A puff of smoke let out by Madhuri Singh (name changed) in the plush Kapil Dev’s Eleven’s bar on Patna’s Fraser Road might be the most visible sign of winds of change sweeping Bihar, even more than the roads which chief minister Nitish Kumar has famously rebuilt during his tenure. In that puff of smoke, Madhuri, who is still in college, has chosen to blow away Bihar’s once ubiquitous fear factor, emanating from lumpens who salivated at the sight of a jeans-claid girl.
She orders vodka as she speaks about how Patna, the butt of many unsavoury jokes till recently, has changed for the better. No wonder, it is now possible for Madhuri not just slip into jeans, but also, as her friend Anand Amrit puts it, uncork the bubbly. While Madhuri is still shy of revealing her identity to a journalist, Amrit has no such qualm. He not just gives his identity - Amrit is a student of NIT, Patna - but credits Kumar for making this rendezvous possible.
“This would not have been possible till a few years ago. Nitish has not just made sure that cops are present all over the place but that they are also accessible,” says Amrit, as another friend accompanying them nods in agreement.
Bartender Pintoo Singh, who is standing close by, cannot resist interjecting. “Every day we have female students and women coming in without any male company. But so far there hasn’t been a single incident, where somebody has tried to act fresh with them,” he says. Singh’s observation is corroborated by three students of Patna’s Women’sCollege, who seem aghast that anybody should express surprise over a woman being able to walk into a bar in Patna in this day and age. One is even chided for being ignorant. “Patna is now dying to have a discotheque, but nobody is listening,” says one of them as all three sip their screw drivers. A similar tale plays out at O2 bar on Exhibition Road. “The business may be fluctuating, but the profile of customers is changing rapidly. We’ve now more women and families frequenting here,” says O2 owner Raju Yadav.
As the fear factors recede fast, the state capital’s eateries and watering holes are a barometer for the sweeping change.
Domino’s, which set up shop here barely a few weeks ago, is chock-a-block at 10.45 pm on a Thursday. Yo! China, which opened an outlet at Bandar Bageecha in 2006, a few months after Kumar came to power, takes the cake as a classic case study. Manager Pankaj Jha explains the discernible trend. “In 2006, we would start packing up at 9.30 pm. Gradually, the situation changed for the better as the present government took charge. Now, we host families and women daily till 11 pm. The marked improvement in law and orderallows us to take orders for home delivery till 11 pm,” he says.