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Love, Racism and Such Drugs

by Rituparna Mitra
(Guwahati, India)

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to meet you, Inaya. Aren’t you happy to see me?’
“I….I am. Of course, I am. But I’ve a class now. I can’t miss it.”
“And you shouldn’t. I can wait for an hour. Not an issue.”
“Okay. I’ll see you after my class.”
“I got Pitaya. Think you can end the class a little early today? They’re ready-to-eat as well.”
“The class ends when it ends. Either you can wait or leave.”

Saying this Inaya turned in the direction of her fourth and last class of the day. Determination was shining bright in her eyes. Perhaps, brighter than the sun in the joyless sky.
“I missed you, puali. Quite a lot.”
That son of a b….. So, prone to getting his way. Always.

But what was the point in abusing him when she was to be blamed equally for her pathetically miserable state. Why did she have to take a trip to Haflong all those years ago? Didn’t everybody warn her saying how absolutely dangerous and terrifying that godforsaken place was? But lured by the enchanting vision captured by the provocative lenses of Mani Ratnam, she was left with no other alternative than to partake in it’s overwhelming beauty. To see with her own set of eyes. And perhaps, create her own choti si love story.

DIY. Quite a bizarre name for a café if you ask me. People might end up thinking they’re expected to make the dish themselves by following instructions and eat no matter how it turns out to be. Good. Bad. Horrifying. And yet she chose DIY. Well what could she say for Inaya had a panache for all things weird!

She had liked Haflong so far. The vistas, the people and the food. Especially the streets with all their bridges. They held a charm of their own. Every morning she would see children huddling together; knitted scarves guarding their delicate, little ears against the rattling cold. Still laughing and singing songs in a language she didn’t understand. She didn’t have to appreciate the calm, the joy she could feel deep within her soul. Music has no language after all.

She wonders where they learnt to sing like that. From their mother perhaps. Or, a music teacher at school. Or some old, lonely soul living in the neighborhood using beautiful songs to curb their loneliness. The song must have been passed down from one generation to another; uniting people of a tribe in their hours of celebration, joy and sorrow.

Perhaps, these were the only things that separated one tribe, one culture from another. Songs in a foreign language and alien looking scarves. Inaya was unsure about the scarves though. She never looked too close at the cost of scaring the little ones away. All she could make out was the colors: red, black and green seem to be among the dominant ones. Perhaps, a local favorite trio. If there were some intricate patterns, or any common tribal tattoos woven into the otherwise normal looking headgears she couldn’t say.

So far nothing looked different enough to be exoticized. Including the café with the odd name. She was not asked to cook anything on her own. She was only expected to choose and order from the laminated menu that involved pork- something she had never tried before. There was pork and the regular chicken. No dog, or sheep or any heard of specimen. She decided to go with the pork. A new dish in a foreign land.

She liked the homely vibes and cozy appeal of the café. Incredibly long benches- the kind you are very much likely to see in a park- had been cushioned with some material having the luster of velvet and the comfort of satin. Rectangular pillows with an ivory white base were placed at a distance of an arm from one another. They were three in total. One had arrows jutting out of it in teals and sweet yellows. Another had what looked like crisscrossing matchsticks in scarlet reds and mauves. The last one had a dainty looking peacock leaning back on a meager tuft of grass. Coffee mugs were held by their handles in a box comprising of six wall hooks: cobalt blue was placed next to lime green, shocking pink next to coral orange, and cherry red against charcoal grey.

Another box-much smaller in size- displayed a wide variety of key rings. Few had colored liquid flowing inside heart-shaped and star-shaped plastic glasses. Others had Toy Story miniature figures. Woody. The Space guy whose name Inaya was somehow unable to recall despite having seen the movie a dozen times. Circular frames with a crisp white base had a bunch of flowers sprouting out of paper thin stems. Orchids. Tulips. And daisies probably.

Her order was served in what felt like no time at all. Or, it could simply be the décor that made the
wait bearable.

“Do tell if you enjoy the pork.”
The voice had a lyrical ring to it. It was wrapped in compassion and coated with a fine layer of warmth. The heart-melting, toe-curling one. It could put anyone to ease. It was the kind you’d want to hear at the end of every day. Can voices actually be that good?

However, the face didn’t quite match it. It had this rugged, almost feral appeal to it. His beard looked unkempt; not the kind that spoke volumes of his carelessness but the one that demonstrated a captivating rawness. His thick hair was pulled back from his face but no band held it in place. A few strands had fallen loose and felt over his left eye however the scar splitting his left eyebrow into half remained unhidden. She would’ve felt disappointed otherwise.

“Whats your name?”
“The pork tastes good. Better than any chicken I’ve ever tasted.”

“What are you doing here?”
“Shouldn’t the question be how am I doing?”
“You look fine to me.”
“Just fine? Isn’t pork the tastiest meat you ever tasted?’
“That was two years ago. Tastes change.”
“Ouch, milady. That hurts.”
“Besides, it was just the excitement caused by novelty.”
“And the onslaught continues. Anyways, muk miss korila ne nai, puali?’”
“Not worth it.”
“Really? Not even a little bit?”
“Only once maybe.”
“And when was that exactly?”
“Someone mentioned something about tiny….tiny eyes.”
“That’s racist, Mam.”
“Nah. Just descriptive. They threw you out of Haflong for scaring tourists away?”
“Woah!!! That’s extreme.”
“Well, I’m just getting started.”
“Well, in that case, you’re surely lucky today. I’m all yours for the day.”

Exactly thirty six hours after spending five hours with the man who broke her heart ruthlessly two years ago over five mugs of coffee-eight if you include his- Inaya discovered the reason behind his sudden visit. And expectedly so, it had nothing to do with her. Not that he claimed anything as such. But the traitor of a heart always likes to inject venomous shots of hope. Hopeless, mirthless hope.

Staring out of the glossy pages of one of those fashion magazines she kept for days her brains decided to go MIA, was the object of all her heartbreak and despair. A crisp white shirt, burgundy suspenders and matching trousers. And a rosewood bowtie. A friggin’ bowtie. Messy hair with a few stray strands falling directly over what little of an eye the poor creature had. He was seated in one of those stools you’re bound to find by a bar in some fancy looking restro. His feet were bare. One was bend at the knee. The other in a laid back, relaxed poise. Tiny eyes must’ve failed to locate a 9 Indian sized shoe. It could be a ten too. Inaya wasn’t too sure. The man had big feet.

Out of all the places, she could’ve gone for a suitable distraction after her disappointing discovery college should’ve been the last. For about ten minutes or so, she did contemplate driving to Sujata’s place in NCR. Tall, pretty and lithe Sujata who happened to have a strong dislike for anything related to North-East. Especially of the women living there. It started off as a tiny seed at some model hunting competition back in their college days and had become a full-fledged tree over the years: whose fruits she could’ve surely enjoyed today. They would’ve tasted appetizingly sweet.

Yet there she was. In an institution where any kind of discrimination was staunchly prohibited. Sitting next to one of her favorite students-Imsula- who was only contributing to the fire bubbling inside her on a muddy afternoon. Dear Imsula why today of all days, darlin’?
“So. Sonam is a fiercely feminist for the titular character has more than one husband?”

For heaven’s sake. Sonam focuses on some tribe that resides somewhere in that Google connects to the east of Bhutan. Bhutan. She might not even have small eyes like Boris. Or, she could be a really nice woman too.

“Well, then why is Sula a feminist novel? At least Sonam is weeded to the men in her life.”

Inaya’s choice didn’t disappoint her on this occasion. The young woman sitting before her got fire in her belly. And she was not afraid of engulfing those who got in her way in it if the situation so demanded. One of the reasons, she had always liked Imsula.

“But then how does it help in bettering the collective image of the tribal people?”

“That might’ve never been the motive of Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, the writer. For, he had to remain true to his cause of representing his chosen tribe.”

Inaya smiled. It was as genuine as her anger towards men with small eyes. Perhaps her decision of not skipping a day at college because of some unyielding boorish guy was just what she needed to get back on neutral grounds.


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