Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Parull Malhotra : Patna - Past , Present & Future

Courtsey :

Patna--Past, Present and Future


Nitish spells hope for Bihar but who'll revive its magnificent cultural legacy?

Last week I found myself in Patna, the seat of the Magadh and Mauryan empires. Home to the great Chanakya and Ashoka the Great. Buddha got his enlightenment close by. The Chinese scholar-traveller Fa Hien stayed here and translated Buddhist texts. Once a thriving political and cultural centre of India, Patna (and Bihar, I dare say) lost much of its sheen subsequently. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reminded us of Bihar's decay when he quipped that, till recently, the motto in government offices had been "12 bajey tak late nahin, 3 baje ke baad bhaint nahin".

Nitish went on to outline his socio-economic model of development that focussed on enforcing law (no one can get away by breaking the law, he declared on a day his own MLA killed his family and committed suicide!), female literacy (starting with incentivising girls to go to primary school by giving them bicycles), infrastructure building (roads and bridges primarily), revival of public health services, and political empowerment of women (through 50% reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions). He painted a picture of hope, he spoke of the pride that the Bihari now had in his land and he outlined a vision that would go beyond the spectacular 11% growth to achieve empowerment for all - down to the last maha dalit.

His audience comprising Nepali political leaders, including former Maoist guerrilla leader Baburam Bhattarai, was suitably impressed. But Nitish skirted a question on land reforms posed by Dr Bhattarai who wanted to know how the CM was reaching out to the Naxals in his state. The buzz is that the recommendations of a government-appointed committee on land reforms will upset the upper castes and even Nitish's constituency of backward castes (who have prospered over the years to become land owners). For this reason, Nitish remains wedded to the BJP -- counting on the party to win him the upper caste vote in elections in November.

Away from the flow and ebb of electoral politics, I took in the magnificent Ganga that divides the state into half. It looked peaceful - and clean! A mental comparison with the Yamuna, a dirty drain for the most part, saddened me. Colleagues reported sighting gorgeous dolphins while on a river cruise (I missed out because I was in Delhi covering the Indo-Pak talks that day). But a visit to the Khudha Bakhsh Oriental Public Library lifted the spirits.

Imagine seeing original Persian and Arabic manuscripts with the scribbles of Humayun and Jehangir on the margins. Some of the gems in its collection of 21,000 manuscripts in classical Arabic and Persian, Urdu, Pushto, Uzbek, Turkish, Hindi and Sanskrit are the Timurnama - a set of 132 paintings from the finest painters at Akbar's court; the Diwan-i-Hafiz - a 13th century collection of Persian poetry by the Iranian poet that was gifted to Babur by a Central Asian chieftain; and a 17th century account of the Sufi Auliyas autographed by Dara Shukoh!

The cultured library Director (and historian) Dr Imtiaz Ahmad was a wonderful host - generous with his tea, time and knowledge. His obvious pride in his library was heartwarming. And his obvious sadness at the decline in the interest in classical languages heartbreaking. Dr Ahmad has very few takers for his manuscripts. He tells us a negligible number of Indian scholars are interested in trawling through Persian and Arabic works because most can't read these languages. Those who can, don't know English and are not trained for either research or histiography. Ironically (and thankfully), he's getting interested foreigners, mostly Westerners, at the library. Dr Ahmad's dynamism will soon take him to Tashkent where he hopes to tie up with scholars who'll study the works of Al Beruni, the scholar/historian at Mahmud Ghazni's court. I wish him all the luck.

By the way, if you thought this was a shame, even Aligarh Muslim University has a dearth of medieval India-scholars skilled in classical languages as do other major Indian universities; and over in Pakistan, the situation seems just as bad, if not worse. Dr Ahmad recounted meeting a Pakistani scholar who lamented that all of Karachi had no researcher with working knowledge of classical Persian and Arabic!

Nitish is saving Patna. Who'll save the sub-continent's cultural legacy?

Psst! Khudha Bakhsh was not just a bibliophile but also chief justice of the Nizam's Hyderabad. He lived with his beloved books and died with them. The library is still within his home -- Khuda Bakhsh fittingly remains buried within the complex.