Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Week in Patna

Patna was amazing. It was hot, and the sense of the past, of Patliputra and the trade routes are still very evanescent. Crowds just mill onto the road, and an honking, multifarious beastly traffic clogs all the main routes in the town. And the Ganga flows expansively at the heart.
My colleagues and I spent a hot morning in Nalanda, the ancient fifth century B.C University. The ruins are very well cared for, the bricks are laid out in excavations which have been careful to see that the various strata merge, and yet are distinct. Buddha visited Nalanda, and in his memory others have gathered, and continue to visit. Like Sarnath, Nalanda, possibly named after lotus' of the mind, carries the sense of an enduring peace. There was in it's significant years, ten thousand students and fifteen hundred teachers. Ashoka patronised it, Hiuen Tsang visited it. It is built so charmingly with meditation slabs for the students to sit on, and as for the monks' cells, each is very small and the flat bed is still evocative of a time when the sky would have been open for the student to look up at.
Patna itself is a hurly burly of life and work. The people have been looted so often, that they tend to be basilisk about it. Crime rates are now down they say (murder and abduction being rampant in previous years) but now, its property that is escalating in cost. A land mafia is at work. building flats, this is the precursor of development, which they say will change Patna. Liquor entrepreneurs have already arrived, and the advertisements are for a new Patna, with a swinging elite. What will happen to the farmers and the kirana or mom and pop stores? Near the  railway station, there were no fruit merchants, because the local populace could not afford the fruit. However cucumbers, melons and bel, the traditional vegetable and fruits that   help people beat the heat were freely and cheaply available. Bel is delicious, its the ascetic's fruit, fiery orange inside, a hairy sort of pulp which when squeezed and sieved and served with lime juice and sugar makes the most amazing cold drink. Like raw mango juice it works very well in reviving those who suffer from exposure to  heat. And then there is crushed juice of sugar cane, bottle green in colour and with a dash of lime and rock salt, makes one feel there is a tomorrow. Most people dont worry about street food, their immunity is good.
When we returned from Nalanda, we drank some  cane  juice on the way back, because we had two tyre punctures, and the heat was so bad, that we could have died. The driver insisted that the heat of the tarmac made the tyres to pop. But his spare tyre was punctured too, and we had to wait while he went to the nearest town and got it repaired. What really perplexed me was that there were no trees on a tourist route. Think of it, this road has been traversed by the Buddha, maybe even by Adi Shankara, and there are no trees. No shady mangoes, no tamarind trees, no pipals, no figs, no neems. No trees. Wierd, and really hot!
But I can never forget Nalanda with its sense of a distant past, (hidden under a hill, until it was excavated,) and now there for us to see.

No comments:

Post a Comment