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A journey of a thousand melodies

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This blog is about a journey I took alone by an overnight bus on an unknown road and how I came to terms .. with my long journey.. how I connected my dots.. it  all started with some melodies  heard in my childhood..

 

Bulu o Mising dekati… bojalije je pepati.. xurere xojali dekhun disang mukhor nixati.. mibugaluk sulati phereru rubong sador khon, kiyonu pindhili, murot dumer di gamusa khon atili toi..

……Bulu o Mising gabhoru, ege mekhelate endhar xanili.. o xoriyohor phul hen riba gacheng khon bukute bandhili aru kopi uthil Disangore mitha mitha mitha  dhouti..

 

( O Mising young man, you play your pepa, you are lighting up the night by the Disang river with your mibu galuk (jacket) and the Tapum chadar over your body, with the pumer (towel) on your head..

O Mising young lady, you invited the darkness with your ege mekhela, and wearing the ribi gacheng you embraced the cold waters of the Disang)

 ...And so Bhupen Hazarika sang in his sonorous voice in chaste Assamese, calling out the Mising lover Jongki and his lady love Paanei who met a Romeo –Julietesque end, adapted in the immortal love story ‘Miri Jiyori’ (Miri daughter) by Assamese novelist Rajani Kanta Bordoloi.

Jongki and Paanei.. such lilting, sweet, intriguing names.. heard in different contexts as a child.. who were they.. they were a mystery for me until I came across the famous novel  little later in my childhood.. may be I was 9 or 10. And..then  I was completely sucked into it!

Jongki and Paanei filled my dreams..and more.. the Miri (now called Mising) way of life, their house, their food , their clothes .. the parents, their discussions, the black and white characters.. the Disang river.. I had this story in my mind for a very long time.. before it faded into the background with the waves of the Brahmaputra…. and a little book that was Miri Jiyori was a memory planted somewhere in my heart

The things that remained with me.. some vignettes from the book – the beautiful clear skinned, Paanei, the well built Jongki, Panei’s egoistic father, the reasonable mother, the conceited Komud, the  sang ghor (stilt house ) with the narrow little steps and the creaking bamboo floor, the big kitchen with the fire place right in the centre of their  home.. their love for each other..and their bodies and souls finally meeting  with the river Disang..

 

Is this what Paanei looked like?  A Mising woman wearing her Ribi gacheng and weaving a Gero

 

That’s all that I knew of the Misings.. the Miris.. and later as I grew older I was fascinated by their chadar mekhelas .. the beautiful geometric patterns in a mosaic of colours against black, red, purple, blue or green..

Colourful, beautiful, striking. As the colours, so are the people.. especially the women.

And it needed just one journey to discover the Mising magic back in my life.. which was missing for a long time..

December 2012.. it was time to put those missing threads back in my life. From Bangalore to Guwahati . And Guwahati to Mising land. I was so excited! The land of Jongki and Panei.. the land of Apong and Gero and Sang ghor.. I started putting the jigsaw puzzle back together.. images stored in my memory shook the dust off them..

And with a mission.

A few phone calls and I was onward to Dhemaji.. Yes, I have grown up knowing about this place but never gone, even to Lakhimpur. It didn’t matter to me that I  was not ever there, or did not  know the road to Dhemaji, and here I was on a rickety night bus where I must spend the next 12-14 hours. The route would be through Tezpur and to Bandardewa, then Lakhimpur, and then Gogamukh to Dhemaji. Akajan was my final stop

I chose to go by the bus. I could have chosen to go on a taxi that would probably take me faster , but I chose the bus.  My friend later laughed –  you are such a cheapster. I smiled- yes I could have taken the taxi, but would it give me the experience I am seeking? The good, bad and the ugly, I wanted them all.

I chose the night bus- that way I get a day’s work extra. The bus, a regular Night Super filled mostly with men who looked like they were returning home took off from a smelly and impersonal (but fairly newly built) bus depot  –  the ISBT at Lokhra ..As the bus screeched out of the terminus and rolled out on to the highway.. the cool air from outside and the blaring radio with Assamese movie hit songs promised anything but a peaceful combination as the roads meandered towards Tezpur.  It was adventurous! Like going on a honeymoon, but alone.

And so the evening rolled into the night and the deeper recesses of the night as I could see familiar names and sights and language. Somehow it felt like there definitely are more men in this world.. being the single woman in that bus , I felt intrigued about this new sense of adventure. Years of traveling across the world with exact itineraries prepared weeks ahead and used to the best… how would the journey be? What would the places look like ( I had never travelled this route),  where would I eat, where can I use restrooms, these thoughts turned a luxury as the bus swerved, steep turns and bumps .. I nearly fell off the seat.  I took out my iPAD to check the distance, to share my thoughts online.. the condition of roads..

But then I realised several pairs of eyes trained on me with a sense of bewilderment – I kept it inside immediately and focused on the world outside.. meanwhile the rickety bus continued its juggernaut on an unknown road. Outside was pitch dark, save a few dim lights in the distance to signal human habitation. When we got down to have dinner, the feeling only got worse. Dirty, litter everywhere. A strange smell – a mix of the acrid smell of diesel, urine and the freshly fried samosas and fish curry.. I had two plain rotis and tea.  The only thought I had in mind was- I have to reach my destination . Do what I have to do. And get back safely. Just reach the destination somehow. And bear the torture of the journey.

 

It was weird. It was eerie. Never have I ever travelled with such unpleasantness. I felt angry – with something or someone. Momentarily. I tried to find that someone or something.

And then the realisation dawned – somehow for the first time, I realised something.  No, no one asked me to do this. Not my mother, not my husband, not my siblings or friends, or colleagues or best of all, a boss.

For them it was sacrilege. What is so great about selling clothes? Hundreds of people do that.

It was hard to explain, without sounding vain or stupid. Not only did I leave my well paying, cushy job, now I have a problem of telling people why I am doing what I am doing.

In my mind the imagery was that of being thrown off a cliff into the waters below.. in this case , in reality- being launched on a juggernaut on an unknown road. I was not sure if I had done the right thing. Self doubt haunted me.

What am I doing here, wandering over the place like a vagabond?

But then, I remembered Steve Jobs – You have to trust something. Your instincts.

A lightbulb went off in my head on that road between Tezpur and Banderdewa. And as we reached Bandardewa, where the road forks into two, so did my thoughts. The road to Itanagar was on the left and to Lakhimpur on the right We took the right.

This journey, this journey on a rickety bus with unknown people around is a short journey.. it was  a tiny bit of that longer journey I am undertaking. If I am not going to  give myself in and enjoy this, I might as well give everything up.

The strains of music.. the boisterous dhol and pepa. Bihu, what else? The unabashed beating of the dhol cannot be anything else.

Bihu music is meant for the  Bihu season,  April to June. This is December. Instead of irritating me like it sometimes, I felt happy . It signalled life in that otherwise mechanically moving bus.

The bus is moving mechanically and then it will stop. End of the journey when it reaches the destination.

The same for life. Why not enjoy some music on the way? Why not strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger?

I looked at my co passenger – a young boy of 18-20 years, who was returning to his village in Lakhimpur. I called out to him – ‘bhaity, ki naam tumar? ‘(Bhai, what is your name?)

He’s a security guard (like many others in his village) in a company in Hyderabad and he has a week’s leave to see his family. I asked him about his village. His education. His parents.  His work. Felt an instant bonding.

Felt connected. Relieved to be freed of my self imposed exile. Happy.

Yes, I better enjoy the journey. Not just the destination.

A journey to place the arts, textiles and crafts of the North East India in their rightful place in a way that is relevant to the modern day and age. Bring back the glory of the days of Brindavani vastra, the Xinghap,  Muga silk, the loin loom textiles, the extra warp and extra weft techniques, in a aesthetically heightened way.

 

A journey to revive lost heritage and traditions in a way that is culturally and ecologically aligned  with the producers and their environments. Made in that place, from local raw materials, following the age old best practices and at the same time embracing innovations. But retaining their own identity, as a cultural and geographical symbol. Not an experiment of a ‘whimsical’ designer, a cocktail of fabrics of different genres and weaving histories, thus losing its geographical connection, its identity. Not give up core values for mere ‘wow’ factor. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and even if it takes time, it is fine.

Core values – the 3 Cs – respect for the customer, the craft (unique textile/craft technique) and the creators (artisans).

Each textile must stand up and be recognized on their own. Like a Kanjivaram, a Benarsi, a Patola. A Sualkuchi saree is a Sualkuchi saree. Which you can relate to Sualkuchi and its craft . A Mising mekhela is a Mising mekhela -which talks about the region, its geography, its people.

A journey to create sustainable livelihoods for the weavers and other artisans  so that they can depend on the income for their sustenance and do not have to look elsewhere – the floods come and the crop gets washed away – so do their two square meals and the dreams. Why does it have to be that way? Why can’t the looms and the weavers’ talent earn some rice ?

A journey to enrich the infrastructure and eco system of recognition for the artisans so that they can be proud of what they do and do it happily. If there is no pride in this – why should they do this?  Why should children learn this- it is better to go work on a government scheme and earn some daily wage.

This will be my journey and this will be the way I will enjoy it.

The journey I took overnight was long for a 500 km distance – after twelve hours, the bus reached Gogamukh in the wee hours of a December morning, covered with mist. I will have to now to go to Akajan, a taxi was booked for this by my very thoughtful sister.  I peered outside- a derelict bus stop and a crumbling state transport bus counter .  A small tea shop with a few passengers looking nonchalantly, with sadness in their eyes.   The conductor signalled the last stop and the bus came to a halt.  I realise that my journey had just started. To bring some energy, some smiles and pride. To where it belongs.

 

Even if I am the only one in the horizon.

Alone. But not lost

 

- Jonali Saikia Khasnabish

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