It’s early morning and the nip in the air is quite pronounced, a sharp contrast to the surcharged atmosphere of a polling day in northeast Bihar.
I hit the road at Purnea, a chaotic city which gave Bollywood an accomplished actor Sushant Singh Rajput. It is also home to a 600-year-old temple dedicated to Mata Puran Devi, which is believed to have given the name Purnea, around 300 km from Patna.
At a roadside tea stall, just left of the main chowk, I joined a group of paramilitary troops employed for election duty on the fifth phase. The stall-owner Mohammad Akhtar, however, was in a hurry.
Asking me to hurry up and finish my bun and tea, he explained that the day looked promising for business – he wanted to cast his vote and return to his shop as early as possible.
At a polling booth nearby, voters were already queuing up. It was only 6.30am and the doors of the booth wouldn’t open for another half-an-hour.
Among the early voters was 26-year-old Fatima, who explained the reason. “I work as a maid at household nearby and would not like to be late for work.” Also in line was her husband, a daily wager.
In this part of the state, elections are just another day of struggle for survival for the likes of Fatima.
It is time to move on and the driver my cab informed that we are already in Araria, bordering Nepal and once marked as one of the country’s most backward districts.
Along the road, I saw people milling by the roadside walking goats for grazing. Some were brushing their teeth with neem stalks, commonly known as ‘datun’.
The countryside is just coming to life but Rukmini Begam is has already cast her vote. A first-time voter, a beaming Rukmini said she was “happy to be part of the democratic process” and hopes her vote would make a difference in their lives.
Rukmini takes care of her cooking for the family and also tutors her siblings after she is back from school.
Despite the visible poverty, several people I spoke to appeared to be politically very aware and very clear in their minds about their choice of candidates – the signs of a vibrant democracy at work.
Soon we are on the NH-57 -- a slick, macedemised road Lalu Prasad would liken to the cheeks of Hema Malini – and on the way to Supaul. It is 7.30 am and the rush of people towards the polling booths indicated the mood of the people.
But the heavy security bandobast also gave an inkling of the city’s brush with criminal elements in past elections. Just a day before, the district administration booked more than 16,000 people as part of a preventive drive.
In a state where the election processes always come under the scanner for use of unfair means, sometimes allegedly by candidates, people said the security was necessary for fair polling.
My next stop is Sonbarsa town in Saharsa, a district which traces its history back to the days of king Janak, the father of Sita, and was a place important place during the Magadha empire.
Across Sonbarsa, I came across heavy security arrangements and hushed discussions among people gathered by the roadside.
At a roadside, I overheard what’s going on -- last night, the CPI (M) had alleged that BJP workers were trying to buy votes with Rs 500.
“Vote buying is nothing new in Bihar,” said Narayan Sinha, an old-timer of the town. “Everyone wants to grab the limelight. But the CPI (M) stands nowhere.”
After joining a group of CRPF personnel for lunch at a roadside dhaba in Madhubani, famous for its paintings perfected by local artists over the centuries, I am on the road again, zipping towards Darbhanga, the constant drone of the vehicle lulling me into sleep.
In between, I had a rendezvous with the Kosi river – one of the major tributaries of the Ganga – which is also the ban and boon for at least four districts.
Originating in Nepal, every summer the melting of Himalayan glaciers leads to flooding across its path, causing widespread devastation in the state.
My local guide Santosh told me stories of the misery the river brings to the people and also how it acts as a life-giver by leaving behind nutrient-rich soil in the plains. “I am among the lakhs of people displaced by the river over the years,” he said.
The river, in fact, is a reflection of life in these parts of the world, constantly in ebb and flow. And changing course very now and then, just like the Kosi.