Monday, July 1, 2013

A scary journey

The  initial part of The White Tiger is set in Bihar. This reminded me of a an incident that made me quite nervous. I lived in Bihar for the first 19 years of my life. More accurately I lived in Jamshedpur which,, for practical purposes, can be considered separate from the rest of Bihar. (Whenever I mention  Bihar in this post, I mean the erstwhile Bihar, before it was split into the present-day states of Bihar and Jharkhand.. Jamshedpur is now in Jharkand.)

Jamshedpur is a well maintained city with quality of life much better than the rest of Bihar, nay, most other parts of India. There was a (probably apocryphal) story about a bridge, one  end of which was under the control of the Tatas and the other end was under the control of the Bihar Government. The Tatas end always had light and the bulbs were changed as soon as their life was over while the other end was in darkness. This was a good metaphor for the gap between Jamshedpur and the rest of Bihar at the time. (Things seem to be changing now.)

I had cleared an entrance exam and had to attend a counselling session to choose which engineering college I wanted. This was to be held in Bhagalpur and accordingly my dad and I went there. The counselling was held in the Bhagalpur Engineering College and after completing the required paperwork, we returned  to the hotel in the afternoon. A friend and I had to return to the college to complete some formalities so I left after telling my dad that I will be back in a couple of hours. In Very Good, Jeeves!, while planning a typically sloppy scheme, Bertie Wooster muses:
The first thing you need in matters of this kind, as every general knows, is a thorough knowledge of the terrain. Not know the terrain and where are you?Look at Napoleon and that sunken road at Waterloo. Silly ass!
When we finished our work, it was around 7 p.m. When we came out of the college, it was pitch black all around and not a soul was in sight.  I had  unconsciously assumed that things would be like in Jamshedpur - it would be lighted and that it would be easy to find some transport back to the hotel. But we couldn't make out anything and wondered how we could get back.

We then spotted a dim light in the distance and decided to try our luck there. It turned out to be from a lantern hanging inside a bullock cart. We asked the guy who was standing near the cart if he could take us to the  hotel we were staying in. He agreed and we hopped in. Then began a journey that may have lasted for about 20 min. but it seemed like 2 hours. It is the sort of time dilation that Einstein didn't bother about.

We could not see anything in front of us. If I was a poet, I would have said that ' The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas', but since I am not a poet, I will just say that it was bloody dark. I wonder how the bullock cart guy could make out the path in front of him. My friend and I kept up a nervous chatter acting as if it was the most exciting journey in the world.

It is in situations like this that one tends to mull about nightmarish incidents just to perk things up a bit. So I started thinking about the infamous Bhagalpur blindings which was the only thing I knew about the place - not the most cheery thought to have  in such situations. I half expected the highway man to come riding, riding, riding.

After an eternity, we spotted a dim light in the distance - the second such welcome sight during the night. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia says:
That light we see is burning in my hall. 
How far that little candle throws his beams! 
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
The dim light certainly was good news in a naughty world. The light was from the hotel where my father was waiting anxiously. 

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