Monday, January 31, 2005

Field haunt

Some things you see 'on the field' will haunt you a long, long time.

And some things you push back to the edges of memory, again and again, so you can forget they ever existed.

Swarangsat Mushahari of Ghumurgaon village is one of my haunting memories.

I met him when we were both trying to cross that shaky bamboo bridge, in lower Assam. He on foot. Me in a car, praying hard, for the woven bamboo, though remarkably delicate and quaint beyond words, looked too fragile to be a bridge.

He, and two dozen other kids, crossing the bridge to go home, over an almost-dry river bed, far under the bamboo bridge.

As a wolf to his prey, the reporter to her sources.
I cornered a few children - what school do you go to? Government? Aided? Do you get rice? Is it cooked? Do you want it cooked? Wouldn't you like a nice hot meal in school?

Swarangsat Mushahari (I didn't know his name, when I began talking to him) of Ghumurgaon village, student of class 5, replied in the negative.

I was taken aback. Why didn't he want a hot meal?

Because, he said, he wanted to take it home instead. To his parents. To his mother and father, who's home and fields were washed away in the floods last season.

He wants dry rice, the 3 kg a month quota, so it can be sold, to fetch other things at home.

Then I asked him his name. He whispered it out.

I didn't quite catch it and asked him to speak up louder. He whispered it again, and then, he broke down. Swarangsat Mushahari of Ghumurgaon village began to cry.

And, for the life of me, I couldn't understand why... what did I do?

And then it hit me -

Mushahari... Moosa-haary?

The rat-eaters?

There was a little crowd of children about us. Some were grinning. Some were intrigued by my camera. Other adults began to gather round. And in front of all these children, I had asked him his name.

The tears rolled down little Swarangsat's cheeks. He wiped his eyes.

And I dismissed the crowd of onlookers, very ineffectively patted his head, got back into the car, and fled!

That's the haunting memory collected from the Bongaigaon trip. And the more I want to forget, the harder it is.

4 comments:

m. said...

... please? the rat eaters? oh my god... you mean we instutionalised such a depth of poverty into a CASTE?! i think im going to be very sick.

niyati said...

omg. me too.

this is really terrible, i feel so bad for the kid.

i don' think india's ever going to change...so many people standing steadfast within their castelines...depressing.

Unmana said...

I have heard that surname SO many times and never knew this was what it stood for....

Anonymous said...

The Kid is a Bodo kid ,in Bodo society there is no caste system, it was feudal system.Mushahary is one of the divisions like Basumatary, Gauwary etc. But yea there is no doubt that the plight of the Bodos right now is poor.

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