After visiting the ruins of Nalanda University we headed back to Rajgir, already at night. The motorbike front light illuminated the road and the countless insects that briefly crossed ahead. The potholes were so deep that could entirely swallow us.

During dinner, consisting of a couple of chapattis and some boiled rice, the biker said, “I’m en route to the Himalayas… I can give you a ride.”

The mere imagination of mountains and fresh air instilled life into my veins. The heat of late Spring began to be overwhelming. Besides, although the diarrhea was under control, a lack of appetite and persistent weakness had diminished my life-energy to a minimum. In my rudimentary plan, the next stop was Kusinagara, the city where the Buddha died. Continuing my journey through the scorching plains of Bihar had got a too ominous tone.

‘Okay,’ I said after that brief reflection, trusting this new friend who so providentially had intervened in my journey.

The next morning we reached Patna, the capital of Bihar, and checked the motorbike in at the train station. We decided to kill the waiting time walking around. The walk included the bucolic vision of a person facing down on the floor who could well be dead for days, a tumultuous fight on a bus caused by a man who thought someone else went too close to his wife, a dying dog being eaten alive by flies, and some other equally captivating sights…

In the capital of the poorest state in India, sometimes it’s not so easy to distinguish life from death.

A writer who visited Patna in 1982 described it as “a town without the faintest traces of charm, a sprawling caravanserai of dusty roads and fenny lanes; a junk-heap of peeling, crumbling buildings, of squatter colonies earthed in tracts of mossy mud; a swarming hive of pan-chewing, meager-limbed men.”

*The title of this post and the above quote were taken from an article by Amitava Kumar.

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