[ Tongam Rina ]
This is about Nyikam an old woman and a grandmother, my first teacher who spoke no Hindi, English or Assamese.
The trusted weather-woman, brilliant interpreter of dreams, laugh riot, bad cook and a lousy story teller. But a heart as deep as the sea and as vast as the sky and as serene as the summer breeze in the hills.
She who taught me to forage wild leaves and mushrooms and fish using a wild herb, collect wild yam and to dig deep for it. She helped me cross the swinging cane and Bamboo Bridge on a sunny slippery morning. Sometimes she just left me halfway, screaming, as I tried to balance while she half danced, laughing nonstop and rocked the bridge.
She, who was interpreter of dreams, who knew who was dying and whether there was going to be an epidemic.
She, who made me write letters. Most of the time addresses were misplaced and letters never sent.
She, who taught me people age and that walking, is an ordeal, going to the bathroom is much harder and farting comes easy. And that there is no shame in peeing in your clothes. It’s all about age and that there is no point fighting time and ailments it brings along.
My first feminist, who believed in a world that’s equal and fair for all.
Someone who taught me to keep a secret and value unspoken, unwritten codes of lifelong friendships with humans, animals, plants based on pure trust and sharing.
She, who taught me to feed salt to the Mithuns and that cats and dogs, can be friends. And if they are not, leave them alone. Some things, you can’t force or change.
The teacher of life skills- chopping wood, making rice in the bamboo tube, carrying wood in cane and bamboo basket, winnowing, preparing local brew, roasting meat, fish and chilies to perfection.
The one who taught me to sing songs while harvesting, rituals, swimming in the cold white river, interpreting the songs of birds and the bowls of foxes.
She, who knew which year the oranges and pineapples, would be sweet. One look at the sky, she knew how the weather was going to pan out. She could see the rain from a thousand miles, through the thick dark mountain.
Looking back, I regret not being a good enough student.
The lifelong comforter knew her end was coming two months beforehand, as she refused treatment and took refuge in prayers and waiting. The only thing that she used was a balm prescribed by her grandchild to ease her body pain.
I met her last in her favorite bamboo and wood kitchen surrounded by her grand children and great grandchildren. As we parted, she held my hands and said it was our last meeting and that I should not cry.
Few weeks later, I sat and watched her lay still, not to wake up again as someone broke into a song, a lamentation celebrating her life, sung with the pain, longing and finality of everything that is mortal.
Perhaps with time, memories and the pain and longing that come along with it will wane. It’s been a year since she left and I am yet to say my final goodbye or even acknowledge that she has left forever. Instead of attending the prayer meeting, I sit here at office, wondering if she still roasts potatoes and whether she met grandfather.