at 1 pm… Big Bro although quite responsible and sensible was in a jovial mood and was also loving the idea of such a trip. The hitch for the moment being Babloo Bhaiyya. The wait for him was getting tiresome. We waited for about 4 hours when he finally arrived at 4:30pm(thanks to the superb efficiency maintained by Indian Railways)..and our plans almost got ruined.

Jharkhand part of NH-31

Jharkhand part of NH-31

We had worked out that it would take us about 10 hours to reach our village. So, if we start by 1pm we would reach by 11 pm, crossing the mischievously dangerous valleys of Koderma Jungles in bright daylight. Well, Kodarma Jungles even to this day are famous for two reasons :- 1. The abundance of wild life, including Tigers, Leopards, Bears and Elephants and 2. The abundance of wild life, including Maoists, Naxalites, Bandits and Goons. Even to this day no vehicle dares to trespass the territory of these wild creatures, at nights. And by the way, Koderma lies right in the middle of NH-31 connecting two of the most important cities of Bihar and Jharkhand, Patna and Ranchi.

Cell phones were still unheard of in those days. My Village is yet to experience the phenomenon of electricity(Yes! In the year 2009)…so forget about the Telephone lines then. There was no medium through which we could have informed any of the family members of the situation we had gotten into or even they could not have enquired anything about our whereabouts. So, after much deliberation of about half an hour all of us decided to go ahead and start from Bokaro at 5pm. My entire plan was ruined. Now according to new plan, we had to reach Hazaribagh or Barhi, halt there at night. Start from there by the first stroke of light, cross Koderma as fast as we could, and reach our village by 10 am. That way we would miss only the morning bath(known as Naha-Kha in Chhatth terminology). Since it was Big Bro’s  plan we rolled on it.

Bihar Part of NH-31

Bihar Part of NH-31

We reached Hazaribagh without any hassle and in a very quick time of 2 and ½ hours(thanks to my enthusiasm, no speed limits being set by my Mom and the jovial mood we brothers were in). In this time, we had forgotten about the worries of where to stay for the night in Hazaribagh and how to spend the night. Once at Hazaribagh, our search for a cheap Hotel started. But sadly, we could not find any which matched Big Bro’s expectations and the budget set by him. Hazaribagh, after all is a very small town of Bihar and has very few tourists or visitors who would look for options in Hotels. Then, Round-2 of deliberations started …whether to sleep in the car…or take an expensive Hotel…or (and the most exciting one) keep moving and cross Koderma in the night? I insisted that we keep moving(as it should be obvious). I said we do not have much cash on us, so even if we are rounded up by any of those Wild Creature which resemble Human beings closely…we won’t have much to lose. Plus our chances of getting caught are very bleak, as Maruti 800s were capable zipping pasts the Ambassadors they use and the Road Blocks they set up for Busses and Trucks(their main targets). It’s now I realise, how bad a decision maker I have been…all these days.

We set off from Hazaribagh, as Big Bro somehow got convinced(His conviction can be attributed to the Soldier like streaks he had, and which was in complete oblivion then. He went on to join the Border Security Force of India, and is currently posted at Watlab Sector, Pooch, Kashmir as the Dy. Commandant of 135th Battalion). Babloo Bhaiyya too gave in to the arguments and Rahul’s opinions didn’t count much as he was being considered just as a luggage. We had a light Dinner. Gud(Raw form of Sugar) and Chapattis, the festive food for that day of Chhatth.

I experienced a strange kind of adrenaline rush within me which was mixed with some amounts of fear and responsibility too. I had to drive through the extremely curvy roads of Valley of Koderma, in the night, with Wild Life galore and cover this thoroughfare as quickly as possible. To add to our injury, it started drizzling as soon as we left from Hazaribagh and the chill in the air of that cold November night made us roll up all windows. The scene became quite scary within minutes. There was no vehicle ahead. No headlights flashing in the rear view mirror. The silence-gory. The Rain clouds had made the night darker. There was hardly any flash of light visible…and it was just quarter to 9 pm.  We forgot our chit-chatting. All eyes were fixed on the road. And also, at times, looking at both the sides. One milestone flashed brightly …Koderma 32 km. God! Save us for these 50 odd minutes

(I guess…you all can wait till tomorrow…to know, what other happening happenigs took place on the journey…and Why NOT do people travel through Koderma at nights? Won’t make this any more tiring though! )