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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Outsider

The hills, the greens, the jack fruit tree in front, the mud ridden path to the well in the backyard, bricks strewn along to step in, in the muddy rainy days...I remember my home, my childhood in the state I left for quite some time now. Remembering.. getting nostalgic.. we do it so often though when I left my state nobody forced me to..and many like me, we left willingly in quest of a better career, better life. The state rides over our thoughts in a wave of nostalgia, romance, fond memories hardly of any relevance now.. except may be visit once a year, parents, relatives and the world of childhood changed a long ago.. the city has grown from a fledgling struggling teen to a youth in full bloom.

And then I see my city in headlines.. molesting a teen age girl , seemed a joint venture of so many sick men. But I see my city grabbing attention.. media.. TV channels, newspapers... Barkha Dutt arguing, politicians storming into the scene. Did we not wish Guwahati to be in lime light, to be in the mainstream.. so badly in our school college days.. and did we not vying for attention and ' mainstream' gradually made a beeline for greener pastures.. Yes we complained.. our state , our city not getting enough ' footage' in TV channels, national media, we stay isolated...and years after when I see the ' footage' the reason brings a lump in the throat. This is nothing new.. this had happened before many times many ways.. and it happens again.. among the glare and light of the watchdog media..

My state grabs headlines again, this time for a longer duration, this time when the entire nation felt the pain of the state, the tears of the region. Riots, deaths..hatred like infection caught the entire country, the ' exodus'..and we stand and sigh. I make a silent rewind of the journey of my childhood in my turbulent state..my first school days in Jorhat, three to four years of schooling in Goalpara, then back to Guwahati where I finished college and university. Jorhat I have a very vague recollection guess I was too young, but Goalpara flashes vibrantly in my memory..the Brahmaputra.. closest I have ever been to the river.. hardly five hundred metres.. cross the wide stretch of sand..and.. the river. Foreign influx, immigrants.. I had a vague recollection in Goalpara.. the vegetable vendors, the fish vendors who would come to our house sometimes would  talk of their hardship and from elders I would know they are ' Bangladeshis'. Rest apart the town was a mix  of all kind of population with a language of its own.. Goalparia.. a special genre of music with great Bhatiali notes specially catering to the songs of the river. I learnt my lessons of ' Assamese' there and with age was learning not to speak Bengali in public.. not because anyone told me anything..most of the people understand Bengali there but there is a feeling at work.. same feeling may be makes my 3 year old daughter speak in Hindi in Delhi without anybody asking her to...

I remember happily visiting my father's colleague,s house in Ramzan evenings..the aroma and the variety of food..mind boggling. I remember them coming to our house and putting up for weeks when the town was flood affected...through our relatives raised eyebrows, we cooked in the same oven and ate the same meals.. May be it was the time when the fruit of hatred was not ripe, seed has been sown into history though. As I spent my remaining childhood and teens in Guwahati  knowing it to be my hometown, my motherland..though accepting the fact that Bengali to be spoken in home and with other Bengalis. There was a time like all Bengalis I longed to be in Kolkata, listen to Tagore songs, watch Bengali movies, read a lot more of Bangla and speak openly. But then random visits to Kolkata never made it my own..may be the language and yes the raw accent of our sylheti  Bengali would draw the ridicule and sarcasm of the Kolkata Banglans. Therein surfaced the identity crisis gradually.. we are Bengalis from Sylhet uprooted during partition, settled in North East. I was tired of answering the question ' where are you from' with..' I am Bengali.. settled in Assam.' All drew a blank.. I can,t blame north or south Indians even fellow Assamese when the West Bengalis also remark , ' You mean you are from Kolkata'.. I am not , I never was.

But me and many like me.. rootless.. we began to love the city we were in..city has a common culture. a common lingo..and fell in love with Brahmaputra with Bihu and when a bit older with Bhupen Hazarika..and sometimes with Zubeen Garg and with All India Radio Guwahati.. churning out Assamese , Hindi music. The land became our own, the language our own and my closest friends whom I could tell ' I dont like your bland Assamese food'  and who could tell me ' Oh these Bengalis.. can.t speak a correct Assamese sentence.'

My land is burning today...lots I can relate to..lots I can,t. Lots I feel..of leaving my home, leaving my land..leaving my parents..of not being loyal to the land which knows to give and greet. of not being able to return anything to the land which gave everything to me..feel the pain of my land scarred by the immense strain of all the complexities, of the different population mix.. and the feeling of ' my state'and ' my city' deep inside me, may be an outsider myself in the dark pages of history..