So, in three months here in E. India, I’ve visited two state capitals: Bhubaneshwar and now Ranchi. One could have a field day with the names, but now that I’ve said and done those jokes at least 100 times, I feel obligated to write a little more seriously. So first, some history.
Ranchi is the capital of Jharkhand. You may or may not have heard about it — it’s only been a state since November 2000. But ask any Jharkhandi worth his salt and you’ll hear that the Jharkhandi movement began a century ago, and in many quarters you’ll hear that it still continues today. Jharkand, was most recently a part of the state of Bihar. In a classic case of recognizing poor resource management, the people of Jharkhand realized that their part of Bihar contained vastly greater resources, including iron ore, minerals, and forests, than the rest of the state. The capital of Bihar, full of corrupt politicians and run by the ludicrously notorious Lalu Prasad Yadav, was bleeding Jharkand dry, and as expected, very little of Jharkhand’s resource wealth ever found it’s way back to benefit Jharkhandis. Thus, independence.
We rode an overnight train to Ranchi from Howrah station in Kolkata. What a train station. Absolutely worth seeing at night, with absolutely overwhelming crowds inside and out. And the smells — ahhh, India! I didn’t sleep well on the train. It’s like flying business class when you’re accustomed to economy — there are just so many things to do that you don’t want to sleep. I wanted to try and write on the train (not possible, too much shaking). I wanted to listen to my iPod (not possible, too many interesting sounds coming through the windows as we rolled through the countryside),. I wanted to read a book (not possible, I knew that I should be trying to get some rest). So I spent the night fighting with my chappati-like pillow and wondering how often my Indian railways blanket had been washed; all the while determined that I would under no circumstances use the lavatory on an Indian train (yes Mom, kids remember these things).
Ranchi was literally fresh air to me. A small train station in a small city, a mediocre 4 star hotel with a great view of an enormous wagon wheel mound of cow dung from my 3rd floor hotel room, and a general feeling that at least this part of India hadn’t quite caught up with the tsunami of consumerism engulfing the rest of the country. We had a couple of hours to spare and visited the Jagannath Temple 10km from the city center. It was practically empty. Some pictures are on Flickr.
Politics in Ranchi, at least the interesting dimension, revolves around land occupied and sometimes owned by tribals, the term coming from “Scheduled Tribes” used in the Indian Constitution. Talking to party leaders who represent these tribals, I heard first and foremost about self-determination and freedom to live apart from the creeping industries and corrupt politicians. I was invited to visit some tribal areas, which I’ll do on my next visit.
I also got a dose of right-wing chauvinism from the local BJP reps. Among other things, I actually heard the “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims” line. Actually heard it, people. Somewhat flippantly, I asked who was responsible for the last two assassinations of Indian PMs. Apparently, Indira and Rajiv were killed out of “sentiment” not terrorism. Anyway.
The biggest casualty of my BJP meeting was that it ended for good my desire for a tattoo of a lotus flower. Why? The lotus, a form of such beauty and meaning, is the BJP party symbol. Damn it all to hell.