By Amitava Kumar, from A Matter of Rats, a “short biography” of his hometown of Patna, India, to be published by Duke University Press in April. Patna is the capital city of Bihar, the poorest state in India. Kumar is the author of A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb.
Rats have burrowed under the railway tracks in Patna. I imagine them as citizens of a literal underworld, inhabiting a spreading web of small safehouses and getaway streets. There are places where the railway platform has collapsed. In my mind’s eye, I watch a train approaching Patna Junction in the early morning, and I see the men sitting beside the tracks with their bottoms exposed, plastic bottles of water on the ground in front of them, often a mobile phone pressed to the ear. But at night the first inhabitants of Patna that the visitor passes are the invisible ones: warm, humble, highly sociable, clever, fiercely diligent.