Lost in the multitude, I struggle to understand and cope
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Of "Bidexot Apun Manuh" and Some "Patronizing"Nostalgia
I am just back to Delhi after a whirlwind tour in Assam. I now remember the greenery amidst an electric blue sky, clouds hovering over green hills like a bridegroom’s veil; the horizon was pregnant with joy. Kohua danced the dance of a thousand gods. Trees stood sentry like guarding the cloudy hilltops, the river flowed by like a moat, and the road that disappeared into the hills seemed like a bridge that took my angst torn mind by storm. The smell of blood living with humans was replaced by the fragrance of rajanigandha, roses and kharikajai flowers. My train wound across the vast green plains in the day, impenetrable darkness as night fell. And there was me, breathing the purity deep into my lungs. I felt the beauty embracing me, making love, sipping into my dry soul, tickling my insides. Soon we reached Guwahati, after we crossed the majestic Brahmaputra which lay like a deep chasm amidst the dark hills in the night. Mur maatir xubaax, I thought, meri mitti ki khusbu. Without even realizing it, I started humming a very popular song in Assamese, Bukue Buke Aase je Sirokal … Singibo Nuwari, Rudhibo Nuwari, kije maya xona Bondhon … Nijaanot monot pore bideshot apun manuh…(These relentless, ,inexorable mystic smeared ties reside unbounded in my heart…as solitude reminds me, abroad, of my near ones). It was a good feeling, I felt, I have not lost my roots even after ten years in the concrete nightmare of globalization induced fanfare of money and unending individualist materialism. The first night was literally so. Starlit skies waved along with the cool breeze. I laughed indulgently, thinking of my brethren in Delhi inhaling dust, smoke and the desert loo. It was a surrealist dream, almost, as it was a summer visit to Assam after almost seven years. It was bound to get better, as I would be going in a couple of days to my hometown, which boasted of a climate and natural beauty found in few other towns in the state. The glowing feeling increased an almost bordered on pride on being a part of this beautiful state. And so there I was, at seven in the morning a couple of days later, boarding a bus to Mangaldai, from where I will take a bus to my town lying in the foothills of Bhutan, where a rivulet meanders through slowly like the life there. Ah, how far I was from the ultra-fast lifestyle of the wasteland in Delhi where every minute is a rushing madness of spiritually dead people. I reached Mangaldai in an hour. I got down there, and enquired for a bus to Tangla. My first shock – there was none in that hour! A tracker however stood, shouting, Kalaigaon, Kalaigaon, Kalaigaon. That is the town thirteen kilometers before reaching Tangla. Trackers are a recent addition to the transport system in Assam. They are basically no frills SUVs like the Tata Sumo which load some fifteen people (and more), crossing short distances (see pic). Left with no choice, I sat on the back seat of the vehicle. It was crowded, but it promised to help me catch a bus which had already left Mangaldai for Tangla. It started moving after around five minutes, rocking like an elephant on the excuse for a road (see pic again) . People boarded on to its roofs, hung from the doorsills, from the windows, precariously, as we chugged along. The person sitting next to me had a bandage on his head, and dried blood coated the banyan he was wearing, the consequences of an “accident” he had in the previous evening. Poverty loomed on the faces, the dresses of everyone who sat around me. I felt horribly out of place, my urban lifestyle a distant past, incongruous and anachronistic. Yet the beauty of unadulterated countryside floated into the jam-packed vehicle through the open windows. Did I pity myself, or did I pity my co-travellers? I did not know, but my exuberance was fast disappearing. The FM radio in the tracker was fast blaring out Hindi and Assamese pop songs. Suddenly, to my utter surprise, the boy sitting in front me and dressed most unimpressively plucked out of his shirt pocket – guess what – a Blackberry Pearl! The blood stained banyan on one side and the Blackberry on the other started mocking my romantic daydreams of a pastoral state, where both people and nature remained untouched by ravaging globalization. Then arrived the visionary moment . . . the FM radio started playing the song Bidexot Apun Manuh! Thames nodir xute xute, Mississippir paare paare, bisaru loralir luitkhoni…hepahor Xuonxiri … xari xari mapler saayat, bisaru jibanar majuli…[I seek the Luit (Brahmaputra) of childhood, the Xuonxiri of hopes in the currents of the Thames, in the banks of the Mississipi . . . I look for the Majuli of my life in the shadow of Maple rows] – went the lyrics. And the absurdity of our Non Resident Assamese dreams struck me like the stench of a rotting carcass. Assam is not only a pastoral heaven..it is also a place where people are poor, floods destroy livelihoods like nowhere else, where politicians are corrupt and the youth prey to blind consumerism with no matching income in their homes to fulfill their demands. It is a place where the beauty of nature mocks the backwardness of the rural Assamese, the lower castes, the tribes. We might have tears from our eyes as we listen to Aikhoni gaon bukur apun (This village is close to our hearts) sitting in some faraway metropolitan city, but our villages have changed. It is no longer the same, not at all. Satellite television is sending the corporate dream into the most remote of villages and dissatisfaction at not attaining that ideal is turning the minds of Assamese people, specially the youth into a muddled nightmare. No jobs, no resources, no paths to freedom and joy. Aami axomiya nohoi dukhia buli Xantwana lobhile nohobo. Aji Axom xosakoie dukhia hol. We, Axomiyas cannot rest in peace thinking that we are Axomiyas and cannot be miserable. Today, Assam is indeed in a miserable state.
[I use the word Axomiya here as an umbrella term that covers everyone that stays in Assam, including the tribes, both caste and non-caste Hindus, Muslims (both indigeneous and non-indigeneous) and all migrants into our state who have actually enriched rather than deplore our resources. I use it for the lack of a better umbrella term, even when I am fully aware of the hegemonizing connotations of the term. I consider Assamese or Axomiya as a link language that unites the various ethnic subjectivities, rather than as a hegemonizing entity when seen as a mother tongue]