Absent from home – A photo essay

Our Place, Our Life, Our Times

I have completed a decade or so being outside Silchar, a small town at the Southern Part of Northeast India. Coming of Age, I first heard John Denver singing those immortal lines – "Take Me Home, Country Roads, Take me Home" and there was a Shennon-doh River. Everything of that song was simple, small, light and without that Larger than Life effect of Commercial Art. Like all young men of my age, I also bade farewell to the small town and went very far away for Fortune-hunting. The very arduous journey amplified the mental distance of the town from my distant isolation at Malabar. During holidays, I used to be sitting on a second class train compartment and approach the town from such a torturous route that every homecoming remained memorable. Floods, Landslides, Terrorist Attack on trains, Derailment, Bomb Blasts – all were present singularly or in combination. I will narrate them in due course.


Being a Documentation writer offers freedom as well as restrictions. And just like all wordsmiths aspire to be poets, all document writers aspire to be a kind of contemporary historian in truest sense of history. While working for http://www.syhlleti..org, I always felt that silent gravitation of studying the history of the place, of it's unspoken essence, it's yet-to-be-discovered beauties. History is search for a consistent whole and in this way it is more like the study of Biology than that of Physics. Like Biology, you cannot change the past event and likewise, you need to start what is rather than what would have been. In documenting the last ten years of our hometown (1992-2002), seen off and on, I feel the gush of memories. Also a personal feeling of coming of age – from a mercurial adolescence to the forbearance of late youth. I still remember a September morning when I left from my home, bag, baggage and lots of anguish for an Unknown Land and slowly I crossed the hills, I passed the quaint Barak, in the evening came the Mountains of North-Cachar Hills and I felt like crying. I looked at the tropical rainforest outside, a slow, sure and shadowy mountain evening approaching and our metre gauze train moving slowly, almost at the speed of a car at city-traffic.


The Bus Route was through Shillong and after eight hours from my home, you enter into the Mountain Capital – the cool air, the pines, the clean roads and that smell of air which is only available in Shillong. It was all the fragrance of Khasi-hills and the imaginary smell of my young nose. In this route, I was once struck due to landslide. For twenty hours or so. Constant Rain, Muddy Water, Trucks after Trucks lined in the hairpin road, lush green Tropical Forest. Lunch-Dinner-Breakfast all made in a stove, keeping the stove and the cook below the truck to save both from the continuos dripping. No desert and hence a swish of Rum whose name I still remember – Premium. Water from the stream nearby, Potatoes Brought from Guwahati and Rice of Punjab – this was the food. The Trcuk was coming from Delhi carrying medicines, Silchar bound. This boiled potato lunch was one of the tastiest and memorable lunches of my lifetime.


Next time, the train stuck near Kokrajhar due to Terrorist Problem as some part of the Track was blown off. I looked outside and saw a lone platform, a dim light and a melancholic old man sitting lonely on a bench. I ate only biscuits for some two days… People were scared as we could see high activity in terms of Khakis and Army Uniforms.

One June, once upon a time, I got stuck near Kalayin, The Headlight saw only a long lake in front where the road would have been. In front Tea Gardens were nicely enjoying our suffering. I got into a Boat and near Katakhal, the quaint and slim Barak was in a frenzy. Eddies and whirls, Leaves and Trees and a brownish water going past. Every time I felt that if this boat capsizes, I will be Memory.

Another time, Coromondal was 24 hours late. I landed onto Guwahati with only Rs. 150/- or so and had to board a Govt. Bus at night as this was the cheapest and private fare I could not presently afford. Misfortune struck again. The Bus went dead past Shillong. A small boy, around 14 years of age was the cleaner and went below the bus to check any leaking in the tank. While complained of not seeing the hole in the dark, came a reply from the driver, standing near me in a winding Mountain Road – "How will you work if you cant see the hole at night? " This tremendously suggestive reprimand of an experienced and grown-up man was completely lost on the boy who, lying below, frantically searching for the leak. I soon got onto a private bus and slept instantly. I handed him whatsoever was in my purse and slept. In the morning, I found myself sleeping near a grass bed with my bag put as my pillow near a Railway Gate, some twenty kilometer from my home. What has happened is something like this – The bus needed to take a diversion to Karimganj and finding me impossible to awake, he has dropped me at that point and me, terribly tired slept in the early morning at the nearest plain surface.

There are so many minor stories. To commemorate this decade of long journey from Kerala to Silchar, I undertook a Journey on a car last year, details of which are available in an irregular manner at http://personal.vsnl.com/syhlleti/yathra.htm

Now, I have come closer to Silchar. I work at Calcutta and hence homecoming has become without any event other than late running of flights from Dumdum to Kumbhirgram (the Silchar Airport) . But every landing in the Airport is a Memory Revisited. The moment the aircraft comes to a halt at Silchar airport, from the Calcutta sky, it’s a welcome change and the air is intoxicating not because there is something special about it, but because it reminds me of my boyhood, of my innocent youth, of my days at this town while it was smaller, without being invaded by Telephones, Cable TVs, Kaun Banega Crorepati, Khelo India Khelo. The winter afternoon brought the tune of "Bhuvan Paharer Moina" and I always used to imagine a mountain cavern where this bird might be singing.

In front of my house was a pond, the taste of its water was known to my skin since my early boyhood. In front there was a field which saw many a boy growing into men - our playground.Now the pond is earth-filled. In one of its corner was a Palash tree whose flowers used to float on the water and this was a colorful memory of the Spring. Now, the tree is not there, the whole pond is filled and there are houses and in the corner probably lies my neighbour’s TV where there are hundred channels and million hallucinations.

While I write this from my Calcutta sojourn, I feel that our town is a mountain guarded, river-washed and Tea-Garden filled landscape and if we can have a Transit through Bangladesh, the beaches of Chittagong is only some six hours away. The Eyes that can appreciate Beauty and can express it in a form that appeals to all time and all eyes are the same eyes we all have been blessed with. I have traveled like a vagabond in those places and after a decade, suddenly feel that the growth of the town and my growth in terms of age, some Beauty is lost irrevocably. True Beauty Never Dies. Like True Love, it is always greater than what defeats it.


The small-town boy that I am, now a intruder in a decadent megapolis, not by choice but due to necessity also believe – No Landscape is real unless punctuated by human faces. So are the young beauties at the Tea-Garden and the Valley. . So are the old, black & white photos of a war-torn period, also a photo my home-town Airport during the Time of Second World War.


Love for one’s own Land and Love for War are fundamental to us. Perhaps we are genetically hardwired. Perhaps Not. But one thing is clear to me being a man earning his bread and butter through Technology. Home is an invention that humanity has not yet upgraded for a better version. We are all searching for Homelands – Real or Imaginary. The tribe in this planet first chose his profession to be a wandering nomad. Its the women who have made the most pathbreaking discovery - The Land is also like a Womb which generates new crop, new sustenance. The Nomad was bound to his Land. Agriculture - the most primitive of all cultures and the most enduring. But the ancient push of the nomadic wandering lies in the blood. We still are. We will be. Only this difference – Earlier we were wandering in Prairies and River Basins, now we are wandering (or our machines) in inter-galactic space. In this vastness of Space and immensity of Time, we are searching for Home, a connection and this effort is what this Human Journey is all about.

The Narrator wordsmith is thankful to the young ladies for rendering human punctuation in the landscapes . Thanks to Mr. Rakesh, another Network Sweeper like wordsmith at VSNL, Calcutta for his help. Thanks to Mr. Chatterjee for his patience and humour. The Airport Photos are available, courtesy www.bharat-rakshak.com and its webmaster Mr. Rakesh Koshy for his co-operation and help.