When I tell people that I was born in Ranchi and my mother is half Bihari, I am usually met with an incredulous expression followed by a quick, “but you don’t look Bihari at all”. This quip has often amused me. Despite having a large, boisterous, and extremely close Bihari family, I have never really noticed any distinguishing physical feature that the entire clan shares. I wonder what it means to ‘look Bihari.’
The ease with which we tend to stereotype people based on the state they come from should be alarming, but it isn’t. It’s so embedded in our collective conscience that we fail to even acknowledge the prejudice. The Marwaris are money-minded business owners, plump sethjis sitting at a shop, and counting their money. The Bengalis are all communist liberals, kurta wearing, jhola carrying, and tea-sipping armchair activists. The Punjabi’s are jovial Patiala peg drinkers with fancy weddings and fancier taste. And the Tamilians are cultured, classical music and dance enthusiasts, the only acceptable hobbies to have. These general sweeping statements and stereotypical depictions have perhaps been handed down for generations through a thriving oral tradition amplified by art and literature
In a recent article, the journalist writes how the entire ‘cow belt’ and Biharis in particular cultivate a toxic family environment with unrealistic expectations from their sons and unreasonable accusations at the daughter-in-law. In my opinion, this could well be true of Bihar, but it is just as true of anywhere in the country. Patriarchy and misogyny have no state barriers and no preferential allegiances. So while the article in The Print tries to paint Bihar’s cultural system in a sweeping statement, it fails to acknowledge that stereotyping of Biharis is so done to death that another assumption, albeit a more offending one, is something that Biharis will take under their wing.
The Biharis, are not just prone to stereotypes but so used to it that they almost eye-roll every time someone makes a quip at their Bihariness or lack of it. The stereotypes are in constant conflict within themselves. Biharis are, on one hand, village bumpkins from a presumably underdeveloped state, and on the other, an extremely intelligent and studious set of people who claim the most seats in the coveted UPSC and other government exams. Bihar is a set of contradictions like never before. Your rickshaw driver in Mumbai to a state secretary in the Vidhan Sabha, both equally represent a popular trope.
Biharis are assumed to have a penchant for raunchy Bhojpuri movies and lyrically abysmal music but have also delivered revolutionary ideas and literature over the course of history. When you conjure an image of a voluptuous woman dancing at leering men, it is often in the context of the Bhojpuri cinema. Most of the Biharis, I know, and trust me I know a lot of them, will have as much clue of the recent Bhojpuri hits as anyone else. One can argue then that this is because I am from the top 1% and I move in circles that listen to Taylor Swift’s Folklore over Manoj Tiwary. This is probably true but then doesn’t this become a class divide more than a regional one. Regional cinema, specifically designed to titillate a mass audience, is present in every state and yet it is Bhojpuri that draws the most sniggers.
And speaking of Bhojpuri, it is only one of the many dialects native to Bihar. There is Maithali, Magahi, and even Hindi spoken across Bihari households. Along with being told that I don’t look like a Bihari, I have also been told that I don’t sound like one. The drawling Bihari accent has achieved cult status, slow syllables almost mimicking the laid back lanes of sleepy small towns in Bihar. To me, it is endearing, as any regional accent would be to people of that state.
Like the rest of the country, middle-class families who still reside in Bihar, are upwardly mobile with access to good education and as much digital exposure as the rest of the country. Many of their children move on to study in different parts of the country and ultimately settle in places all over the world. The Biharis, however, carry a part of themselves wherever they go, a part that never truly leaves. It is this part that craves a plate of authentic gugni and would happily munch thekua with their evening tea, while chokha simmers on a stove ready to be consumed with sattu patrathas for dinner.
Featured Image source: Scroll