Colours of Bihar : Old and New

Posted by Rukmini Banerji (Director – ASER Centre)
View of Kosi Mahasetu
Lady in pink
Crossing the Kosi Mahasetu is an experience. The highway leading to the newly constructed mega-bridge cuts through wide open huge empty spaces. The embankments that have been built around the river makes it feel like you are travelling in a mammoth bowl. The late morning hot winds whip the soil and dust into fast moving fine grey clouds that sweep across the horizon. 
There are no villages nearby and so there is hardly anyone around except an occasional bus, truck or tractor that passes by. A few people wait near the bridge to catch the next tempo. Leaning on the sandbags on the side of the highway is a woman in a bright pink sari. She is the only splash of colour in a vast grey-brown landscape.

Taming the Kosi is impossible. Even containing the river within its banks is a huge challenge. The ongoing and eternal struggle between man and nature can be seen in the modern engineering feat of the mega- bridge and the silent powerful force of the massive river below. Even at the height of a very hot summer there is plenty of water. Today the river is quiet. But the colour is not green or blue as water should be. It is dull slate colour. But the docile look reminds you of the menace and danger that lies just below the surface. They say that the highway and the bridge connecting Mithilanchal and Seemanchal have changed the face of the region. Even a year or two ago you could not even dream of coming from Purnia to Darbhanga in three and a half hours like we have done today. Right here on the bridge and looking into the river below, it feels like the equation is yet too new to make a judgement. 
View from Dharbanga station
From the national highway we turn into Darbhanga town. Like Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga too is growing every day. Roads are bursting with hospitals and medical stores, educational institutions and shops and traffic of all types. To get a taste of how many people are moving in and out of this region every day, just stand in front of the railway station for a few minutes. The dense crowds flow ceaselessly in all directions. Masses of people from north Bihar are coming home or leaving. 
Yet Darbhanga has a special charm.The boundary wall in the heart of the city encircles a vast lush green space. Through the trees and the overgrowth there are glimpses of the red buildings of the former estate of Darbhanga Raj. Perhaps the charm of Darbhanga comes from how people speak. There are many stories of how Darbhanga got its name. One such story claims that the name came from Dwar-Banga – door to Bengal – which explains why Maithili and Bangla both sound sweet to the ear and have so much in common. Others say that the word refers to a broken gate – gates that were torn down near Qilaghat. Perhaps Darbhanga’s special charm comes from ponds, talabs and pokhars which used to dot the city. Activists in the area are fighting to reclaim and restore the water bodies which are drying up and are being built upon. But even today the vast light green expanse of water in the lake outside the station calms the eyes and the nerves. 
There is a colour I see wherever I go in Bihar. Pink. I see it the old and in the new. From long ago, there has always been a pink on the top of litchis as they ripen. The same delicate tinge is also to be seen on mangoes that hang precariously from the tree through the extreme heat and sudden seasonal squalls. These days, there is a fast growing summer “garma dhan” rice crop. That too has a pink tinged gold top edge in the fields. There are pink school buildings everywhere from the smallest village to the biggest town. Newly painted bright pink buildings in the bazaar showing off the new money that family members are sending from far-away places. This colour is of the past, the present and the future. Well before we can cross over the Ganga into Patna, darkness begins to descend. Through the hot haze of dusk and the shade of dusty trees, the sun sets rapidly over Mahua. This is perhaps the most glorious pink of them all – the yesterday and today bleeding gently into the promise of tomorrow.