Amitava Kumar. The name demands respect. and book with his name on the blurb commands immediate attention and possibly a call to action. To read it immediately.
As soon as i had discovered this book, at an airport book store i guess, i knew i had to read it. It was written by Amitava Kumar, and about such a personal narrative. his own town. Patna. And with my connection with Bihar i just knew i would be interested.
On my recent March trip to Bihar, i got to see live what it is like, in the hinterlands. My travels there allowed me to travel across the villages in Taxi’s and general trains. A life full of hope is all that i could see. Aspiration builds in right from childhood. A hard internal desire to get out of the place i guess. And Education gets unparalleled attention by far. Post the trip, i read through the book just to realise that there is much more to Bihar.
The rather obscure title of the book – “A matter of Rats” gives you the sense that it is going to be interesting. I had long back read about this interesting downtrodden community in Bihar called the Musahari’s, or Rat Eaters. This video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCAoBjfaEbE gives you a better picture. (Do not watch if you get disgusted easily).
Amitava here talks about rats in a myriad ways as part of lives of people in Bihar. The chapter skilfully manages to evoke the chaos, filth and the stark reality in the lives of people there. The other chapters talk about life in Rural Bihar and Patna and their vagaries.
The small short book is a easy read and in all the chaos and the myriad ways of life, this book stands out to bring the stark world of Bihar – a state of colossal failure and chaos. It is not only the past of Bihar that is in ruins.
The book is narrated from three perspectives – one, people like you and me, who are city bred and after completing studies have moved out of the state. Second, is of people who due to lack of proper education have not been able to do very well, but have still managed a decent life by escaping out of the state, and third is of people who are still there out of compulsion and disdain and continue with their own way of life.
Overall, this book does not stand out as one of the best from Amitava and looks more like a string of essays put together with a common theme of Bihar. It could be a newspaper series.
But yes, it stands out as one of the finest narratives in English language on Bihar. (Probably because there is so little written about the state in English litereature)