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.

Kamakhya Pigeons

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.

Axomiya food

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.