Reminiscing About Bihar

The Pratham Books team had a jolly good time during the “Bihar Reading Improvement Program” held across Bihar.

49 days!

37 districts!

70,000 schools!

5.9 million children!

Apart from the joy of reaching so many children, we all had several experiences and anecdotes which continue to remind us of Bihar. Mala Kumar pens down some of her experiences:

Gaya Dec.2008: Ye Partham hai-i-yy??
The lilting quality of the Bihari language is so pleasant that it strikes you only a little later that you haven’t understood what is being said. So what the heavily mufflered gent was saying while I beamed at him was “Ye Partham hai? Aur dooti kahaan hai?” (So this is the first, where is the second?).

“Nai, nai, Sir, ye hamare prakaashan ka naam hai…”I said. (No, Sir, this is the name of our publication.)

“Tho naam mey Hindi aur Angrezi milaa diya..aa?” asked another sharp Bihari. (“So you’ve mixed Hindi and English in your name?”)

And thus Pratham Books made a name for itself in the cold, foggy land, that is part of India and yet so different from the parts I’d seen.

In the land so close Gautam Buddha’s Bodh Gaya, our book fair venue looked like a battle ground…..a dead cat and a dead puppy lay a few feet apart. I’ll kindly spare you the gory details.

But there was no time to mull over this scene, for soon the shikshaks started trooping in. Most of the boys in the Pratham Mela Team were very efficient, knowledgeable, kind and courteous to the clients…..and they had all studied in Bihar’s government schools.

The first night, I stayed in a hotel bang opposite the railway station….On day two, while self and a colleague were counting the cheques and cash, a waiter barged in……even though we thought we’d secured the latch and all that. Of course, we had to change hotels the next day.

Ah, I told myself, smart woman to have found a hotel so close to our banks and the fair. And then I opened the day’s Hindustan: “Gaya bank mein hatya aur 3 lakh ki chori” said a headline (Murder and robbery in Gaya Bank). And here we were with many more lakhs in our bags! And close to two banks! Shiver, shiver!

On the last day, looming large over all other matters, good or bad, was the thought we’d reached thousands of teachers, who would hopefully take out the books from the boxes and actually allow millions of children to read books in districts and villages which we did not even know existed.

For that satisfying feeling, I thank Partham Boosk, no, Pratham Books, for giving me this opportunity to learn. And in return, I’ll share my whimsically packed basket of Gaya’s famous tilkut with you….


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