INKPOT - To the roots of pain, poetry : Kaberi Kachari Rajkonwar

When we were in Dhaka, a girl
died in a grenade blast.
She was selling flowers. I was
overcome with grief after the
death of such a little girl
Many people ask me whether I wrote anything during the years I was underground. I do not have a correct answer to this question. I will be wrong if I say I wrote or I will not be right if I say I did not. Yes, I did pen some poems but I never sent them to the mainstream newspaper organisations. I knew that they would not be published. A few of my poems appeared in the souvenirs brought out in memory of the ULFA martyrs from time to time. There was a time when our very handwriting or names struck terror into the hearts of people. 

So, seeing my poems in print would have been a very brave act. Thanks to the efforts by some plucky colleagues of mine, the first edition of my poetry book Xonali Xuryar Xugandha (Fragrance of the Golden Sun), however, came out in 1996 and the second version after a long gap of ten years. Another collection of my poems, Xari Xari Mritodeh (Rows of Corpses), was published in 2006. Many advised me to contribute poems to mainstream magazines under a pen name. I did not like the idea. Under the pseudonym of Rubi Singha, I had written letters to various journals till 1996 or so, but I did not enjoy doing that either. Like many others, I then drifted away from the world of poetry in Assam as I lived sometimes in jungles and sometimes amidst a sea of humanity.

Kaberi Kachari Rajkonwar
I was in Bhutan till 1996-97. We once stayed in a rented house near a cemetery in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. On opening the window of the house, we would see wild flowers and the graveyard on the other side of a river. At that time, my hair was quite long, flowing down about a cubit below the waist. I had loved to wear my hair in plaits since my childhood. In Bhutan, except the queens, no woman is allowed to grow long hair. The family with whom I lived were apprehensive that it would be an extremely shameful matter if the king sent the 'tekela' (barber) to cut my locks. Six months earlier, I had already had my tresses pruned back by about half a cubit. That was what kept upsetting me. After coming to Thimphu, I became very angry, thinking that I, like the Nepali women living in Bhutan, would have to tie my hair tightly in the style of ‘ungalkopa’, if not ‘Bhutia chat’. I had sought refuge in Thimphu just to live with my only daughter. The very thought of getting my hair cropped just because I wanted to stay there made me feel extremely insulted, and I still feel so.  A strange country and strange laws! I decided not to stay in Thimphu and returned to our camp. I wrote several poems expressing the resentment I had felt in Thimphu. An unpublished one among them was ‘How many more days...’:

Golden childhood
Fading adolescence
Everlasting youth
Yellow future
One plus one, gave you two lips of mine
My long black hair
And all the moonlight
A clear morning, autumnal evening
A colourful kite of dreams on the banks of the Luit, cottony evenings
Gave you my breasts, sumptuous thighs, slim waist, vagina, all sensual organs
What more do you want, India?
Come and take away my identity, my selfhood if you dare...

The source of another poem comes to mind. I had almost lost the notebook containing my poems, including this one. Fortunately, one of my associates, who came back from Bangladesh, returned it to me. None of us wants to be implicated in the tragic incident in Dhemaji in 2008. Time will judge who were responsible for the political situation where children were pushed into a killing field. At that time, I wrote ‘The green burns in Dhemaji’:

For long now I have not seen
Night jasmines on the dew-drenched dubori grass
Nor have I seen an earthen lamp under a tulaxi plant
What warmth the winter sun brings
How pleasing a breath of summer wind
For long now, I have not seen small children
Walking to school in groups
In Russia’s Beslan or Assam’s Dhemaji
The green burns
The green burnt
Possibilities burn, young dreams burn down to ashes

When we were in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, a girl died in a grenade blast. She was selling flowers.  Flowers bring one a good feeling during the famed traffic snarls in Dhaka city. Wherever there is a traffic jam, little children come scurrying to sell flowers to commuters. They sell all kinds of seasonal flowers – gulap, rajanigandha, podum, bhet, togor, krishnasura, xunaru and even the monsoon flower kadam. Garlands of bakul, xewali, beliphul and kharikajai are also popular in Dhaka. I was overcome with grief after the death of such a little girl.

Then I wrote ‘Flower’:
Come and give me a gulap,
A red gulap rupees five, rajanigandha rupees two; so much fragrance for rupees seven
Come give me a child, I will give you motherhood
Give me a home, I will give you two hands
Give me a country, a country of children
I will give you my life
The girl selling flowers died when the grenade burst
So many young girls die like her
In Iraq, Beslan, in the foothills of Bhutan, in Dhemaji
Somewhere they protest, somewhere they don’t
In the political bargain, gets lost
Every child’s delicate flesh
In Dhemaji, they protest against the sky
Against freedom
We do not need a freedom where the children don’t speak
After many deaths, the smell of freedom in the young girl’s flowers
In the arithmetic book of the school going boy…
The flowers have turned to ashes in the grenade blast
The arithmetic book is still on fire!

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