How Patna looked 50 years ago : A metropolis of slums

Golghar in Patna, credit -Wikimedia Commons

NK SINGH

Point of View, 24 July 1971

Few are conscious of the existence of two Patnas. This journalist is not referring to the other Patna, which is situated in Ayer in Scotland but to the two Patnas that exist in India, — Bihar — instead in the capital city of it.

Beautiful Patna

One Patna is where the officials, feeding upon the sacrifices of the people live.

In this Patna which would not suffer in comparison with the beautiful cities in the most prosperous western European countries, there is everything — good roads, specious buildings with lawns and gardens for every house, treelined asphalted streets, adequate water supply and brighter lights. Yes, brighter lights! For, all areas in Patna are not supplied with electricity of adequate voltage which is reserved to keep the high officials of the State Government in good humour.

Here houses have been built at the cost of public-money to provide for the luxury of the rulers in Socialist Society.

Officials are not asked even to bear the cost of maintenance of these buildings and facilities. For the rent they pay is woe- fully inadequate and falls far short of the economic rent which would be several times more than what the officials actually pay.

In addition, public-funds are utilized to provide gardens and chaprasis, officially or otherwise, to sustain the awe and might of the rulers who feel disturbed even at the slightest interruption of their cosy conversation.

Metropolis of slum

The other Patna is full of squalor and filth, where people are obliged to live like beasts and cannot observe even the simplest decencies of life. In this Patna, which houses the bulk of the population of the capital, there is no road, no drains, and no facilities for the removal of the garbage. The invasion of the rains only aggravates this awful condition.

Now and then, local papers have to publish lengthy news pieces on the “people’s Patna” under high-strung headlines such as “If there is hell; it is here, it is here.”

Patliputra: a historic town

Patna, the metropolis of Bihar, is a city of great historic and cultural importance. The ancient name of the city is Patliputra and it was once the centre of the mighty Magadh Empire, during which it was famous for its wealth, adulation and power. In Buddha period it was renowned for its highly developed culture and elite. Even today the massive ruins of world-famous Nalanda University lead one to remember the prosperous, happier and richer golden age of India.

It is the same town which had been visited by Chandragupta riding on his elephant; where Buddhist monks used to go door to door preaching their ethics; where the abashed people of the city used to witness the advent of Lord Buddha and where Guru Govind Singh as a child, had wandered and played in the lanes.

Now, in the same Patna town, there is abundance of processions; today Government employees, tomorrow teachers, day after wrathful students on war-path and then rickshaw-pullers or some other working-class people are fighting with administration.

The sky which had been full of watch-words in the praise of adroit winner kings or which was being purified by the pious Buddha-mantras, is now-a-days thunderstruck with the slogans of populace.

Alas, Patna is nothing but a city of slums at present. Big, beautiful, massive and modern houses situated on the main roads can mislead anyone easily. There are abominable slums just behind these beautiful buildings.

Old wine in new bottle

Many, who like to taste an acrid mixture of old and new, would certainly admire Patna. If Patna City, built by Shershah in the 16th century, and Bankipore which developed during the early British rule stand for old, the New Capital area built up during the last 50 years, such as Secretariat and Rajendranagar represent the metropolis.

The 41 square miles city, with a population on nearly 4 lakhs, spreads for about 10 miles along the bank of the Ganga.

The Golghar, one of the famous tourist attractions, is a wonderful example of the 19th century architect. It is a huge bee hive shaped structure, 96 Ft. high with walls 12 Ft. thick at the bottom, built by Capt. John Garstin in 1786, which was used as a state granary. It is noted for its peculiar shape and powerful echo.

Then there is a Martyr’s Memorial or the Sahid Smarak constructed to perpetuate the hallowed memories of 7 young men who sacrificed their lives on 11th August 1942. In Patna city is Sat Sri Harmandir ji, the Sikh Gurudwara, built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh around the room in which Guru Govind Singh, the last and the most renowned of the Sikh Gurus, was born.

Being the capital of Bihar, Patna is always full of people from rural areas, who come for their works in courts and other Government office. It is a very amusing sight to see the abrupt mixture of Dhoti, Kurta (occasionally vest or not even that), a pair of old fashioned “Chamrodha shoes, an umbrella (yes, it is too hot in Patna) and red Gamcha (towel) on head with the vogue of drain-pipe pants, Italian shoes and shirts of latest designs.

Poor man’s transport

Cycle-Rickshaws have proved themselves to be the most popular means of transport in the town, which is being enjoyed even by such people whose income fell far less than the Rickshaw pullers.

No long queues for buses here like Bombay and Delhi. One of the characteristics of this town is the roadside open latrines. A new comer, who is not acclimatize with Patna, might be aghast by seeing people on the pavements, finishing their ‘usual work’ every morning and evening. Municipality has not built any latrines.

Patna has got a population of about 7 lakhs. Naxalities have shown a rapid increase and all the walls of the city are full of Mao just like Calcutta. Hippies are here, but not like Benaras.

Actually Patna, the metropolis of slums, is somewhat like an old whisky in a new bottle.

Point of View 24 July 1971

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