A magazine recently called him The Lost Reformer of Patliputra for the developmental makeover of Patna.
A few weeks before the Lok Sabha setbacks, former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was busy announcing the creation of the longest WiFi zone in the world.
Patliputra, which was later christened Patna, was founded in the sixth century BCE by Ajatshatru, the emperor of Magadh. In his book, A Matter of Rats, a short biography of Patna, author Amitava Kumar says that Patna might be among India’s most iconic cities, but its glories appear firmly lodged in the distant past. But the Patna of 2014 appears to be high on an edgy cocktail of the quaint and the contemporary.
Till recently, despite being a state capital, Patna was bracketed with non-metro cities of small town India. Today, riding high on development indices, the city appears to be in a tearing hurry to move from Tier 2 to metropolis in spending power and in attitudes. Emboldened by improvement in law and order, the people of Patna, or Pataniyas as many of them call themselves, are fuelling an explosion in nightlife not seen before.
It’s The Time To Disco
Ramji ki chaal dekho… Aankhon ki majaal dekho. Tatar, tatar, the chartbuster from Ram-Leela, is playing at The Disc Man, Patna’s only nightclub. A trio of Ranveer Singh acolytes is busy giving the seventh rendition of the ‘dandruff move’ with a swagger. "It is ironic that a song from a movie with the sub-title 'goliyon ki raasleela' is demanded most by my clients," rues DJ Sam, who goes by just one name.
From standing up to the terror of Ranvir Sena’s private militia to dancing to Ranveer Singh numbers is a radical departure for Bihar’s youth. Arpita Komal, a 27-year-old dentist, takes a break from twirling to London thumakda to say that the city has changed dramatically over the last three years since she went to Nasik to study medicine. "Not only has the law and order become better, our parents, too, have become liberal about my friends and I going out dancing, albeit with a 9pm curfew." A 9pm curfew might not be a big deal in another city, but for many residents of Patna, who remember the breakdown in law and order during the reign of former CM Lalu Yadav, even venturing out after sunset was unimaginable.
Not far from the arterial Ashok Rajpath, where the 20km WiFi zone, the longest in the world, begins, Patna’s young and the restless are busy reclaiming the city’s once-vibrant nightlife.
At the upscale P&M Mall owned by filmmaker Prakash Jha, the crowds are queuing up to watch 300: Rise of An Empire, even at 10.15pm. Umang Saraogi, 23, who runs his steel business on the bustling SP Verma Road, says watching the 10.45pm show suits him. "Four times a month, my friend Manav and I end up watching a film at this hour. And we don’t miss any Hollywood release."
The WiFi Effect
The first phase of the 20km free WiFi zone, stretching from Ashok Rajpath in the east to Saguna Mor in the west, via Fraser Road and Dak Bungalow golambar (roundabout), was launched on March 31. Three-fourth of Patna’s traffic runs through it. Although the availability of free WiFi has impacted the lives of many Patna residents, says Atul Sinha, MD of Beltron, the implementing agency, it has benefited the students the most. “Students from Patna Women’s College, Science College, and Patna Medical College, who take this route, can now use their gadgets free of cost,” says Sinha.
At the inception of this zone, an unlikely consumer on the other end of the WiFi spectrum, an audience that technocrat Sinha wasn’t talking about, is holding forth on the fruits of free WiFi. Sanjay Mahto, 28, a rickshaw puller, says he needn’t go to a paan vendor to buy downloaded Bhojpuri item numbers any longer. Now he can do it free of cost on his phone. "My favourite is Rakhi Sawant’s Katta Tanal Dupatta Par."
At the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) campus, students of second-year design are busy discussing forecasts for Summer 2014. "Apart from sites such as Pinterest, street fashion blogs help us discover global trends," says Anindita Datta, a student from Kolkata. “Before free WiFi, we had to do the surfing at a cyber café."
WATCH: WHY NITISH KUMAR WILL BE REMEBERED AS THE LAST REFORMER OF BIHAR