Also Basar: Life in monochrome

From the fag end of October, five artists from various fields and I spent four weeks in the small town of Basar in Lepa Rada district in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of the Artists Residency of the Basar Confluence.

While we all worked on different projects (mine will be uploaded shortly), this was a small side project that I wanted to work on due to my interest in photography despite a complete lack of skills.

Home to the indigenous Galo tribe, Basar and its adjoining areas isn’t exactly a thriving metropolis. However, as in elsewhere in this state, much (if not the entirety) of its commercial life is operated and dependent on a large number of migrants from different parts of the country.

Businesses aside, there is also a high proportion of migrants who are also employed in several organisations, government offices, and/or working with religious organisations.

As it often happens with those of us who identify as being ‘indigenous’ to the land, many of the people I met held a singular identity for me, although in reality each of them has a story to tell.

Some of the subjects were born and lived their entire lives in Basar alone, while many have even married into Galo families. The images I captured don’t do justice to their lives and is perhaps a reflection of my myopic view: That the migrant among us lives his life in monochrome.

(Camera: OnePlus 6)

Disclosure: Basic editing done in Google Snapseed.

 

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Scenes of the night

Kasablanka Bar, Aalo, West Siang, Arunachal Pradesh, India, November 23, ten minutes to 9 PM, two young couples dancing to crappy Bollywood music and flickering disco lights and annoying bar underlight,
A group of five men from the plains on the first couch smiling, some looking around condescendingly, one possibly the “host” for the night probably a telecom employee, they settle on Heineken, I order my second peg for I don’t have much of the night left because I forgot to take down the hotel receptionist’s number,
Stupid,
‘Alcohol will help,’ I lie to myself one more night, convincing no one,
The night may end up long but I must be careful for it was outside this bar where a murder happened last year in March when,
the man who owns the hotel and the bar came in defense of his brother and shot dead the man who had fought with him earlier that night,
the man who was also his friend,
Dead,
A young woman walks in cautiously into the bar inquiring to another woman manning the bar about something and after a moment another woman patron with beautifully tied hair and a stunning body rushes out quickly as if to attend to a call and returns in a jiffy while I try to subtly check her out but the light from my phone screen where I am typing this betrays me as she catches a glance of me looking in her direction,
‘Damn you, phone’
I settle on four ice cubes and a mild cigarette,
‘Mild,’ I think, what makes a cigarette mild really, I wonder
What’s the gimmick, I wonder
I wonder why I didn’t follow up on what happened to that murder as my mind repeatedly wavers to that night when
the woman from before walks to the bar with a man she’s been dancing with for a couple of shots that she struggles with taking in at least three sips defeating the purpose of ‘shots’ before walking back to join their friends and to loud conversations that have to be had and had only in bars that fills up with the sound of loud Punjabi music that most people in the room here do not understand fully-well but incidentally enough the lone Sardar from the earlier group of five men from the plains isn’t exactly jumping with excitement as I had thought which is interrupted by a phone call from an old friend that I use as an opportunity to take a piss to return to the sound of the couple of couples echoing the hooting part of the song that’s been playing for that is probably the only part of the song that they know and now the bar door is open
with one man peering into the guest list for some reason who takes out a plastic zip lock bag with some khaini and disappears and the waiter brings me my third glass and instead of ice some iced water in a weird container that leaves me as clueless as what to do when I hear Anu Malik sing “Unchi hain building” and the waiter tells me that the weird jar has ice cubes and shoves in a pair of tongs before quickly walking back to fix the bill for customers leaving for he realises that attending to me with care is futile for I will leave no big tip, clearly he has no clue because hurting my ego will get him exactly that and someone in another table breaks a glass,
‘What happened that night’,
Was it not our responsibility as journalists to follow up on what happened or do I constantly tell myself that he is the brother of my sister’s good friend and whom I consider, think of as an elder sister too and so I must be considerate and that someone else will hold up our end of the bargain to write and report because that is our collective responsibility but would we have reacted as leisurely if the man who died that night was our brother, our son, our uncle, our father, someone we loved and wish to see again but never can and
what must the man who killed him be going through himself for the guilt must be killing him too, every day, each minute
this night is getting too trippy when I realise that I’ve downed 180 millilitres of scotch in less than an hour which is a quarter of a bottle which, in all honesty, is very little for man who can gulp down more than double that amount with ease on most days but I am in a strange town alone and after more than 30 years walking this planet you learn that its best to retire early when you’re in unfamiliar territory or when the guy on the dance floor has begun shouting ‘next’ because he doesn’t like the song playing out of the sound system and a Frenchie-sporting Asian man is unabashedly hitting on the only woman bartender to be constantly but politely thwarted but he will be back, his body language tells me and clearly she’s too used to such behaviour to be even slightly be impressed by a drunken man’s attempt to what can only remotely be considered “flirting” as I wonder why for heaven’s sake is Vengaboys’ “Shala la la la” and some other crappy song that I don’t remember the name of which this young man who was probably too young too even listen to when it first came out is playing, and damn,
I must leave before the bill does anymore damage and so I hand in the cash and leave a proper tip for I will be back on some other night, in some other year, for a different reason and he must remember me otherwise how else can I expect the royal treatment that I falsely think I am entitled to everywhere but then who doesn’t really for aren’t we all princesses and princes in our own worlds but paupers for everyone else,
Shit,
time to leave really cause I am a little drunk and beyond tipsy right now
And,
As I leave I catch a glimpse of an A4 size paper pasted above the wall of the entrance door that reads: Guns and other weapon not allowed inside the bar.

Quenching a forest’s thirst

Back in 2008, an official with the Arunachal Pradesh government’s horticulture department noticed that the water streams and rivulets that fed a number of villages were drying up near his hometown. In a place that has been blessed with natural bounty, water scarcity was a phenomenon that the tribal Galo people in Basar were unaware of. Now, that had become a very real danger.

Nestled at an elevation of 2,299 feet in the recently created Lepa Rada district in central Arunachal Pradesh, the Basar administrative circle has a population of 12,224, per the 2011 Census. Home to the Galo people, the town of Basar and the adjoining villages is criss-crossed by three rivers- Kidi, Hie, and Bam Hila.

The breathtaking view of Basar Valley from the hill.

While these rivers serve as a primary source for water supply, much of people’s water needs are satiated by rain-fed streams and rivulets that bring groundwater from the green hills to the villages that dot the landscape.

That began to change ten years back when unabated and unsustainable farming practices began to have an adverse impact on the life of the villagers.

“Around that time we realised that the villages were staring at water scarcity,” says Egam Basar.

The 43-year-old head of the State Horticulture Research and Development Institute is a native of Soi village in Basar. A decade ago, he was transferred here when he noticed that the streams that fed his and surrounding villages were drying up.

The man himself- Egam Basar.

Together with his nephew Gomar Basar, who was a student then and is now an assistant registrar with the Rajiv Gandhi University near the state capital, they formed an environmental group that would later go on to become the EB Project (EB as in his initials).

Egam had a plan to revitalise the streams and the rainwater catchment area in his village by digging “recharge pits” that could hold water that will seep into the soil and keep the fields irrigated.

Large-scale jhum cultivation practices and unchecked felling of trees meant that the hills could no longer hold rainwater and would just flow down.

The first hurdle that Egam faced was gaining ownership of the lands.

Funding was difficult to come by and so he had to purchase the lands from the money that he had saved up over the years.

Egam, who has a penchant for hats which he says he wears to hide his greying locks, doesn’t indulge too much into the details of how much of his personal income was spent in acquiring the lands that would eventually become the EB Project.

In total, he acquired 60 hectares of land and stopped jhum cultivation and deforestation. Since the project started, Egam and Gomar said that the forest and wildlife has been rejuvenated.

On the climb up the hilltop we were informed that there has been an increase in the wildlife population in the area with barking deer, clouded leopard, and reportedly even a tiger now call the place home.

Apart from the wildlife, Egam informed that there now plans afoot to introduce rare medicinal plants in the area.

Along with his advisors and support staff, the more immediate goal now is to reach the 1000 pits mark.

Digging of the metre-deep pits began in 2011 but it would take seven more years before the stream in Soi village did not dry up in the winter months.

There are currently 200 such recharge pits and plans are underway to adopt the system in other villages and their surrounding hills as well.

“Sustainable development,” Egam says, “is not possible without sustainable irrigation”.

– – –

This feature was first published in The Citizen.

Debating the deities

Someone please explain to me why illuminated red Devil’s Horns are a thing during Durga Puja. How is it that on a festival that literally celebrates the killing of a monster, the go-to symbol of evil has become the in thing to sport? Like, how?

The wearing of Devil’s Horns is just one of the several questions I have about Durga Puja and its celebrations in Arunachal Pradesh.

How is it that in a state in the far remote corner of India that is home to close to 30 indigenous tribes (a majority of who originally practiced animist faiths), Durga Puja is even a thing?

Let me put out a disclaimer and say that I hold absolutely nothing against the celebration of Durga Puja or any other festival regardless of its religious affiliation. I also realise that since the state actually does have a large non-tribal population for whom the festival holds great significance, Pujo time is a rather big deal.

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Make-shift stalls serving snacks pop-up everywhere in Itanagar during Pujo time.

The grandeur of the festival is no surprise either because obviously, people chip in to fund the beautiful pandals that abound the streets. Such a large population also translates into a possible vote bank and it makes sense to make sure for the powers that be that the people have fun at least once a year.

Still, I wonder how young and beautiful teens influenced by modern Korean culture who spend the majority of the year greeting each other with ‘annyeonghaseyo’ and ‘oppa’ can suddenly be so fascinated by the kirtan.

How do you go from watching surgically-enhanced K-pop stars to being transfixed by the neighbourhood mechanic as he performs to the beat of the dhol that we, for some reason, are all familiar with? Like, how?

One of the ‘must-do-things-during-Puja’ is to buy new clothes. I’m not exactly sure if that is a brilliant marketing ploy thought of in the office of an advertisement agency with pretentiously minimalist interiors or if the Goddess herself ordained it, but nevertheless, it’s a thing that is not restricted by communal lines.

Tribal, non-tribal, rich, poor, everyone is up for buying new clothes during Pujo.

In fact, my Adi colleague currently sitting on my left watching a YouTube series is wearing a newly-purchased patterned-dark blue shirt. I ask him if he buys new clothes during Solung and the answer is in the negative. He makes some lame argument about how he had to buy a new shirt anyway but I’m not convinced.

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A ‘band’ from Siliguri was invited to provide the beats for the kirtan and Pujo at one of the several pandals here. I asked them how they landed up here and the cheeky one in the group said, “by car”. Not Amused. Not. Amused.

It isn’t the celebrations of any festival that makes me question things but as a person with conflicting ideas of self-identity and lack of knowledge about my own community is what concerns.

Puja celebrations shouldn’t die down. Nor should the celebrations of any festival regardless of the religion it originates from or the community that it ‘belongs’ to. In fact, if there is great leveller and breaker of barriers between communities as us Arunachalese, it is Durga Puja.

All of us visit at least one pandal every year but when was the last time you joined in on the celebration of a ‘central’ festival celebration of any other tribe that you don’t belong to unless you were specifically invited by a friend.

Nahi, hum toh woh tribe ka nahi hain na, hum kyun (insert tribal festival name here) mein jaiga (No, I am not from that tribe, why should I visit the celebration of [insert tribal festival name here],” is something I’ve heard way too often.

As stated above, I hold nothing against the celebrations of any festival that offers people an opportunity to come together and revel in merry-making. I will also continue to hold questions about how Pujo got so ingrained in Arunachali culture.

While some will argue that its part of the greater identity of what makes us Indians, I will say its a form of unintended indoctrination. Others, as I learnt last year, are at the pandals for the kheechdi!

Batman: Reason (A play in one act by Ranju Dodum)

It’s been seven years since the Joker tortured and killed Jason Todd, only the second Boy Wonder to don the Robin costume on his young shoulders, and also the first to die doing so.

After an uncharacteristically quiet night in the dark alleys of Gotham, Bruce Wayne aka the Batman is taking slow sips of some of the finest that Tennessee has to offer.

Sitting slouched and with his back to his information centre, cowl undone, a look of remorse plastered across his face, this is not Batman. This is not The Dark Knight. This is not the legend that for two decades has instilled fear into the hearts and minds of the criminally corrupt and insane.

No, this is a man. A broken man. This, as he had always feared, underneath that mask is who Bruce Wayne really is. Broken.

Bruce Wayne: I should have killed him when I had the chance instead of putting him in Arkham Asylum. I should have killed him many years ago when we encountered so many times in the past.

Alfred Pennyworth: Would that have absolved you of your guilt, Master Wayne?

[Even in this moment of anger and grief, Bruce Wayne aka Batman keeps his calm and refrains from taking a rushed swig of the whiskey.]

Batman: No. No, Alfred. Perhaps not. But it is the not knowing that’s killing me. Paradoxical as it may sound, the knowledge of not knowing if I would have felt any less guilt had I killed him is the thing that’s killing me.

Alfred: Perhaps sometimes it is best to not know some things. Perhaps, there is some truth in the old adage that ignorance truly is bliss.

Batman: You know there’s no truth in that as well as I do, Alfred. If knowledge is power than doesn’t it mean that ignorance, not knowing, is weakness?

Alfred: The absence of sorrow does not mean the presence of happiness, does it now, Master Wayne?

[He ponders upon Alfred’s words. Alfred, who’s been with the family since his father Thomas and mother Martha were married and took over the role of running Wayne Manor from his father, Jarvis. Alfred, who made sense when the rest of the world refused to. Alfred, who now Bruce Wayne wished didn’t make sense.]

Batman: What fuels a man like Joker, Alfred? What drives so much insanity in one man?

Alfred [Pauses]: …who knows… Maybe a traumatic childhood or a series of failures as an adult. Who knows…

[Bruce takes a quick sip from his glass, walks towards the glass case housing Jason’s Robin costume.]

Bruce: He was troubled. Ever since the first day I met him, and till the day he died, he was always troubled. I don’t know if I ever did enough.

Alfred: You did all that you could, Master Wayne. Do not let the weight of responsibility and guilt bring you down. I don’t mean to imply that Master Jason was so far gone that he couldn’t be repaired but perhaps he was so damaged much before you caught him trying to steal the wheels of the Batmobile that night that he would have had to been remoulded from scratch. And if you did, he would not have remained Master Jason anymore. Perhaps he would have lost the essence of what made him, him.

[Alfred’s words sink in, slowly, into both Batman and Bruce’s consciences. Painfully.]

Bruce: Are you saying that the essence of who Jason was, that his very soul was corrupted to the extent that no matter how hard I tried or how much effort he put in, beyond redemption?

[Pursing his lips, Alfred takes out a votive glass, walks to the desk of the information console, and pours himself a stiff one. He takes a deep breath, and in one single gulp, downs the Bourbon.]

Alfred: Master Bruce, I don’t like to think that the world is divided into just two kinds of people; that from out of all the billions of people living and breathing today that one half of them is one way and that the other, another. That applies to the dead too.

Bruce: So what do you think?

Alfred: What I think is irrelevant, Master Bruce. What I believe is that at the end of the day we always have a choice how we play the cards we’ve been dealt with in life.

Bruce: Life is poker?

Alfred: In a way, yes. You can lose to someone who has a pair of deuces even if you have a chance of a royal flush. Now, you can wait for the river card but the most important decision is what you decide to do in turn.

Bruce: So we deal with the hands we’ve been dealt in the best way possible?

Alfred: Yes. And sometimes, we aren’t sure what the best way possible is. Not all of us are capable of owning the cards we’ve been dealt.

[Bruce Wayne morphs into Batman once again as Alfred’s words play on repeat in his head. Realising that his glass is now empty, he walks to the bottle.]

Batman (pouring the drink into his glass): What cards do you think Joker was handed?

Alfred: Perhaps we should have this conversation in a more sober mood.

Batman: Perhaps I wouldn’t want to have this conversation when we are sober.

[Some things need to said. Some conversations need to be had. Many of them, drunk.]

Alfred: I believe, Master Wayne, that the cards the Joker was handed are irrelevant. I believe that no matter what he had in his hole, no matter the flop, he would have gone all in before the turn and the river cards were ever shown.

Batman: Do you think he had a troubled childhood?

Alfred: As I said before, what I think is irrelevant. What I do believe is, is that two people may undergo the same experiences but that does not necessarily mean that they will react to those experiences the same way.

Batman: Do you believe he had a troubled childhood?

Alfred: Maybe he had a troubled adult life. But for your sake, I’ll say that maybe he did indeed have a troubled childhood. Maybe he grew up in Gotham and his parents too were killed on the same cursed night that your parents were.

Bruce: So maybe, that’s his motive. Maybe that’s what drives him. Maybe that’s what makes him the Joker.

Alfred: You had a troubled childhood.

Bruce (With a smirk on his face): I also had an Alfred to comfort me through the difficult times. Maybe he wasn’t heir to a multi-million dollar empire.

Alfred: Did that make it any easier for you?

[Silence engulfs the Batcave. In the dim greyness of this cave, the pain of the two men is echoed more than ever. What only lasts a brief minute, seems to stretch on forever.]

Bruce: Clearly not. I play dress-up every night and haunt the streets and skyscrapers of this city. Clearly, I am the maniac here. I’m the psychopath.

[Chuckling, Alfred pours himself a last peg; a large one at that.]

Alfred: No arguments there, Master Wayne, but here’s the difference- you chose to act differently. Maybe the Joker did indeed watch his parents die the same way you did. Perhaps they suffered an even worse death. Maybe he had and has his reasons for being and behaving the way he does. But that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s killed hundreds of people in his lifetime.

There are families grieving today because of him. Wives who are eating their mac and cheese alone because of the Joker. Young boys who will never play catch with their fathers or little girls who won’t get to braid their fathers’ hair when they read them bedtime stories. All because of one man’s actions.

Perhaps the two of you did share a similar childhood but you chose to defend a city that took away your world. He seeks to destroy it.

Bruce: You are saying…

Alfred: I am saying, Master Wayne, is that when you have every reason to become corruptible and yet you choose not to, that’s what makes you who you are. When you have every right to do the wrong thing and yet you choose not to, every night, every time you put on that mask, that is what makes the Batman, Bruce Wayne. Not the mythical, dark, hiding-in-the-shadows psychopath who clearly needs to see a shrink. But the choice you make every night is what defines you.


 

Note: September 15 is celebrated as Batman Day by fans of the truest superhero of all time.

Colossal and the demon in me

A few weeks back I caught the Anne Hathaway-starrer, Colossal, and identified with it in a way that I least expected.

Colossal poster

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t watched the film yet but wish to, you should probably not read any further.

OK, with the mandatory spoiler alert warning set aside, let us begin.

Basic premise: The movie begins with Hathaway’s character, Gloria, coming home in the morning to her boyfriend after what was an alcohol-fuelled night out with her friends. Apparently, this has happened too many times in the past and her boyfriend, Tim, has her stuff packed and tells her to leave. Is this a break or a break-up? I don’t know and honestly who really does?

I mean, what does it even mean to be on a break? Or on a break-up? Does a break-up ever leave anyone feeling ‘up’?

I digress.

Gloria takes her things, moves back to her hometown where she grew up, moves into her parents’ old home that is now empty, and quickly runs into Oscar (portrayed brilliantly by the funny Jason Sudekis), somebody she went to school with.

After his father’s death, Oscar has been running the family bar where he takes Gloria in for a few drinks where he introduces her to his two friends, Garth and Joel.

During the course of the night, it becomes evidently clear that Gloria is kinda attracted to Joel, who happens to be a nice enough guy but someone who won’t really be able to hold an intelligent conversation for too long. But who am I to judge?

As one would expect, Joel tries to make a move on Gloria and for some reason, she pulls away. The timing is bad for Joel since that is when Oscar happens to walk back from the bar and to the table and sees Gloria backing out.

Now, I don’t know what the director and the script writer had in mind when they wrote that scene in but in my interpretation, Oscar isn’t too thrilled about his friend hitting on the girl whom he clearly likes. With men who hold themselves to a silly code of honour, not hitting on someone his friend likes is a no-go zone. Perhaps that’s what Oscar thought, I don’t know.

Anyway, after a night of drinking, at around 8.05 in the morning, Gloria gets out of the bar and begins making her way home. On her route is a park where she strolls around for a while before falling asleep on a bench. She then wakes up and heads home to sleep some more.

Around nine hours later, she wakes up to a call about some mysterious event on the other side of the world- a giant monster towering above skyscrapers has shown up in Seoul, South Korea, out of the blue making weird gestures. As she watches the news reel videos of the giant monster on TV, Gloria realises that she shares a connection with the monster halfway across the world and her actions are reflected by the creature.

Doesn’t take a genius to realise that this physical imitation of Gloria’s actions are also meant to be metaphorical- as the monster’s movements across Seoul leaves in its wake a trail of destruction, killing people and levelling skyscrapers -much the same way that her alcoholic ways damages her relationships and leaves a debris of dust behind her.

Did I see the parallels to Gloria’s behaviour to my own self-destructive pattern that has dominated my life for almost a year, now? Absolutely.

Whether individualists like me like it or not, people around us are affected by our actions. As much as we may wish for that to not happen, the actions of ours do end up impacting our families, friends, former friends, haters, lovers, and the ilk.

Our actions have a ripple effect, and the ripples do not just run linear or inwards- there are collateral damages.

What happens unfortunately is that for some of us, that pressure of knowing that our actions impact others only makes us spiral deeper into the rabbit hole.

I am an alcoholic.

I may have said this before but earlier I drank for no reason; now I have many. Am I making an excuse? Most likely, yes.

It would be nice to have our actions not have consequences but that’s not how the world works. But must we conform to every way that the world wants us to?

I am an alcoholic.

A couple of nights ago during a night filled with alcohol, rage, tears, and some misguided behaviour, I lost my little messenger bag which contained everything I had- my phone, power bank, watch, an external hard drive filled with films, and a wallet that contained little to no money but all my ID cards; for a few days I had no identity, so to speak.

It isn’t the loss of “things” that left me upset. No, it was the idea of what the incident represented that had my heart and head aching- why is this happening?

My wallet contained very little cash and ATM cards for banks accounts that had a total of 723 rupees in them. Meaning, I lost very little in terms of tangible value. What I did lose were two photographs of memories of what once was and what will probably never be.

Not to sound too self-serving or self-pitying, but I’ve been trying to pick the pieces of my life for about 12 months now in the most unhealthy of ways- drowning in alcohol. The morning after (and since) that night, I’ve asked myself several times- how low and how many times must I fall before I learn to rise up and walk?

I wish to confront the monster inside me in the same manner that Gloria did in the film when she flies out to Seoul and faces another robotic monster, and in a way faces her own inner demon.

In the final scene of the film, we see Gloria, having conquered her demon so to speak, enter a bar and order water. It seems like the moment when she has finally defeated her monster when the bartender puts a beer in front and she pulls a face.

The film’s director, Nacho Vigalondo, explained it best when he said: “I think it would be too cynical if she drinks again, and it would be too naïve if she prefers not to drink. The thing is when you’re dealing with addictions, I want to make something that people suffering an addiction can relate to and can understand. Sometimes in a movie when people stop drinking or stop taking drugs, or stop having a bad habit just because, that sounds really, really [neat]. So I have to leave the door open, because it’s not that easy.” (sic)

That’s the thing: many of us when we are damaging ourselves and wish to do something about it but not all of us can quit cold turkey. The intent is there, the action, not always.

Of course, we’ve all heard it more often than not that words and intent mean nothing if they don’t translate into actions. That the intent does not matter and only the actions do. But can every action in life be seen through those lenses? That the intent is inconsequential and the action is what matters? Are the two detached? Is my monster simply a manifestation of one aspect of my personality or perhaps, deep down, that is just who I am?

Rotten Tomatoes review: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/colossal/

 

Purple Days or (No Lasik For Life)

It’s just two minutes shy of 10.30 on a Tuesday night. The purple haze from what was surely meant to set a sexy mood feels like how every seedy place across the globe does. As in everywhere else, a familiar scene plays out here too: Young men trying to cavort with young women and old men trying to cavort with even younger women.

Some will succeed. Some will go home to the comfort of their right hand; snug in the knowledge that tomorrow is a new day and that tonight will be forgotten by the time the birds begin to sing.

The bartender lives up to the stereotype: moving about, chatting to customers, shouting out orders to his subordinates- the ones who aren’t on the same level of bartending skills as he is.

I once heard a character in a movie say that a quiet bartender can make patrons nervous. I agree.

My new frames seem to mask my identity a bit. No one bothers me until they get a close look under these lights.

I know, choosing a bar where I half-expect to know half the patrons and wishing to be left alone doesn’t make sense. But here we are. Here I am.

A young lad I am acquainted with looks through me, not recognizing who I am. For now, I let it be.

A young bunch of people I am supposed to know are sitting across the room behind me. But with my back to them, I don’t know who is who until one of them walks up to the bar to get the next round of orders. He doesn’t recognize me.

Thankfully.

Some days, I want to alone by myself. Some days, I want to be in solitude. Today, I’m not sure what I want.

My life, so far, has been a series of extempore speeches. Stumbling from one sentence to the next, leaving in the wake a line of “aahs”, “umms”, and “wells”. Not the most eloquent, I know. My autobiography wouldn’t read well. At all.

“Ranju Dodum: A Life in Extempore Speeches”.

Punctuated with ellipses; exposing the uncertainty that is my life; attempts to hide my insecurities, my fears, and all of that sadly makes up who I am.

Am I ashamed of who I am? On most days.

The new glasses may change the way I look, but can it change my vision metaphorically? Correct it even?

I suppose there is No Lasik For Life? I suppose not. #NLFL

Why do I write? I have never given that any thought until I find myself sitting on a bar stool with a pretty young girl who subtly asked me to move my messenger bag from the stool next to me so that she could sit there.

No, she’s not the least bit interested in me. No, her attention is reserved for the men beside her and her equally young friend. All of them bespectacled and half of me- both in age and in weight.

I would like to think in intellect, too. That’s one of the things I like to hold on to.

Although age may take away my youth, and the sparkle in my eyes may fade (the glasses help me hold on to them, barely), I hope to retain my mind with its memories and experiences (both the horrific and the honourable).

I think I write to unintendedly chronicle my life. What will we be if we didn’t experience all that life could offer? And not remember the life we’ve lived.

After all, that’s the one thing older people have an advantage in- a head start in life.

It is an hour into the night, hip songs off of Bollywood films have been blaring through the speakers. The dance floor holds up well to the stomping of high heels and platform shoes.

My mind wavers into thoughts: Do Arunachalees realise how indoctrinated they have been to what is mainland Indian culture?

Two hours into the night. Five pegs of whisky and one shot later, the mood is lifting, subtly.

But only momentarily.

The alcohol is doing what it’s meant to. My words are losing their way. The sentences, becoming shorter.

These “chapters” are getting smaller. Right now it is almost 3 AM. I am home. The rice has been set at the electric rice cooker with the faux chilly chicken resting easy inside the carton.

This is my night.

The sequel to depression

So, it’s been about a week since I uploaded that post about depression and ever since, I’ve had people reach out to me telling me about their own struggles with depression and/or asking me how I’ve been holding up. So I want to address a couple of things today.

Until I uploaded my post and people read it and gave me their feedback, I didn’t realise how rampant and widespread it was. People who have always seemed so jovial have been fighting the evils of depression for the longest of times; people who I always looked at and said to myself, “man, look at him, such a happy-go-lucky-guy”. Well, turns out I was wrong.

You see, depression doesn’t have a face. At least, it doesn’t necessarily have a sad face. More often than not, it hides behind a beautiful smile. That’s what I learnt in the past week.

Today is an especially hard day for me. I just wept my heart out. Writing this isn’t easy. I don’t know why I am doing it but here we are again.

Unlike the last post, there are some more serious issues I want to talk about today.

In the last post about depression, I wrote about what the heart feels and what it goes through. Today, I want to talk about what the mind makes you want to do.

As I said in the last post, I’m not an expert so my writing is simply just an expression of my own experiences and not/cannot be quoted for any academic writing of note.

SIDE NOTE: I have not made any progress in terms of moving away from alcohol to cope with my depression; in fact, this rant is a result of today’s development and a heady mix of beer and whisky.

So, I feel like I missed out on a few things the last time around.

While I did talk about the kind of emotions and experiences that someone like me goes through during depression, I did not touch upon the actual mental state that we experience.

Depression is real.

I hate to admit it, but it is. What I hate the most, is how being in a state of depression makes you feel lowly, unwanted, and unworthy. That is exactly what I feel right now.

What is worse is how your mind reacts to try and cope with those feelings of unworthiness.

The way depression works is, at the end of the day, you want to stop it. And depression’s answer to ‘ending’ it is by ending yourself.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t worry, I am not going to commit suicide and you will not be accused of abetment. I am too much of a coward to commit suicide. The best I can hope for is a head-on collision so that I don’t get blamed and also get absolved of my misery.

Disclaimer aside, suicide is also very real.

We all have our ways of dealing with depression, not all of them healthy, but we do. Many of us take to taking our own lives.  I would be lying if I said I did not contemplate that thought myself a few times. And if I was brave enough, I may have gone through with it.

But I am not.

The thing is, over the years, I have come to realise that our actions have a way of manifesting themselves not just in our own lives but also amongst those around us. And while as a younger man, I was always content with being content with myself, I have come to the realisation that my actions affect others.

We may be pre-teen kids whose seemingly innocent words may hurt an adult, or we may be adults whose actions may hurt children. We may think our acts are secluded and segregated from each other. But they are not. In order to satisfy ourselves, we are hurting so many other people around us that we do not even realise it.

Suicide, therefore, is not the answer.

Killing oneself is one of the ways to absolve/redeem oneself of their own deeds and misdeeds. Ultimately, we have to face our demons.

Have I thought about it? Of course, I have. But I know that ultimately, it will do more harm than good.

Until then, cheers!

 

The thing about depression is…

Depression is real.

I’m no expert on the subject so I will steer clear from the jargon (mostly because I am not familiar with them) and speak of my own personal experiences. How is it that someone so closed like me has chosen to write about it and put myself in such a vulnerable position? For a couple of reasons: a) I realised a long time ago that I am at my expressive best when I am writing instead of talking; b) we do not talk about depression enough; we do not have conversations about it enough; and c) while this is, I am hoping, a step towards healing myself, I also hope that anyone out there going through the same thing as I am should know that you are not alone and that you should know that.

And with that, let us begin.

First of all, let me skip the part about what is causing my depression because regardless of the reason, it is the experience of depression that I want to explore. We all may have our reasons- loss of a friend or relative, the end of a relationship, getting stuck in a professional rut -it doesn’t matter. What matters is how heavy the heart feels.

Depression, for me, really does not have a timeline or a time frame. The bouts of depression do not announce its arrival or end after a certain amount of time has lapsed. Those bouts come and go as they please. And only if you have experienced it, can you understand how the heart seems to sink during that time.

The best parallel I can draw is that it is similar (but not same) to the kind of mellow anxiety one feels before embarking on a journey. Using the words ‘mellow’ and ‘anxiety’ together may seem oxymoronic but that’s how (at least) I feel. A slow sadness overcomes your heart before it takes over your mind, and eventually over the rest of your body.

You are unable to think straight; your mind wanders off into the abyss; you can read a book a thousand times over and yet not grasp the plot.

Depression is real.

Your shoulders drop; you cannot hold a conversation well; you cannot look into someone’s eyes when you can hold a conversation.

Depression is real.

The heart? It slows down. It sinks before it slowly and painfully shrinks. You can feel it shrinking within the confines of your chest, showing no signs of expanding.

Depression is real.

How does one deal with it? I don’t know. I really don’t.

I drink.

I abuse my body by drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol, slowly poisoning myself. Is it the best way to deal with the problem? Of course not, but it is the only solution I know of at the moment.

In a way, drinking to suppress my depression is the same approach I use to deal with any emotion other than love (love, I embrace)- to block it out, to run away from it.

I’m non-confrontational by nature and facing my issues, is the last thing I wish to do. I know that I cannot run away from them forever, but facing them doesn’t seem to solve them either. Not for me, at least.
Do not get me wrong; I am not in any manner of speaking endorsing that one should abuse their bodies the way I am doing. But I do hope that those of you out there experiencing depression can find your escape.

For those of you who are at a better place and have never experienced the darkness of it, know this: Depression is real.

Rewriting records and retelling history

A massive carnival concluded recently at Gujarat, seemingly to celebrate the ‘ancient’ link between mainland India and the country’s mostly-neglected Northeast region (a term that is more reflective of a region rather than a single cultural unit).

On March 25, on Ram Navami, the annual Madhavpur Mela kicked-off at Madhavpur (Ghed) in Gujarat’s Porbandar district and lasted till March 28. What caught most people’s attention, thanks partly due to the unending tweets by Arunachal West Lok Sabha MP and Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju, was that this year’s fair would ‘re-enact’ the ‘heroic kidnapping’ of princess Rukmini by Lord Krishna. While plays depicting legends and myths are a regular fare at religious carnivals, what made this year different is the ‘revelation’ that princess Rukmini was a member of the Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh!

The ‘legend’ of Rukmini being a member of the said tribe has been propagated since around the 80s, thanks mostly through schools in the state that later even managed to make its way into the official information brochures of the state government’s tourism department.

While most sources state that Rukmini was the daughter of king Bhishmaka of Vidarbha (in present-day Maharashtra), a myth has persisted in Arunachal Pradesh that she was, in fact, an Idu-Mishmi, probably sporting the traditional bowl haircut that was prevalent amongst community members earlier.

Where did this myth originate? No one within the community is quite sure or willing to go on record. The basis of the myth, however, is the ruins of the Bhismaknagar Fort, located near the Arunachal-Assam inter-state boundary around 25 kilometres from the Lower Dibang Valley district headquarter of Roing.

Falling under the jurisdiction of the Guwahati circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the fort is believed to have been built by the Bhismaka dynasty of the Chutiya (pronounced Sutia) kingdom that had a stronghold in the Sadiya region of present-day Assam and the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. The kingdom is said to have existed from around the 12th to the 16thcentury.

bhismaknagar

PC: Guwahati Circle of Archaeological Survey of India website.

D Dutta, deputy director of the state directorate of research (archaeology), said that the remains of the fort have not been carbon-dated and could date back to the 9th century. Archaeological evidence too, he said, suggests that there is no connection between the style of that found in the Arunachal Pradesh site to that of those in Vidarbha.

“Perhaps there was another king by the name of Bhismaka and perhaps his daughter’s name was also Rukmini,” Dutta said.

Ginko Linggi, president of the Idu-Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society, informed that he and his friends began hearing about the myth when they were in school in the eighties.

Linggi said that there are no records or mentions of such a myth as per the traditional oral history of the indigenous tribal community.

Like many others from and outside the community, Linggi said that proper scientific research is required before any conclusion can be made on the veracity of the myth. One of those was Vijay Swami.

Swami has been a long-time resident in Arunachal Pradesh, having previously worked with the Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalaya for 15 years and is now the executive director of the Roing-based Research Institute of World’s Ancient Traditions, Cultures & Heritage. More importantly, Swami acted as a liaison between the state government and organisers of the Madhavpur Mela and was in attendance at the carnival.

Having reached Guwahati from Gujarat, Swami informed that a team of 22 people, including 15 members of the cultural troupe, five tribal shamans called igu, and two community elders, had attended the event.

While admitting that the myth does not match the archaeological evidence (considering that Lord Krishna was supposed to have ‘left’ Earth somewhere around 3100 before current era (BCE) and that the fort ruins are from a much later period), Swami said that stories of the myth are a recent trend.  Detailed studies, he said, are required and that the fair is an attempt at ‘national integration’.

And therein lays the crux of the matter.

IMG-20180327-WA0032

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu rocking a pagri (turban) at the fair.

Myth or fact, the idea of ‘re-enacting’ the ‘heroic kidnapping was clearly driven with the motive to promote ‘national integration’ which would help cement Northeast’s ‘ancient link’ with the rest of the country and thereby somehow defy China’s constant claims over much Arunachal Pradesh’s territory.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, Pema Khandu, is reported to have said that the fair is a way for people “in far-off frontiers will have a sense of belonging and relate to rest of the states”.

One news report quoted Khandu as such: We watch in news channels today that some other country is claiming some part of Northeast. But nobody can change the history and the ancient history says that Arunachal was not a separate state but entire Northeast was one. For centuries, we have been with India, mainland India. This is our strength.

As the mela concluded, a letter arrived from the ASI stating that the Bhismaknagar Fort is not demarcated and that the ASI does not have a revenue map of the site. The letter, erroneously addressed to the deputy commissioner of Dibang Valley district instead of Lower Dibang Valley which was created in 2001, sought “information regarding the demarcation of boundary, revenue map, and land records”. The letter further noted that it had “on many occasions earlier faced difficulties in taking up developmental works at the monument/sites” and directed the government to schedule a joint-inspection.

As myth and history were being inter-woven in Gujarat, the foundation on which the legend is based on suffers from a lack of attention.