2006 was the year. And summer. I was taking a journey from Samdrup Jongkhar to Gelephu-all the way from Assam, a northeastern state of India. And you know that it’s pretty weird being in India in summer. The weather, all the more tellingly, beastly hot and close and humid. Dusty, too. And you struggle even to breathe the sticky air, thick heat.
The bus that I had boarded from Mangla Bazaar, the bordering town of India in Samdrup Jongkhar was a huge, monster in size. Apparently very old one. A huge number of people, huh, more than the carrying capacity of bus, barged into the bus. It became increasingly chaotic.
I felt as if I were jammed in an alien mess, becoming nervous, lost. And the bus odour of sweat, dust, incense sticks, smoke, pickles, alcohol, piss and vomit was everywhere. Eh, I caught a feeling of slight nausea.
And in the bus, there were all kinds of noises all the time. The sound of the bus engine was deafening like firing a loud fart. And the driver had to horn after every 10m as much for cows and goats as for pedestrians and rickshaws. And ringtones from black and white mobiles rang frantically, incessantly.
As we moved out of the station, we were embraced by the green plain of rice fields, rivers, tea plants and farmlands which stretch clear for acres and acres on all sides. Assam, its population at 22,414,322, is very rich in vegetation, forests and wildlife. Agriculture is the main occupation of the people as rice is the staple diet of the people. And tea gardens of Assam are known to produce the best quality of tea leafs in the world.
Settlements of wretched mud-and-dung washed huts (bamboo walls and thatch roof) scattered all over. The natives were mostly in stick limbs and burnt skins and are poor. Bicycle was used for multi purposes. Carrying loads, fetching water, and all. Every year, high rainfall and deforestation result in floods that cause widespread loss of life, livelihood and property. Assam is also an earthquake prone region. Of late, the political instability due to emergence of insurgencies has been hampering economic development in the state.
As the bus racketed on and on through crumbling dirt roads of Assam, I could spot one village doing rice plantation, whereas, another village harvesting rice. One household celebrating a marriage party, another household in another place would be conducting funeral. In one place, people working tirelessly and at the same time others would be resting, sleeping. I could see equal number of beautiful people to ugly ones as rich people to poor.
There, I understood that the world is what it is, uneven, alternating, to be squarely dealt with. Of life and death. Of laughter and tears. Of favour and disgrace. Of prosperity and adversity. And it is all stringed together, intertwined: the end of one era, the beginning of another, the wordlessness.
The afternoon was nearing its end when the bus stopped at Shantipur Bazaar for lunch. It’s such an intense, larger-than-life market. Chock full of activities, cramped and disorganized. As we set out from the bus, gosh, we were surrounded by a group of beggars.
A young boy who was escorting a blind girl marched towards me and begged for money. This earned me a fresh outburst as my mood was one of frustration due to the long and arduous journey. But you know what? Convictions grow while you’re surrounded by people whose circumstances are far worse than one’s own. So I placed Nu 5 note in his hand.
To my pleasant surprise, the blind beggar started praying for me, earnestly, “Let you never become blind and suffer like me. Not even in your next life!” Oh, I heard the prayer, blessing. And it brought a glow, which is to say, to my heart. In her prayer, I found a deep sense of comfort and ease and faith. As if the Holy Spirit had embraced me, wholly, redeemed me. I can’t explain it precisely. Not for now. But at least, I had felt like that, I promise.
As she took a deep bow in gratitude and left, all I could do was to blink back tears. And I begged myself to stop my tears bursting out. I tried to raise my head, with the hope that I could stop the tears flowing down my cheeks. Stop. But it didn’t. Stop. I kept on saying it over and over again as I watched her leaving. Meanwhile, I realized that I was just feeling and expressing what I had felt. This crying. And it’s ok to just feel what you feel, na? But even this good crying, bursting out tears was so freeing and redeeming.
After the lunch, we resumed our journey. As we reached near to Gelephu, the air became lighter bringing it with a touch of coolness. The setting sun in the west was glancing off the golden rice in a marmalade glow. My eyes stretched for miles, and from afar, ah, paddy birds were flying up in the blue sky like my mind. Freed. Ever flying.