Saturday, July 27, 2013


By Adila Matra Between
AEONS AGO, Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin drove away rats with his flute. Cut to the present, a hardcover of Amitava Kumar’s latest book A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna Aleph Book Company; 295) deceives you into thinking that the author is the modern day Pied Piper sans the revenge. But when the prologue gets over, your whole belief system is admonished on realising that Kumar has conferred himself with the title of the rat’ in his first ever book dedicated to Pataliputra.

Kumar is the rat who fled his homeland for a better life and left Patna to be scorned upon. He abandoned his friends and parents— something that real rats don’t do.

There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding rats.

So is the case with Patna”, says the author who currently a professor of English at Vassar College, New York. “ Writing about Patna was inevitable”, he says. “ I was increasingly being an outsider”. The 150 something pages Kumar’s tribute to Patna is filled with interesting titbits. For instance, talks about how a museum in Patna claimed house Napolean’s four poster bed. When Kumar rushes to lay his eyes upon this rare antiquity, he is amused and disappointed the same time to realise that it had belonged to Napolean III, and not Bonaparte! Kumar finds a place to mention how Shiva Naipaul rejected Patna with ‘ crude generalisations’ and the tale behind artist Subodh Gupta’s fixation with stainless steel. We find the moving story of a hero named Anand Kumar who runs the Super 30 programme, training students for IIT examinations and how former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav confused Chandragupta II with Chandragupta Maurya, who was a shudra. “ What he wanted to convey is that Bihar had been ruled by a low- born person. And that is important”, the author says.

Kumar has one more reason that lured him to dig the history of Patna for this book. He says this often, ‘ Delhi has swallowed Patna’. “ Nationalistic history always pays its homage to power”, states the author. “ I’m merely restoring personality and colour to a specific place that has been swallowed by nationalistic history and stereotyping”. There are three Patnas that feature in this book of rats. One is made up of those who were born there and moved elsewhere. The second Patna is of those who live there and the third draws people to it for a variety of reasons. “ Some of the people who have left have done good work”, comments Kumar. “ Those who are from elsewhere come with a desperate need”. But who will be the changemakers of Patna? Kumar replies with conviction, “ Patna belongs to people like Anand who stay there. They will be the primary movers”.

Kumar describes himself as the rat who left his homeland, his friends and family to look for a better life elsewhere.

Courtesy: Mail Today

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