Extracted from Meleng Pp: 79-82Translator - Gitanjali Das
“Not Peer Ghat, more like heaven’s banks,” Meher Ali murmured looking at the soi made with jengou paat, “Since the meleng will be anchored there, I will have to decorate it.”
The Longai’s water was still rising. The sandbank was under knee-deep water now. Despite the discomfort, everybody was making melengs. Meher Ali had decorated the soi with dexterity. Meher called Irshaad and pointing at the soi, asked, “Oi. How does it look?”
“Wow! Amazing,” he went inside the soi and checked it. He came out and said, “Is the kundhi broader compared to last time?”
“It has to be.” Meher said in a teasing tone, “Will the melengial alone go inside the soi? Many dreams will also sail.”
Comprehending the implied meaning of the words,
AnGik Prakashan, 2005
Rs50, 148 pages
“We will sail at such an hour,” Irshaad said, “so that we reach Peer Ghaat late at night.”
“Eh! Don’t boast so much,” Meher Ali chided, “I have experienced much to reach this age. Get me some tobacco in a silim.”
“There you are!” Irshaad thought looking at his chachajaan’s face, “Chachajaan makes him run on such errands taking advantage of his weakness.” The hookah was already in chachajaan’s hand. He snatched the silim from the hookah and went inside the soi. No fire burnt in the kundhi’s kitchen yet. He took a tikira from a container, prepared the silim and attached it to Meher’s hookah.
At that moment they heard Nimai Das’ voice from the edge of the river bank. He carefully climbed down the bank.
“So why are you so late?” Meher said, “I was waiting for you at the bus-stop.”
“I am late because of problems at home.” Nimai said, “You already know, bhaijaan. We are a joint family. My wife and sister-in-law are always fighting with each other. Now my wife won’t take it anymore. Now our family has broken into two.”
“Eh! That is too bad.” Meher said, “Nimai, there is never any happiness in a family that is in debt, in ill health and quarrelling. Sort out the problems with your brother and bring him back home.” After a moment of silence, Meher asked, “When will the meleng set sail?”
“I have sent the helpers day before yesterday. They have already built the bamboo pola. Once the melengs are tied, we can go upstream.” Nimai asked, “Are you leaving right now?”
“We were thinking about it.”
“All right. Go. We will follow.” Seeing the swollen river, Nimai said, “Pray for us, bhaijaan. See how the river is in spate.”
Meher looked towards the river! Huge currents were forming in the frothing water of the river that had turned saffron from eroding the red soil from the mountains. The damaged trees were signs of the devastation caused by last night’s storm.
Meher smiled. He looked skywards and said, “The badshah of the world exists. If Krishna wishes to save who can kill, if Krishna wishes to kill who can save?”
Irshaad rolled with laughter like an imbecile. Meher looked at him askance and asked, “What has gotten into you that you are laughing like that?”
“Krishna’s name on a miya’s lips”, he kept on laughing.
“Bopai o. He who knows only one religion,” Meher said, “does not know any religion.”
Meher burped all of a sudden. He took out a container from where his lungi was knotted around his waist and popped a pinch of soda into his mouth.
“Bhaijaan!” A shocked Nimai looked at Meher’s hands and asked, “Didn’t the three doses of medicine work?”
“It did.” He said sheepishly, “But then you asked me to avoid eating two things, no?”
“Yes. Bengena and xukan maas.”
“And?” Irshaad added, “And what about xukan jolokia?”
Nimai said, “Iss iss, you made a big mistake bhaijaan.”
Nimai’s eyes had fallen on the soi on the meleng and he observed, “The soi looks different.”
“Is it nice?” Seeing the silim dying out, Meher took a few quick puffs till it started glowing again and extended it towards Nimai.
“Will you smoke?”
Nimai took the silim and after a couple of puffs said,
“The meleng looks like a zamidar’s pansoi.”
Meher laughed raucously.
“The flame of gunaah will burn inside the soi.”
Irshaad was tying knots in the meleng. Provoked by what his chachajaan said, he retorted, “Nimai chacha. Our chachajaan always keeps talking about gunaah. Tell me who does not have a fault? Only the dead and the babies do not. Are we dead or babies?”
“Era! Irshaad has learnt how to speak!”
“Nimai,” Meher said, “I am talking to you. Why should this little boy interrupt the conversation between two old people? Insolent boy!”
“It’s ok bhaijaan. He is young.” Nimai said, “I forgot to tell you the main thing. It’s my daughter’s wedding. The 17th day of ahin.”
“That is very good news.” Meher said. “Where are you marrying her off?”
Nimai said sadly, “What do I say, bhaijaan. Foreign land, in Jagiroad.”
“Jagiroad! Are you still a frog in the well?” Meher Ali said laughing, “Are we not people of Axom?”
“Then how can Jagiroad be foreign land?”
“Meher bhai, do you know why I called it foreign land?”
“Isn’t the language different there?”
“It’s different, yet the same.” Meher said, “When we say ‘kita’, ‘kita’, do you think it is Bangla? It’s a branch of Axomiya. The tree has grown strong with all these branches. We are Axomiya because we are all part of this tree.”
“I did not understand you.”
“You did not understand?” Meher closed his eyes for some time and searched in his mind. Finding his expression, he said suddenly, “From Sadia to Baxirhaat, Jonai-Darranga to our own Hailakandi, the same Axom has many different dialects. Does that mean that the people from one place will call another place a foreign land?”
“Ok, I undertand.” Nimai said, “That means the girl will not go far from home.”
“What does the boy do?”
“He is a trader in xukaan maas.”
“That is good. She will live happily.” Meher said, “Invite me, alright?”
“Why won’t I, bhaijaan?” Nimai bid farewell and waded noisily through the water towards his melengs.
Meanwhile, Irshaad split the two ends of the logi and then flattened them a bit, so that it would be easier to row through the water in the middle of the river.
Meher looked at the melengs one last time and set sail. The melengs floated away with the current of the water.