‘After you live in this country for about 12-15 years you realize gradually that very likely there will be no going back to Assam,’ said my good friend Monika when I called her after my last trip to India. Till such time most of us seem to live in an illusion that after the kids grow up, after we retire from our jobs, we may return back to our roots at least for a few months every year.
Yes that is so true
Like many before me, I, too believed in that dream of returning back to my roots.
Like many before me, I, too gave a few lectures in my field of expertise on my visits back home and enjoyed these acts of ‘doing- something- for- my – Axom’ greatly.
Like many before me, I, too gave much unsolicited advice to my friends, colleagues and family members, of the different ways of improving the quality of life /education / public services in our home-town.
Like many before me, I, too discussed volunteering my professional skills in a rural clinic in Assam, after I retire from my job in the US.
Like many before me, I, too invested in a flat (apartment) in Guwahati to live in, after my return.
For, like many before me, I, too had a tough time severing my emotional connection with Assam. Possibly all the jumbled up emotions of guilt, sadness, shame kept me in bondage to my land.
What I failed to understand during this dreaming phase, was that like most other immigrants I was frozen in time. I remember Assam for what it was like when I left her. And that is what I sought in each of my visits.
Acres of eyes pleasing green paddy fields. The banana, bamboo, coconut & betel-nut trees, swaying in the sultry summer breeze. The Assam type houses, with the small courtyards full of sweet smelling flowers. The dusty gusty posoowa winds of Feb/ March. The monsoon rain splattering music, on the tin roofs. Giggling little girls dressing up in mekhla chaddor and sarees for Saraswati puja.
The mom and pop stores of my town, that, I, still religiously make a trip to, each visit.. Sheik Brothers Bakery, Guwahati Diary, Western Book Depot. 1-2 saree stores in fancy bazaar, where haggling was the norm and where you sealed the deal with a cup of kharaa boiled Marwari tea in a glass tumbler (or earthen cups that ma preferred).
The flattened spicy mutton cutlets, in the Nogoan restaurant, Chalachal.
Puri / Sabji and Peda served at the Bookakahat Bus Stop.
Appshush made by my Moha at the Paradise restaurant in Jorhat.
The hot and crunchy Jelebis, dripping with sugary sauce in Delhi Mistana Bhandar.
Rasgollas brought in molas (earthen containers) from Orang. …the taste of each delicacy ever so mouthwatering in my memory.
The tying up of the holdalls, the packing of the big metal trunks, the jam packed hot case filled with all kinds of kosher food, (Thanks Mitali for the timely reminders) all organized the night before by ma, before we left to visit our relatives home in Upper Assam or to a cousins home in New Delhi. Food we stared eating the minute we crossed Jorabaat or the Brahmaputra bridge. For these were the extreme boundaries of my town. Beyond these boundaries..were all asinaki foreign lands!
The mosquito nets.
The dhola bisona ( bedding on the floor)
The kolohor thande paani ( water stored in earthen pots)
The eating of kamala tenga / robab tenga / kathal / madhurium / aam / lecoo/ bogori (different fruits) in the mid afternoon
The vivid cheery picture of many aunts, sisters, moms sitting, knitting, embroidering, reading the newspaper in the wintery afternoon sun.
….images I can still see, feel, smell like as if they happened yesterday. Images that continuously re-play in my mind each time I think about Rupohi Axom!
The sense of being smothered by love.
The sense of belonging with no questions asked.
The sense of security.
The ‘Addoroni’….don’t have the exact words in English to capture some of these emotions
This is what I remember
This is what I crave
This is what I seek
This is what I dream about…when I think about returning to my roots
A romantic yearning for Assam ‘frozen’ in time.
But times have changed, as it should, as it does!
There is progress
There is prosperity
There is opportunity
There is tremendous energy of the youth
There is palpable excitement in the air of limitless possibilities
Assam has changed drastically
Change is life. Life means change. We all know that
More and more
The Assam type houses are being replaced by highrise modern flats, fitted with Italian kitchens, marble bathrooms and designer furnishings.
Malls offering anything and every thing from all over the world, have sprung up, in every corner of the city replacing the many mom and pop stores of my youth
Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes dealerships are what folks discuss when talking about buying a car
McDonald, KFCs. Pubs, Resorts, Thai /Italian / French restaurants, Kebab nation, gourmet pastries – are the choices I am offered when we go out to eat .
The TV serials. The Movies. The Concerts. The Sports channels.The Media circus. The 24 hours news cycle..all have made well intended inroads in the Assamese social psyche.
This is the new Assam.
This is the modern Assam.
This is the changing Assam.
I am excited about the development and the progress I witness during each visit.
I truly am.
I wish the young generation well – to be at par with the rest of the world.
Why shouldn’t they? They like any one else deserve the best
But for me
As the older generation of my family decrease in numbers, the many of the shared rituals which I enjoy greatly and look forwards to in each visit – having bed tea with my mother and uncle at 6 am. Visiting the Ganesh Mandir, Dol Govinda, the Balaji temple with them. The family meals/get-togethers, orchestrated lovingly by ma with all the food I love..different saakar bahaji, dhekia/boror tenga, masor jhool. The long drives with my cousins/friends taking photos, singing old movie songs in loud off key voices eating Dhaba foods. The evening visits for tasting of a Qwality ice-cream (yes that is all what I knew about ice cream growing up in Assam)……are gradually reducing in numbers. Soon there will be none from my old circle left, to share any of these enjoyable rituals with! On the other hand, living out of Assam, I truly have not been able to establish any meaningful history with the younger relatives. They all have grown up without me in the picture. To them I am but a memory – the cool, loving, funny absent aunt that lives in America! The one who wishes them Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, Congratulations..on facebook. Nothing more. No emotional attachment like the ones I had established with my own aunts growing up.
Like wise, the shared memories of my past with my friends are simply that..memories of my youth. Just as my own life experiences and memories of living and adjusting to a new country are quite different from theirs; they too have acquired many more new and different memories of living and adjusting to a constantly changing Assam. When we meet we reminiscence of the good old days. Beyond those few years of shared youth/ young adult years, we have nothing else in common. No history of facing life together as a professional, as a mother, or as a citizen. No other joint life experiences to laugh about or shed tears for. I am that friend who left midway of a sentence. I can start a new conversation but I will never ever complete that half sentence with them. Or ever capture the sentiment that was attached with that sentence.
These insights came to me, as I stood in the office of the branch manager of the ICICI bank located amidst all the malls, in the traffic crazy GS road.That morning, driving to the bank, I noticed the changes in my town with a different set of eyes…the roads, the buildings, the bridges,the stores, they looked so very different. Indeed, anymore I was a stranger in my own City, with little to no understanding of the current social, legal, political, official nuances of life and living of the new Assam.
A guest, a visitor if you please!
My dream of returning to the romantic mummified memories of the Assam of my youth, was utterly impossible, totally ridiculous….
Who was I kidding? That Assam I was hankering for..well time and tide really waits for no one!
The unpleasant truths facing me…
I don’t really have to return to Assam to eat in a Mc Donalds.
I don’t really have to return to Assam to buy things in a Mall.
I don’t really have to return to Assam to drive in a Mercedes.
I don’t really have to return to Assam to catch that 24 hour news cycle.
For I have all these and more in my new country!
I don’t really have to return to Assam to make new friendship or play catch up with the old.
I don’t really have to return to Assam for my younger relatives.
Virtual connections over the net will suffice!
I don’t really have to return to Assam to volunteer in a rural clinic.
Volunteering in rural America will be equally fulfilling.
Bitter sweet tears engulfed my soul as I muttered to myself ‘I, AG, being of sound mind and body knowing the foolishness of hankering after a frozen Assam, do hereby declare my willingness to surrender my emotional Indian passport today of my own free will’.
Henceforth, I will visit Assam as a TRUE MIGRATORY bird
Not to give Advice
Not to Change
Not to Criticize
Not to Impose
Not to Belong
Not to Seek the nostalgic memories of my past.
and most certainly.. Not to Nest
But to enjoy and relish the offerings of the new Assam…like any other visitor.
And leave when the time comes, with a guilt free happy heart.