FRINGE MAN

Sanjib Pol Deka

Translated from the Axamiya by Stuti Goswami

Assam Agitation 1979 - 1986(One)

The news created a rustle several months ago. Back then, it had fallen on Monoram’s ears too.

Hetou emerges. The hetou – sandy highland on the riverbank – Old Luit had once swept away is now returned by Luit himself. Like then, the hetou, even today, stands on the northern side of the Luit. The only difference being that to reach this hetou, one has to cross a flowing rivulet.  Of course no one has told Monoram anything. Seated in the verandah of his own house, he has just heard about all this from some of the villagers discussing in his neighbour’s courtyard. The mere mention of the hetou pulls Old Mono’s thoughts in that direction. There is many an old tale he wants to chip in.

But, what will this desire bring? None of the villagers has broached this topic before Monoram.  And Monoram has long stopped paying visits other homes in the village.

Therefore, while he is sitting all alone in his verandah, or lying on the cot, during those moments, another hetou peeps out of  his old barren bosom. However , this is not the sandy hetou emerging out of Luit. This is the hetou of words. A hetou laced with succulence—sweet as sugarcane juice, like honey supplied by the Nepali women.

Seated on the broken chair, as Old Mono savours this hetou’s succulence all on his own, the young men of his village create a tumult for the other hetou. This new hetou is not as big as that of their fathers’ and yet, it isn’t entirely small either. Before it was eroded by the Luit, the hetou had belonged to this village alone. Everyone owned pattas of their land on it. If the government grants permission now, everyone will transfer at least a small portion of this land to their names. However, the way the miyahs are proliferating on these saporis, it is enough to have just one of them put up a bamboo shed; in no time the whole lot would grab at the sapori, like banyan roots gripping the earth.

Therefore an application had to be written at once, before someone else from some other village came forward to decide upon the hetou’s future.  The application was accordingly written, and at the directives of the village headman, submitted at some office in town. And now, after several months, the government has granted the permission to occupy the sapori.

The joy of getting the hetou back resonates throughout the village; but only the cheers fall on Old Mono’s ears. The educated but unemployed youths of the village want to first do some farming on a cooperative basis. Afterwards, the land would be sorted out and divided.

Tomorrow being the first day, all the men of the village who can manage to  go are going to hetou sapori. After that, they will take turns in the farming.

But Monoram has already decided. He will go to the hetou to see it once, even at this age. Even if his wife forbids him.

Like other days, today as well, Old Mono and his wife had their dinner early and went off to sleep.  When the lamp is put out, their house is shrouded in darkness, and its two lone dwellers can feel the increasing weight of the darkness around. The gripping sounds of several scores of boots roam about the courtyard. At times, a weird bang echoes terrifyingly across the culverton the road that runs by the village.

Sometimes, both of them fall asleep. Sometimes, straining their ears to those sounds, the birds tell them of the arrival of morning.

Tonight , the sound of the gripping boots didn’t trouble Monoram for long. Tonight, once again, he was reminded of his hetou. That succulent hetou.

(Two)

Winter. The sapori floats in the mist. It becomes impossible to make out which are the gram fields, which is the sapori, and which is the rivulet. The night hasn’t dawned as yet. Even the bisnings-coloured moon is hiding somewhere in the mist. Piercing through the thickened haze, the tinker of the bell on a buffalo cart wafts from afar and falls on Ahmed’s ears.

All along, Ahmed had been silently  rowing his race boat. And because he was rowing, he hadn’t felt the cold as much. When the bidi glowing in his lips had finished, he felt like singing a song they used to sing during their boat races. Thrusting the oar into the water, as if in a boat race, he began—

 

Allahr naame charlaam nouka

Dowakor fatema

Kaaro laaiga bhoi raikho naa

O’ haayre haay

Aage niba allahr naam pore Rosul boilo

Aare O’

Khaali Allahr naamti nile Rosul bejaar hoi

Aare O’…

[In the name of the Almighty, Allah I have released my boat. Fear no one. Take Allah’s name on one side, Mohammad’s on the other. If you take only Allah’s name, Rosul, i.e. Mohammad, will be saddened…]

Sometimes Ahmed fishes in the Brahmaputra and the sapori rivulets.   He has his own farmland as well. Today, however, he hasn’t come here to fish. He has come to hetou sapori. To Mono dada’s island.

Monoram’s sugarcane was supposed to be put into the sugarcane-presser last night itself. Monoram had told Ahmed long ago to help him out during the harvesting of the cane. For several years now, Ahmed has been helping dada thus. He has even lent his pair of buffaloes at the sugarcane saal. Mono dada doesn’t have buffaloes of his own. However strong a bullock is, it can never compete with the strength of a buffalo. Just as a buffalo can pull heavily laden carts for miles on end, it can also run round and round the sugarcane-presser the whole morning. The men who are urgingthe buffalo on are the ones who are actually wearied out.

Because he couldn’t stay for the night, Ahmed had taken a young boy from his neighbourhood to Mono dada’s place and left him behind so that he could control the buffaloes. The young boy had hesitated a little. And why wouldn’t he? He had never stayed at an ‘Asomiya’ man’s house before. Monoram understood, so he asked, ‘Are you afraid to stay here at night?’

‘No,’ the boy replied simply.

Ahmed spoke up, ‘Don’t worry, Mono dada is our own people.’

Indeed, Monoram was like family only.

It was Magh Bihu. The island and the Brahmaputra were covered in a pall of misty white.  At that early hour itself, Monoram had arrived at Ahmed’s miyah village, looking for a good borali fish. Seeing an Asomiya man in a dhoti, Ahmed’s wifehad respectfully placed a stool for him. Checking the fishes in Ahmed’s courtyard, Monoram had picked up two borali fishes of his choice. While returning, he had looked towards the man and asked, ‘What’s your name bhai ?’

‘Giyasuddin Ahmed.’

From then on, whenever he needed good fish, for any occasion, Monoram’s feet simply traced their steps to Ahmed’s courtyard. Once when he had gone thus, his eyes fell on Ahmed’s buffaloes.

‘Has the buffalo been yoked onto a sugarcane-presser ever?

‘No’

‘I don’t have  buffalo to work at the presser. Can you bring them over for a night or two?’

That was the first time Ahmed, with his buffaloes, had set foot on Mono dada’s dwelling at hetou sapori. Leaving his own work behind, Ahmed too had worked tirelessly at the saal—in extracting juice out of the harvested sugarcaneFor which Mono had offered him some money too. But no, Ahmed refused to touch the money. ‘I won’t take any money from you, dada,’ he had said.

That year itself Mono dada had invited Ahmed and his wife to his place during Bihu.  That was the first time Ahmed experienced Bihu at an Asomiya man’ s house.  To whose house would they go anyway? In fact, even during their own Eid, they did not have relatives staying at far off places to visit.

Piercing the thick fog a sigh poured out of Giyasuddin. How nice it would be if he too had a house in the village and another one at the sapori, like Mono dada!

‘All of us living this village are actually of the same clan,’ Mono dada had said.

‘Same clan?’ he couldn’t understand.

‘Same clan means all of us are related by blood. We have the same ancestor.’

Ahmed took some time to understand ‘ancestor’, ‘related by blood’. And after Mono dada explained and he had understood, his heart had cringed like a borali fish caught in a net. How he wished they too had a village like Mono dada’s, where everyone had the same blood!

Ahmed had learnt from his father that his grandfather used to live at some other place beside the Brahmaputra. They were men of the river from the beginning, spending much of their time in their boats.  Their wives and children lived in huts on the sandy river banks. Then, for some reason, one day they had collected all their belongings and rowed and arrived at this place.

Since it wasn’t easy subsisting only on fishing, they gathered cows and buffaloes. They also began farming on the sandy saporis beside the Brahmaputra.

After Mono dada came into his life, Ahmed had a place to go visiting.  If he had no other work, and if he felt bored of staying in the water, he would often come to Mono dada’s hut on hetou sapori. There was a neem tree beside the hut.  The two men would sit at the foot of the tree, smoking bidis, and chatting for long hours. Earlier, during Bihu, Mono dada used to go to Ahmed’s house looking for good fish. Now, whenever Bihu approached, Ahmed paid a visit to Mono dada with a good borali fish, each time refusing to take money.

In fact, how can he even think of taking money from dada? After all the times dada has helped him?  During the flood two years ago, the sapori and the Brahmaputra had become indistinguishable. As men of the river, Ahmed and his people had no fear of the water. But, the rising water posed a problem to their cows and buffaloes. Mono dada had instructed Ahmed’s son to take the cattle to his village. Had dada not kept his cattle thus, that too for almost fifteen days, they would probably have died of hunger in the water.

And then, how can he forget Mono dada’s family?  His wife, his daughter Dangormai, do they love him any lesser? And dada’s younger son, Sorubapu, he keeps teasing him ‘turtle-eating miyah’ all the time. Of course, elder son Dangorbapu talks a little less. Even then, he always greets Ahmed, whenever they meet.

By then, shredding the fog, Ahmed’s boat had reached the hetou’s bank. From here, Mono dada’s hut was not far off.

Tying the boat securely at the riverbank, Ahmed lit a bidi. It was only now that the wintry chill tickled his bones. He pulled the blanket securely around him.

Because of the thick curtain of mist, Ahmed hadn’t first noticed the steady fire of the sugarcane-pressing site. Even then, he could hear the buzz of people working at the saal, and the sound of the buffaloes being urged on.  Ahmed kept walking over the dewy grass. Towards the sugarcane-pressing site.

(Three)

‘You aren’t asleep as yet?’ Monoram realized that his wife too was awake.

Monoram didn’t say anything.

‘Have been thinking  of Dangormai the whole day. It has been so long since we last saw her!’

Indeed, it had been a long time since they last saw their daughter. A sigh escaped Monoram’s lips.

She had been the life of the hetou. Every morning, she would walk all the way to the hetou, work the whole day, and return home in the evening. At the time of harvesting the gram, at the time of putting the sugarcane in the presser, she used to stay in Mono’s dwelling at hetou.

What a brave girl she was!If she felt like, she would go with Ahmed to his village. When she returned, Sorubapu would tease her, ‘You’ve lost your caste now! You’ve eaten in miyah-bongal’s utensils!’

After that, a fierce fight would ensue. Sorubapu and Dangorbapu on one side, Dangormai on the other.

That was Monoram’s world—filled to the brim like the waters of the Brahmaputra. Somehow they managed to run both the households. That year, Dangorbapu had just entered college; Sorubapu had walked into high school. That year itself, a young teacher came to see Dangormai. Matters were finalized soon after.

‘If miyah-people come to the wedding, we will get up and leave.’

For the first time, Monoram was stumped by words from his fellow-villagers, his own people.

Ahmed was supposed to come to the wedding. He had offered to supply all the fish required in the wedding. Eventually, he wasn’t allowed to come. The poor man had quietly agreed—okay, Mono dada.

Dangormai’s eldest son has now entered college. In these last few years, so many changes have taken place. Like the floods, soon after, the Agitation had arrived—‘Come one, come all…come and join us,’ the flaming torches had called out, the bridges had been set on fire, and…

Monoram shivered. No, he couldn’t, he couldn’t think of what followed…

After the Agitation passed away like a storm, the slowly eroding lands of the hetou were rapidly devoured by the Brahmaputra. One day, leaving all hopes of the hetou behind, Monoram had packed his belongings on a cart and returned home. As he set foot in his courtyard, dusk had just fallen; and he learnt, Dangorbapu had gone away. Dangorbapu who had all that time been roaming about with empty pockets, had gone away to the jungles to take up arms against the government.

Since then, only Monoram and his wife have been at home. Sometimes, Dangormai would come with her children. She would cook a meal for her parents. Sometimes, Dangorbapu too would come, with one or two companions. They would come with guns slung on their backs. They would come at dusk, and depart at the break of dawn. At that time of departing, the mother would bless her son with teary eyes, ‘Take good care of yourself, my dear’. Monoram would lose his voice at such times.

Though only two persons lived there now, there was always some guest or the other. Dangormai too kept visiting occasionally. In the evenings, one or two neighbours would drop in for a chat.  Monoram never felt a dull moment.

One day however, a car full of policemen  arrived at Monoram’s   gate.  One after another, the police questioned Monoram. About Dangorbapu. Meandering questions, like the swiveling waters of the sapori rivulets.

‘O yes, he came one day. Sometimes he comes.  We don’t know where he comes from, or where he goes to.’

Monoram has never uttered a single lie in his  whole life. The truth came out involuntarily.

‘Don’t know, eh? You know very well. Tell us,’ one of them growled.

‘I don’t know anything more than this,’ Monoram didn’t know anything else.

After that Monoram’s condition was like the water snake, trapped in the courtyard at night and  thrashed the next morning.  Blood flowed incessantly out of Mono’s mouth while his wife’s cries rent the village air. The kerosene lamps and lanterns all went out early that evening.

Hearing of this, Dangormai rushed to see her parents. But no one from the village came out of fear.

That however was just the beginning. At intervals, men speaking an alien language would come looking for Dangorbapu. All of a sudden, searches would be conducted in every household in the village. Once again, Monoram would have to answer some tangled questions.

On one such occasion, Dangormai’s eldest son had come to stay with them for a night. He had just given his Matriculation examinations. Because there was no pressure of studies, his mother had sent him to his maternal uncle’s house. That would also gladden the old grandparents a little, she’d thought.

His grandparents were very happy that day. At night, the young lad slept with his grandmother.

Suddenly, at midnight the sound of many boots broke Monoram’s sleep. Somebody ordered in Hindi, ‘Open the door!’ Monoram went and opened the door. Earlier too, he had opened the door several times in that manner. What will they get anyway? Let them see with their own eyes whatever they want to.

After checking every nook and corner in the house, their eyes fell on the young boy sleeping beside his grandmother.

‘Who is this?’ the one who had asked this (in Hindi) was as dark as the night. Even in the thin flame of the lamp, his eyes had glimmered like a fox.

‘Grandson, child, our grandson,’ the grandmother’s quivering voice answered.

‘Yes, he’s our grandson,’ Monoram seconded his wife.

Though young, the lad with his robust build looked older than his age. And then, right in front of the grandparents’ eyes, the beasts slapped him several times. After that, they dragged him away. That night the heartbreaking cries of the old grandparents pierced through the darkness to reach several villages. Next day, when their daughter and son-in-law went to the camp with the village headman to bring the boy back, he could barely manage to stand. He was terrifyingly silent. Apparently, he had been beaten all through the night.

The old couple visited Dangormai’s home to enquire after the lad.  With her hair disheveled, Dangormai was still crying with all her heart. Their son-in-law’s eyes too were reddened.

Ever since, no one from Dangormai’s house has stepped into their house. Monoram and his wife too haven’t gone. After all, Dangormai’s world was just building up. Why should she suffer because of her father’s people? She may not say that in as many words, but doesn’t Monoram understand her feelings? She is his child after all.

(Four)

After many years today, a morrow, once drowned in the folds of the Brahmaputra has dawned anew.The entire village awakened even before the sun had risen. Monoram too left his cot early, and began preparations to set off for this new hetou.

The villagers who were going to the new hetou were supposed to assemble at the naamghar(13) courtyard. They will begin this new venture by offering prayers to the almighty. After all, it’s a noble work. It has to begin by chanting God’s name.

The naamghar courtyard filled with people from the village. As if, they were gearing up for a different journey.

Most of the people who were going to the hetou were the young men from the village. The few elderly gentlemen who were going had no one else at home who could go instead.

No one had envisaged Monoram in that crowd. Therefore most people were surprised when they saw the old man, pushing his old cycle, too set off for the hetou. Someone sniggered, ‘For whom does the old man need the land now?’

The words hit Monoram’s ears painfully.

Ever since the police-military began entering the village at the slightest pretext and began picking up youths at random for questioning, the villagers too began drifting away from Monoram.

‘The whole village is suffering for just this one family. Wants to make his son a freedom fighter indeed!’

One day, he had gone visiting one of the villagers, like always. But he had hardly set foot on that courtyard when he heard

‘Mono kai, please don’t come here. Got a young man at home. The army would come and take him away too.’

From that moment onwards, Monoram hasn’t stepped onto anyone’s courtyard. People tell a lot of things as well. Who suffers for whose fault?

And yet, till then, people still used to greet him whenever they met him outside—on the village streets, in the market placeGradually however, even those greetings waned.

That day, dusk had just fallen. The women had just entered their kitchens. Seated on their verandahs and courtyards the little boys were reciting poems and memorizing tables. Suddenly, a terrifying sound silenced everyone. The kerosene lamps went out at once.

Monoram heard some people talking in whispers. There had been a bomb blast on the culvert at one end of the village. Apparently several army trucks were passing by.

Every time something untoward happened in the vicinity, the army and police vehicles would sweep into Monoram’s courtyard. This time as well, they came. The police took Monoram to the police station. They also picked up several young men they met on the way.

But the real mishap occurred next morning. After picking up Monoram, the whole village had been barricaded by the police and military men.

Holiram lived at one edge of the village. That was also quite close to the culvert where the bomb blast had taken place the previous evening. Early next morning, Holiram’s eldest daughter went out to relieve herself. Like other days, that day too she went towards the bamboo bushes. Returning from the bushes however, she couldn’t get up from near the water pit, from where they used to draw water for their morning ablutions. Just once was a terrible shriek heard from that direction. After that, the condition in which Holiram found his daughter was such a repulsive sight that it would make even ones greatest enemy shudder. There was not a trace of cloth on the girl’s body. Just the stench of raw blood trickling down her thighs.

She was taken to the hospital. Everyone, from the doctor to the nurse expressed their sympathies. But the girl couldn’t be saved.

That created an uproar. The villagers marched to the town, holding papers in hand, where they had written down some things. Top police officers came to Holiram’s courtyard. After several months, the matter was forgotten. The villagers too went into a stupor.

After that incident, the daughters and daughters-in-law of the village stopped crossing the threshold of their courtyards. The moment dusk fell, people would shut their doors and stay inside.

This time, the people of the village drifted away from Monoram by several yards. Though they still invited Monoram to festivities at their homes, no one minded if he did not go.

Whatever bit of affection Monoram had for his Dangorbapu was now gone. Just for one Dangorbapu look what had happened to the whole village! The homes that had once resonated with laughter and smiles now fell silent at noon.

For whom are boys like Dangorbapu fighting? That too, in this manner? For whom? What will happen to their movement ultimately? Like the earlier one will these leaders too enjoy all benefits? Such thoughts spun around Monoram’s mind like the bicycle tyre.

By then, the whole group had almost reached the bank of the living channel of the Brahmaputra.  All of them kept their cycles at the spot where the young men had earlier decided. Once they crossed this rivulet, they would reach the new hetou sapori.

Crossing the rivulet on boat, the young men set about pitching the tent for everyone to rest awhile. They were all young boys, filled with enthusiasm.  They would begin farming anew in this new hetou.

But, Monoram began to have strange feelings once he crossed the rivulet. Is this the fertile hetou then? Whatever, at least the sapori has resurfaced. Once they had all left hopes of this sapori and gone back to their village.

So much had taken place over this hetou. Can Monoram ever forget all that had occurred during the Assam Agitation? Can he ever forget all those things about Sorubapu?

Monoram kept walking over the sand.

Sorubapu had just entered college. That was the pride of his life. Two sons, both of them in college. As he thus kept mulling over, sitting in his ikora hut on the hetou, the Agitation swept in all of a suddenIt was a movement waged by the college students. To banish all the Bangladeshi-miyahs from Assam.

That day, Sorubapu and a group of boys from his college had come to this island, to drive out the miyahs. By then, a lot of killings had already taken place. Many bridges had already been set to fire. Many had already tasted the experience of jail.

Everyone had plunged into this Agitation. Many a day, the people of his village too had come out in large groups, sticks and spikes in hand.

Let alone Monoram, even the friends who had gone with him had never imagined that Sorubapu would return home in such a condition. Sorubapu, who had rushed out agitated, and out of breath to drive out the miyahs. What a horrifying condition it was!

Even today, Monoram could feel his heart turn stone cold at the mere remembrance.

That day, when he had seen Sorubapu in that state, Monoram had collapsed.

When he reached home, Monoram saw his son’s friends thronging his courtyard. Standing in their midst, that bearded young man from Sorubapu’s college was addressing his friends in a loud voice. Seeing him the young man approached Monoram and hugging his feet broke down weeping.

‘Father, our Sorubapu has become a martyr. For the sake of his country, for his people, he has sacrificed his own life. Don’t mourn father, he is our pride. Now is the time for all of us to unite and stand firmly against these Bangladeshis.’

That bearded young man lit another pyre in Monoram’s flaming heart. After finishing all the rituals at his village home, Monoram had returned to the hetou. That day, he didn’t listen to the repeated pleas of his wife and Dangormai.  That bearded youth’s words were ringing in his ears.

Monoram shivered. From where had he got all that strength that day? From where??

When Monoram arrived at the hetou, the sun was about to set. He had just taken out the long sharpened knife he had brought from home when he heard his name being called out in that other tongue. A streak of boiling blood rolled over his body. Sorubapu’s lifeless form floated before his eyes. How dare they! All this time, Monoram had been shaking hands with the serpent. This cursed lungi-race! Monoram’s blood boiled over. His hands quivered. Holding his knife in a firmer grip, Monoram came out of his hut.

He didn’t realize what happened next. He couldn’t.

His neck slipped and fell to the ground. Right under the neem tree.

No, that day, Monoram had not felt even the slightest twinge of fear. Nor did his body shiver at the sight of blood. Rather, he had felt a strange calm descend on his body. As if, Sorubapu’s soul had finally attained some peace. There was nothing left for Monoram in this sapori. That day itself, Monoram returned to his village.

Meanwhile, the Assam Agitation came to an end. That bearded young man from Sorubapu’s college contested the elections. One day, he came to Monoram and shed some tears, touching his feet.

‘We have to keep your Sorubapu alive, father.’

That day, Monoram could feel his love brimming over for the boy. And it was Monoram alone, but all the people. Everyone went and voted for him wholeheartedly.

The bearded boy won the election. Roads and burnt bridges were rebuilt. Busts were put up at the gates of all those families who had lost their sons during the Agitation—either at the hands of the CRPF or the miyahs.

Sorubapu’s bust too was put up at Monoram’s gateway.

The next time as well, the bearded youth won the election. And the elections after that. Each time he won.

Monoram never got to know what he had done or not done for the people. But the day, the military men threw him on the ground and beat him over and over again, right beside Sorubapu’s bust, Monoram had looked up and realized—why!  This wasn’t Sorubapu’s bust. This was a blaze of fire. Steady, flaming fire, like the one they brewed at the sugarcane saal. The one those Agitation leaders had stirred in his heart.

That day onwards, another fire began to burn in Monoram’s heart. What had he done that day! What had he done! And why? Who would Monoram speak to, to lighten this burden in his heart? Not even his wife knew.

Whenever the fish vendor arrives, Monoram seems to sense his arrival. He feels like running away and hiding somewhere.

He used to come to his dwelling in this hetou itself. They used to sit beside the neem tree and chat for long hours.

Maybe, that day he had come to enquire after Monoram? In spite of such bloodshed, maybe he had come, out of his love for Monoram? What had he done?

Tears blurred Monoram’s eyes.

Indeed. Monoram hadn’t understood the leaders. Not only Monoram, none of them could understand the leaders. They were leaders like the river, like the Luit. No one could gauge them.  No one can ever. They flood suddenly. They erode the hetou away. They return the hetou. Trapped amidst all these, people like Monoram are rendered impoverished…destitute.

Where will Monoram hide his sin now? Where?

Somewhere on this sand, Monoram’s hut had once stood. Somewhere in this sand the neem tree lies buried. Somewhere in this sand…

Monoram couldn’t walk any longer. He slumped onto the sand.

He began to pant, in emotion and guilt.

Slowly, his hands moved toward the sand before him. With his bare fingers, he began digging out the sand. Looking for the roots of the neem tree.

After some time, a small hole appeared before Monoram. Still his fingers didn’t tire. His fingers kept clawing deeper into that hole. First slowly, then gradually with increasing force.

From somewhere inside the sand, a bone came out with Monoram’s fingers. Monoram became hysterical. This could be his bone too.

By then, the other villagers had gathered around Monoram. Has Old Mono gone mad? Who knows what bone it is? Deposited by the river in this sand—it could be a man’s or a cow’s bone too.  What does he want to do now, fingering and pressing this bone?

But Monoram had not the least bother for what they were saying. He hugged that bone, and wailed, his tears falling thick and fast, ‘Forgive me Ahmed, forgive me. The Agitation leaders are now enjoying their lives. We are the sufferers, impoverished, killing each other… the younger one died like that only. The elder, now wants freedom. And each passing day I am dying with all the beatings and insults… everyone has deserted me… I shouldn’t have thought you to be my foe, Ahmed…’

The old man’s teary delirium saddened all those who were listening. Several of them spoke up at once, ‘We are with you, Mono kai.’

Who is with Monoram?? The old man lifted his head and saw. The villagers.  They are with him? After so long he had heard someone calling him in that familiar way, Mono kai.

Overwhelmed with emotions, Monoram couldn’t utter a single word. Let them, let them put up a new farm here. Let them have Monoram’s share of the land too.

Monoram just needed bones. He needed more bones buried in the hetou sand.

Without paying any attention to the people standing around, Monoram began digging into the sand again. The onlookers stood gaping. Whose bone was Old Mono searching for so frantically in this sand? Sorubapu, Dangorbapu, or the bones of some Ahmed miyah? No one knew the answer.

Sanjib Pol Deka is sub-editor of Satori, a monthly literary magazine. Eipine Ki Ase (Panchajanya Publishers, 2010) is his first short story collection. His work has appeared in many Assamese periodicals, as well as in First Proof (Penguin India) and Indian Literature. His stories have been translated into English, Bengali, Kannda and Marathi.
Stuti Goswami teaches English literature at B. Borooah College, Guwahati. She is a freelance writer and translator.
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