BY – SHRUTI SAREEN
Rendezvous with Assam
You have been a dream
Far too long. You and I
Were parallel train tracks
That never met. I leapt out
At the golden moon, and fell
Down devastated into the river.
I tried to swim towards the island
You turned out to be a floating,
Shifting island, out of wave reach.
I am afraid of reaching you, as I am
Afraid of defiling exquisite handmade
Paper with a pen. You have been a beautiful dream
I am scared of committing you into a poem
Scarred cracked words where you slipped
Out long ago, between the spaces.
I cannot believe that I will meet
You tonight. The excitement and
The desire is too much with me,
It drugs me. I am a boring, placid
Person. You can disappear, fairy island.
I think I will be quite content
By not having you. By only loving you.
After all, I am used to living with thwarted dreams.
Dhak dhak dhak
Dhak dhakdhakdhak fadfadfad
Someone is beating the bathroom door
From inside. Knock knock.caw caw
Caw caw caw. Caw caw.
Big beak beating, wide wings flapping
Against the window pane. Oh, it is a pigeon!
Caw caw caw, naw naw.No no!
It is a crow.flap flap dhak dhak
Thud thud. Big wild untamed jungle crow.
Desperately adamantly fighting with
The top storey window pane crying
Let me in let me in let me in
A crow visitor on a misty mountain morning.
My first in this hill river axom land.
The crow came again today
He is a regular visitor.
I wondered at your white river blue sari picture
How you managed to merge colour, with binary
Black and whites. I admired your photo-editing skills
With envy. I have now seen the Brahmaputra.
I have now clicked a moving spur of bright red
On a colourless Brahmaputra.I now know that
The Luit is covered in a grey-white mist
Every evening, shrouded in mystery.
Only, when I bend down to touch it, the water is green.
Driving down the length of the river at Pan Bazar
Lined with trees this side and hills on the other
Is when I realize I am in love with you—
The city that you grew up in. You must have walked along this river
And soaked in its beauty so many times.
It is an idyllic river, with that rocky jutting island,
The distant hills, the mist, the steamers and
The bazaar teeming with life. I have almost
A desperate desire to capture and film this place
It is as lovely as you are.
Sometimes I wonder at my fascination
For you who eat animals
Of all kinds and I who don’t eat any, you
With your weird tribes, so far far away
From where I live. Sometimes I wonder why
I do all this for you-you are an alien person.
You don’t even talk to me anymore.
I feel a foreigner. And then I see the Luit
And the Bihu and I hear your spoken Axomiya
And some thing strange pulls and tugs at me
And I know I don’t want to leave. And I know
I am not a foreigner. I belong to you.
You belong to me. I am so determined
To adopt you, you have been inside my head for years.
I look at visitors around me- so touristy, no
I do not feel one of them. Oh no!
“ I think you are Axomiya only.
You do not behave like an outsider”
It is the biggest compliment I can get.
Assam has been incredibly kind to me
Yes, I know you are no paradise, yes
I have seen horrible child exploitation
I have heard of insurgencies and migrant
Infiltrators. Yes,I know of tribes and
Separatist tendencies yes here too
They have overcharged me.
But I will have to say that people here
Stall owners, shop keepers, taxi drivers
Restaurant waiters, teachers, friends,
Random people and small babies too
Have been nice to me, smiled at me,
Gone out of their way to help me
Yes, they have helped me a lot.
The people of Assam have been incredibly kind to me.
St Mary’s School, Ambari, Guwahati
You were a pretty place where I stood for long
Imagining you as a small child, running in the
Basketball court playing, I could see you
Sometimes standing lonely and solitary
Near a pillar. Climbing stairs to the classrooms
With a pile of books, sometimes staring at the
Idol of Mary among the trees. I think you must
Have been happy here. I was mortally scared
To be there, but no-one shoved me out.
They let me walk around clicking pictures.
I also saw a nun running. I even told a woman
That you used to study here.
Cotton College, Pan Bazar, Guwahati
Estd 1901. That is tremendously old.
So finally, at long last, you are before me
green and rustic. Ancient too. They have let you
Remain as you were. I think you would have
Frequented the library and perhaps the canteen.
I walk around them all, as you would have once
The big buildings, and the little hut ones.
I seem to be obsessed with photographing
Them all, I want to rebuild you in my head
You must have been so young, so inexperienced then.
I wonder what you were.
Keep well, place. I will return to you.
The Luit is best at Pan bazaar where
I can gaze at it through the trees.
This poem rambles like the river
Like the road that runs through GU
Where I saw the white stork- the ones
You clicked a video of. This poem
Rambles the way I wandered solitary
Down that road,putting flowers in my hair.
It rambles from ambari through downtown
And Fancy Bazar which was ironically phansi bazaar
To jalukbari- these baris were supposed
to have been gardens. Wander through the
Maligaon railway headquarters to the Khanapara bus stand.
It would like to ramble through your straw huts
And villages, road leading on
To road, field and sunshine. Into the hut
Where they make jewellery with cutters
And moulds and die and flame-fires and
Sharpeners and jewels. Ramble from here
To the main shops in Guwahati
through the busy hum and teeming
With life city which I can sit still
And watch. This poem rambles all the way like I did
To Deepor beel, all alone just because you did.
I did not know it would be off season
At this time of year. But I saw the pretty train,
The bridge, and some birds, though I couldn’t see
migratory flocks like you.
Wander back to the university road
As if I had been walking up and down it for years,
You felt so mine, losing myself in you, seeing myself melt
Allowing myself to become a part of the orange sunset.
Last night,I dreamt of rambling down
Gauhati roads. Dreams ramble, like rivers and roads
And mine travel back to you.
Black and white flecked, snow white
Ones, big red-eyed —these are not
Your ordinary grey north Indian pigeons. They belong
To another pigeon race. These pigeons that nestle
Among stone pillars- squawking, hawking—preening their wings
looking at their reflection in sacred water the sacred red mark on their foreheads.
Life is lived in the Kamakhya- children playing
Pigeons swooping, people growing old waiting
In the queue to see the main idol, the goddess
Who only menstruates once a year, you wrote.
There are stone domes and carvings and engravings
And everywhere, everywhere, there are pigeons.
They made the thali especially for me
At 10pm. Red bhoot jolokia small rotund
cackling fascinating and furiously fiery.
The white pulpy bamboo shoots sprout tangy secrets.
the sour khar and pithika, giant nemus and bor-tenga
hold answers to lost dreams.
Feeling food with bare hands, the South Indian way.
If you would rather eat finger-burning khichdi, you should
Irreverently go to the Kamakhya and ask for Prasad.
This is, of course, a strictly vegetarian account.
I could not write about the masor tenga
If I tried. Though I have seen the fins
Of a fish being cut, I don’t have your real
Experience of “how to”.
Only axomiya can do justice to this and I
Cannot speak axomiya. How will I write
About Bihu in English? My otherwise stiff body
Which melts into fluidity with these lilting
Tunes is the only language in which Bihu
And I connect. Bright mekhela-sadors and
Dhols and the flute and the taal. They told me of an
Instrument fashioned from a buffalo’s horn
And the jaapi and the dhoti-gamosa and
Always the flute, the dhol and the twirling mekhalas.
I am transfixed here. I cannot leave. I want
To leave but I cannot leave. My body sways
To the rhythm in the memory of Bihu.
You said your favourite colours are red and black
And olive green. I thought you exotic then.
Seeing the kind of culture you grew up in
I now know how and why. I remember your
Red and black striped shawl with yellow tassels
I have admired for years. This place is a pot pourri
Of such varying cultures.Bodo, Mishing, Karbi,
Ahom, Vaishnavites. I particularly remember
Your wondrous orange mekhela when I said
you look gorgeous. I have bought half
Of assam now. Entranced with its crafts,
From eri shawls to stoles to mekhela sadors to
Gamosa to sarong to kurtis to jaapis to
tiny jakoi-khaloi to axomiya spices
To karbi bags to bamboo pouches to earrings
I have bought them all. All,except for the gold.
I have Assam in Delhi spread out before me.
My adopted home.