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It is not only the past that lies in ruins in Patna it is also the present But that is not the only truth about the city that Amitava Kumar explores in this vivid entertaining account of his hometown We accompany him through many Patnas the myriad cities locked within the city—the shabby reality of the present day capital of Bihar; Pataliputra the storied city of emperors; the dreamlike embodiment of the city in the minds and hearts of those who have escaped contemporary Patna's confines Full of fascinating observations and impressions A Matter of Rats reveals a challenging and enduring city that exerts a lasting pull on all those who drift into its orbitKumar's ruminations on one of the world's oldest cities the capital of India's poorest province are also a meditation on how to write about place His memory is partial All he has going for him is his attentiveness He carefully observes everything that surrounds him in Patna rats and poets artists and politicians a girl's picture in a historian's study and a sheet of paper on his mother's desk The result is this uniue book as cutting as it is honest

10 thoughts on “A Matter of Rats

  1. says:

    Gorgeous cover mediocre book Should be re titled a short meandering biography of Amitava Kumar and Patna To be honest it felt like Amitava Kumar dropped into David Davidar's Aleph office one evening and David happened to suggest Hey Amitava aren't you from Patna? Everyone keeps dissing Patna why don't you write about it? Sure thing David And 35000 words later A Matter of Rats Yippee

  2. says:

    I've never been ashamed of letting others know about my city of origin Patna Technically I was not born there but spent uite a few years of my childhood there And my parents and their parents spent a chunk of their lives there So it would only be obvious that I would be looking forward to a biography of my city as Kumar calls it And needless to say I was not disappointed Even though this book like Bombay London New York by the same author again suffers from some sort of euphoria that tends to disrupt the writing it is enjoyable nonetheless Kumar tells the tales of Patna as seen from the eyes of its residents some very famous and some not so famous and manages to pack the needed punch in this slim volume Tales of hope desperation loss and so much else have been put together neatly Even though it's my parents and not me who will be literally able to relate to a lot of the material landmarks of the city I will still say with pride that the city finally got the non fiction narrative albeit light hearted it deserved

  3. says:

    India's iconic cities all have seem to have so many juicy movienovel adaptation worthy stories to tell But what about its grimy less glamorous cities? Or cities like Patna almost universally reviled seen through a lens of disgust and fear?This short book on Patna unlike City Adrift A Short Biography of Bombay Bombay and Askew A Short Biography of Bangalore Bangalore from Aleph's city series tells you uite candidly that the city of Patna has a long history of decline and decay that continues till this very day and that there's not much to actually say about it There's a brief passing account of this history with uotes from British officials that closely mirror our own contemporary opinions of the cityInstead Amitava Kumar focuses on the people that inhabit the city it's past present and future Although not what you'd expect from a series on cities this chunk of the book also its biggest chunk written like a crisp longform editorial is where it really shines He fills you with a greater appreciation for the teeming masses that fill India's less developed urban centers where the bright neon lights of globalisation have yet to reach It comes with some insightful passages on the nature of humble ambition and the valuable lesson that poverty and dignity are not mutually exclusiveA short light read this book features uality writing and a nuanced perspective on human dignity and telling the story of the less fortunate What it doesn't feature though is the story of the city itself something I found disappointing The people are important sure but a city is an entity by itself

  4. says:

    Amitava Kumar has done a great service to lend Patna a space in literary circles This non fictional account starts with rat eating mushhars and carries on with other anecdotes of his encounter with filth struggle hope and the drabness of modern day Patna The stories interest you but very soon you get the feeling that the book is mostly a work of borrowed reportage He uotes from several authors in contemporary literature who mention Patna in their works And though some analysis like the three kind of Patnas seem interesting the author fails to bring out anything substantive out of it By the time this short book is about to end you get the feeling that the author has been living on borrowed attention born out of intrigue know about the capital of one of the worst states of modern days The last chapter seemed a superfluous addition I guess primarily to add up pages and of course the book does not conclude but rather leaves it undone I guess a literature that could capture the essence of modern day decrepit Bihar will have to wait longer at least until the people who have lived it in flesh and blood could get the ability to pen it for surely the men who write about it in their holiday trips can't do it Read it for there is a dearth of literature that has anything to do with Bihar but you won't miss much even if you decide to let go

  5. says:

    If you have lived in Patna you will instantly fall in love with this book You will cherish reflect introspect and relate to each and every sentence written in this book This book takes an un parallel route to Patna and showcases a city in three dimension Past Present and the unknown future It tries to depict the mood of the city by building the context of history politics people's aspirationsIf you have some connection to PatnaDo read this book However if you are not from Patna and have not lived there I doubt you would relate much to this book You can only expect to hate Patna and Bihar even

  6. says:

    The title the cover and initial few pages excited me a lot I thought this book will take me back to Patna and let me see everything again through the lens of a creative writer Looks like Amitava doesn't know much about Patna and hasn't truly experienced it Anyone who will visit Patna for 2 weeks can write this type of book The writer just encountered with some Patna people but only a few of them depict true Patna Rather than meeting some he wrote this book talking about them only

  7. says:

    A Matter of Rats Amitava KumarCities are thinking living beings They never remain constant especially the excited ones– the metropolises People can give you a phrase or a word “electric” or “edgy” and you can spend all your evenings and days in company of that city not knowing why was that the right word used to describe the spaceBut what do you do with cities that have fallen– not ‘fallen’ in the sense defeated but declined with time? Cities that once were the darlings of the rich famous and the shining the courtesans that once captured the heart of many a traveller but are no longer uite their former selves The tides of time have swept them out of the circles of power and wealth They lie on the periphery What do you do with them? You write their biographies short pithy ones titled A Matter of RatsOf course the title suggests many other realities as well The enterprising infesting ways of rats the habits of hidden plundering and above all always survivingIt is a biography of Patna The book is a memory exercise Memory that interacts with the present memory that interacts with other memories; an emigrant’s interaction with the ‘left over Patna’ The author Amitava Kumar had left the city decades ago and as he acknowledges he now only visits the city to meet his parents But while he was elsewhere he was always looking for the city that was once his own He looked for it in articles in ‘Granta’ in the acerbic writings of Shiva Naipaul the lesser known brother of VS Naipaul in the brief mention of the city made somewhere by William Dalrymple and in the fresh blood that a new author has drawn on to write his debut novel All these glimpses of his city as seen by others are included in the book It’s as if the author is trying these many lenses not sure whether he should just follow his own Is this merely the academic’s search for the views from inside and out or is he looking for validation in other voices that his city is somehow still relevant?Amitava Kumar is an academic and a journalist He wants to be objective He narrates incidents off the highway of the new Bihar the hunting of rats by Musahars a bureaucrat’s most imaginative device to socially engineer the Musahars’ integration into Bihar’s horribly casteist society He even tries to keep an even keel while observing a love story that has gone sour as intellectual life is draining out of the city and a new consumerism is coming inIn that sense the book is a reflection on many other north Indian cities like Lucknow and Allahabad that were once centres of urban relevance havens for artists artistes and literary figures What Kumar observes of Patna’s failings is sadly also true of these other cities Their present day realities look like messier and uglier copies of a Delhi or Mumbai Delhi’s malls are nothing to take pride in but at least they seem to honestly belong there The middle class and its aspirations across India makes the presence of a ‘PM’ Mall in Patna something of a baroue display “Me too”Nowhere in Patna can one see any awe inspiring relic from its 2000 years of continuous history And centred in this loss is the author’s struggle to not reject his own identity “I told stories about Patna because they were a part of my shame at having come from nowhere It took me time to learn that what I thought as honesty the honesty reuired of a writer was also a rejection of who I was” It is a rejection which is very familiar to many BiharisThis biography is not objective It matters that the person writing it is a Bihari in exile someone who lives in New York – that centre of modern urban celebration and decadence a city which every city in the global south mulls over aspiring to be yet unable to leave behind a history gone irrelevant in a globalized worldBihar is feudal abjectly casteist It lives in that history even today For many communities if they are to evoke pride in a collective identity it is in their own communities; the Yadavs for the Yadavs and the Rajputs for the Rajputs There is no overarching icon that transcends these barriers and no one single Bihari whom all classes and castes love Cities usually become melting pots –spaces where one can give up these different identities and take up something new But that is not the story of Patna and that is not the story that could be toldIn that sense it is a biography of that which is relevant for much of the educated elite that has left Patna that which many of them perhaps feel on reflection once they have left the city But the book does try and engage with other Patnas as well It addresses the Patna of those who have stayed back and are trying to put together a new Patna and the Patna of those who can’t run away to Delhi or Mumbai and must fall back on this lesser city to help them surviveThe book is not about Patna’s 2000 years of history; it hardly could be in 150 pages It is about memories and the scanty history – culled from the last 100 150 years of the city’s past – that the author pulled in to give relevance to the memories he relates Nonetheless it is relevant It made me happy nostalgic reflective and sadIt also presented me with many what ifs What if the author was not an exile but someone living in Patna someone who had the objectivity to look at the nooks and crannies of the city and its feudal past and present without losing sight of its relevance in current times? What if the memories recounted in the book was of the author and his city having lived their biographies together? Would that biography have been different? Would it have been broadly relevant?

  8. says:

    I received this book free through Goodreads First Reads Many thanks please send I have an admiring fascination with all things Indian and was hoping to learn something about the city of Patna and perhaps its rats from this curiously handsome little volume I was somewhat disappointed Apparently there is an inferiority complex of sorts inherent in being associated with Patna the capital of Bihar India's poorest state Residents and former residents seem to divide their time between debasing the place and defending it While the book is evocative of the sights sounds and even the smells I imagine for India this self described short biography of the city seems geared toward those who already have a personal connection to PatnaI think readers will learn about author Amitava Kumar than his home town

  9. says:

    A group of real life incidents and stories bunched together in an attempt to form a picture of the life and perspective of people who have lived in Patna The book starts losing its track towards the end and starts becoming a rather personal tale I enjoyed the first half uite well A hundred and forty pages are not much and you'll definately get something out of the book if you've ever lived in Patna

  10. says:

    Good short read Starts with a nice historical background of Patna but eventually ends up with some boring story about a messed up marriage Those thinking to get a true insight into the Patna life should go for some other book The newbies from Patna will not find it too much connecting