Thursday, 31 August 2017

Arabian sea to Amternaut

“You come from the Arabian Sea to swim in the Amternaut?”

She’s amused, watching me, as she catches fat tadpoles and small shrimp lurking in the shadowy coves of the clear cold river. I’m transfixed, floating on my back, watching clouds scurrying across the sky, deep shadows and sunlight glinting off giant spider-webs spiraling crazily across thick forest foliage. This is different from the usual floating reveries…a strange change from staring at the sunlight-spangled Arabian sea, gliding on the green waves with a million sea creatures…

Originally, there’d been some obscure plan to travel through the state with a friend, and I’d instead ended up sulky and alone in Shillong. After a day eating jadoh, and walking through the city bazaars, I’d run away, preferring to be in a tiny forest village where no one really goes, to live with a little old lady everyone around Amlarem knows.

With the unerring sagacity that all schoolteachers come with, Lakhmie had realized I wasn’t expecting to be alone, and decided she would accompany me to the forest. While most people came to see the famed living root bridges that the people of her clan originally devised, once she pointed out the steep, slippery trail through the trees, I’d wanted to swim instead.

Later, as we sat on the rocks, eating lunch wrapped in betel nut leaf packaging when she asked me, “You eat tadpole, in your country?” Fearful of being served the fresh ones she’d just caught, I quickly reminded her she’d already cooked jackfruit, like the one my landlady in Goa cooks for Sunday lunch…

She’s fascinated by my rootless existence, as I am with her life steeped in parochial tradition. She is of the War, a sub-clan of the Khasi, confusingly patriarchal, despite their proud matrilineal practices, and I have no village, to claim as ‘mine’. We speak of being single, and the frailty of friendships, and our addiction to tea. We speak of preservation of culture, and she tells me how she’s the only person, possibly, this side of the world, who knows both International script of the War as well as the Indigenous script. I tell her how Goa is struggling with the ridiculously inadequate garbage disposal, and ask about her garbage management. She shrugs sheepishly, and jerks her thumb over her shoulder to indicate that most people throw it, far over, into the forest.

We muse over the ideologies of ‘belonging’, to communities, countries or nation…our worlds could not be more different, dissimilar and surreal to the other, and yet, we are obliged to feel a commonality in our citizenship.

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