There are a few things that I have observed about travel: people will spit everywhere, men will pee anywhere, and a well-built road is a small miracle. Kids will play with anything, anywhere, women always seem to be carrying things – children, clothes, firewood – and the sight of yellow mustard fields in the early morning light, topped with a light fog is a sight not easily forgotten. I have been on the road for three days, travelling about 8 hours at a time, and the profound conclusion that I have come up with is this: Honking is a sophisticated language that is worthy of study. It communicates, often at once, the girth of the vehicle, the size of the roads, mutual signals of outrage, sympathy, and frustration, and the daredevilry of drivers who perform feats of near-misses all the time. I feel like there is a life lesson hidden in there, somewhere– that perhaps, the constant honking is one’s affirmation of one’s existence on these precarious roads.
Life lessons like these are easy to come by when you have had four hours of travel on patchy roads under your belt, and time and the road stretches infinitely before you. Sometimes, you feel you are just someone who is standing still against the ever-changing landscape of huts, fields, shops, rivers, trees, buffaloes, and birds. But that is poetic language for constantly feeling nauseated with the erratic motion of the car and the musical conversation of the honking on the roads.
But the next post is not about idle philosophical thoughts about roads as a metaphor for life. It is, in fact, about the geography of poverty. I first came to realise the meaning of the concept in my field visits to the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. I realised very quickly that water and weather are like the lottery – unpredictable and capable of changing your life immeasurably and irreversibly. The right time and right amount of the monsoon rains is the difference between sending your kids to school and a can of pesticide. It is no different in Bihar. So, two stories, true in the way only stories can be true.