It was in the year 2000; I was standing at a bus stop outside my school in Delhi, waiting for a bus to go home after a toiling day at understanding coordinate geometry.
Suddenly one of my classmates came running to board a bus but fell. That gave the bystanders a good laugh. In the middle of it, one of my friends asked him sarcastically, ‘Kaise gir gaya Bihari?’ (How did you fall Bihari?).
It was my seventh month in the city and I was still coming to terms with the lingo of the Capital. So this ‘sarcasm’ confused rather than shocked me because the butt of the joke was from Uttar Pradesh and not Bihar.
Later, I narrated this incident to my cousin and he explained that people who commit silly mistakes, behave idiotically and create nuisance are often addressed as a ‘Bihari’. In fact, ‘Bihari’ is more of an offensive slang than a term to denote an identity.
That came as shocker as I was always comfortable being called a Bihari. After all, don’t we call Punjabis, Bengalis, Madrasis, Gujaratis etc. by their state’s name, I used to wonder.
This revelation reminded me of another incident that had occurred on the second day of my school term. During the ‘introduction’ with seniors, one of them asked me to imitate the inimitable Lalu Prasad Yadav when I told him that I belonged to Bihar.
Joining the pieces now, I can easily make out that back then Bihar was synonymous with Lalu and the natives of the state were perceived to be his copies. And probably because of this reason, my friends often ‘complimented’ me by saying I don’t come across as a Bihari. I could never understand that - how should a Bihari look!
Also, for me, not looking like a Bihari is certainly not a compliment. It is demeaning if I am not identified with the people of my own state.
Anyways, with time, I realised being a Bihari outside Bihar during RJD’s jungle raj was not easy. One had to face innumerable jokes, the wrath of ‘Senas’ accusing hardworking people of stealing their jobs and a general contempt from all around. It seemed not only Bihar, but even the Biharis were in shambles.
Then came a breather. The historic Bihar Assembly polls of 2005 saw the Lalu-Rabri duo thrown out of power and the humble Nitish Kumar taking over the reins of a state that was unarguably the perfect example of bad governance.
Like most of the Muslims of the state, I was also sceptical of a BJP alliance coming to power. After all, Gujarat was still afresh in the minds of the minorities of the state. But then, the 15 years of misrule was such a trauma that all believed things could only change for the better from here.
Five years later, change has surely arrived. The NDA regime saw Bihar turning into a ‘progressive’ state from a banana republic.
Importantly, that change is visible. The roads are broad and connect even far off villages. ‘Goonda Raj’ is a thing of the past and kidnapping no longer the most profitable industry. Crime is under control and people can move about freely at odd hours. A perfect example is that I could go to straight to my home, even though I reached Gaya railway station at 3 am, without having to wait for dawn.
Nitish Kumar is again the Chief Minister with a majority that will put all claimants to being the most popular leader in Indian democracy to shame. The verdict is loud and clear: Development works even in Bihar. Even though out of 243 MLAs in the new Bihar Assembly, 141 have pending criminal cases against them, the Chief Minister knows how to control these elements and do the right things.
The awakened Bihari is voting for the right reason, finally. Caste matters but development matters most. This is a mandate that puts a lot of responsibility and hope on the Chief Minister. People want jobs and a plan to stop labour migration. Challenges are tough but Nitish seems prepared. He has done it before and he has a chance to better it. His aim, after all, is to make Bihar a developed state by 2015.
More than Nitish Kumar, the leader, it is the victory of the spirit of Bihar and Biharis. It took long, but the people from the land of Buddha have awakened at last.
I hope, next time during an ‘introduction’, a Bihari student is asked to imitate the ‘leader’, Nitish Kumar!