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Junaak, The Shimmer

Diptisikha Bayan

It was a familiar experience, every day the same thing goes on, continues, as if for an infinite existence. The Mahabahu, it was always the same, but roaring with a new energy every summer. Like a lion of the mythic saga, like a female of thirsty passion, like a never taming entity, the Brahmaputra asserted its supremacy. And to capture its vibrancy in a moment of perfection, Junaak resumes his wait every evening. His DSLR by his neck, and eyes keen like a hawk, his heart searching for that one wave of beauty at its best.
The sun was ready to take its daily dip inside the water and the bird flying hard to reach their love, the wind also seems to be in search of a mate to copulate but Junaak waited. Far down the bank, his eyes went, for a split second he felt as if something divine had just escaped his eye sight. It’s the same divinity that he was searching for, since the last few months of his youth life. The same divinity that held him back in this small village, where internet is even slower than a tortoise in land, where nothing but nature rules, where he became a prisoner of a divine sight. The divine sight captured him, like a new shackle of illusion in the world of Maya.
It was the month of December, the weather ornamented with the sensational touch of the cold wind and misty fog. Junaak then, was a recent graduate student in photography from a reputed University in the capital city of Delhi. His life in Delhi was marked by the lifestyle of a metropolis…hectic, wildly outrageous, drinking, partying and navigating the streets of midnight Delhi. With the end of his graduation, Junaak travelled back home to his family in Guwahati, the city of Brahmaputra. The city where he was born. But for Junaak the city of Guwahati is like his second home, never had he been able to provide it with the status of ‘home sweet home’. He had always seen it as a city of filth, as a city of flood, as a city of corruption and a city in which the Brahmaputra is wrongly placed. For him The Brahmaputra rightly belongs to the small village where his Grandparents reside. Those days of his childhood which he had spent sitting by the shore of the river, fishing, playing and running along with the village boys rearing their cattle and the unmindful, carefree games that he shared with them. The purity of the scene, the purity of existence at the level of raw nature had always formed a large part of Junaak’s psyche and it stayed with him even after years of estrangement from the village life. Delhi could never match up to this level of purity and peace that he found in that small village of his childhood, nor thus Guwahati with the Mahabahu, by its side ever fulfil his desire to go back to the pollution prone region. Junaak survived with a feeling of nostalgia all these years. Demands of the society had forbidden him the life he had desired secretly. It is this nostalgia which finally brought him back to his own village, to the place of his childhood fancy.
After completing his graduation, Junaak decided to conduct his first project of photography in his village, his own village where nature blooms in all its colour and the Brahmaputra flows with all its might. It was the pursuit of his career that took him away from his loving village once upon a time, now it is again the same career which gave him a reason to come back and explore the region with a new visionary art.
By February, Junaak set his foot on the fresh grass of the village street, loaded with bag packs and his camera hanging round his neck. The streets are not the same now, like the one’s he left behind years before. They are now partially pucca and partially broken down in lumps of stones, cement and dust. Before it was clearly mud, and the sides of the small streets were freshly occupied by green grass upon which morning dew cherishes to reside. Like a flashback, Junaak remembered the walks on the grass that he use to take every morning with his grandfather. How is he now? A thought quickly passed through his mind, a memory of the old man, with his robust laughter and smart eyes, dressed up in white Dhoti and piron, with a very good command over English language is an embodiment of paradox for Junaak. He had always wondered, how a man belonging to such a rural setting can speak and practice such good English. Junaak’s grandfather was a lecturer of English in a college in Guwahati. He could have settled there with his Son, but the old man had decided to take a voluntary retirement and stay back and serve his village instead. Since then he teaches English in the local school of the village. He was the then principle of the school .But now he is too old, while arriving at Guwahati, Junaak was informed by his mother that his grandfather is not as fit and fine as before, age has started to take his toil and the old man dots to meet him once, before closing his eyes. This hurried his process and Junaak after two days reached his paternal village.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The wooden gate, has turned a blackish brown, as if tired of bearing the constant relentless process of heat and rain. A thin layer of the green velvety moss has built up on the foothold of the wooden posts. The Rangoon creepers on the bamboo post is bright red now with its blossom, just the same way it used to be years ago. Time was unable to snatch its beauty and cast aside the glamour. It must be Hari ka, the gardener, it was always him who paid extra care and attention to this burrow of flora. The fences are covered by the lantana plants, though wild, Hari ka had managed even to give them a domestic air.
Junaak slightly lifted the hook of the wooden gate, the wood was wet and cool against his fingers. It must have rained  last night, the trees and flowers also looked fresh and the sky also appeared as if it has poured down heavily sometime back. Closing the gate behind him, Junaak entered his paternal ancestral home. The first thing he always notices whenever he steps inside the compound is the Namghar, on the right hand side. The whitewash walls, the idols of a flute playing Krishna, on both side of the wooden brown door, and the tall dome like structure over the building…the aura is still intact, though the colours were certainly faded. The white walls encountered growth of the green mosses, and the stairs made up of cement, are broken on the edges. These were the same steps where he used to sit and wait for his grandfather while he was busy singing his prayers to the deity. Junaak was never able to understand what was there covered under the Gamusa, which his grandfather use to pray every morning and evening.
Once when he was small, Junaak asked him, “Koka, why do you cover the God inside the Gamusa? Is he shy enough to face us?” At these innocent questions his grandfather smiled and sitting near him on the stairs of the Namghar ,he said, “Junaak, he is our Gokhain…he don’t have any shape, any  size, but he takes up the shape and size of anything and everything. He is not one, but all, not many but only one truth. He is everywhere, in everything; you see, touch, smell, feel etc. No idol representation is enough to depict the actual figure of his eternal existence.”
 Little Junaak seemed confused.
“Can you sum up the whole world into a small scenery, ha Junaak?” His grandfather tried to simplify things for him.
Junaak thought for a while, all these that his grandpa has spoken to him, seemed to have bounced over his tiny head. Only the last question, fitted his level of understanding. After a moment of thinking ,Junaak said thoughtfully.
 “No…not possible …not possible at all Koka…my drawing pages and even the slate that you gave me, is so small to cover up anything more than a sun, one tiny river, some hills, some houses and some little things. Not at all sufficient Koka.
His Grandfather smiled, “This is the answer to your question Junaak, just like the world is big enough for a mere drawing page to cover, similarly the God is huge enough to be depicted through one idol.”Junaak nodded his head signalling his grandfather that he understood it. Junaak now understood that the God is very big, so huge and big that no one can make an idol out of it.
This was the smaller Junaak. As he grew up, away from his grandfather in the city life, Junaak slowly and steadily started to get in right his grandfather’s teachings. An older Junaak now believes that the God resides in everything, or may be nowhere.
“Junaak?” Someone called him from behind, interrupting his long strand of memories. He turned to recognize Hari ka, an older man now. His black hair no more black but of a more greyish shade, he has gained weight for sure, because his belly is protruding out, unlike his younger self. His dark skin, looks  darker  now and eyes weak. The old man, with an overwhelming smile, came near Junaak.
Hey Pravu! Junaak…you have grown so tall, I don’t believe my eyes how our little Junaak has grown up to be a man, so quickly. It seems like days before when you were here playing in this compound. I am so glad to see you…”
Junaak interrupted Harika’s long bantering emotional speech. “Harika…leave all that, tell me how are you?”
“I am good, as always, my entire life I had spent near you Grandfather, now we both are growing old, time is changing as you see.”
“Where is he?” A strange feeling tinkled Junaak at the thought of seeing his grandfather, once again, after years of separation. Will he be able to face the old man, with that same innocence of heart, with which he left him? Junaak is well aware of his grandfather’s shrewd eyes and his remarkable ability to understand his grandson’s mind. Is he still capable of such mind readings?
With slow and small steps ,he moved towards the veranda, opening his shoes on the stairs, touching the cold floor with his feet, he felt that he is finally at home. The door was ajar, the green cotton curtain was new, the old one was of an orange shade, Junaak loved the white butterflies on that curtain. The present one is plain green, he wondered what happened to his grandmother’s choice of colours. As far as he knew her, she is a very vibrant lady, the more her husband is strict, the more she is jolly and colourful. As a child he use to sleep besides her in her bed, he loved the smell of the cotton Chadar she wears, the soft bed and the wooden ceiling lulls him into a deep and peaceful sleep… that kind of sleep which never came back to him in his Guwahati or Delhi beds.

He was sleeping in his bed, the room was dark, curtain covering the sunbeams from entering the room, whatever light was there ,it all penetrated through the ventilations. Junaak went near his grandfather and sitting by his side called him, “Koka?” .The old man opened up his eyes and after a while of staring, a smile broke on his dried up lips.

She was cooking his favourite fish curry, while Junaak sat by her side having his cup of tea. He is not used to tea, but here anything from her hand is accepted with great eagerness and love, no doubt his mother envies her mother-in-law. The old women had an aura of her own, she has a brightness of personality, a warmth of nature that attracts people to her house and finally to her big kitchen. As a child Junaak loved the smell of the earthen stove, where she cooks with the help of wooden fuel. He noticed, now that stove is no more, out of eagerness he asked her, “Aita…what happened to that stove over there?”
“I can’t bend anymore, my slip disk problem doesn’t allow me so…I asked Hari to place it in the shed outside, and the stove is there now. No one cooks there, just lying like a waste…. I miss it too…but this age brings ailment and takes away your little pleasures.” Her voice took over the tune of disappointment, as if a bee has sucked away the honey from a fresh flower.
Junaak looked over the kitchen many things have changed now, before the utensils, the masala containers etc. were down there on the right side corner near of the room, occupying the area near the stove, the floor was also made of mud, now it’s a pucca floor, like the rest of the house. The right side corner now is occupied by a steel self. Everything is arranged in a way so that she doesn’t  need to bend down for any supplement. “Who arranged all these things for you?”
“Your grandfather…who else.” She said this with a smile of shyness, as if she is informing him about her new boyfriend. For a moment Junaak saw in her a newly wedded wife, for whom her husband had provided every possible comfort he can afford to manage.  Junaak smiled at the freshness of those feelings which the old couple had still preserved for each other in their heart.  “Anyway, tell me about your studies…and what about that work you came here for?”
“My graduation is done, and now I have to submit a photography project to my institution for further prospects. I think I will get some good shots near the bank…in our ghat. Aita is she still there?”
“Who?”
“She…whom people called Maya.”
“Oh, no silly boy…Maya is maya, she is not real…it’s just a story that people make out of the blue. You know these drunk fishermen, they claim even to see a ghost near the same spot where they claim to see Maya. And Naren, that drunkard, once he cried the whole day, you know why…?”
“Why?”
She smiled a mocking smile and said… “He said he saw Narayan…our God on the backside of the village Namghar. He was so overwhelmed that he cried the whole day and now you won’t believe he had stopped drinking completely and devoted himself to the work of the Namghar. We can’t trust his words, he is after all a drunkard, but whatever be the case, we are happy that he had at least changed for the good.

 
 

Junaak took the information with a keen eye…he wanted to know more…and especially about Maya. Though he too somewhere doubted the truth of the existence of Maya the mermaid on the ghat, yet some part of him ,wanted to believe in that illusion. And maybe that is why he is here after years in search of that perfect photograph of his life… in search of Maya.
Every morning Junaak sets out for the bank, the whole day long he strays alongside the river, accompanied by his camera. During this period of one month, he had taken many shots, some look real enough, and as if the real scene has come down to inhabit the screen of his camera. But he still was unable to take that picture perfect shot, he was searching for that one shot which would define his whole being.
It was Buddha purnima, the day when the moon shines like a silver shining ball, with a reddish tint. It was a special day, not because Buddha was considered to be born on that day, but because years back when Junaak was a child, it was on this day that people claimed to have seen Maya, shimmering and sparkling like a silver necklace on the sand of the bank of the river. Years back the occasion is same and Junaak with the hope that may be he will get a snap of the beauty, Junaak set out early in the morning.
The day went by, the sun was the same and the scenery common, the snaps and the angels were almost the same, because may be for hundred times he had taken the picture of the same place with different angels….yet they were different by a tinge, by a hint. The sun by now is no more visible, it had gone inside the river, the water had started changing its colour, from a sparkling golden sheet to a dull blackish pallor. Junaak’s hope had also started to turn fade. Tired, he lay down on the sand, his head touching the sand and his face facing the open sky with fortitude and then a cool drop touched his face, after a moment yet another …and then he realized it had started raining…a very unusual event on a winter evening. Now what will happen to the moon? How will it display its beauty at its best, with all its might? And if there is no moon, then there can be no Maya too. With utter distress and resentment, Junaak closed his eyes, the rain touching his whole body, like a lover over her lover’s body.
How much time he laid there, he don’t remember, when suddenly he realized the rain had stopped, his body doesn’t feel as wet as then when it had started to soak him. It felt now as if the rain had stopped for a good moment now. Something hot and flaming then touched him, and with a shot he opened his eyes, but to close it again.  The light was so sharp, so fierce that he couldn’t help it but close his eyes with in an instant.  This time slowly he opened up his left eye, there was light, a bright silvery light. As if the moon had came a mile nearer to the place where he lied. He opened up his other eye, slowly and there in front of him sat a silver girl, her locks flowing on the ground, her face silver, her eyes black as a coal and her lips red as the rose. Her bosom hang by like there is no shame between men and men, her rest of the body is not human. For a split second Junaak felt like fainting, he thought he was hallucinating, maybe he had thought too much about her, it had possessed his mind. The next moment she touched him again, her hands soft but looks like hard silver, feels soothing but burns when she removes it from his skin. This time she smiled, she was sitting next to him, he had by now adjusted himself into a sitting position near her, and fixing his eyes over her face he was lost in the beauty. Can she speak? Is this Maya? She is indeed Maya…her beauty cannot be a reality, but as perfect as an illusion.
Thinking hard, he spoke up… “Are you Maya?”
Her smile was intact but her eyes were vacant, it was clear she cannot understand what he said. He tried again, “Where do to stay?” This time she looked toward the river, the little hillock where in the midst of the river where people claimed to see her once or twice.
“You are a mermaid? She didn’t respond. There was a long silence….she was looking towards the shining river, as if she had never known it, and he was staring at the impossible divinity in front of his eyes. The reflection of the moon touched the river as if both were reality and none the illusion of the other.  Suddenly he remembered his camera. Should he click what he wanted to click for such a long while….this is after all the moment he was waiting for all his life? What should he do…if it annoys her? Will she harm him? After all she is no human…she is divine and the divinity is in front of his eyes, sitting by his side. What he felt at that moment was inexpressible, for he knew what his heart felt then, was something new and unknown to him. Ecstasy was too minimum a word to describe the phenomenon, his words ceased to define him.
He slowly took the camera in his hand, not removing his eyes from her, what if she vanishes?  He adjusted the lenses and was about to take his first lifetime shot, she was there, staring in the same way towards the river. He was all set, one click further and then he would have captured the most amazingly beautiful existence of his life. His index finger on the button of the camera and the next moment, it was all black, at the wink of an eye everything changed. He felt as if someone was dragging him away from her, he tried hard to open his eyes, to witness the divinity again, to experience the hot blaze of her touch again but he was lost. As if he was vanishing in a black hole, as if life had ceased to exist for him. He tried hard to get free, but he was losing his consciousness.
When he opened his eyes, he was in his bed, at his grandfather’s place. The room with its old and black wooden ceiling was quite familiar to him, earlier whenever sleep betrays him, he use to stare for hours at those wooden planks. Today, he stared and stared until he realized what he missed. With a shudder he got up and sat down on the bed, his grandmother was by his side. Her face said that she was damn worried…she clasped his hand and before she could utter a word…he spoke up. “Where is she? How the hell I came here? I was there wasn’t I?”
“Yes, we found you there near the bank, you were unconscious and all soaked up as if you have got wet in the rain…but there was no rain last night. So we thought you must have drowned in the river and someone has rescued you from there….tell me the truth. What is going on?”
He was stunned for a second…was she joking? “Aita… are you kidding? There was no rain? Seriously? I mean we are in the same part of the same land…how is that possible that one part experiences rain and the other lay barren?”
His grandmother is seriously worried now… “I think the water has gone inside your brain, the doctor said you may speak absurd in such situation…You take rest, I will bring you something to eat.”
He acted quickly and held her hand… “No, wait... tell me what happened last night... properly in detail.”

“Nothing much, when you didn’t return for a long time, we got worried and so I asked.

Hari and some others to look for you, they went to the ghat directly and found you there lying unconsciously, you were all wet as if you have drowned . Thus, they brought you here. The doctor attended and said that there is no water in your body, still he said to keep an eye on you.”
“And where is my camera?”
“There…” she handed the camera to him from the nearby table. He grasped it like a greedy, hungry dog. Opening it up, he viewed the last photograph, it showed the river with a setting sun…there was no Maya. He moved up and down the roll, but it showed no Maya. He remembered he had clicked the shot…then what happened? And what is the issue with the rain? Junaak was baffled and he lied on the bed…feeling tired, closing his eyes. The room was silent, except for the sound of the revolving fan. His mind had stopped working, only one single memory bothered him, the silver beauty. He realized two warm drop of liquid rolled down from both his eyes, moving from his eye lids to his cheeks and then someone stopped it, the same hot blazing touch. He flew his eyes open and there she was sitting in front of him in all its glory.

 
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