Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gosaigaon

I woke up at 7 am, impressing myself in the process. After a restful sleep, and in desperate need of a bath I braced myself for the chill of the water. Nothing quite hits you like that first mugful, no matter how mentally prepared one is. The town remained quiet, save for the occasional passing by of a truck.

I spent the day reading up on the ethnic conflict here in Assam, the social and political connections between Bodos, Adivasis, and Muslims, and the annual reports and magazines of NERSWN (pronounced ner-sun, meaning 'legacy' in Bodo). In the afternoon, I took a walk around the community. A narrow asphalt road was lined with multi-storied concrete homes on one side and fallow fields on the other. Some fences comprise of interwoven strips of bamboo, while others were simply sheets of corrugated tin. Children on bicycles were coming back from school. Black pigs idled in heaps of grass and disposed plastic trash. And in the distance, the gray silhouette of the lower Himalayas. Sigh.

This serene vision collided with an unpleasant reality when I heard teenage boys screaming 'Baby! Baby!' in the distance. I ignored them and walked on, despite the echoing 'What's your name?' Eve-teasing is as unacceptable as it is inevitable. And all because I am a woman.

In the evening, a few of us went to the Kokrajhar train station to catch the local to Gosaigaon, where I'd be staying for the next few days. The train was supposed to arrive at 4:45 pm but it was delayed so I had plenty of time to observe people.The most frequent presence at the station was that of the army. Rajesh explained that the military was in the process of leaving Kokrajhar now; a few months ago, there had been a great deal more of them.'Of course,' he added, 'they came when the worst was already over. When hordes of homes were being burnt to the ground they did nothing.' Their presence was seen in other places as well, like in the heap of fatigues that lay in front of a homeless woman. She was dressed in black, and had camouflaged earmuffs on her head. She laughed whenever she caught me looking at her. Occasionally, the woman shoo-ed away an invisible presence.

Finally, the train arrived and we pushed ourselves into a sleeper compartment. I was lucky to be crammed next to a window seat, and unlucky to have a highly fidgety seven year old on my other side. His mother did not seem to mind when his attention deficit head managed to bury itself into my armpit. Oh, to be young again.

Upon reaching Gosaigaon, I was greeted with darkness. This sub-division of nearly 40,000 people had experienced excessive load-shedding in the past month. I was grateful that my fully charged phone had a torchlight. After an hour of walking we reached the NERSWN Gosaigaon office. More unfamiliar faces. More greetings. More names I would have to ask multiple times before I recognized them. A solar lantern lit up the room I would be staying in. I chatted with the three girls at the office- Beauty, Nirjhara, and Sonam who had accompanied us from Kokrajhar. Beauty had done her Bachelors in Education and both she and Nirjhara had been with the organization since last October. I asked her how often they visited home. The three of them looked at each other in silence.

Later that evening,  I was in the kitchen with Surjeet and Firoz as they prepared dinner. Surjeet told me how Beauty and Nirjhara's homes had been burnt during the ethnic violence. As you can imagine, the 'Pragya, how could you be such an idiot' signal lit up in my head. That explained the silence.

Dinner consisted of fish and gravy, yellow dal and rice. And salad, in which the irregularly chopped onions were my doing. I licked the plate clean, including the fish's slimy skin which I often threw away in the Dining Hall at TISS. Scarcity makes one thankful for what one has.

The electricity returned for half an hour, during which we watched television. The climax boxing scene of "Never Back Down" was on. Or maybe the movie's name was "Never Give Up"...I can not remember anymore. All the actors were unfamiliar and the end was predictable. I would not recommend it.

Before sleeping, Sonam showed me her drawing book. Its three dimensional cover was the first thing I noticed. It was a brilliant combination of texture and colour with a large maroon 'S' smack in its center literally popping out towards me. The book was filled front to back with poems and sketches in every media imaginable - red and green pen, water colour, pencil, oil pastels, coloured pencils, glued frames, and cardboard. The pages themselves were works of art. She had been with NERSWN for two years now, much longer than the many she had seen come and go. Her Bachelors had also been in Education and now she was pursuing her Masters in the same through Distance Learning. For a 24 year old she possessed a great deal of maturity. At the same time, she exuded the kind of creativity that is so vibrant in children, but that dies as one grows with age. Her imagination was very much alive as was her zest for life.

At Kokrajhar, we had slept on mattresses on the floor. Here, we got beds- individual ones! When was the last time I slept in a bed? I felt like I had been here a lot longer than two days.

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. and through your writing, i get to look around as well :]

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    ani

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  3. my my you write amazingly well i feel as if i am travelling with you

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  4. same here, I am impatient about what will come

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