Of reactions and responses:
“OMG! You’re going to Bihar. Avoid traveling by trains since you’re all by yourself.”
“Just be careful. Try if possible to not travel by buses when you’re in Bihar”
Contrast that with this:
“Bihar’s so much safer than what most people make it to be”
^^that wasn’t me by the way. I happened to have a conversation with a non-local in Bihar a few days after I’d gotten there on the misconceptions people have when she made that remark.
The real deal? Public transport:
And just to let you know, I did take buses around Bihar even when I was the only female in the bus... and even when I was the only female on the last seat in the bus! In the same breath let me also add that I took the train when I needed to as well. Let alone surviving the experience unscathed, I’ve had bus drivers and conductors watch out for me the same way their counterparts have when I’ve travelled solo in other states in the country. Though it’s the distances traversed in the shared auto-rickshaws that demand special mention. These mean machines operate like mini-buses and carrying 12 people at a time and in spite of the space crunch I’ve never felt violated in these. Strange, innit?
So what was it like?
I’ve spent a little more than a month on my own in a state that’s on nobody’s travel bucket-list. Well, it wasn’t on mine either. Bihar was assigned to me. To be completely honest, I was on a bed of nails not just before getting there but also after. It took me instances such as the ones above to leave behind my bigoted baggage.
Evidently, ever since I’ve returned back from Bihar everyone around me has been curious to know what my experience has been like. When I relay my stories – stories of ‘experiencing humanity’ (which is also why I mostly travel) - I almost hear people exclaim a barely audible ‘Oh!’ as if that’s not what they were hoping to hear. My cousin’s reaction deserves a mention (in a way it sums up what everyone else has had on their mind too). On hearing me rave about how everyone was ever so approachable and helpful everywhere in Bihar, he exclaimed:
“Then what part of Bihar do they show on TV with the abduction and killing of the girl child?”
So just to clear the air I must emphasize that IMHO Bihar is just like every other place I’ve been to. What’s more? I can’t recall a single instance of cat-calling while I was there!
Interestingly though I got asked by locals about my opinion of the state a lot. And every time I repeated how safe I felt contrary to everything I’d heard and been told, I would hear them sigh but quickly recover too. When speaking to one, he was quite disturbed that a few miscreants had been successful in spreading rumours about the state.
Some others were genuinely impressed with my being there on my own and I even got asked by one, ”Why are you here when everyone else is desperate to go to Mumbai?”
Never did a local berate the state or its state of affairs and this I realise is because people are so much rooted to their hometown. I, on the other hand, have rarely if ever flinched before criticizing mine for everything that isn’t right. It is the little things such as these memories that I carry with me weeks after I said good bye to Bihar (and my own biases).