Book Review: Non-fiction/ A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar, Aleph, 144p; Rs295 (Hardback)
The city part of Patna is eternally incorrigible—because most of those, who make this city complete, have no permanent rapacious leaning. This is unusual trend, seeing the kind of progress India has made over the years, with its semi-reformed economy and very active ‘cronyism’. These two together make ‘billionaires’ at filthy high pace—we all know them, as they don’t do petty acts like fodder scam.
Their modus operandi are accomplished, so they do speak on ‘innovative practices’ in packed halls of India’s glittering metros unlike Bihar’s clueless political frauds, bound to make more ‘defame than fame’ through their visible mean acts. The whole country has rats, though people of Bihar believe in co-existence, so they let allow rats to do wishful. But, can believing on animals, with sharp teeth, is a fair idea?
Amatava Kumar inquires it through his new book-A Matter of Rats, which is slim, sharp and appealing for readers, with faceless distinction. Personally, I read his previous books too—and those were belonging to the different genres. I grew up in Madhubani and lived in Patna for a year during the height of state’s political misrule (2001-02)—have also read for first time the writings of Phanishwar Nath Renu and Baba Nagarjun in school days and had stroll on the roads of this state capital.
So, I could understood the genuine nostalgia, which makes Amitava Kumar recalling places, events and people of Bihar, with remarkable or shocking characteristics. The merit of the book lies in Amitava Kumar’s frank observation about his own elite background, the smoke of feudalism and the official lacunas, which for long have gripped the whole state. Still, the claimed changes are not on the ground in Bihar—the author is right in saying, through his firsthand account on this city.
On the positive side—Bihar has been a land of knowledge-seekers. This is not less, because common Bihari people were more competent with their knowledge than other resources to survive in the big bad world. So the book has detailed attention on the achievers from Bihar, who have travelled long path and their success in different field are indeed worth of admiration.
Amitava Kumar doesn’t ignore the positive changes, which took place in the state in last few years. However, categorically he proves why still Patna is a place to be visited by its young absentee population, but not for living permanently. We all think on this, while being on walk in morning or evening or talking to our ageing parents—the sense of void is pervasive everywhere. Biharis’ are doing well outside —but back at home things wear the same non-changing look.
Lack of enterprise and hiatus in cultural exchanges are the two reasons, which make Patna less happening than it deserves actually. So, people should have urge to live in their city and to love it as much they wish. Among the earlier journalistic works on Bihar —Arvind N Das’s Republic of Bihar and Vijay Nambisan’s Bihar Is in the Eye of the Beholder had captured the ground realities. Both these books were written with great insight and meticulous efforts.
After a long break, Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats is a valuable edition in those literatures on Bihar. This book breaks the monotony in different way—it sensitizes the readers towards the state, which for long had seen losses of perceptions and fortunes. Now it is rebounding—whose marked sign is this book.
A well-established writer, Amitava Kumar has looked with utmost care on his home state—and has searched the odds, which are recognizable and addressable. His account of Patna is though much more deep than ‘home-matters’. This is about an incorrigible city, and shaped by the memories and perspectives of Amitava Kumar. The book has come out naturally meaningful, and deserves wide readership.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on 7September2013)