by Chroma Chola
with an illustration by Marko Emigrantov_na Kvirenko
“Well, what is it this time? I hope no secret submarines nuking the ocean floors?” “No, sir, it’s a cyclonic storm. And given its speed and capacity it’s best to alert all governments across South Asia. We don’t have much time on our hands.”
“Alright, I’m setting up a quick web broadcast and relaying the message across the proper channels. Keep the data ready. We’ll have to show them the storm’s intensity across various regions.”
“Yes, sir. I am tracing a path of the storm.”
A world away, a loom was busy spinning out another hand woven gamusa.
“Five gamusas this week,” Maloti observed.
“Yes, aren’t they splendid?” Minoti asked, wiping sweat off her brow, and sipping a cup of tea that her daughter had placed near the loom.
“Yes, they are. But ma, why do you have to sell them? Keep one for yourself at least.”
“Nonsense, how am I supposed to pay your college fees? I need to make more gamusas. After all, Bihu is around the corner and I need to supply at least a 100 more for that. So I have no time to chit chat right now. Oh, when Atul returns from school, ask him to recharge the mobile phone. And before you go back to your books, check on Surabhi. That creature roams around blissfully, unaware of the thieves and wolves hidden in forest fringes!”
Evening approached. Life in the village quickly came to a standstill once the stars appeared in the inky blackness of night sky.
Minoti placed an earthen lamp next to the tulsi plant in the courtyard. For a moment her attention fell on the twinkling constellations. They reminded her of a diamond necklace that she had seen on the neck of a newly wedded distant cousin sister ten years ago. Oh, how she craved for a large diamond necklace! She tore her eyes away from the sky for a moment to look at the shed. Surabhi, their cow, was munching on some grains that Atul was feeding her. Now that her husband was away in town, sweating his days and nights as an electric ricksaw driver, her son had to bear the additional responsibilities of being the man of the house. Minoti’s heart ached for her son. He was still a child but was expected to take charge of a grown man’s responsibilities.
She took out her mobile phone to call her husband. On the second ring he answered her call. They exchanged news of the town and village. She reminded him to avoid cut fruits delivered on plates on pushcarts. He was irritated to learn that rats were feeding on rice grains and vanishing into the crevices of their hut. Toward the end of their conversation, he expressed his desire to come home and see them all.
“Listen, I heard something on my phone the other day. It was a radio broadcast of a weather report. There might be something big coming up, you’d better take Maloti and Atul to Khuradeo’s village after bihu.”
“Oh, I pray to the Gods that nothing bad happens here. It is not the question of the children alone. What about the cow?”
“Sell it if necessary. Animals are a hindrance while on journey and I don’t want you to be struggling with some moral dilemma when you are saving yourself and our children.” He cut the call and left Minoti to her thoughts.
When certain spells were written on the leaves, they were transformed into charms so powerful that they could bind storms and stop the onslaught of rains percolating through thatched roofs and swirling under fragile bamboo doors.
This is why she went to see Khura, her neighbour.
“Minoti, the Naa’hor leaves this time are not good. Incessant rains have made the trees waterlogged. I had to throw away certain leaves that seem to have been struck by strange worms. Could barely gather a handful. Here, take the ones I kept for your house and string them carefully inside,” Khura instructed.
“Thank you Khura. Please do visit our humble home in Bihu. .My in-laws are long gone and my parents, too. The blessings of elders go a long way in making the coming year fruitful and you are our nearest kin.”
“Sure sure, why not? Besides, my daughter-in-law has yet to surpass the taste of your tekeli and tsunga pithas!”
Minoti kept looking out of the window. She had sold her cow and sent her merchandise to the house of a distant relative for safekeeping. The sky overhead was an alarming purple, streaked with white. Every now and then – lightning flashed. At each corner around the ceiling of their hut, she and Maloti had tucked Naa’hor leaves. Like sentries, the leaves guarded her house.
For safety’s sake, she accompanied her children to a relative’s house in another village. They had to squeeze together in a crowded room along with other kin who had also come to seek shelter from the impending storm. There was a shortage of mosquito nets, so everyone rubbed kerosene oil over their bodies to ward off mosquitoes. At dawn, when she woke up to make tea for everyone, she was greeted with dismal news of her village. It had been pounded heavily by the cyclone.
“It was Mahadev’s wrath bearing down upon us mortals. No wonder it was called Fani,” the murmur went among the adults.
The tulasi plant, which was the recipient of her daily prayers, lay lifeless on the ground.
“Ma, we are hungry.” Atul’s voice broke her melancholy. For the sake of her son and daughter she had to be strong. Wailing could not fix the house. It was time to call her husband from town and convince him to stay longer till a more robust house could be built. Naa’hor pa-at could not be trusted to keep houses safe any more. After all, what could a leaf do against the mighty storm?
This year, cyclone Fani ravaged some places that lay on the eastern coast of India. As Assam is more landlocked and lies far from any seas or oceans, the impact of the cyclone was less. Nevertheless, it is important to note how climate change is now causing greater havoc on poor and marginalized communities.
Mahadev is one of the names of Shiva, one of the trinity of God’s in Hinduism. Shiva has other forms too such as the trans feminine Ardhanarishwera. As Mahadev is seen as the destroyer in certain legends and myths, a colossal destruction can be understood as something super natural that came from Mahadev. Moreover Mahadev is surrounded by poisonous snakes (adorning his neck). and snakes have venom right? So I drew up an image where an epic natural disaster may be attributed to super natural causes.
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Whether you’ve stayed in the same place, but the political system, and family relations, or the climate changed around you, or whether you live with the memory of a place or situation you have left a long time ago or just yesterday – there are certain aspects of past and present within you or shared with the people around you that come together in harmony, struggle, or somehow don’t come together at all. They are traditions in transition.
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