POST script 3
JULY 29, 2012
EETING Arupa suddenly like this was quite unexpected. Some organization or the other had given a call for a blockade in Itanagar that day. The shops were all closed. There was no sign of any traffic on the roads either. The schools and colleges, as well as the officers, however, were supposed to have remained open. There were firm government orders that officers must be present in their respective offices, and students should attend regular classes. Failing this, it would invite disciplinary action. It was risky going to work by car. Supporters might decide to pelt stones or set them on fire. I took a short route through a TYPE II colony. Negotiating a bend, I found myself right in front of a TYPE II Double quarter. Strangely, the compound was teeming with men, women and children of all ages. Approaching the house, I heard the sound of wailing from inside. Some one must have died! Most people in the crowd were unknown to me. However, there were a few faces that I did know, and some that looked familiar. Out of the crowd, a lady who seemed familiar came smiling towards me. She said, “Good morning, Sir!” Both the smile and voice seemed familiar, for that matter, even her face and mannerisms. But somehow, I was just not able to place her. However, she herself offered an introduction- “I am Arupa Talukdar, Girish Talukdar’s wife. We were neighbours in Seijosa, if you remember?” The moment she spoke of her husband, everything fell into place, and the days spent in Seijosa came flooding back to my mind. This was some fifteen or sixteen years ago – a tale of Girish and Arupa’s happy days in a happy home! Girish Talukdar was a forest ranger. He was a strikingly handsome young man who attracted notice at first sight. Since we were neighbours, our two families had become very close. One day, leaving his wife and their two infants at home Girish went to the forest on duty. He never returned. What came back to his wife were his blood-soaked Khaki shirt and one of his shoes. Along with these came a tale of valour – Girish Talukdar sacrificed his own life, to save the life of his senior officer of the Wild Life Preservation and Project Tiger in Pakhui. When a tigress that had been sleeping with her cups suddenly woke up and came to attack the officer, Girish shoved him aside and confronted the angry tigress. Arupa was totally broken when she realized she had lost the only asset in her life – her husband. But gradually she gathered the courage to face up to life’s struggles on her own. As her husband had died in harness and that too, in order to save the life of a fellow officer, the government offered her a job on compassionate grounds. Considering her qualifications she was appointed to a clerical job and posted at Itanagar. I had not met Arupa for years after she had left Seijosa. It was now after a gap of fourteen or fifteen years that I met her. And not only was the meeting unexpected, it was also under strange circumstances. “What a pleasant
surprise! It’s Arupa Talukdar! I could hardly recognize you. You seem to have put on weight. Which office are you in?” I asked. “I work in the Secretariat here, Sir. How are Baideu, and the rest of the family?” “They are all well. What about your two children? Dhon and Moon?” “You still remember their names Sir! Dhon has passed his Higher Secondary Exams and has joined the Veterinary College. Moon is in class eleven. I had heard about your posting here and had meant to come and see you. Somehow, it hasn’t materialized so far.” “You must come and see me sometime. Has anything happened in this house?” I asked. “Yes Sir! Mr. Mohan Roy, who used to work as an Assistant in the Public Works Department lived in this house. He committed suicide this morning.” “How?” “He hanged himself from the ceiling fan. I believe he was perfectly all right early this morning. After that, heaven knows what happened. His body is still hanging there.” “Have they informed the police?” I asked. “Yes, they have. But the entire police staff is occupied with today’s blockade; I suppose they will be here any moment now.” “All right then, I’ll see you later sometime. Then we can talk.” I didn’t much feel up to hanging around amidst the curious crowd and watching the fun, as it were. So, after having spoken to her, I walked on towards my office. In spite of government orders, the attendance in the office today was poor. The staff bus that plied from Naharlagan had a police escort, and so a few employees came in the bus. Of those who lived in the nearby colony quarters, some came on foot. Itanagar is a hilly town. As such, those living far away preferred to face the consequences and stay safely home, rather than expose themselves to untoward incidents. So, although the offices remained open, hardly any work was done. For a long time, I wanted to work on a few new proposals. To-day the attendance in the office was scant. Also, there were no new files to attend to. Taking advantage of the limited work in the office due to the blockade, I decided to make the drafts of these plans and got working. In the middle of my work the peon brought in a visitor’s slip. I wondered who it could be on such a day. Glancing at the slip, I found Arupa Talukdar’s name on it. I asked the peon to show her in, and Arupa walked in with a sheet of paper. “Sir, I’ve come to ask you for some help,” she announced. “What kind of help?” I asked. “In the thirteen years since I came to Itanagar, I’ve been in a rented house. Much as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to get myself official quarters. The house rents here are phenomenal. Now that Dhon is in college in college, expenses have mounted too. You know how it is in Itanagar, Sir! It was good living in an outpost like Seijosa. All the perks like housing, water supply and electricity were there. Here, things are different. There is rampant corruption here. Those in power have all that they want. No one cares about the likes of us.
EXTRACT ‘ANYA AKHON PRATIJOGITA’ YESHE DORJEE THONGCHI PP33-44
Deepika Phukan (trans) Cambridge India, 2006 `200, 274 pages Hardcover/ Fiction
Mr. Chakravarty went to Guwahati. On the way his car met with an accident, and he died on the spot. Mr. Tabin, his colleague, immediately got his quarters allotted to him. He brought the allotment order to Mrs. Chakravarty and asked her to vacate the house. It was only then that she heard of her husband’s demise GG
You could do something for us, Sir! A house has fallen vacant, and I’ve written out an application for it. If you spoke to the Urban Development Secretary, or Director, the job will get done, Sir.” “Don’t keep standing Arupa, please sit down,” I said, pointing to a chair. I felt uncomfortable seeing her on her feet for so long. “No Sir, I won’t sit. I’m all right this way,” she answered hesitantly. Arupa seemed to have changed greatly. Years ago, when she had been in Seijosa, she had addressed my wife as ‘Baideu’ in Assamese, meaning older sister. She addressed me as ‘Bhindeu’: brother-in-law. She used to laugh and joke with us. Now that she had a clerical job, she was treating me like a boss and calling me ‘Sir’. And now she was refusing to sit before me! It’s all right Arupa, just sit down.” I insisted. After that, she pulled up a chair and did sit down. But she seemed uneasy all the while. “Have the police come?” I asked, remembering Mohan Roy. “No, Sir. The body is still hanging there.” “Have you got your husband’s pension?” “Yes, though with great difficulty. That has been of immense help. If I can get official quarters now, it will save me at least two thousand rupees a month, which will be a boon for a woman alone like me.” Hearing her tale, it reminded me of my own plight. It was now almost a year since I had come here. And I had been running from pillar to post from day one, trying for government quarters. In the beginning there had been more quarters than officers. The newly started bid to spread education among the indigenous tribes of Arunachal had not yet paid dividends. They were still unable to produce educated youths whose qualifications were commensurate with the posts available. Those who were meagerly educated did not wish to leave their distant villages and come to Itanagar for small jobs. As most of the offices had moved from Shillong to Itanagar at that time, there were plenty of vacancies that had to be filled. As such, they were filled by people from other provinces who had the requisite qualifications and did not mind coming to Itanagar. In the temporary capital Naharlagan and in the proposed permanent capital Itanagar, lots of residential sectors according to hierarchies had been built. So, working in Arunachal had meant assured living quarters. Things have changed both in Naharlagan and Itanagar in the last ten to twelve years. Now there are concrete jungles in place of soothing natural forests. More than that is the increase in population. People have started shifting to Naharlagan and Itanagar from distant villages in search of jobs or any other means of livelihood. As the offices and departments have increased, so have the number of people. But then, the government quarters have not increased in the same proportion. As a result, people like Arupa and me, and lots of others too have been deprived of official quarters. “You have been asking me to put in a request for quarters. But is there any such vacant place around?” I asked, coming back to the subject. “Sir, please don’t consider me mean. There was no other way. That is why I have come to you. As you came to office this morning you saw the quarters of the gentlemen who committed suicide. I mean Mr. Mohan Roy, Sir. I have applied for his quarters, Sir.” She was red in the face as she said this in a guilty manner. Hearing Arupa, I was profoundly shocked and stunned. Here was a man, who for some reason had just taken his life and was still hanging from the ceiling fan with the wife and children dazed and wailing away.
And this woman arrives with an application for an official allotment for his house! Incredible! Could there really be such cruel people in this world? Speechless, I kept staring at Arupa. She looked extremely embarrassed. But soon she gathered enough courage to speak again. “It is only natural Sir that you are shocked at what I said; anyone would be. But in Itanagar these things happen all the time. Just the other day, Mr. Chakravarty, who was an officer of the Rural Development Department, went to Guwahati. On the way his car met with an accident, and he died on the spot. His wife had not yet heard of his death. Yet, Mr. Tabin, colleague of the dead man immediately got his quarters allotted to him. He brought the allotment order to Mrs. Chakravarty and asked her to vacate the house. It was only then that Mrs. Chakravarty first heard of her husband’s demise. So, is I don’t get Mohan Roy’s quarters allotted in my name, somebody else will. By getting the quarters allotted to me, I will actually be helping Mrs. Roy. She can then stay on in the house as long as she wishes, since I already have a rented house. On the other hand, if a local person gets the house, Mrs. Roy would have to vacate instantly. If you help me Sir, you would actually be helping Mohan Roy’s family too.” Yet, somehow, I couldn’t go along with Arupa’s logic. Yes, I remember having read in some newspaper about some Chakravarty’s accidental death a couple of months back. But this tale about getting the dead man’s quarters allotted before the family knew of his death was absolutely unbelievable. No, I couldn’t digest what Arrupa just told me! “Are you telling me the truth?” I asked. “Yes Sir. It is absolutely true. If you don’t believe me, you can ask others. Mr. Chakravarty’s driver was unconscious for a long time. The police got Mr. Tabin’s phone number which was saved in Chakravarty’s mobile, and informed him about the accident. Tabin immediately got in touch with the Director Housing, and got the allotment order. He had had his eyes for a long time on Chakravarty’s huge compound. Once he had the house, he could construct a big building in the compound although it was not permissible. Wherever a local man had official quarters with a large compound, he either changed the government quarters into private residence, or built shops and hotels or rented apartments in the compound. Can you beat such gross indiscipline, Sir? But all this goes unpunished. Only the quarters of the non-tribal employees and their compounds have survived this onslaught. We had always taken the tribal people to be simple, honest and innocent. But believe me Sir, it’s all a myth. They would beat us hollow any day.” Arupa seemed to have voiced the accumulated frustration of those who came from outside the state to work in Arunachal. “You are right. Actually, there is a lot of difference between the tribals of the North East and those in the other states. For instance, when we talk of tribals from say, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and for that mat-
ter even from the south, we have a mental picture before us of a backward, deprived and exploited dark complexioned people. But you see a different picture of the tribals of the North-East, or the Himalayan tribals. These tribals are way ahead educationally, socially and physically. Also, being sons of the soil, these tribals have a lot of power in their hands. Here, it is the non-tribals and non-Arunachalis that are deprived and exploited.” What Arupa said, triggered off my long accumulated resentment and frustration. For a long time, we aired our views and shared the other’s on the lawlessness, indiscipline and corruption that was rampant in the offices here. These discussions somehow prepared me mentally. I was now willing to help Arupa, vis-à-vis Mohan Roy’s house. Accordingly, I picked up the phone and called the Housing Officer. “Mr. Biyung? Good morning.” “Good morning,” he answered. “Are you speaking from your office?” “Yes, I am in my office. I want a bit of help from you!” “Of course; tell me!” he said. “It’s about a relative of mine, a widow with two children. For the last thirteen or fourteen years she has been working in the Secretariat here. She has been trying hard for official quarters, while living in a rented house. So far, nothing has materialized, and she is in great difficulty.” “Does she know of any quarters falling vacant? You know how it is! If you can’t anticipate a house falling vacant either because of a transfer or retirement, and apply beforehand, you are nowhere. If you wait around, instead of getting a prior allotment, you will just end up waiting endlessly.” Biyung remarked. “Yes, she knows of one such house, and that is why she wanted me to speak to you.” “What is the person’s name?” “Arupa Talukdar.” “Oh yes, I know her. She has been coming to me for a long time, asking for accommodation. Can you give me the number of the house?” “Yes, It is House No:425; TYPE 2; F-Sector, Itanagar”. I read out what Arupa had on the application. Hearing me, Mr. Biyung answered with a big laugh. “Oh, that house?” he said. “It is Mohan Roy’s house. I’m afraid Arupa is a bit too late. Hearing of the suicide, there was a big queue of applicants. On top of that, there came an order from a senior officer - the house should be allotted to one Mr. Tani Tayo. So, I’ve just, this moment, made out an allotment order in his name. There was no way out, really!” “It’s all right, never mind. Perhaps some other time,” I said. “I knew something like this might happen, Sir. I shudder to think of what is to become of poor Mrs. Roy. I wouldn’t be surprised is Mr. Tayo arrives there before the dead body is taken down from the ceiling fan, and asks Mrs. Roy to vacate the house! It’s okay Sir. I’ll take your leave now.” Saying this, Arupa got up and left. I kept sitting there, like a dove hit by hail stones. T
NELit review has not made any editorial changes to the extract
A time in the Sahara To see the camels go by When the sun is going down Making patterns in the sand Sweet sound of your guitar merges with their ektara We come out of our forms to watch the world go around Days pass by to become our effigy It’s no more we only traces of mass Colour to retain the shine Alas never found its sheen Shattering of dreams is hardly easy Finding a common ground in hasty Healing of core in changing weather I come back to the place From where i started the maze.
TANUSHREE BARUAH GUWAHATI
Once in a while…
Luit wasn’t exactly angry Just tired over quarrels for its waters It flexed its muscles once in a while And everyone watched – awed. The land wasn’t exactly overcrowded Just teeming with un-understanding thousands It gave a jolt once in a while And everyone stood terrified and transfixed. The elephant wasn’t exactly wild Just craved its space back once in a while It bore the pain when they threw the acid And everyone heaved a nervous sigh when it died. The rivulet wasn’t exactly suffering Just felt that existential angst once in a while It wrote a drama – floated money in its waters – And everyone had a scandal of a lifetime Each story wasn’t exactly untold Just hidden under layers of untruths The truth gasped for breath every once in a while And everyone swept it right back under the carpet.
SURANJANA BARUA TEZPUR
Love of Shakuntala
The nest of a sparrow hangs out From my heart in a rather painless way My prime desire is to tend to A bird as many poets do Shakuntala comes and goes Her very gait gives me A confidence unto the love of heaven I give her everything Food, love and the warmth of my heart The nest too gets a prominent shape Alas! She hasn't come to her nest For many days The zealousy of my neighbours The fence erected on the borders Have cowed her It is what she has tweeted me She is merely a bird She is called a bird As she can create A tender nest at our hearts The trees too stand As a testimony to Such a faithless nest And knows Shakuntala will never return again
HEMCHANDRA DUTTA GUWAHATI