Monday, March 11, 2013

Kokrajhar

At 6 in the morning I was sleep deprived but oh-so-ready for yet another journey to begin. It had been too long since I last traveled. The flight to Kolkatta and then to Guwahati was largely uneventful. A ring-clad gentleman was in the seat next to me. He was on the phone at every available opportunity, which started getting annoying after fifteen minutes. I picked up snippets of his conversation (how could I not?) which revolved around ideas of field work, stocks, and orders. He spoke in a spattering of Hindi, Bengali, and English. I noticed he was wearing a metal chain which encircled the area above his right elbow.

As we descended into Assam, the usually sunny sky turned a menacing gray. Magnificently fluffy cumulous clouds towered above us. The Filipino pilot made a curt announcement: buckle up, we may face some turbulence. The kid behind my seat muttered an admiring 'Awesome!' under his breath. The view was awesome; the periodic upheavals of the plane, not so much. Nevertheless, as soon as the plane touched the runway, the child called his Ma and loudly described (in great detail) the 'awesomeness' that had prevailed in the sky, all the while remembering to swing his food regularly against the back of my seat. Oh, to be young again.

The streets of Guwahati were wet. They released the fragrance that has become familiar now, when clods of dirt have been soaked and transformed into mud. On the taxi ride from the airport to the train station, I tried to absorb as much as possible. Large billboards advertised life insurance next to ready-to-eat noodles. Murals on cement walls depicted Bihu folk dances as microphones from makeshift tents blared recitations of Hindu scriptures. People of all colours and sizes walked on the streets. In other words, this was just like any other growing city in India - loud, busy, and billboarded.

The road to the station was blocked, so I took a rickshaw for the remainder of the way. The driver was a Muslim, who reminded me that traveling as a single woman in Kokrajhar was unsafe. A policewoman gave me the same message when I asked her for directions. I later found that these ideas on Kokrajhar were largely based on stereotypes held by city-dwellers.

I took the inter-city train with general seating. Metal benches were bolted above the seats, the former emptier than the latter. I climbed onto one of these benches with my luggage, receiving strange looks from passengers below in the process. A young boy sitting with his parents and grandparents seemed to be amused and wanted to come up to. His mother threatened him with an impending slap, sternly refusing his plea. Not to be disheartened, he jumped to the nearest window seat and pointed out the passing sights to his grandfather.

I arrived in Kokrajhar at 8:30 pm, where Raju was waiting for me on his TVS bike. We rode to the NESWRN office, where I met the other members of the organization - Mizink, Nerula, and Suman. These four stayed at this office as well as the one in Gosaigaon depending on where their work took them. Tonight, we would spend the night here. Lunch, Raju explained, was prepared by a lady that came to cook. Dinner, however, was a communal affair where everyone pitched in. I took this opportunity to advertise my excellent vegetable cutting skills.

The breeze was nippy but pleasant, different from the heavy heat that was transforming Mumbai into a humid oven. I feel asleep quickly and soundly, dreaming of bicycles.

3 comments:

  1. magnificent cant wait to read more

    ps: didnt know about your culinary skills

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  2. Hope to learn more about your hidden skills!!!
    Be safe and take care. Waiting for next entry.Love.

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  3. For few minutes I was there...looking forward to the next part.

    ReplyDelete