Written by Dallon Asnes, (Pomona College) Student Correspondent UW in India, Spring 2017
A great benefit of living with a college student at nearby Benares Hindu University is that during our overlapping vacation days, we were able to take a trip back to his hometown.
Vikash, my roommate, is from Purnia, Bihar. To get there, we planned a train trip from Varanasi to Patna, Bihar’s capital city. After spending the day there with Vikash’s father, we would then take an overnight bus and arrive in Purnia by the next morning. We would spend a day in Purnia, the following day in his family’s village, Sameli, and then one more day in Purnia before I would take an overnight train to Varanasi and be back in time for Holi.
I have yet to hear someone say good things about the state of Bihar (besides Vikash, of course). Last semester, we learned in Hindi class that the word bihari is used as a common insult at one’s intelligence. I’ve heard Bihar described as “India’s most backward state,” been warned to watch out for daku (armed highway robbers) and heard jokes where the punchline is to compare something to Bihar.
Vikash would insist that I don’t listen to the sterotypes. He said that there used to be daku, maybe 150 years ago, but not anymore. Patna ekdam modern city hai, he told me.
As Vikash and I walked from the train station to his dad’s office and apartment building in Patna, we came across this “ekdam modern” highway (pictured above). On the other side of that was his dad’s apartment, where he had cooked us a gourmet non-veg meal. After a little nap, we spent the day touring some local sites and museums.
After gifting his dad a box of laddus, Vikash and I set off for our bus to Purnia.
Vikash had warned me beforehand that at his house we would eat more plain food – dal and chaval– than what we are served at the program house. Nevertheless, when we sat down, his mother served us a exquisite meal of seven different items (and would keep refilling the portions on our plates).
The thing that struck me about Purnia was its quiet. There were shops and a market within walking distance from Vikash’s house. The area seemed like a quiet suburb. This was in pleasant contrast to the louder and more intense cities we have spent a lot of time in.
We spent the next day in Sameli, the village where the rest of Vikash’s family lives. Vikash, his grandfather, and a small entourage of his cousins walked me around the community, giving a tour of the village and of the field where his family works in producing crops.
I was surprised by how welcoming Vikash’s family was, even beyond just hosting me in their house. The night of my train back to Varanasi, Vikash and his father waited with me at the station for nearly four hours of continuous delays to make sure I found my train back to Varanasi. It was a very kind sendoff.