[The Matador University has revamped its course content and I just could not pass up on an opportunity to do the MatU assignments again. Those of you in the know are aware that I have already graduated the course, the others should check out the Matador University site.The following assignment is revealing the place by showing and not telling.]
” I have no income”, he says.
He displays no emotions. He could have been telling me the time of day.
I cannot let it pass. I pry further , ” But is it not dangerous?” and illegal I think in my mind.
“Yes, it is dangerous but if I collect honey then I can make some money.If I do not go into the forest my children will not have food”.
Ananth Bhyaa although not much of a conversationalist is a very accommodating boat man. He does not mind when we asked him to stop or deviate from our path in order to photograph the scenery.
We pass by a meander, where a man is pulling in a fishing net. On seeing us he leaves his net and takes cover within thick mangroves.
” Is he fishing illegally?” Preeti asks the obvious.
He does not answer, instead he calls out in Bengali and the man hesitantly steps out from the shadows of the trees.
“The forest people say do not fish here, do not fish there. But there are no fish where they allow us to fish”.
He stands, pierces a long log of wood into the water. The make shift oar propels the dinghy forward. With the ease of a trapeze artist he walks the narrow outer edge of the dinghy guiding it into a small islet, one of the many that are reborn with every low tide. Ananth Bhyaa walks to the rear of the boat away from the two of us. He squats at the tapering end. Without a word he told us that we were going to spend some time here.
Sunderbans consists of hundreds of islets formed by the criss – crossing of rivers. Most of the islands are not inhabited due to the impenetrable Mangrove trees.
All around us there is a stillness. Even the calls of the birds are distant. Every now and then there are ripples formed when a leaf dances its way down to the water.
The calmness is broken by the striking of a match.
He still squats at the end of the boat.He catches my eye and smiles. It’s a first.
” Do you bring a lot of people here?”
” People care only about the tiger? ” His disinterest in the one thing that puts Sunderbans in the tourist map is not hard to miss.
” Have you seen one?”
He nods. Although I do not believe it I do my part and widen my eyes and fake fear and respect.
That seems to bring down invisible but solid barriers. He immediately starts talking.
” I do not care about the tiger. In name of tigers government has taken our land. The have even killed us when we refused to give up our land. “
“Marichjhapi” I say silently.
The statement unsettles him. He inhales from his cigarette and tilts his head. Th curls of smoke go up losing shape the higher they go.
Preeti and I exchange glances. We had asked about the infamous Marichjhapi massacre to the locals yesterday. No body seemed to know about it. That unsettled me. How can a government evict an entire island by raining bullets on the residents barely some thirty odd years ago and no one seem to remember it?
Ananth Bhyya seems like the last person alive to remember it. I am full of questions. I need to know everything about it.
“Were you there?”
“My father was there”, he said with a finality. He stands up picks up the oar and turns his back to us as he gets ready to make our way back.
Did I stir some unpleasant memories?
I try to re ignite the conversation . ” You know smoking is not healthy”.
” I am old, I am dying.”
“How old are you?”
“I never asked my mother when I was born”.