BodhGaya, Bihar

That was the venue for the network meeting. UN rules don’t allow more than 9 of its staff in one flight. We arrived in batches to Patna. There were friends waiting there for us giving us yellow rose and a photographer clicking pictures as if we were some celebrities. Then a quick airport transfer to IAS Officers Association building -Tea, snacks and lunch was served there. Friends greetings each other, catching up, gossip and some of us watching rains. In between another photo session. Got a feeling we are making news just by stepping into Bihar. Our friends flight delayed because of the heavy rains. The Chief of Field Office and the Programme Manager arrived there to welcome us. We were in the first flight from Delhi and waited almost 3-4 hours till other friends joined us. Then when everyone landed 12 Innovas left Patna to BodhGaya. We were follwing the vehicle whose driver thought Bye-Pass is more crowded. He took us instead through the busiest business street of Patna. We never moved. When the person coordinating vehicles realised the missing vehicles and started calling drivers to bring us back to the right route. It was almost 90 minutes and when we reached the so called National Highway, we realised we were only 2 kms from IAS Bhavan where we left. Isn’t it a tremendous journey? 90 minutes and no move!!! When other friends reached the venue in 3 hours and found time to sleep before dinner, we only landed to rush to dinner and sleep. More than 4 hours on road was so very difficult without any health break in between. But there was meticulous planning and sufficient refreshments in gift bags for each of us left in the vehicle. Fresh fruits, dry fruits, biscuits, chips, juice, mint etc…But again there were friends ready to put Tilak on our forehead to welcome us and help us check-in. Again in the room there was the very beautiful workshop bag and a nice mail from Chief of Field office welcoming all of us. There was a dinner invitation and there was a handmade book mark with shape of Peepal leaf on the table with our names and a one word description of all of us. I got the title ‘Ms. Diligent’….do I deserve? What gives that impression? (my inner talks) Next day morning we had the opportunity to visit BodhGaya. Again I was in the vehicle whose driver assumed we are going to RajGiri. Instead of BodhGaya just 1 km away, he had driven us 10+km and until Teresa suggested, ‘Let’s ask’…When we asked his reply, “Another 1 hours-we realised…and started laughing. But we made it to BodhGaya. The place so special -this is where Budha got enlightenment under the Peepal tree in 623 BC. The Peepal tree was still there. There were tourists from all Budhist and Non-Budhist countries. Some meditating under the tree to become Budha. To me the persistent questions were -why can’t this place be maintained better? Of all places Buddha chose Bihar to get enlightened. If it was Thailand, this place would have shined so much…My God! Why are we like this. I promptly shared my feelings with one of the Bihar Education Department official and he told me, ‘This place is maintained by the Trust with representatives from all countries. Now is the peak season for another ritual happening in a nearby riverside Vishnu temple. He summed up, ‘In any case this maintenance and cleanliness is quite good for Bihar’s standards’. Then it was our school visit. We visited a nice school and Giri, Sulagna ji me were together. It was real fun and they made the field trip better than a usual ritual. They generously made me the note-taker. We didn’t miss anything. We visited each class. The Child Cabinet was impressive. Children’s bright faces was promising. The classes wer over full. Children asked Sulagna ji-‘What should I do to become an IAS officer?’ / Engineer etc. Beside the elevated corridor by the kitchen children usually take lunch and some were falling down unknowingly-the head teacher had made a plan to level the group and make that patch a farm and luckily there was an Irrigation and Agriculture Minister int he Child Cabinet to take cae of the land. Giri entered through the back door and in his blue kurta he was close to the school uniform. Sulagna ji and I entered through the front door. Smar Sulagna ji told the students, “You have a new student there…would you like to take him in your class?” They made space for Giri. Sulagna ji gave them permission to ask him question. Though they started by asking, “What is your name?”, quickly they realised their opportunity and asked Giri, in 8 cubed / 8 to the power 3 which is the base and the exponent. Giri not only told what is what but also told the answer for 8X8X8. Two students verified the accuracy of the response. It was all so natural and so smart. In another class there was a puzzle of identify hiding animals in an alphabet grid. Very fulfilling visit on the whole…Then it was visit to Nalanda University -The Buddhist Monastery Institution remains….Great glorious history and we came to know Khilji destroyed the university. Why didn’t they admit Khilji in Nalanda? Then he would not have destroyed it. The thickness of brick walls was 2-3 feet and that we realised was the reason why the building remains cool in summer and warm in winter. Hats off to all glory of the past. It was nice to see the faculty cubicles, bookshelves etc. The books were burning for 6 months after Khilji set it to fire. Luckily Yuan-Chwang / Hsuan-Tsuang the Chinest Buddhist Scholar who studied there carried 600+ books to China and saved them from becoming ashes. When we reached the venue, I was so tired and had mild headache. Rushed for a shower to save myself and already the sharing started from my group. In the very end I added 3 points for my satisfaction. We wondered how students might have travelled from all over the world 2 years for a 3 year course to Nalanda. Sulagna ji replied, “Exactly like us travelling 3 days for a 2 days meeting” Yes including the field trip day it was 3 days travel. But I wonder how the Bihar team managed to serve us a heavy packed lunch that we enjoyed in Nalanda lawn.The 2 days meeting went well. I found time in between to do my work and complete a long pending write-up. On the field trip day evening there was official dinner hosted by Bihar office. I learnt the politics of seating and it matters where anyone sits and chats with food. I have no ability to do both. If I am chatting, I’m the last to finish my food and I am slow even otherwise. The next day full day meeting and in the end we were taken to watch a play based on Agatha Christie’s story. Just before the play started, we had the Pizza treat the speciality of the theatre restaurant. It was truly world-class. But after the play another dinner. We wondered how and why Bihar office was pampering us. The second day meeting was lively with more group interactions. Post-lunch we were gifted the MUG with our picture-BodhGaya temple and meeting details. Now we know why we were over-clicked. But thanks for allllllllllllllllllll the heartfulness/thoughtfulness of the Bihar team. They made us feel so special at every moment. They served some Bihari delicacies and sweets and took order from us if we wanted to take home and even that was finely coordinated -we could collect them on our way back to Patna airport…Early flight travellers got the first packs delivered in their rooms….My God! This was amazing team work. 12 drivers, a travel coordinator and 3 Adminstration, Supply Department colleagues. I was told the other specialty of the meeting is the participation of friends from Finance and Advocacy sections -the Chief fought and got them in. The second day / the last evening before we left, we went again to BodhGaya temple-this time as the full team and enjoyed the evening meditating in a great place that could be maintained better. I am sure I’ve missed out more. But it was so fulll…the treatment and the experience overall. Some leaving in trains, some arriving second or third day…but everyone getting pick-up, drop and coffeee mug with pictures of self. Not at all easy. But they made it happen! Shweta who planned and coordinated everything told, “If it is Kerala, there is no need to do anything because the place is beautiful already” But in Bihar if I don’t do all this, you people may start feeling bored and there is nothing to entertain all of you” But all their hard work made us leave the State with good memories. Bihar may not receive positive feedback always. But turned out to be the most hospitable state with human touch. Likewise in Kabul I had Noor coming to receive me at the Baggage Claim point -Afghanistan we may fear. Next time when someone says, “Oh my God! Are you going there?” Be sure! You will have the best experience there only! There is an IAS officer on deputation and he was so full of good humour. Someone told him, “You look like a Bihari Don” His reply, “Say either Bihari or Don” Both mean the same…..Then the second day we spotted some armed security on the corridor and someone asked him if it was his “Z Branch”. His reply, “I just told the commissioner-There are some HIGH PROFILE UN officials staying in this Hotel- The Royal Residency. (But actually that was not our security. The Police Commissioner was there in the same hotel. Our team had Police in mufti…) Sulagna ji asked, “All of us are here…What will happen if it gets bombed?” His reply, “Nothing will happen! Education in India will be saved” Ha ha ha ha ha….so very true sir

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