Of things past

Monday Musing

[ Karyir Riba ]

Did you know that however passionate you are about writing, there are times when your mind can go blank? Completely blank. So many things to write about, yet nothing to write about.

The situation can become worse when you have an impending deadline. You know there is no way out but your brain seems to have an agenda of its own. Your brain chooses to ditch you at the moment when you need it the most. You can almost picture your brain with the devil’s horns, standing afar and mocking you with that devilish smirk.

This is a situation no writer wants to find themselves in. Alas! This writers’ nightmare has put its tight grip on me this time and I can’t seem to escape. As much as I am trying, there is nothing that seems to be of any help. It’s like I’m stuck in a quicksand. The more I try to free myself, the more I seem to be swallowed inside it.

But what has to be done has to be done. So, what’s left for me to do now is to shake off my imagination, get back to reality, take back the reins in my hands and start writing. Start writing about anything. Start writing about this and that. Just start writing, please!

The way I feel right now is somehow bringing back memories from my childhood, when the end of vacations would near and I would start counting my days at home. Counting the days left for me to be able to spend time with my siblings, especially my younger brother, before I would have to again live far from them in the boarding school. I would so devotedly pray for time to stop. I would pray that some miracle would happen and I would never have to go back, only to realize that I was being too wishful. Of course my holidays would come to an end and I would have to go back to live away from home, away from my parents and siblings.

I am a grown-up woman now with two kids, but these memories haunt me to this day, upto the extent that, whenever I am in a difficult situation, I have these extremely vivid flashbacks that multiply my misery. It gets very suffocating at times.

Since today I am writing about this and that, I would like to give myself the liberty to jump from one story to another and tease my readers’ brains a little.

So, cut to many years later. I grew up, fell in love with this guy, got married and landed in this place where I had never been before. You know, culture shock is a real thing. First of all, I believe our Galo and Idu Mishmi ancestors must have never crossed paths, because although in some ways we are similar as tribal fellow beings, we differ a lot in most of our cultural and customary aspects.

You see, growing up I learnt that we are not allowed to put the igin (local basket) over our heads, let alone putting a baby inside of it. So you can imagine the shock that I was in when I first saw a baby inside an igin/aghaa (in Idu Mishmi dialect). And this happened in front of a large number of people. My mother-in-law had taken me along to a community gathering, and there, while everyone was speaking in a language that I couldn’t fathom a single word of, a big aghaa covered with a cloth attracted my attention. For some reason I walked to that aghaa and moved the cloth that was covering it. I can never forget the shock that I got when I saw a baby sleeping soundly inside of it. It was the most unexpected of places for me to find a sleeping baby. Later, I was told by my mother-in-law that this was the traditional way of carrying a baby since time immemorial.

With due respect to my tribe-in-law, this is an experience that I had as a 21-year-old naive daughter-in-law who was on the path of learning the ways of my new home, and there are many, many experiences just like this one that I learnt from.

Now that I have seen and learnt so much in all these years, I can see how convenient it is to use the aghaa as a baby carrier. When you put it down, it turns into a bassinet, and when hung, it can be used to swing the baby to sleep.

For those who are wondering, no, I did not put my babies in an aghaa. Galo conscience did not allow me to do that.

Speaking of language, again, the Galo and the Idu Mishmi languages are so very different from each other that I haven’t been able to find one word that sounds similar to mean the same thing. Well, there is one to be honest. It doesn’t exactly sound the same but it is the closest that I can think of right now. ‘eeku’ and ‘iku’. Eeku in Galo means bamboo shoot. Iku in Idu Mishmi means a dog. You see what I’m trying to say here, don’t you? No link of head and tail at all.

This reminds me of another experience that I had from which I learnt that we shouldn’t just assume that the next person does not understand the dialect you are speaking in.

It so happened once that we were out on one of our casual family dinners. We were having a good time having our drinks and starters while waiting for the food – all of us children and our parents. My older son, who was just a year old, was also having a great time flirting with the very pretty waitresses, looking very smart in their pretty uniforms.

There weren’t many people but for another table with a middle-aged man and his friend I am guessing. All of a sudden this man called for the waitress. In a very loud voice he said, “Bhonti!” My sisters and I looked at one another and couldn’t help but let out a silent laugh.

With our newfound topic of discussion, we started talking about how the waitresses were dressed and groomed so smartly, yet this man took everything away by addressing them as ‘bhonti’.

In his defence, ‘bhonti’ simply means ‘sister’ in Assamese, but somehow the word ‘bhonti’ has taken the shape of a derogatory remark in our society.

Coming back to the story, my sisters and I were continuously discussing the topic. We were speaking in Galo, so we had no fear that anybody else in the room would understand what we were talking about.

The man again called out to the waitresses. This time he addressed them as ‘sister’. Without thinking anything about why he had changed how he was addressing the waitresses, we continued talking and giggling about what had happened.

A while later, when I think of it now, the man must have had enough because in spite of not knowing our family, he exchanged pleasantries with our dad. I don’t remember exactly what he said but I believe it was, “Sir, nun yo lokke la?”, which means “Sir, where are you from?’ in Galo!

Our dad and he spoke for a while but my sisters and I had gone into utter shock because of which we have no memory of what conversation followed. Even after coming back to our senses, we three remained lightheaded for the rest of the evening.

Back home, when we told our parents about what had happened during the dinner, they couldn’t hold back and had a hearty laugh at our folly. My youngest sister, who was seated facing the man, said that the rest of the dinner was like a punishment for her because she had to face this person the whole time, while my other sister and I had our backs towards him, which she said must have been easier for us to be able to eat in peace.

To this day we haven’t found out whether that man was really a Galo or if he was someone who understood Galo. Maybe, just because he used the word ‘bhonti’, we stereotyped him and decided that he wasn’t a Galo.

This incident happened about 8-9 years ago, but we still have a good laugh out of the memory. A very big lesson learnt by us sisters that we should not underestimate the power of language. Never, never, never poke fun at anybody, unless you have a code language designed exclusively for you and your sisters.

So, dear readers, you see, writers have a hard time writing sometimes. But again, sometimes it feels good to write from the heart without depending on an unfaithful mind. With this, I shall end my write-up here, and while you all go on to have a great day ahead, let me remind you that the holiday seasons are officially here. Which also means that the official time of the year when we put on a pile of unnecessary weight has arrived. Here’s wishing everyone that our brains do not betray us and go into hibernation, unleashing our hearts upon all the yummy holiday food. Happy holidays, all!