Reconnecting with a messenger’s messenger in Bihar

In the nearly 16 years since I met him last, nothing much has changed about Pushpraj. His beard is now salt and pepper and his jhola has now been replaced with a backpack. He now has a motorbike to move around, a sign of some marginal material improvement. Pushpraj lives between Begusarai and Patna in Bihar, and travels all around the country to any place where he finds a subaltern political cause to fight for.

I first met him in 2003 when I was the only reporter for Bihar for a national newspaper, and he, a man for all seasons. He introduced me to some intricacies of Bihar’s rural politics, and became a companion in many of my travels around the State during my two-year stint there then. If journalists are messengers, Pushpraj is a messenger’s messenger. He would land up at my office quite often with some lead to a story. Though not a full-time journalist, he has been a writer-activist, getting a national perspective on all issues while sitting in a village in Begusarai.

When I dialled his old number, Pushpraj was predictably campaigning for Kanhaiya Kumar, former JNU Students Union president and CPI candidate for Begusarai. Pushpraj does not have a surname — his grandfather, a freedom fighter who burned his sacred thread and gave up his caste surname, bequeathed that legacy to the grandson. Pushpraj’s revolutionary quest has taken him to Narmada Valley, Bhatta Parsaul, Nandigram and, in recent times, the JNU student agitation and the protests triggered by PhD student Rohit Vemula’s death.

Pushpraj says he has no material ambitions, and his life is witness to that. He has been offered a golden handshake to back off from the several agitations that he has taken part in Bihar. His book, Nandigram Diary , was published by Penguin. He has a few acres of ancestral land, which he wishes to sell to fund a Che Guevara centre. “There is no centre for Che in India,” he says. That could be a fast route to martyrdom, I warn him, among his land-loving Bhumihar brethren. He is always there to help journalists from all over who land in Bihar any time, but rues the fact that most Hindi publications, which until recent years were keen to publish stories of local struggles, are no longer doing so. Pushpraj is an unsung hero, and I was happy to connect with him after many years.

Patna gave me the best bottom-up perspective on capitalist democracy during the first two years of my career, and my recent stint for The Hindu in Washington, DC for three years gave me the best top-down perspective of it. Hence, returning to Patna after several years was an opportunity to refresh memories that I could process in a more holistic fashion.

It is not only that Pushpraj now has fewer platforms to publish his ground reports; even the the building that used to house several outstation newspaper offices in Patna — Ojas Mansion — now wears a deserted look. Most newspapers have shut down their Patna offices due to the severe business pressure on the media industry. Pushpraj used to be a regular visitor to Ojas Mansion, recounting stories from the hinterland that he had come across and providing story ideas.

He has not run out of causes to fight for, but the platforms to articulate those causes have sadly shrunk.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 5:25:06 pm |