Journey to River
My journey towards the river was a long overdue. And for this, I have traveled a hundred miles to South of Bengal, and crossed three rivers, reached a distant village of Sundarban near India Bangladesh border. I have crossed RayMangal (রায়মঙ্গল), a prime river in Sundarban region, infamous for her annual flood. Then the river Matla (মাতলা), and another one.
Have you ever dream of a river? I hope so, you have dreamt of. At least you have dreamt about the flow of the river. You probably had seen a river many years ago. That time, it was flowing as the young girl. You will see a river after all your dreams are forgotten, with memories faded away. As you travel through one house after another without a root, a river will guide you towards home.
The river resurrects after the sun crosses its midpoint. The east wind will flow and brings the smell of your home you left in another country. Have you noticed the middle-aged man sitting beside the river? He is smelling the east wind. He is smelling his home. He crossed this river during the dark hours of mayhem and annihilation of Bengal. Only the river could take him home. The river flows like an ageless tree.
As the sun goes down, blown by the evening wind, under the sky full of stars, the dancers come in.
“You have to be that much woman, as much a real woman is,” said the lead dancer when I asked him about how to act like a female. He is doing the character of Lord Shiva for seventeen years. He has learned it from his teacher of his village named Basanti, far away from our known world.
Sandip Mahato is from the same village. He is a female in public appearances. He is doing this from her childhood. He watched her father acting like a female. He copied the postures of a female dancer as it should be. After so many years acting as a female, I asked her how much a male left in him. He smiled as a shy girl. She lingered her fingers and smiled again. Her limbs are more female than male. She talks like a female. She dances like a female. Her days spent as a female. I cannot dare to imagine her nights when she is alone, lying on her wooden bed beside the broken window. As the moon rose up, her memories of a man come back.
Then he sits in front of the mirror. He opened up the box of colors. He combed up his long hair. He picked up the brush and dip into color. He starts painting his male face. He stands up beside the mirror. He wears a red saree. The eastern sky is becoming red. She can feel the muddy floor beneath her feet. Her stage is set.
The Many Face God
Beside the riverbed, in the courtyard of the village head, in front of the god, the dancers, the musicians, and audiences gather to spend the evening. They dance with music in front of their god. I met a man of ninety years old dancing with the rhythm of the local instrument. He comes to this annual village carnival since its first edition of circa 1948. This mela is his forte. He takes help from a wooden stick while walking. However, when he dances, the world stops for him. What drives his passion for dance even after almost a century has passed? Maybe a desire to defeat his creator. A desire to change the law of nature. A desire to stand in front of his god to show his broken laws. He becomes the god.
Here, far away from the city, among the people of lower caste, god become human. They descend from their immortal world to this world of mortals. They come here to experience the thrill, the uncertainty, the unpredictability of mortal life. The actors, dress as the god, performed all such play in local dialects. Those are stories of fishermen, and woodcutters, and blacksmiths. God comes in the form of a fisherman and acts as a slave of human desire. There are lust, jealousy, and love.
These simple yet fascinating stories may drive us to a conclusion that impurity of love with lust, jealousy, or treason are the reasons to triumph all other desires.
In The Name of God
It is like your last promise. You are standing in a queue where the man before you jumped over open blade painted with vermilion red. Now it is your turn to perform the leap of faith. Maybe it is the last time you are seeing the world in front of you. The drums are beating. The dancers are dancing vigorously. Hundreds of eyes are watching you without a blink. Your god is in front of you. Your world is a mad place.
I know you will fall into the madness in front of your god, in front of your lover, with the drumbeats, under thousand stars. And your blood will mix with vermilion to make it darker. Your insignificant life will end here, like every insignificant other lost in madness. Then I look into your eyes. In a mad mad world, your eyes are like an oasis in the mad desert. There is no storm in your eyes. You are not praying to your god. You are not witnessing by hundred eyes. It is your God who is praying to you. You become the god. This is a moment when human triumphs over god and all the elements of this mad world. And then you perform the leap of faith. Your god has faith in you.
Over the dust, lying over Then you walk to your god to acknowledge your victory over him, and then you become human again. You are cheering with the crowd, with the madness, when the next one comes in front of the queue. I know you will come back again, this time of the year, to become the god for a moment, for a token to fulfill your last promise.
The Charak mela of Sundarban is popular among the locals. Every year during summer, on the last day of Bengali Calendar, the people of South Bengal celebrates Charak Mela. The dancers are popularly known as “Gajon(গাজন)” start visiting every house of subsequent villages before the Mela. The life of the dancers during this mela is tough, and they don’t earn enough money sustain for another year. The rest of the year they work in different hotels, marriages, parties as an object of sex to run their life. After the mela, they all return to the remote village and start doing work as a farmer. For five days, some villagers with diverse age group renounce their family and food habit temporarily. They are named as “Sanyashi”, one who renounced his family life.
On the day of Charak mela, the Sanyanshis performs jumps from a height to the open blade. The safety of a jumper depends on the person who is holding the blade. The Charak mela is a long tradition in Sundarban, and as many young people participate as Sanyashi.