Elegy for the East: A story of Blood and Broken Dreams, written and translated from the Assamese original by Dhrubajyoti Borah, explores the utter helplessness and travails of man in a society where an uncaring, anonymous, and overbearing State creates situations of social and political strife, and where innocent and beautiful dreams of the masses die in the stony bed of terror and counter-terror — the sylvian countryside of Assam with its green paddy fields hide memories of bloodshed, death, rape, and terror.
The following is an extract from the book.
‘This is getting unbearable,’ said Gajen, ‘…these screams, day and night…’
‘Who else,’ there was no feeling in his voice, ‘They are interrogating the boys they had picked up from the village. I can’t take it anymore.’ He moved away rapidly.
The people cowered in the verandah—their hearts started thudding with fear and suspense. Even Volunteer’s steps
Finally, the OC arrived. Arjun, Menaka, and a few others moved hesitantly towards his office.
‘And what do you want?’ the OC shouted.
‘Daroga sahib, where is our country heading to?’ Arjun spoke up emotionally, ‘I gave my life to the country. We did not have such injustice even in the days of the British. In my house, Daroga sahib, in my own house! They stole into my house like thieves and raped my widowed daughter-in-law, and hit me in the stomach…’
‘Just a minute. Who raped whom?’
The old man’s voice rose, quavering. ‘My daughter-in-law, in my own house. We have come to you for justice. Catch the offenders, punish them.’
A young man tried to explain things to the OC, and offered him the written complaint. The OC did not even look at the piece of paper. He looked out of his window at the camp—one could still hear the screams coming from there. Then, without looking at anybody, he said, ‘I can’t take such cases.’
‘Why not?’ Menaka tried to argue with him. But the OC was obdurate; he would not even look at the paper. He told them in no uncertain terms that he would not accept their complaint till he received instructions from higher quarters. The group felt very helpless. As they quarrelled, one could hear Volunteer’s deep sighs: ‘Ramkrishna, Ramkrishna.’ Finally, Menaka asked the OC, ‘Then tell us what to do.’
‘Go to a doctor… Do what you want, but don’t come here. The situation is bad, in any case…’ he did not complete his words.
Helpless, the group filed out from the OC’s room.
‘What now?’ someone asked.
‘Our country has gone to the dogs. Such injustice, and no punishment. Forget about catching the criminals, the police are afraid to accept complaints,’ Volunteer was grumbling
Sombori gently tugged at Menaka’s arm and said, ‘Let us go, Baideu, let us go back home.’
‘Don’t lose heart, Sombori. It will help to go to the doctor. One has to fight for one’s honour, you see,’ Menaka tried to console her.
‘Honor won’t come back even if you fight, Baideu.’
‘Why are you talking like that? If you don’t fight, you will be left with nothing. Now, you don’t say a word. We are here for you. Let’s go to the hospital.’
The hospital was a couple of miles away from the police station. The group moved on the road leading to the hospital. There were no buses to be found at that time of the day. They marched on foot and reached the hospital before noon. The premises were near-deserted—the doctor had left to see some patient somewhere; the nurse was in her quarters. Only the chowkidar was moving around. Hungry and thirsty, they had to wait till afternoon.
When the doctor came, they surrounded him.
‘Don’t crowd around me. I will look at you one by one,’ he said.
‘We have not come to consult you; this is a far more serious matter,’ Menaka spoke with force, ‘You have to examine this young woman and write a report. The military has raped her…’
‘What?’ the doctor was stunned. A young man proceeded to tell him the whole story.
‘Please sit down,’ the doctor said. Looking at Menaka and the young man, he said, ‘Ask the young woman to sit down too. And this is…her father-in-law? Please sit down, Deuta. The rest can leave. Shut the door behind you.’
When they had left, the doctor said, ‘I want the paper.’
The young man held out the written complaint.
‘No, not this one. You can leave this with the SDO. I want the paper given to you by the police.’
‘What paper? The police have given us no papers, police said…’
‘Has there been no case entry? Haven’t they given a requisition? Well, yes, no policeman is accompanying you. Is the OC coming?’ the doctor now asked hesitantly.
The young man told him about their experiences at the
‘You are our last hope,’ he told the doctor.
The doctor suddenly looked very helpless. ‘Now, this is a problem,’ he cleared his throat and was silent for some time. Then, he spoke up, ‘You see, these are MLCs, meaning, medical-legal cases—a part of the Criminal Act. I cannot examine her and give my report unless instructed by the police or law. This is the rule… I hope you understand. My hands are tied. Tell me if you have any other problems? Any pain or wounds? I can give you all the medicine for that.’
‘The wound is in her soul, what medicines can you give for that, doctor?’ the young man asked, and got to his feet.
The next morning Sombori took a long bath and came inside the house in her wet clothes. She changed and entered the kitchen. The fire had not been lit for three days. They had eaten only when somebody had brought them food; otherwise, not at all. The kitchen was in a mess. Sombori quietly put things in order, then scrubbed and layered the whole earthen floor of the kitchen with a rug soaked in cow dung and earth. Lighting a fire, she made some black tea and poured a cup for her father-in-law. Taking out some pieces of black molasses from an earthen pot, she called out to him. The old man sat hunched in the verandah, warming himself in the morning sun. Like a child, he scrambled up and tottered in. He sat silently near the hearth, and dipping a piece of biscuit that somebody had brought, slowly sipped his tea.
The sight of his daughter-in-law’s face, wiped of all expression, wrung the old man’s heart. He quickly dabbed at his eyes with
‘Finish your tea, I will be back soon.’ Picking up his bag and staff, he stomped out of the hut.
For a long time, Sombori sat near the fire warming herself. Then she began checking the tin jars; there was a little bit of rice, a handful of masoor and a handful of black dal in the house, and only a few drops of cooking oil left in the bottle. Sombori rose to her feet. She picked some leaves and herbs from the tiny kitchen garden, and keeping these in a bamboo dala (husking tray), she straightened her clothes with a resolve. She remembered that the headman had asked her to pound rice for him many days ago; that was before the incident had occurred. She started for
Without looking at anybody, Sombori reached the headman’s house. She noticed that the headman was sitting outside.
‘Isn’t that Sombori?’ the headman called. Drawing her veil over her head, she stood in the verandah.
‘I have heard that your work could not be done. I wish I could have come along, too, but I fell so sick. I though it may be the cholera itself. Tell me, what brings you here?’
His wife joined and asked Sombori, ‘What’s wrong, Sombori?’
‘I thought I would pound some rice for you.’
‘Really? But are you feeling well enough?’ The headman’s wife stepped inside. She made a bundle of rice, dal, flour, and potatoes, walked out, and held it out to her, ‘Not today, my dear, go home and take some rest. You are not well. You don’t have to go around looking for work.’
Clutching the bundle, Sombori moved away diffidently.
Cooking a meal, she waited for her father-in-law. The old man was nowhere to be seen. It was evening when he set foot inside the house. Putting his bag and staff down, he said, ‘It’s no use, no use at all. I personally met all of them: the SDO, Daroga…nobody wants to take your complaint down. They won’t even write a report for a doctor’s test. The Daroga yelled at me. I asked them what they were doing here, and what kind of officers they were that they can’t even protect us from the evil of the demons, but nothing happened.’
‘The rice is done. I have heated some water for you…wash up. You don’t have to go there anymore,’ Sombori said quietly.
For a couple of days, she stayed indoors, but how long could she do that? What would she eat if she did not work? What would the old man eat? She made for Mahajan’s house. He always needed some help with pounding the rice and with other chores. She made her way to his back door instead of the store in front. Mahajan’s wife was sitting in the verandah, working on something. Sombori went straight to her and asked for work.
‘Work?’ The woman seemed thunderstruck, and asked, ‘How are you going to work in our house? No, no, you don’t need to work here.’
Sombori’s words froze; she understood clearly. They would not let her work anymore. She was…she was…
She suddenly felt dizzy and abruptly turned around to leave. Without looking at anybody, she made her way home.