Noticing Gupta, 54, the marginal farmer is hard. It’s harder to meet him in his avatar as a snack seller atop Golghar, a 29-meter tall landmark.
Every winter, Gupta scales 142 energy-sapping steps spiraling around the monument to lord over Patna’s skyline for eight hours a day. Factor in lunch break and nature’s call, that’s 284 steps up and down at least thrice daily.
You’d argue the 40-metre Biscaumon Towers, the city’s tallest building, offers a better view. But it hasn’t the Golghar’s historic foundation, albeit faulty. Or the Stupa-like granary’s observation of socio-political changes in Bihar.
A Google search tells you Captain John Garstin, an engineer with the East India Company, conceived and built Golghar following a devastating famine in 1770 across eastern India. The 140,000-ton capacity granary was completed on 20 July 1786.
But Golghar never really served its purpose owing to an engineering oversight. The doors at the base were made to open inside; they couldn’t open when grains poured from a hole at the top filled it completely.
The hole, sealed forever, ‘belongs’ to Gupta now. Every morning, he places his tray full of champakali, a three-inch cylindrical, stiff, crackling sugar or jaggery-coated, mildly bitter snack that packs more calories you can bargain for Rs 5 apiece. And waits for whoever takes the hard way up for a panoramic view.
An average 2,000 people huff their way to the Golghar’s top everyday. The traffic is more during political rallies at the Gandhi Maidan nearby. A fifth buy Gupta’s champakalis to regain the energy spent in laboring up. Almost none notice him save during the moments the sweet-cash-change transaction consumes.
Those who do get to know what’s wrong – and right – with Bihar. “Famine is a thing of the past, par agar aap dur dur tak dekhen toh bhukhe nange log nazar aayenge (look intensely and you can see hunger and penury),” says Gupta.
Hunger made Gupta move from a village near Jehanabad, 50 km southeast, for a job that could sustain his wife and eight children. In 1985, he ‘discovered’ Golghar. He has from his perch since seen Patna change as much as his village didn’t.
“My village still has no road, no power and no school. It is in stark contrast to what you see here,” says Gupta. And his family – some of his children have children of their own – is no better off than in 1985.
“But you don’t have to go that far; see what’s happening below the Golghar,” he adds.
Within the monument’s premises is a Kanya Madhya Vidyalaya. The three-room school has 19 teachers and hardly any students. Part of it is used by motor vehicle inspectors to test license applicants’ driving skills. Two and four wheelers zoom in and out of the archaeological site whenever the MVIs want.
The vehicles, Gupta says, are getting swankier by the day; even panchayat leaders have ‘those large ones’. The splurge is attributed it to better roads and more importantly, improved law and order. The expanding coterie culture too.
Many of those vehicles have driven Nitish Kumar again to 1, Anne Marg. The Guptas of Bihar hope he turns the rectangular House into a real Goal Ghar.