Love, Labour and Loss in Baghjan

চʼতৰ বিহুত বৰদৈচিলা মাকৰ ঘৰলৈ যায়/Sotor bihut Bordoisila maakor gharaloi jaai
গছ গছনি ঘৰ দোৱাৰ নিয়ে উৰোৱাই।/Gos Gasani Ghar duwar niye uruwaai.
Every Bohag Bihu, Bordoisila sets out for her maternal home 
Uprooting trees and destroying houses.

As Baghjan burns I find myself (almost like everyone of us) entangled in heap of anxieties that comes from my association and experience with societies and institutions across the region. As Baghjan is not a case in isolation I find myself compelled to inform what cause my anxiousness. I should add, reliving and writing the self is not always a happy exercise even when one knows one is politically and morally obliged to do so. Yet, I write because much about Baghjan will be determined by what we choose to see in the sufferings and loss. What we see determines how we respond, how we care and for how long. It will decide what we will fight for in the various phases of its healing/curing. It will tell us when we will choose to withdraw our love and responsibilities. It therefore, calls for an effort to know what people will need in the course of time. It will require active processes of listening, observation and engagement in oder to identify what is being grieved over as Baghjan mourns. What more than numbers (of species of flora and fauna, of households and people) will we try to see, recognise, acknowledge when we talk of the place and its people. Maguribeel is indeed more than a tourist spot offering a decent means of livelihood to its boatmen, fishermen and others. Generations of people lived, entered into relations, left the place, and many perhaps returned in the spirit of a Bordoisila looking for ties, love, livelihood. A thought lingers; how many Bordoisilas- the spirit, the joy and the expectations that the idea of Bordoisila entails- lay dead today in the fire and how many does it give birth to.

Indeed, everyone is a Bordoisila when one rushes for the place she thinks she belong. But every Bordoisila has her own season to hurry in the speed and spirit of a tempest in order to live and relive this sense of belongingness. A few years ago, I met a cousin sister in law who knowing that I had spent the previous nights in a village by the bank of the Dighalee exclaimed explaining how she made it a point to visit her natal home every year when people fished Dighalee. It was undoubltedly her season to be the Bordoisila. There would be many Bordoisilas- young and old. People from distant villages gathered at around that particular time of the year. It wasn’t just fishing happening there! The spark in her eyes and the joy in her being as she narrated how people gathered, fished and feasted made clear the sense of identity, unity and membership Dighalee ensured for the people living along the long Dighalee. However, it was not the first time I witnessed people sinking into the sea of memories as they narrated their times with their Dighalee- the abundance, the variety, size of the Borali, friend, family, guests, exchanges, quarrels and the list goes. But these are all a matter of the past now. Dighalee lives no more requiring people to rethink on a good time of visit, sources of happy exchanges. My sister in law seemed confused on what this proper time could actually be for her to rush like a tempest. Home going is no longer like before an individual isolated affair

Not Dighalee, but somewhere close to Baghjan, February 2020. Photo: Author

Huge deposit of sand year after year in the late 90s took life out of Dighalee. Although people narrated endlessly their joyous times, the spontaneity of the flow of stories and emotions is disrupted at once whenever I tried asking how Dighalee came about to its present form. People’s expression of pain however, has countered my process of knowing more of their experiences of Dighalee. Or perhaps it has more to do with me. If I was a different person with different experiences knowing erosion and rivers only through books and class rooms gathering information would had been an easier task, I believe. As someone growing up by a river in a river island witnessing paddy fields turned barren within hours, perhaps I over read their anxieties in recollecting and narrating their experiences. More likely that I begin to relive my own trauma. Perhaps I fear that I will end up creating the same the stories about such times that frustrates me. Labour and loss only of a certain kind recorded! Almost always; in media and academia alike. Why? Efforts made only by the government highlighted. In the age of the social media a few non-governmental organisations have managed to draw some attention.

Sand stuffed Dighalee, once long and wide. Photo: Jyoutsna Gogoi

What goes missing from the reports and researches? This takes me back to the day that night in August 1998. People in the entire locality run looking for used cement bags wherever constructions were going on. We counted this many from Girls High School, that many from our school until we got the news that there aren’t any more. Perhaps not a single in the island as all were used to prevent a possible breach of some road or an embankment. But we feared, if it breaks in Kumarbari where extensive erosion was taking place entire Jengraimukh could possibly be swiped out of the map. That night around 2 am the road broke a few kilo meters ahead. We left home in the darkness of the night and for the next one month we found ourselves occupied with too many things. Something happened before 2 am when the entire villagers were worrying about the unavailability of sacks- women handed out their new hand woven mekhelas from their peras (wooden box). I remember my mother mentioning this to me once. I lived another 9 more years there never getting to hear of this contribution for once in any meeting or in any casual conversation. It was probably too insignificant to be discussed and acknowledged in public and find representation in data we come up with in our researches. ‘Accidental activism’ not deliberate and consciously done, this is how we tend to deny dignity of these efforts. Even if they were counted only the monetary value would had been. Who wove it for which occasion, where did the money for the thread come from, for how long did someone wait before actually having woven one, the colour and the design. What negotiations and compromises were made if one didn’t have a loom of ones own. Forms of labour invested in each one of these exercises goes unseen, unfelt, unrecognised. Reminds me of a friend (writing activates memory, I see!) who once did a small cultivation of garlic selling which she planned to buy thread for her most desired and awaited pair of sador mekhela. Can’t these forms of labour be recorded or we choose not to. What stops us from recording (read as valuing) them? Do they mean nothing when placed aside monetary value? How are meanings given to these various forms of labour and how do we then engage ourselves in this meaning giving exercises is what I want to ask.

Similar are the accounts of loss- number of houses, number of walls, number of tin sheets meant for roofing, number of pigs, cows and the list goes (apart from personal experiences my spontaneity here comes also form the many research methodology lectures and workshops that we often get to attend). I lost a bundle of letters from my grandfather and my brothers. A loss I regret. But indeed not countable or worth counting. What about the ones that are counted, what of it is recorded, valued? My friend lost her father during flood. A few months later, in between classes she was summoned for home. She was my benchmate for the month. She retuned an hour or so later. She told me the family had shifted her father’s graveyard. She had to be there for some ritual. Not a word was spoken about it. With no proper place for burial during flood he was buried in the backyard of a school. Such are desires and helplessness. Such are the ways of coping. How do we address these mechanisms of recovering? What does it say about our inadequacies in telling, listening and recording loss?

The Will to Witness. Baghjan. Photo: Diganta Rajkhowa Source: Facebook.

Today as Baghjan burns, I am told people there once longed and wished that their land turn oil rich. A piece of land to OIL ensures them a future. It would bring them and their family closer to what we call development. Many a class hierarchies of the everyday they will be able to overcome with this. Their expectations are understood. It is us not them who create these expectations for them. A lot of our/your belittling looks, gestures, taunts, rejections. Who suffers during a crisis like this? What are the local power dynamics that distributes loss and suffering unevenly in Baghjan as an oil well burns swallowing agricultural land, wetlands and rivers in and around the area. Takes me back to my childhood again. Once in a while we did get to hear of roads deliberately cut to deter a possible breach around some wealthy or well to do person’s house or cultivable land. Rumours they are/were I want to believe but speaks sufficiently of hierarchies and vulnerabilities, of fears and uncertainties, of power and loss.

Everyone suffers but suffers unevenly! Differently.

These unevenness and differences in the distribution of suffering needs to be acknowleged at every stage our enagement; now as we grive along with Baghjan and later when we will decide to withdrawing believing all loss has been repaired.

One among many paddy fields that was laid barren by huge deposit of sand. Gradual deposit of silt in the subsequent years turned it cultivable again. Nature knows how to cure itself. Photo: Author



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Amrita Pritam Gogoi Written by:

Amrita Pritam Gogoi teaches at the Department of Political Science, Dibrugarh University. She is interested in understanding the everyday forms of violence

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