by Chroma Chola
with illustrations by Marko Emigrantov_na Kvirenko
A coffee cup lay on a stack of charts, its contents spiraling outwards. Computer screens nearby were beeping rapidly. One of the scientists picked up the coffee cup, emptied it in one gulp and wrote a report on his iPad.
“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.
Evening approached. Life in the village quickly came to a standstill once the stars appeared in the inky blackness of night sky. Even Minoti’s business of woven products that ranged from gamosas to mekhela saa’dors and at times extended to making jaa’pis for special occasions, had to close down now.
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.
The next day Minoti went to her neighbour’s house. It was the annual custom of gathering special Naa’hor leaves. In the past, when she had entered the village as a newlywed, her father-in-law would bring these leaves home. 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. That was what tradition said. And Minoti needed the assurance of this tradition when her husband was not at home and she did not want to risk the lives of her children and her small business.
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!”
Bihu arrived. Once, the entire month was dedicated to the celebration. Now Bihu was only a three day phenomenon. It was a tradition to eat one hundred and one herbs at this time, but with each passing year, some of the herbs were no longer growing in the fields. Besides, who had the time to pluck each and every plant unless it was commercially viable? Most of the men worked in the nearest town. The children went to school, hoping to be civil servants or doctors or engineers. The women engaged themselves in growing certain crops and vegetables and then selling them in Sunday ha’ats. Of course there were also other women who were now nurses in the hospital or taught at schools in nearby villages.
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.
Minoti and her children left the relative’s house after a few days. Atul and Maloti trailed behind her with fearful eyes. When they entered their neighbourhood, they gaped at the uprooted trees and broken mud houses lying in colossal heaps. On reaching the place where their house once stood, Minoti shrieked – there was nothing. The tulasi plant, which was the recipient of her daily prayers, lay lifeless on the ground. The photos of gods lay exposed in muddy water, their glass frames shattered to fragments.
“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?
The Naa’hor (Indian Rose Chestnut) tree is an integral part of Assamese cultural traditions. Keeping in mind the terrible local storm Bordoisila that often plagues Assam during spring-summer season, men write special charms on Naa’hor leaves and place them at the door entrances around their houses in the belief that Bordoisila will spare their homes.
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.
Chroma is the online persona of a queer cisgender woman from North-Eastern India. As a person with autism and grappling with certain invisible disabilities, Chroma has faced extreme emotional and economic violence and is therefore forced to remain in closet and conceal her identity. Social media is the only gateway through which Chroma connects with the outside world. A lawyer by profession, Chroma loves reading and writing on lgbtiaq matters, the environment, and human rights issues.
Markó Emigrántov_na Kvirénko was born in USSR, was moved 2004 to Germany at the age of 15 and is still moved by the topics of discrimination, social- gender- and other inequalities.