This is one of the pieces for Basar Doyi (Basar Tales) that was the result of my month-long stay in Basar, Arunachal Pradesh as part of the Artist Residency for the 2018 edition of the Basar Confluence. For more info about the festival, head over to Instagram.
Based on the retelling of Migo Basar’s attempt to escape the capture and certain death from Yapoms that chased him for close to 12 hours, the style employed for this story was an attempt to capture the sense of urgency that he felt that night.
I hope I have done justice to his harrowing experience.
My gratitude goes out to Mr Migo Basar from Gori-III village who gave such a detailed description of the events of that night that I barely had to take any creative licence.
I am also grateful to Mr Minjo Basar who helped with the translation whenever my limited knowledge of the Galoo language would fail me.
I would also like to thank my editor, Mr Anup Kutty, for understanding the essence of what I was trying to create with this piece and for proof-reading and making the necessary changes.
It happened one night
1983, barely 17, clear March afternoon, I was returning from school,
weary, dreary, and ready to drop after
a long day of algebra, and a language imposed by the government, and
a sudden burst of fever, high body temperature, my physical self dropped, I lay still on the bamboo floor of our kitchen, two hours until
I awoke suddenly, feeling cold and the warmth of a parched throat and a wet body made me head to the water tap outside of our home in my white school shirt and navy blue trousers, an Assamese gamusa, a pair of Hawaii sandals with white inner sole, and matching blue under sole and straps, with my head thrown into the water pouring out of the brass-hued tap and the coldness of which almost caught me off guard, as I steadied myself and grasping the air around me I lifted my head while the water from my wet hair that now ran across my forehead petered down to my clothes when familiar voices of men and women from the village around me and in front of the house or on my sides, calling out my name, accusing me of some crime as they screamed,
‘We know what you did, pelting stones at people’s homes, breaking their windows,’
which I did not understand since I had done no such thing but to plead innocence would be a futile exercise for although I could not see them or where they were, the intent to hurt me in their voices was made clear abundant and so I bolted out the back fence of our tiny home and hopped over the bamboo barricades of our neighbours who looked at me as if they had seen a madman escape his cell from the Tezpur madhouse but, I could care little for what occupied my thought and heart at that moment was the voices of our elders, some whom I had known since I was a child, nearing even as I ran as fast as my young legs could take me but, their accusatory voices kept creeping up on me, even when I found myself behind my own school when the sound of their screams seemed to grow even louder,
‘We will have you punished for what you did,’
they said as I wondered who could have possibly filed a false complaint against me with the police as I was now convinced that the people from my village had been joined by men in khakis wielding sticks and stones and weapons of their own choosing and I ran, as fast and far as I had to, even dashing over the slippery water-supply pipe and faced a seven-feet tall barbed fence which I climbed over and for the first time since the chase began did I momentarily get a glance at those chasing me as I began to descend the fence on the other side but, instead of seeing the faces of any men or women whom I knew, all I saw was silhouettes of a cluster of people with no discerning features and hence I continued to run towards a light that I knew shone from the Basar police station where I could finally escape to safety, and for the first time since the ordeal that began four hours ago, I ran with the intent of actually going somewhere, reaching somewhere that could offer me refuge and somewhere where the people would help me, but as I flung open the door and grabbed the first havaldar on whom my eyes landed and pleaded,
‘Help me, there are people after me who I know will kill me when they catch me,’
I cried when he said “What people are you blabbering about, you idiot,’ looking around as if to convince himself that there wasn’t anyone chasing me, and so instead, he chased me away and told me to go home on the way of which I saw the same devoid-of-any-discerning-features silhouettes once again, and I could tell that there were around 20 of them, all of which were bent on making me their prisoner and ending me as I stood on that dusty road that led to my home, going towards which was now not an option as they stood ahead of me, blocking my path, leaving me with no option but to try and make good my escape by heading towards the ITBP camp and beyond till Aalo, if the need arose, and I would have had I not seen those same silhouettes suddenly appear a few hundred metres ahead of me so, I turned the road and headed to a paddy field through which I knew I could take a shortcut all the way back to the village and the safety of my home but the night had other plans for me and it seemed as if there was much that needed to transpire before this nightmare would even come close to an end, for barely had I stepped inside the golden-hued paddy field that in a distance I saw two women, all dressed in green from their galey to the clothes they wore to hide their bosoms, who were the perhaps the most kaken as I had ever seen until that night and they were women who I knew were not of this realm but were the first faces with features that I could make some semblance of besides the havaldar who chased me away and had it been a different day and varied circumstance, I would have followed these women to the deepest parts of the river who called me out to come with them but something inside of me told me not to, saying,
‘I’m not coming with you, go away,’
clearly offending them enough to make them reach inside the uduu that they were carrying with them and fling its contents on me as I managed to dodge whatever it was that carried their malice and turned right and straight into a forest of thorns with creepers that hugged and kissed each other, bleeding each other and waiting to do the same to anyone who crossed their path but since the only direction that I could head towards was the one in front of me, I had no choice but to enter what would otherwise have been forbidden territory on any other night but I knew this was no ordinary night, and the sight of the two beautiful women was a mere mirage, a trick because as soon as I entered the forest of thorns, the voices became clear once more as they neared, shooting arrows with intent and such strength that the sounds they made when they travelled and sliced the air on its path was not the sounds that arrows of men made,
the arrows sounded as they came for me, carrying with them an ounce of my own fears, narrowly missing me each time and my fears only growing to a crescendo, especially when one of them almost sliced me into two with his rokse, at which moment I felt as though I had turned to water and meandered into the concrete road once again only to see more figures who now seemed to be getting closer with each step that I took to try and run away from them but, the faster I ran the closer they got with their torchlights that they shone on my face, trying to block my view of the road ahead which I could see only when lightning struck, which was odd considering it was a clear day and I could see the stars as clearly as could be, that being an afterthought, of course, for my concern then was to stay alive, escape whatever was chasing me but it was no easy task because the road I was on kept going astray and I kept losing my way, only to suddenly find a river on my path, in which I did not hesitate to jump right in as the silhouettes hesitated even less and followed me to the other side where I was momentarily stuck between two bamboo plants out of which I nudged myself out and made my way to the Medical Line and into the front yard of a Bihari workers house who asked me where I was going and offered me some tea which I could not considering the state that I was in considering it was three in the morning now and I had been running for my life for almost 12 hours and as I stumbled my way out to the main road bare feet and tattered white shirt and torn navy blue pants my cousin shouted,
‘Where were you?’
he asked with anger and concern but I had no answer or explanation to offer at that moment, so he took me home to a worried family who told me to get some rest but I had to clean myself up, especially since I was bleeding heavily from my nose and when I slowly walked towards the water tap the opu fell and from behind it emerged a large black silhouette, devoid of any features as the ones that tormented me the entire night, and easily leapt over an eight feet high wall, and while I thought that would have been the last I would have heard of them, since the nyibu had performed the Yapom Guula to cleanse me off of the effects of that night, the tormenting never stopped, especially immediately after that cursed night, when on many times as I slept I would continue to feel the slithering of snakes under my blanket but see nothing when I tried to catch them, and to this day, I hear them when I am awake, calling me to come with them,
them, who offer me riches and comforts of life but all of which I do not wish to attain from them, for why should I because,
since the events of that night, I have felt no fear,
no fear of the tools used by men or those who wish to call themselves mighty…