I got off at Hatia station in Ranchi. It’s an interesting fact that the local hooch made by the adivasis is also called as Hatia. Could not help but wonder which suburban railway stations in Mumbai will be called as Taadi Maadi, Mosambi, Naarangi . That way we have Sandas Road (Sandhurst road station) and Byculla (called as Bai-Kulla meaning Lady Ass). There might be some history of country hooch trading which I am not aware of. For some strange reason I did not dig deep into that part of history, at the moment it still remains a mystery.
I got into a rickshaw; introduced myself to the driver and struck a conversation. It turned out that Mr. Laddoo Singh (yes it was his name) was in the business for the last 20 years or so. I couldn’t help but wonder why a man aged around 50, frail frame, white hair, 1 broken and the rest stained teeth, hair on ears like mangroves on a creek, and a giant unibrow that could put Anil Kapoor’s hairy back to shame; was called Laddoo Singh.
My ride through Dhoni’s Ranchi began. Most cities in India have some historical landmarks like gateway of India, Red Fort etc. Ranchi however has only Dhonimarks i.e. his house, college, ground where he played etc. We reached a petrol pump known as “Khukri petrol Pump”. The interesting fact is that 100% female staff manages this petrol pump. Right from the attendant to the money collector and the cleaners, all of them are women from the northeastern states; at least their Mongolian features and dialect suggested so. The only male at this petrol pump was a gigantic billboard of Dhoni with small text saying that Dhoni buys fuel at this petrol pump. It’s an unwritten law to compulsorily feature at least one article/feature or news on Dhoni; irrespective of quality or relevance. During my tenure I have read news of a particular road being blocked just because Dhoni was visiting a nearby barbershop. Needless to say the shop too features Dhoni’s poster and the tag line – Dhoni cuts his hair here.
I was handling Government contracts, and visiting government offices was a daily torture I had to endure. The moment you encounter people who look like Laloo variants i.e. white kurta, graying hair, mangroves growing out of ears, pan stains on the clothes you probably are in the secretariat area. The word Jharkhand actually means tree land. I wonder whether the name Jharkhand was inspired by the forest cover on the land or the forests on people’s ears.
The corridors of these govt offices are usually narrow with cupboards lined up on either side. There is usually a small gap between the rear side of the cupboard and the wall. This gap is effectively used by the staffers to try their talent in painting these walls by spitting on it with pan. The popularity of a minister can be judged by looking at the queue of people lined up outside his office. Ministers handling useless portfolios like Labour, Law, Animal Husbandry etc usually don’t get visitors. Their cabins are found at the far end of the corridor.
It was told to me that in Bihar the success or failure of a movie is judged by looking at the seats in a theater after the movie. The crowd expresses anguish by spitting on the seats, or sometimes standing on the seats and dancing on them while appreciating a song or a fight. I had heard weird stories of movie fans from southern India, but these north Indian rituals have taken it to another level.
Ranchi has places with some of the funniest names. One of the local markets is called “Bahu Bazaar”. It is situated near an area called as “Chutia”. I’m not kidding, it’s like a prominent area divided into two zones “Upper Chutia” and “lower Chutia”. Smack in the middle you have the biggest goof ups in history, 'Chutia Police Station'. We all believed that Biharis were capable of pulling off stunts, but naming an area Chutia and dedicating a police station in that name, takes their insanities to a higher level. If you don’t believe me a snapshot of Google maps is provided to the left as forensic evidence, admissible and acceptable to the thaanedar of Chutia Police Station.
Night travel and outings are rare in Ranchi. Even if you are out for dinner/party, its always better to start the return journey by 8-8:30 PM. It’s difficult to get an auto-rickshaw after 9 PM. Even if you get one, safe return is not assured. One night at around 10 PM; I caught an auto and asked him to drop me till Bariyatu. The guy agreed and asked me to wait for a minute. He went back to his gang, which was sitting below a tree, took a Chillum took quick puffs of what smelled like Charas, I was too shaken at this sight but considering that I did not have any other option, decided to hire the auto anyway. His skills in riding the rickshaw on the horrible roads of Ranchi would have even given James Bond an inferiority complex. I guess his blood red dopey eyes were not capable of looking down and locating the brake, which he hardly used while driving as fast as Schumacher on the Monaco circuit. Afraid that he might look back and get distracted, I didn’t have any courage to talk and ask him to slow down. That day I realized that in times like these you couldn't remember the Hanuman Chalisa, Ram Raksha and all the mantras. I just wished that I was drunk or stoned like him; at least in death I would have a stupid smile on my face. During the rest of my stay, I somehow got used to this ritual and it had become part of the daily routine. There was a simple rule, get drunk and then board a rickshaw.
There are very few hotels in Ranchi. The most busy area i.e. Main Road in Ranchi has around 2-3 good places where you can probably eat. Like the rest of India even Ranchi has a small eatery that has a board that says “Bombay type Food server here”. The CCD (I guess the only one in Ranchi) is a family place. Yes CCD’s are a place for families only, single guys sitting alone are considered as pimps and the girl prostitutes. This was told to me by a colleague, who was skeptical of going to a CCD for some coffee. The funniest fact is that throughout my stay I could not find a single Bhelwala/Chaat stall in Ranchi. I mean just think of it, almost 90% of the guys serving Bhel on Mumbai roads are from UP/Bihar and Ranchi didn’t have a single Bhelwala. Litti and aloo chokha is to Jharkhand what Vada Pav & Misal are for Mumbai—Staple diet of the common man.
I met one of the most interesting characters at our guesthouse. The housemaid was one of the locals an Adivasi. She was nothing less than a terrorist or the leader of the mafia. It is every Adivasi/Maoist’s birthright to bunk work and participate in a morcha (protest march) at least twice a month. These people have a lot of pride associated with these strikes. Our maid used to come over and declare "Saheb aaj Jhanda hai to aaj main kaam pe nahi aaoongi". I wondered what the fuck is this Jhanda business. Later on i was told that it is customary for them to carry a red flag and march on the streets and protest against anything. Once our maid had participated in a strike organized by a local PSU called MECON. She was neither an employee nor a fellow sufferer, but there is nothing more joyous to these ignorant souls than to participate in a strike and get paid 10 bucks to buy a bottle of Hatia in the evening. There is a prominent junction on the main road in Ranchi a bit ahead of the Hanuman Mandir. Just like the locals; I have forgotten the actual name of that junction. Every week there is a protest march that ends at this junction. It is mandatory to first block the traffic, shout slogans and then burn the effigies of the leaders. Due to this routine and regular burning of effigies, the place is referred to as "Shamshaan ghaat" (Crematorium). Yes Ranchi has a crematorium smack in the middle of the road. Our maid's schedule was to reach as late as possible, then spend the next 30-45 minutes in having breakfast and tea. If she felt that the owners are looking hungry; sometimes out of goodwill she spared a loaf of bread and couple of eggs for us to consume. Emptying the fridge of all leftovers (cheese, jam and butter included) was a daily activity. Once I had left an unfinished bottle of Smirnoff on my desk. She promptly picked up the half full bottle to take it away. I suggested that the bottle is not empty, she replied “to kya hua? Mera pati daaru pee lega aur main bottle bhangaar waale ko bech doongi”. It was her right to pick up groceries, soaps etc from the cupboard and take them home. Now you tell me whether she qualifies as the mafia or not?
There are many lines which are only heard in Jharkhand. Since separation from Bihar, this state has been in a constant struggle to prove that Jharkhand is better than Bihar. When you try to bribe someone you are most likely to hear "yeh Bihar nahi hai, yeh Jharkhand hai. Yaha yeh sab nahi chalega". This is not a statement used to convey their pride or love for the state, it just means -- increase the bribe amount. The moment you do that, Jharkhand is back to being Bihar. Jharkhandis are not aware of the term shopping. Locally it is said 'hum marketing ke liye jaa rahe hai, kaunsa sabzi le aaye?". Shopping means marketing in Jharkhand.
I had the privilege of witnessing the Hanuman Jayanti celebrations. This festival draws big crowds (thousands of people) of people to Ranchi’s city center. Different mandals/akhada’s compete with each other. The competition is which Pandal brings the tallest or the biggest flag. Last time I saw a flag, which was almost like 40 feet by 20 feet. Most of the people are drunk; the place smells like a huge factory of Hatia; the local hooch. These drunken maniacs perform stunts with swords, lathis and all other lethal weapons. Lathis, swords flying from people’s hands are a common sight. Stories of passers by losing noses, ears, head injuries due to the flying weapons are quite common. if you are stuck in the procession; these morons are capable of jumping on the roof your car and perform a stunt. Serious advice; wear a full body armor in case you want to witness this event. After all unlike their American counterparts Indian insurance companies do not offer insurance for individual body parts.These morons forget the fact that Lord Hanuman is a God in the form of a monkey; you need not be monkeys to express your love towards him. Reaffirms my faith in the saying “Bandar ke haath mein talwaar”.
My stint finally came to an end; it was time to return back to the maximum city. My greatest achievement during this assignment was that I managed to keep my name intact; still managed to be Gaurav Puranik and not Gaurav Kumar.