[ Tongam Rina ]
Sitting in the traditional bamboo kitchen located a short distance away from the main house, Wangjin Hakkun keeps stoking the flames in the fireplace.
A retired employee of the education department, he does not talk at all, like so many others. When the few visitors greet him, he just folds his hands in acknowledgment, his eyes blank.
Wangjin lost his three sons in the recent massacre of 11 people, including MLA Tirong Aboh, near Bogapani.
In the main house, his grandchildren, all under four years of age, run around with their toys – a welcome distraction in a home silenced by pain, grief and an uncertain future.
The youngest of his grandchildren is one month old. She does not have a name yet. Wrapped in a saffron blanket, she is sleeping peacefully in the arms of her aunt, who keeps looking at her face, as if looking for reassurance from the child. The baby was born premature.
The baby’s mother, Gancha, sits nearby, wiping her tears. The 20-year-old had been married for just over a year. She dropped out of college in Shillong to marry the man she loved.
“Gancha wants to be a policewoman. She has already passed the physical tests, but I am not sure anymore whether she will be able to perform well in the written test,” says Rumi, the eldest of the three sisters-in-law.
Rumi also lost her husband, Jallin.
SSA teacher Rumi is a mother of a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Her husband, who was one of the closest confidants of Tirong Aboh, was the eldest of three brothers. The responsibility of the joint household is now on Rumi.
“Ek din mey yeh ghar se teen laash utha,” she tells the four-member team of the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society.
“How can human beings be so brutal?” she repeatedly asks, still unable to comprehend what happened that day.
Her four-year-old boy runs into the room full of adults too shaken to say anything.
As we sit, each one wiping their tears, the child has a toy to show off. Everybody seemed grateful for the noisy interruption.
The child is called inside by his sister, taking away with him the momentary solace that had comforted everyone.
Some five minutes away from Rumi’s home is the Aboh household. In the sitting room, there is a picture of Tirong Aboh. Dressed in Nokte attire and headgear, he is reading something. Perhaps he was taking oath as a minister when the picture was taken. It appears as if he is about to break into a smile. Beneath his photograph, there is a picture of his son, all smiles and full of life.
As we sit down, each one looking at the other to break the silence, someone called Tirong’s daughter. She nods her head in acknowledgment as someone introduces the guests from Itanagar. She will be in Class 9 this year.
That day, the young girl lost her father, brother, cousin, four uncles and four others that she had grown up seeing.
The Hakkun brothers – Wangngoi, Jalin, Wangngu and Gamwang – were all her maternal uncles.
In Hunkan village in Dadam circle, an hour’s drive from Khonsa town, Angoi Sumpa stares at an uncertain future.
She got married last year to 20-year-old Patwang Sumpa, one of Tirong Aboh’s drivers. They had become parents four months ago.
We were sitting on the traditional open-air terrace attached to the bamboo house when she came out to meet us. Two of the three family dogs came and sat near her, never leaving her, while the other one sat near us.
I don’t have words to describe the pain I saw in 19-year-old Angoi’s face.
During the hour-long stay, Angoi’s daughter, safe on her grandmother’s back, was fast asleep.
As we were leaving, one of the elders suggested that we see the grave which is near the church overlooking the village. One of the family members gave us a bottle of jumin, the traditional drink, to take back to Itanagar. Amid such unspeakable tragedy, here was a family, broken by pain, yet not letting go of the tribal culture of sharing food and drinks.
Hunkan, a beautiful village of around 700 people, with small little horticulture gardens and red roses, among other flowers, is silent. Angoi offered to accompany us.
As we were leaving, I asked her when she planned to go back to her Khonsa home.
“I don’t know how to face the empty house,” she said.
As we made our way back to the main road, we waved goodbye, but stopped because she was still standing there.
“Thank you for coming all the way. I know the people of this state share my pain,” she said as we went back to her.
In Itanagar, Tirong Aboh’s government quarters is locked from the outside with a small lock. His neighbours, who won in the elections and have come back to celebratory welcomes and dinners, are mostly quiet.
A neighbour occasionally waters the potted plants and the small vegetable patch in front of the house.
At the main entrance, where the pots are, there are two pairs of slippers.
[ Tongam Rina ]