“Eyebrows for Rs 15. Our facial starts at Rs 250; for booty facial with papaya, we charge Rs 400,” Manju Sinha told Hema Devi at Saheli Beauty Parlour, Jehanabad. “Booty facial” in Bihar’s towns is what Shahnaz’s gold facial is in big cities.
Saheli is a small square room with dark wallpaper, two washbasins and two large mirrors. It’s the busiest parlour in the region. “I learnt makeup and hair-cutting in Kamini, Bihar’s first beauty parlour, which opened in Patna 25 years ago,” Manju said. She opened Saheli two decades ago, when the area was a Naxal stronghold with strong support for the “Marxist-Leninist party”.
Tabassum, in a black burqa, opted for a fruit facial. “It suits my skin,” she said. Her husband works in Patna with a “networking” company. “Mohammad sends me money for the beauty treatment,” she said. The Rs 20,000 he earns is enough incentive not to migrate to Delhi or Mumbai.
“Migration is the biggest issue in Bihar. Those who earn Rs 25,000 can happily stay back,” said Manju. Tarkeshwari Sharma, her saree neatly pinned on her shoulder, walked in with her daughter Gargivarta, who wanted her hair cut and eyebrows done. Tarkeshwari is a schoolteacher and a Bhumihar.
What is the election mood in Jehanabad like? “We have Mundrika Yadav of the RJD and Praveen Kumar of the RLSP. I am a Narendra Modi supporter but Yadav is a familiar face, people like him,” said Manju, a Kushwaha. “Upendra Kushwaha (RLSP chief, BJP ally) has not given us a good candidate”
Hema Devi too is a Kushwaha. “Whoever provides jobs, we will support him,” she said. Manju intervened aggressively: “The only badi party is BJP.” So will the BJP supporter vote for the “good candidate” instead? “I know one thing. Since Nitish has joined hands with Lalu, unka vote bhaag gaya hai (his voters have run away).”
“If you get a chance to meet Narendra Modi, what will you tell him?” The question was for Tabassum but all the women broke into chatter, each with an opinion.
“I will tell him Muslims want education, peace will follow,” Tabassum said. “We have changed. We no longer have a purdah system. Fundamentalism is bad on both sides.”
Manju intervened, “Have you ever faced any problem? We are friends but Lalu-Nitish created a rift.” “Modiji, reduce unemployment,” Tabassum continued. “Sarkar is too slow. Fast kaam hona chaihiye.”
“Tabassum, last year you told me that if Modi comes to power you will leave Jehanabad,” Manju reminded her. “Kya boria-bistar bandhwaya, Modiji ne (Has Modi forced you to pack your bags)?”
Tabassum, who has done a “teacher-training course”, said her degree certificate hasn’t come through government processes.
“You should write on reservation,” Gargivarta put in. “I lost my chance of a job to an OBC candidate. Mohan Bhagwat is right. I won’t get a job because I am upper caste.” Hema Devi joked, “Ask Modiji.”
“Nitish has not done anything for us,” Tarkeshwari said. “He helps only Kurmis. He may have helped others, I don’t know. Parivartan jaroori hai (we want change).”
Manju said her daughter, Apoorva, scored 357 in the State Staff Selection Committee exams but did not qualify; the job went to an Dalit (SC) “who scored 255”. “My daughter is an MSc, she is smart. But we are Kushwahas, slotted as OBC-2. In Bihar, OBC-2 people mostly lose out to SC/ST and OBC-1,” Manju said. “Apoorva told me, ‘Mummy, can I marry a Dom (backward caste)? I will get a job’. I was stunned. Afsos!’