Friday, 14 November 2014

'The disappearance of wooden buses and in the name of God!' (my short story published by Writers Asylum)

Thank you Writers Asylum for publishing my short story 'The disappearance of wooden buses and in the name of God!' 

Synopsis of the story: It captures funny incidents around the issue of public worship in Beltola, an area in Guwahati. And along with the incidents, it captures the change of character in Beltola over two decades.

An excerpt:
"In the early Seventies, when Father shifted to Guwahati with Mother, the city moved very slowly. It had a sweet laziness about it. People were still taking their siestas in the afternoon; in fact many came home from office for siestas during lunch break. People were still leisurely walking or cycling to their destinations. Even the few cars around seemed to clamber down the roads, potholes and all, at their own sweet pace. Electricity cuts never deterred the spirit to relax, sleep, eat or have fun. The summers somehow were not that fierce then. And even in those days, Guwahati was ‘big’ for any city or town in India’s northeast. My parents were the tenants of Anandi Bordoloi at Silpukhuri, who was related to Gopinath Bordoloi, Assam’s first Chief Minister in post-Independent India. Anandi Bordoloi had played a big role in establishing the Mahila Namghar at Silpukhuri. The first time I went there, many moons later, I was stunned by the absence of men at a public worship space. Women clad in white mekhela-chadarswere officiating the prayer meetings and managing the accounts of the namghar. This is where Mother’s weekly visit to the namghar began, although I have never known her to be a strictly religious person. She and Anandi Bordoloi would walk down to thenamghar, which was only a few steps away from the house; the elder woman walking authoritatively alongside Mother, who looked more like a disciple in the shadow of a reverend one. As I come to think of it now, she went there perhaps to break the monotony of her dull life. Eighteen years of age, Mother had just been uprooted from her social life in Dibrugarh. She was one of the reputed beauties from the Baruah family of Milan Nagar; Father was a hot-blooded Bhuyan from Khaliamari, who bore both the Khaliamari Bhuyan aura and temper well. After the wedding, she stayed with her in-laws for about four months before Father brought her to Guwahati, where he had a junior engineer’s job at the Irrigation office in Chandmari. At Guwahati, she discovered the alcoholic in her husband and spent several sleepless nights of enduring the husband’s alcohol induced aggression and abuses. The next morning he would lie at her feet and ask for forgiveness. Days went by and Mother’s confusion over Father’s behavior drove her to depression. She would shut herself in the house after Father left for office in the morning and worry about her fate, a worry that in some time became a wound that ceased to ache. Her landlady Anandi Bordoloi noticed she was not going out at all. “This is not good for you, staying in the house all day like this,” she once told Mother when it took Mother exactly twenty minutes to open the door when Anandi Bordoloi rang the bell. And when she opened the door, she looked like a beautiful goddess who did not care how she looked anymore, with an expression that could have very well proclaimed her dead. “Get ready, I am taking you to the Mahila Namghar,” Anandi Bordoloi declared; and that’s how Mother started going to the namghar. Here, she found other women who took an interest in her life, gossiped with her, made friends with her. She looked forward to every Thursday afternoon when she could spend two-three hours at the namghar, listening to and taking part in stories while munching on the Lord’s prasad which included sprouts, fruits and payas made of milk and rice. It was here that life finally made some sense to her through the shared devotion that the women practiced, which was enough to make her forget about the trifling sorrows in life.
She was only beginning to enjoy her new-found sense of self at the namghar when, in the Eighties, I was about ten years old then and my sister three years younger to me, Father managed to buy some land in Beltola, which happened to be the outskirts of the city those days, and built a two-room house. We soon shifted when the house was ready and as we made the journey from Silpukhuri to Beltola, our hearts sank as we left the charming sights of the city behind. The closer we got to Beltola, the further away we went from the city lights and fancy marketplaces. We had arrived at a place where ‘slow’ got a whole new definition. Beltola seemed like a vast expanse with a few houses and fewer shops strewn across; and everybody seemed to move in slow motion, even the ones cycling their way to someplace. Nobody ever seemed to be in hurry."

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