An incomplete poem

It was the time when ULFA was emerging; a difficult period. The people of Assam were living amid fire. Soon after, the process of surrenders began. Those who had surrendered came to be known as SULFA (S for surrendered).

Written by Arupa Patangia Kalita | Published:June 25, 2017 2:09 am
assamese novelist, arupa patangia kalita, assam literature, section 144, indian express (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

I have met a large number of students during my long teaching career. Each time I see television visuals of bodies of young men killed by unknown murderers, I remember Alok (name changed). He was one of those few students who would not cheat in exams, would intently study, and would invariably occupy a seat in the front bench. He would always win prizes in the annual literary competition in college. He came from a poor family.

I clearly remember that day. I was sitting on my veranda when Alok walked in; he had come directly from the bus stand. There was a radiance on his face. He had won the second prize in the novels category in an all-Assam literary competition. He was delighted to receive the prize from the famous poet, Navakanta Barua. As I remember, he was then a second-year BA student.

Alok later passed his BA with honours in Assamese literature. And one day, he was lost in the crowd of thousands of students. It was the time when ULFA was emerging; a difficult period. The people of Assam were living amid fire. Soon after, the process of surrenders began. Those who had surrendered came to be known as SULFA (S for surrendered). It was quickly followed by the “secret killings”. Around that time, a boy from his batch told me that Alok had also joined the ULFA and left for the hills. He floated away in the waves of restless time.

About two years later, as I was on my way to college, a young man stopped my car by waving at me. I immediately recognised the smile that suddenly sparkled on his face. Yes, it was Alok and yes, it was the same old smile. As he kept staring at me, I gulped and asked him, “Are you still writing?” He felt encouraged to talk. “Yes, baideu (ma’am), I have written quite a number of poems,” he said.

Later, I heard Alok had surrendered. Then I discovered that he had set up a grocery shop near the main crossing of the town. He must have opened the shop with funds the government had given him for surrendering. It was a small shop. He himself weighed and packed the items customers asked for. Once in a while, I too bought a few items from him. Sometimes I saw his younger brother helping him. One day Alok introduced him to me, “He is Ashok, my younger brother. He is in Class 9.” Alok had never mentioned anything to me about his adventure to the hills. I too had never asked. Even as he weighed this item or that, he would sometimes talk about his family. Their house was in need of repair, he once said. Another day, he talked about plans to start a tea garden in the small plot of land his family owned. He also spoke about making his younger brother a doctor. He would show me his poems, he said. He also asked me to write a foreword so that he could bring out a book.

Sometimes I saw his younger brother helping him. One day Alok introduced him to me, “He is Ashok, my younger brother. He is in Class 9.” Alok had never mentioned anything to me about his adventure to the hills. I too had never asked. Even as he weighed this item or that, he would sometimes talk about his family. Their house was in need of repair, he once said. Another day, he talked about plans to start a tea garden in the small plot of land his family owned. He also spoke about making his younger brother a doctor. He would show me his poems, he said. He also asked me to write a foreword so that he could bring out a book.

Then, one day there was hustle and bustle in the town. It is a small town, and even a small incident shakes it up. Shops pulled down their shutters. Suddenly there were Army jawans all over. The people disappeared in no time, and the town looked deserted. Section 144 and curfew were clamped. The entire town started trembling. News spread that the owner of a small grocery store was chased and gunned down in broad daylight on the main road. Someone said he tried to run even after four bullets had pierced through his body. His body lay in a pool of blood, face down, right in front of the petrol pump. It was Alok.

Then stories began to float. Someone said he was killed by boys from his own group. Someone said he had become an informer for the police and Army. That he had a lot of money that belonged to the banned outfit. It was said he, born in a poor family, set up a shop only after becoming a terrorist. The grocery store was just in name, he actually dealt in arms. Others asked how terrorists could dare to come and gun him down in broad daylight. The killers must be Army jawans in disguise. A thousand such stories turned Alok’s tragic death even more terrible.

Time soon wrapped up Alok’s death. Several years later, a young man came knocking at my door. His face wore a clear stamp of misery. He introduced himself and handed me a bunch of papers. He was Alok’s younger brother. After Alok’s death, he had been selling

Several years later, a young man came knocking at my door. His face wore a clear stamp of misery. He introduced himself and handed me a bunch of papers. He was Alok’s younger brother. After Alok’s death, he had been selling petty items in different haats here and there. His mother had passed away, and his father was unwell. “I have come to hand over kokaideu’s (elder brother) papers to you. Our roof leaks. Some of the papers have been already damaged,” he said. The bunch of papers was damp. But I had no problem in reading them. Those were the poems Alok had written years ago. They weren’t very mature, but they were full of promise and hope.

The writer, an acclaimed novelist in Assamese, won the Sahitya Akademi award in 2014. Translated from Assamese by Samudra Gupta Kashyap

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