Before the outset, a declaration - this post is not a tribute to Laloo Yadav.
Well, life for a bihari is a lot different from an average Indian. In a state which has highest percentage of population below poverty line and lowest rate of literacy, you can't expect life to be great. There are social issues of caste, political issues of crime and violence and economic issues of poverty and unemployment. How can you expect someone to be happy? Still, the ones who live in Bihar do not complain. Either biharis have too limited expectations or due to lack of exposure to the outside world, they just do not know what they deserve or can wish for. But, why am I referring to Biharis as 'they'. I should use the term 'we'. For years, I was as much a Bihari as anyone else living in those geographies. I spent my first sixteen years growing there. The city that my parents had moved in the 70's became a part of a newly formed state Jharkhand while their native village still fell in the boundaries of Bihar. Suddenly the feeling of being Bihari started coming in.
The local Jharkhand tribals, who had now settled in the cities, started looking at us as outsiders and wanted to drive us back to Bihar. There was huge hue and cry over the issue of Domicile and I remember how an angry crowd of "original" Jharkhandis chopped off the right hand of the government official who was issuing Domicile certificates of Jharkhand to Biharis who had resided for a long period in Jharkhand. I was too shocked to try for a Jharkhand domicile and requested my dad to get me a Bihar domicile. I was told, since I was born in Jharkhand and my education had happened in Jharkhand, my candidature for a Bihar domicile was less eligible than for a Jharkhand one.
Frustrated, I gave up, deciding not to appear in any selection process which demanded a domicile certificate. Fortunately, India doesn't has single citizenship and hence I was free to practice my education and career anywhere in the country. I appeared for the national exam of entrance to IIT's and got admitted in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). Kanpur, for all practical purposes, appeared an extended version of Bihar. Similar accent, same food, similar climate and the same ethos of the Ganges. I felt I was safe to be in a place which was almost Bihar. I was soon to be proved wrong. The IIT had students from all across the country, mostly north Indians. There were people from UP, Delhi and Punjab. They unanimously hated Biharis. Hate, I think, might be an overrated word. They just didn't like the fact that Biharis also studied in the same place. As if Biharis had a stink or a color that would irritate. Soon I was to find some more biharis who felt disgusted at such behaviour from friends. Interestingly, my roommate happened to be from Khagaria and my close friends from Dhanbad and Patna mostly. We got along well and decided to teach a lesson to all who ridiculed Biharis.
The moment we heard someone saying anything against Bihar or Biharis, we would treat the culprit with a solid GPL (G*** pe laat). In months time, we were recognized and though not loved, we ensured that no one spoke ill of Biharis in front of us. In fact, many of the guys we GPL'ed later became our close friends and soon our group had friends from Uttaranchal, UP and Andhra. But those were college days....
During my IIT days itself, my sister finished her school and had to go for her grads. My parents preferred Pune than Delhi as Delhi was already known for its ridicule to Biharis and its forward culture that my parents didn't approve of. Pune was an unknown territory and we expected a good welcome. Reaching pune, we realized that there were many students from Bihar/Jharkhand (for all practical purposes, the public still treats both states as same) especially from the cities of Jamshedpur and Bokaro. My sister soon got comfortable. Her initial roommates were from Bokaro or Jamshedpur and later she became friends with a few Marathis as well. One of my school friends who was also studying in Pune, was to marry a Marathi later on. My parents were relieved that Pune was a good decision. Later, though we heard about what a frustrated politician tried to do. He is named Raj Thackery. Still, my sister was sheilded from the political actions as Pune didn't get as heated as Mumbai.
My parents were happy for her eductaional achievements but a pain of not being able to give good education to kids at home lingered on their minds. They soon realized that there kids had left Bihar for long, probably for ever. In the job, I travelled to various places including Mumbai and Delhi along with other 10-15 cities of the country. Finally I stopped at Gurgaon. By now I had already fallen in love with a girl I had met at IIT. She came to IIT to do her Phd after her graduation and post graduation from Delhi University. She was a true Delhi, born and brought up in Lajpat Nagar, did her schooling from Lodhi Road, shopping from South Ex and spent her weekend evenings at India Gate. Her parents had settled in Delhi for quite some time, though they belonged to the undivided Punjab of pre-independence. Many of her relatives still had roots in the Indian part of Punjab. She is a nice girl and liked me for weird reasons. I was always aware that we not only belonged to different castes and social classes but also to different states. I soon came to know about her feelings about Biharis and they were similar to what every other Delhite feels. Within months, she realized that Bihar wasn't as bad as potrayed in the media, or even if it was, it could not have an impact on all Biharis.
The relationship has been going fine for years with normal ups and downs that any relationship goes through. We realized that if we want to get this relationship to the next level, we need to get our parents involved. I was the first to inform my parents. I had reactions worse than anticipated. A Bihari Maithil Brahmin and a Delhite Punjabi Arya Samaji girl, who still goes to Gurudwaras. Sounded an impossible proposition. Well, in the midst of those difficult times, we decided to tell her parents too. The reaction was similar. Only that the impact of the word Bihari was more than I had anticipated. I had thought that the difference of cultures would be difficult to be accepted by parents. But I was shocked that probably a UP or a Kashmiri or a Marathi would not have mattered so much, but a Bihari - the state of rickshaw-pullers, thieves, maid-servants, sweepers and coolies. Oh no. This is next to impossible.
I don't know how I should react. Humiliated, yes I feel, but sorry, no. I am not sorry of being a Bihari and though not proud of my state because of its backwardness, I still am in love with the place I was born in. I also have a culture, a cuisine, traditions and festivities. Above all, I too have values. I am not sure what will happen to a relationship and probably that is not the objective of writing this post. Relationship is a personal matter and so shall it remain. But the tag of being Bihari is a bigger issue and will keep haunting me for long. I am not sure if I can convey my feelings through words, but an incident in history speaks for the feelings I would be having now.
It was in the early 20th century that an Indian was thrown out of train at a railway station in South Africa, because he dared to sit in the first class despite being an Indian - a coolie. The man, named Mohandas, remembered that pain for long and made sure the next generation doesn't go through it.