It was a single stem, around 5 inches long. Her father would get it for her during Bihu. The flower is ubiquitous in this part of the country. For the locals, it is a symbol of love, of virility, of merriment. The dancers adorn their hair with this special pink or purple spotted white flowers.
Her sensuality, her love, her happiness was like the kopou itself. Beautiful, jovial, calm, absorbing and encompassing. Then it was silent too. Like this flower, for it gave no fragrance. No one would know that she could love someone so intensely, that she could be so sensuous and empowering over someone, that she could so much stir those who had her in their lives. That she could create patterns of emotions- of genuine love, of everlasting friendship, of unfathomable romance, of the deepest care.
The river was in full might when we reached Mathanguri. So much force, so much fury lay in its flow. The forest IB was scenically placed over a hill. The IB downslope overlooked the river. From the top the river looked majestic, from down below it looked young and forceful. The river level clearly indicated it was three feet high then. But the monsoon was fast approaching. The river would throw all its wrath upon the village then. It would show no mercy to the tyrants, to the sinful. I slowly walked towards its bank. My feet were bare. I had left my shoes in the porch. The stones and gravel were cold. The water was very cold as well. The clouds above had masked the heat from the sun even on that warm April day. I sat on a large stone and dipped my feet in the cold water. I picked up a small round pebble and threw it at the river as I watched it drop down under. It left no sign on the clear water as it made its way down. On the other side, an elephant with its mahout was slowly walking by the bank. Probably it was out there to quench its thirst. It must have been one of those working in the safaris to carry tourists through the forests of the park showing them the various animals who called the place their home. There was so much the forest had it hidden within, inside its 2836 square meters stretch and amidst the tall elephant grass that had abound the area.
The road through Mathanguri and towards the Royal Manas (that’s how the Bhutanese like to call the part of the forest which lay in their country) was a winding passage, made by cutting in-roads through the foothills. These were the eastern Himalayan ranges. To its left flowed the Manas river, which separated the two neighbouring countries. This river has its origin in Bhutan itself and splits into the Beki as it reaches the plains in Assam. One could see the Bhutan hills from the distance, the clouds hovering over the hills presented the perfect picture for the candid eye. The Great Hornbill flew over our gypsy as we made our way through the forest on one side and the hills on the other. Butterflies of yellow, white and brown befriended us along the way. It was as if we could keep travelling all day long but not ever wanting to stop. There was something magical in the very air that pervaded the place. Captivating and unadulterated. It reminded of her.
It was the cold winter when she had decided to bring her parents to stay with her. They were getting old and needed to be taken care of. It was the same cold she felt inside when her own sisters had refused to be party to this act citing their own issues, problems and responsibilities. The cold winter when the kin had told her it was not befitting a woman to be keeping her parents with her. It was also the same winter when she had realised that her love could be so unconditional and powerful that it could challenge the taboo and all who came in between. More importantly that that love could lure support from some such folks, her husband who stood by her and her parents as if they were his own.
The orchid she had in her hands was a colourful stem with light purple flowers. She placed it on her grand daughter’s hair, then tied it to the bun that she had just finished making with her lovely dark hair. The young girl was being readied for the programme. That was a Bihu dance performance by the children of the age group of four- eight in the open field nearby, organized to celebrate the festival of Bohaag Bihu. Bohaag, in Assam is the first month of the Hindu Saka calendar and it coincided with the harvest season. It is celebrated in the entire country in various ways and is called by their own local names. As for Assam, this is its main cultural festival, one that would unite people from different religions, communities and tribes. There was a feeling of ecstasy everywhere, it was prevailing in the air itself, as if it had been there always. She however could not take her eyes off her pretty damsel. The young girl looked like the toy that overlooked the glass pane at Hamley’s – looking exceedingly pretty in the Assamese Mekhela chadar. Not even her daughters she could remember having had so fondly adorned and decorated as she was now doing unto her grand child. This was what change was bringing about. From addressing the masculinity then to adorning and surrendering to the feminine power now! From upholding and motivating the ability to equal a man to slowly paving way to the grace, elegance and beauty, she once again was finding balance between these two vital forces, the yin and yan. From standing up like a man to protect and heal her sick parents to being the doting granny to her little grand daughter, she was aiding the two energies within her create the balance, give her fulfillment, help her move inward.
“You cannot search for perfection in him. Perfection for us is akin to what we see and idolize from the movies. Do not be stuck on that. You do not find perfection. Rather you create it. Re invent yourself to create the ‘sense’of perfection. If you keep seeking it in him, you shall return devastated”. She wanted me to know this truth before I could speak fowl about the man I was married to. Inside, the anger towards him was seething deep. Yet I felt paralysed by her words. Is it that I was seeking perfection from someone for all what I was not. Is it that all pent up feelings were finding its vent through the presence of this one man just because he was next to me all the time. Was this idea of friendship being threatened by an idea of a ‘husband’ so utopian that it was plaguing the very origin of it- the former. As my feet touched the cold waters of the Beki, I thought of the moments I had wanted to cheat on him, make him feel insecured and helpless. I could find no reason for this sadism. Yet seated by the river with only the sound of the flowing water to separate my thoughts from my emotions I could only think of the pain I had felt on being separated from my parents and having to live amidst strangers- people unknown to me and with alone him as my friend; the friend who would leave me amidst them to attend to his own. Why was it that I alone had to put up with the pain and not him? Why was it that I alone had to undergo the multitude of fears and insecurities in a new home when he was so carefree and happy among his own? Why was it that I had to do this for a man whom I was not even in love with and God knows, if I ever would be. Why was it that I had to be so perfect despite my admonishing while he could be so perfectly imperfect.
I looked up at the sky above. The clouds were still up there. I removed my feet from the water and rubbed the droplets off with my towel. Slowly I walked towards the bunglow. My folks must have been over with their lunch by now. We would have to leave for the forest soon. He walked towards me and smiled. His lean body was covering the little bit of sunshine that was making its way amidst the dark clouds to me. I knew he was helpless too, helpless before the customs that were prevailing, helpless before the idea of a son and a husband, finding himself at a loss in not being able to understand either, helpless under the pressures of expectations and delivery. ”I felt more insecured than ever having you as my wife, not knowing how to handle and take care of this new member, least of all how to adjust myself in a new set up”, he had told me when I had burst out at him one day.
That had been my moment of anti climax. When that what was being envied turned out to be the subject of envy itself. To realise that what I was reeling under was the same emotion that this man had to put up with, painstakingly and silently. Thoughts of our days together before our marriage when we used to roam around like friends brought tears into my eyes. I knew I was putting undue pressure on this man for nothing; I was punishing him for what he was not. And I was seeking something from him I never even desired. I looked at the orchid that was blooming on the tree just outside the IB. It looked even more captivating atop the tree trunk, presenting a formidable contrast over its brown skin. Inside I knew he was not my target. He never could be. And I had to release him from being so. To make him what he actually was- just another person not very different from what I was. And to do so I had to release myself first. Release myself from my pain. The pain I had created in me. The pain I alone had the power to obliterate.
We made our way to the range office next. The ranger was a sturdy fellow with a jovial face, someone who had attuned himself with the nature around him so much so that a part of it had been transmuted into him. As if now he had become inseparable and innate to the Manas. ”I have seen Manas in its different phases- from being a trouble-torn area during the time of the Bodoland Aandolan to its transformation into the UNESCO world heritage, I have seen it all”. For him the trajectory was clear and what more was was his involvement with its every change. No doubt that the park had had to bear the brunt of ethnic chagrin among the people of the Bodo tribe in the districts of Baksa, Chirang and Kokrajhar of Assam. Manas was located in Baksa and so it was cut off from the outside world due to this turmoil, which erupted in the 1980’s. This continued till around the year 2013 when the districts came to be recognized under one conglomerated Bodoland Territorial Area Districts – a parallel administration to be manned by a separate council exclusively formed by the people of their tribe alone. It was only after then that Manas actually started getting its space, to breathe, to let in the world which was otherwise unaware of it, yet so desirous of it. For the range officer, this place was home. And he had been there amidst its troubles and the strife to now see the magnificence of the place win hearts the world over. ”Very few people know Manas to be as beautiful as it actually is”. I could see the spark in his eyes and the pride in his voice as he spoke those words. This man had surely lent his soul to this place. And the forest had certainly returned his call, reciprocated in a manner so subtle and solacing that he had not asked it back.
The white breasted kingfisher flew from branch to branch. The colours painted over its little body reflected ingenuity, brilliance and creativity beyond human imagination. That there could be so much perfection in a small bird, in the way it spread its wings and swooped to catch its prey. A little further, a reddish brown deer with long ears walked past us. It had come out of the jungle towards the stream to quench its thirst. And what a beauty it was! Its skin was flawless and its moves were captivating. It reminded me then of the golden deer of which we had read in the Ramayana and for which Sita had been lured to by Ravana. If there could be a golden deer at all, it could never be more beautiful than the one which I saw was passing by me. Now and again it kept flapping one of its ears. As if it was carefully listening to any sounds of danger that could be around it. As our gypsy moved over the track leading us through the lonely trees, we caught sight of a herd of wild elephants. They too were flapping their large ears as they were feeding on the tall grass growing everywhere. But this flapping was a to and fro movement unlike the deer’s which was a up and down one. They looked at us as we passed by. Somewhere I was getting the feeling that these animals too were learning to accept us humans among them and the hustle of the gypsies moving in these parts of the forest was not new to them. For this was only the buffer area of the park. The actual inner part of Manas is but only a five hundred square kilometers area which still has certain unrevealed and dark pockets restricted for humans. Our guide told us of the various trees that were growing there, mostly semi evergreen type- the Shimolu tree and the elephant apple and a variety of Savannah type of grassland of which the ferns were growing in abundance. The trunks were not very thick but were tall and steady. The canopy too was not very thick but there was good density of trees.
She carefully placed the orchid stem on the table beside the bed. It looked still fresh and young. Maybe one day more and then it would wither away. She wished to relish it till it lasted its very end. Every second it lived was precious to her. Like her own. Like her decision to pull herself out of the quagmire. Like her power to build her world out of nothing. Like her virility, to be able to love the man whom she had promised to spend her life with. Like her understanding of what love was and her personification of ”perfection” or ”imperfection”. In the other room, she could hear her daughter frolicking with her child. There she was the girl whom she held so close to her heart. The one whom she had protected all along. For whom she had left no stone unturned to see to that she got the finest education and the choicest career, not to mention the most desirable man. And today that same girl was standing by her side, rock solid and impeccably smart. ”Empowerment for a woman first starts at home. It starts with the intention, to bring up the girl in the finest manner, to imbibe power in her through one’s thought rather than plain actions alone. You scream of empowerment when its very essence is amiss in our homes. You run hither thither seeking equality when its very existence is not to be found in your thought. Where will this take us after all? No where, just in circles!”
The sun was setting and the dark forest sent a shudder through my spine. Of wilderness. I closed my eyes to feel it seep into me. I could feel how perfect everything was. How perfect I was. How perfect that orchid was, which was growing amidst the wild trees atop a trunk and over a bunch of clumsy leaves that presented a unwieldy picture. That those leaves could house such lovely exotic pendant like flowers. The mystery lay in this very contrast. That there was perfection in that union- of beauty and vility. That they co-existed and yet questioned not the other’s existence.