Call it business acumen. Or let’s just say love is blind. For the local youth in the Buddhist temple town of Bodh Gaya, situated some 120 km from Patna, marriages are fast turning out to be a ticket to the good life.
As the world heritage site is frequented by backpackers from across the globe, alliances between locals and foreign tourists no longer make heads turn. In recent years, the town has seen some 50 little-educated and unemployed but fiercely enterprising youth marrying foreigners and changing their fortunes overnight. Many of the young men have gone on to script rags-to-riches stories — the preferred investment option of most being the hospitality trade.
Not surprising then that of the nearly 40 hotels and guesthouses located within a 2-kilometre radius of the sanctum sanctorum, most belong to people having their roots in Gaya but who have branched out abroad.
To name a few, there’s Hotel Mahamaya of Sudama Kumar, who also owns Deep Guest House and Laxmi Guest House. Kumar, whose wife is Yuki Inoue from Japan, is candid enough to admit to the Japanese factor behind his success. “I was a tour guide with Cox & Kings in Delhi, and as luck would have it, Yuki turned out to be my last client. Today, I am a well-established businessman and get to travel a lot,” he says with not a little pride.
Yuki also admits that she supported Kumar in the business. “I helped my husband financially when it came to completing the finishing of the hotel he runs. Before our marriage, he had incurred the expenditure on its construction,” she says.
In a similar manner, NGOs, most of which get funds from abroad, are flourishing here. One such outfit is the Mine Haha Helping Free Educational Center, which had built its school building on disputed land until a former divisional commissioner of Magadh, K.P. Ramaiah, had it vacated. The case is pending in the courts. Though registered in the name of famous Japanese singer Mine Haha, who funds it as director, Deepak Kumar Agarwal is the founder-cum-secretary and Dharmendra Kumar Yadav its chairman.
Incidentally, Agarwal and Yadav, both in their early 30s, have Japanese spouses — Takato and Kanako, respectively. Fluent in the Japanese language, both were once tour guides struggling to eke out a comfortable existence. That is, until they met ‘Lady Luck’. Today, they are businessmen raking in the moolah and harbouring more ambitious plans.
“I have been a tour guide since the age of 15 and I still am,” says Agarwal. “That is my basic profession and I will not leave it. In 2007, we began an NGO and now run a school under its banner for poor children in Katorwa village of Bodh Gaya. Some 950 children are enrolled here,” he adds.
Recently, Agarwal opened Manabe Tours and Travels, a travel-agency-cum-internet-café, in Bodh Gaya. He now plans to open a 30-room guesthouse. “The project is on and should be completed in about a year,” says Santosh Kumar, the manager Agarwal has appointed for the agency and one who is looking after the construction.
Yadav, his bosom pal and now business partner, runs Indra Tours & Travels based in Kyoto, Japan, with a branch office in New Delhi. While Yadav is settled in Japan, Agarwal keeps shuttling between the two countries.
Married to Kanako, Yadav has a six-year old son, Ryoto, who’s studying elementary school in Kyoto.
Deepak Agarwal and Takato’s children are named Hasu and Sakura.
Together, the two business partners typify the old adage that behind every successful man, there’s a woman.
Similar stories abound in this Buddhist city — and not all are tied to the traditionally-Buddhist Japan.
Gaya’s Sanjay Manjhi, who worked earlier as a cook in a Thai restaurant in Ladakh, ended up marrying Erin Butlet, an Australian. Bablu, an unemployed young man whose father Shravan ran a tea stall in Gaya, married an American this summer. Sadab Sultan of Gaya who owns a travel agency in New Delhi, married J. Kim of South Korea. There are dozens of others who, despite being married to Indians earlier, have gone ahead and married foreigners. So it’s not surprising that every other young one in Gaya now yearns to marry a gullible foreigner, probably more for the lucre than anything else.
True, love is blind and understands one language — that of the gut.