Muzaffarpur is new to me. The only thing familiar is the constant noise of the high-pitched horns and the overhanging smell of rotten garbage, both of which you can’t get used to, no matter how many times you visit. I once thought Bangalore was turning into the city of garbage, but we are turning the entire world into a mound of garbage. The cockroaches are going to win this war, after all.
We are staying in the middle of a busy market street. Amidst the crumbling walls of old faded residential structures, stitched together with tarp and the invariable clothes lines, are the new facades of commerce. Signs of urban aspirations are rampant in the brand names that pop up like CAPSLOCK – Himalaya, Levis, Baskin, Robbins – in the middle of all the local Hindi shop names – Rama Bazaar, Champaran Cycles, (the mysteriously named) Sanjay Articles – the latter much more interesting and therefore, much more filled with people than the former.
The sudden showers free the streets of men, women, and howling children who take cover under the awnings of these shops, while we honk our way through the tiny streets, avoiding dogs, fruit carts, and the slow-moving massive SUV. We are hurtling towards our destination with an avaricious driver who is charging us an arm and a leg, because there is a bandh in the city. Someone was shot, and the party wants its citizens to mourn, whether they want to or not.
We arrive at a busy market junction. There is a police cordon, but it is largely ignored. There is also a policeman, but armed with a thin rod (not even the thickness of my thumb), he is also ignored. Meanwhile, there are two angry young men wearing saffron headbands, wildly gesticulating. One of them brandishing a stick walks menacingly over. He rudely waves the stick at the auto driver and is about to hit the passengers, when he sees us. We are three women, sitting in the auto, and we look straight at him – not even blinking our eye at the possible assault. Our manner of dress signifies our class, and he stops mid-way, all of us knowing in a split second that the price of hitting us is something he cannot pay. He lowers his stick, we move on.