During the day, shopkeepers used the patia to display products and seat customers; at night it served as a meeting place. People like late President Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma, former MP K.N. Pradhan and hockey player Aslam Sher Khan would gather at Najja Dada ka patia to discuss politics. “These patias were intellectual diet for Bhopal’s residents,” says an old Bhopali. “After dinner, people spent hours discussing the freedom movement and Bhopal’s welfare. Sometimes the patias turned into mushairas, where poets recited their poems.”
The debates were so lively that the erstwhile nawabs used to post his men at the patias to know the current hot topic. The nawab had an intelligence officer posted at Najja Dada ka patia to know if there was any conspiracy against him. Patia of Ibhrahimpura was a famous one for discussions on politics and hockey while Maktaba Sharkia patia was known for talks on art, culture and literature. “Hockey players even discussed the team members and the next day’s strategy,” says Riaz Sheriff, a resident of Bhopal.
The patia culture was so famous that novelist Koser Chandpuri wrote an article titled Bhopal ke Patiey, which was published by the journal of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It has a bit of filmi glamour as well: Riaz Sheriff says the term ‘Surma Bhopali’, popularised by comedian Jagdeep, evolved from a discussion at a patia.
This tradition of batolebaji is still continued in the old city area. A true bhopali will do a ratjaga (sleepless night) without a blink for a good session of Patiya. Specially in summers, Bhopalis will go to sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning, till which time they would sit in front of closed shops and talk and talk and talk. You can see all street and roads awake till 3 am. Men, women, girls, boys all are sitting and talking. Even the chaats, pakauda and ice cream sellers do a brisk business. Bhopali family like to visit film in night show and it is not unusual to purchase vegetables at 11 pm.
Do not assume that this is a feature for the males, the ladies are equally active in these ratjagas and patiyas.