“I have a dream!” thundered Dr Martin Luther King as he made one of the greatest speeches ever heard on the Planet Earth. Dr King dreamt about an America free from racial hatred. He later fell to bullets. But his dream did come true. In 2008, a black entered the White House! Barack Hussain Obama. “A skinny guy with a funny name” as he described himself.
In 2019, I also have a dream! Not Mungeri Lal’s Haseen Sapne. But a dream that could come true with some money and drive. I WANT TO OPEN A BOOK CAFE IN PATNA! A book cafe? Yes. Where one can read some books and sip some coffee. An “adda” for intellectuals. The “jholawallas“, much ridiculed by the right-wingers.
An “adda” is basically a Bengali tradition embedded in Calcutta’s “bhadralok” culture. Bengalis are India’s original intellectuals. The English education first spread in Bengal because in the beginning Calcutta was the capital of the British India. The English education was followed by the Renaissance, a period of reforms and social awakening. From Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Vidyasagar, Bengal saw a galaxy of reformers. Tagore was a true Renaissance man. Bengal showed path to the whole country. As Gopal Krishna Gokhle admitted at the Banares Congress Session in 1905: What Bengal does today, the rest of India does tomorrow! But leave aside Tagores and Vidyasagars, even ordinary Chatterjees, Bannerjees and Mukherjees were intellectuals. Dedicated bookworms. Calcatta in 1960s developed a culture of “chai, chashma and Charminar“. Bengali babus with thick glasses sipped endless cups of tea and puffed Charminar cigarettes at “addas” discussing everything from Vietnam to Naxalbari! Charminar was the cheapest brand of cigarettes and much loved by left leaning intellectuals. Stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak graced these addas. The RSSwallas were quite contemptuous of Charminar-smoking liberals but these Hindu fanatics were comfortable in the company of chilam-smoking dubious sadhus!
By contrast, Bihar though a part of Bengal till 1912 remained untouched by the adda culture. In fact, in Bihar, “addebazi” acquired a negative connotation. An adda meant a place were gamblers, alcoholics and pick-pockets gathered. The feudal, caste-ridden Bihari society was not conducive to intellectual brain-storming sessions. Bahubalis with oily lathis were more adored than intellectuals with books and pens. The bahubali culture is still ingrained in the Bihari psyche. A bahubali is preferred to a ” buddhijiwi” (an intellectual).
In 1973, Deokant Barua was made the Governor of Bihar. Barua was an intellectual giant from Assam. He later rose to become the Congress President also. Barua wanted to transform the Patna intellectual scene. He dashed a letter to the Coffee Board of India. The Coffee Board was asked to open a coffee house in the Bihar capital. As it was a request, straight from the Laat Saheb himself, the Coffee Board swung into action. The red tape was cast aside and a coffee house sprang somewhere near the iconic Dak Bungalow Chowk. But to Barua’s chagrin the coffee house soon turned into a meeting ground of anti-Congress activists. The coffee house became the ground zero of the 1974 JP Movement. It was frequented by towering Hindi writers like Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Phaneeshwarnath Renu and Baba Nagarjun. Even Nitish Kumar, then a “sadak-chhap” students leader also showed up at the coffee house. Perhaps to give an impression that he too was a thinking person! Though old-timers recall that even in 1974, Nitish Kumar couldn’t look beyond Kurmis and Koeris. Morning shows the day!
Now that coffee house has downed its shutters. Most of its patrons have left for their heavenly abode. Nitish Kumar has become the Sushasan Babu with his “antaratma” which sometimes guides him to take Lalu’s side and sometimes pushes him into BJP’s lap. A very flexible antaratma, which only third-rate netas can possess!
So I have come up with an idea to open a book-cafe in Patna. I have also decided its name: Litti Chokha Dot Com. The name has a distinct Bihari flavour. Litti-chokha is Bihar’s signature dish. Dot Com represents modernity. The place will offer tea and coffee. And of course litti-chokha and samosas. And the book cafe will have an array of Books. Mainly in English, Hindi and Urdu. Books from Bihar’s regional dialects like Bhojpuri and Maithili could also be there. But religious books will be a strict no-no. Religious persons can always head towards the Mahavir Temple. There will be music also to sooth frayed tempers. It is said that a person who doesn’t understand “sur” (tunes) is “asur” (a demon)?
It will be a small beginning. But according to a Chinese saying, a thousand-mile journey also begins with one small step. So dear readers. Come forward to make my dream come true. I am not Narendra Modi. I am not promising “achchhe din“. But a good book cafe can certainly usher in bright days in our dark times!
(Mr. Amitabh Kumar Das is a 1994 batch IPS Officer. His views are personal.)