Evoking The Ambience of A Place And Its People
July 2006, volume 30, No 7

“Trinidad was small , remote and unimportant, and we knew we could not hope to read in books of the life we saw about us”. Replace ‘Trinidad’ with ‘Patna’ in that statement by Naipaul, and that is precisely what we felt a generation ago growing up there. Patna was not all that small or remote – capital of a large state before it was truncated, prominently paced in the railway as well the river map of India. Certainly not unimportant because every child knew by heart its heritage from the time Emperor Ashoka issued his rock edicts from Pataliputra to the time it gave India its first President. But a place does not become real just because it appears in history and geography books, literary representations confer on it a different kind of validity—a life in imagination—which Patna lacked. At least in living memory. Patna might have figured in the “magic realist chronicle” * of Megasthenes or in the accounts of Huen Tsiang but that was no use to us who spent hours reading English novels about London and New York borrowed from the Patna College library and devoured Bangla fiction from the bookshelves at home in which Kolkata loomed large as the centre of the world. .

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