Roots Beckon : Monalisa   Saikia 

         She sometimes thought, she was becoming unfit for this world. Too much of sensitivity and emotion had turned her into an ice doll, that would melt away one day. Before her eyes everyone was racing away, going ahead… and a mute spectator to that competitive race was an ice doll. That, which was melted down by floods of meaningless sentiments and unnecessary emotions. One day the sunset in the Brahmaputra had made teardrops fall….one day, waking up at midnight she saw the moonlight through the window on the first floor of her hostel. That enchantment too had moistened the pillow…. One December morning the sight of the thick patches of fog had caused a relentless flow of tears…No one could ever assert their rights in this manner. 
          People like her could carry a smile on the face along with silent tears and suppressed screams. Even now she was smiling in front of the three of them. But she had not succeeded in expressing her own thoughts and senses. “Arre baba, you have a very gorgeous look. Just a few adjustments and you’ll become a supermodel,” Jish cried out encouragingly. Jish was Jishnu, from Dhemaji. Having learnt photography outside Asom, he had now opened a studio in Guwahati. Various newspapers and magazines carried his photographs. 
Hearing Jishnu, Nira tapped lightly on the table: “Why can’t you do it, Kis? How many girls have the height and figure that you have? I am not exaggerating at all.” 
          She did not know…she did not know many things. She did not know about Naomi Campbell, Ritu Beri. Cupid’s bow, jaw bone…all these words she had heard from them. They wouldn’t let her go, they wanted to turn her into a model. That too, like Naomi Campbell. They wanted to change her name. They would teach her everything else — walking on the ramp, how to talk … everything. She got annoyed sometimes. 
“Look Kis, listen to me…” 
“Nira, my name is Krishnangi… Krishnangi Gohain. Why you address me as Kis I don’t….” she said in a complaining tone. 
“Out of affection, Kis, affection. Like I address Jish or Aadi.” Nira looked at Aditya, who smiled. Once they used to address him as Putala (doll). She still called him Putala. She could accept the change in Nira and Jishnu, but not in Putala. Did he too want her that way? 
“Nira is right, Kis. There’s no point in hesitating now. You’ll see how your career is established.” 
She looked into Putala’s eyes. After looking at them she could say nothing, let alone protest. For many years now she had been waiting to go deep into those eyes. 

(II)

          They, that is she, Nira, Jishnu and Putala had studied together at Cotton College. Putala hailed from Jamugurihat, Jishnu from Dhemaji, so did Nira, and she was from Sivasagar. They had Major in English. They used to stick together always — at freshers’, farewell meetings, Saraswati Puja at the hostel, college week. They would hang out at Mahamaya at Panbazar and have tea and snacks. The others would give her an extra sweet… “Eat Krishna, develop some flesh. Or else the wind from the Brahmaputra will blow you away to some far-off place.” 
          Jishnu used to be annoyed with her always. How could she do well in her studies with such a lean and thin physique! They would buy her butter, ghee, cashew nuts. Jishnu had an old camera that he had taken from his elder brother. He would take photographs of the fishing boats on the river in the hazy light, the bare trees of Phagun, the wintry fog, the birds flying on the distant horizon that appeared as small dots. Aditya would recite poems. Navakanta’s poems were his favourite — Do you remember the poet in the rainy night Arundhati? They would listen attentively as he recited them in his sonorous voice. They would walk along the ferry dock at Uzanbazar upto the hill near Raj Bhavan. In the summer evenings the wind blowing in from the river would dishevel Nira’s long loose hair. As Jishnu’s camera sprang to life at the sight of the ‘classic beauty’ and clicked, Aditya would say: “Beautiful, just like Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Nira.” 
          Nira, Nira Pegu. This Mising girl used to be a special person in the entire college because of her long dark hair, because of her colourful mekhela-chadars. Seeing her dresses Indrani Ma’am, would often say to her: “Do bring me a black dress, please. Your dresses are so beautiful. Who weaves them for you?” 
          “My mother,” Nira would say and her small eyes would twinkle. Once, during the Puja holidays she brought two sets of mekhela-chadar. One set was black with flowery patterns of different colours and the other was green. She gave the black set to Indrani Madam and the green one to her. “Hey Blackie, you like green, don’t you! This is for you from my mother. You know what, it is easy to fool you people. Our womenfolk have boxes full of such dresses.” 
          She was really beside herself with joy at getting the green dress. She wore it to the function at the end of the college week. Putala sat near her throughout. “Please Krishna, let’s go outside. There’s such bright moonlight.” They came out of the auditorium. Enchantment had engulfed the church at Panbazar, the Dighalipukhuri, Curzon Hall, Nehru Park… everything. Putala teased her: “You look like a dream princess in that green dress.” She said nothing; she wanted to hear what he said. What did he think, the way she wanted to become a complete person before him? She would permute the words he uttered. She wanted to be a poem to him, she longed to melt away in the depth of his eyes. At certain moments like this life sought greatness. That day they passed the moments in silence. Even in the midst of their endless conversations on several occasions after that, the words that hummed in their hearts did not come out. An unknown hesitation always left her speechless. 
          After the BA results were out, except her all the other three decided to pursue their studies outside. Nira would pursue fashion designing, Jishnu photography and Putala would study MA at Delhi University. She was left behind. She was the only daughter of her parents. Her elder brother was studying medical science. Her father being an LP school teacher, there were certain limitations to her dreams too. Before Putala left, the two of them had spent sufficient time together. She looked into his eyes which wanted to say something. “Would you like to say something, Krishna?” he had asked her. She shook her head. He took leave of her. 
She could never come out of her lower middle class circle. She had a tremendous inferiority complex due to her unhealthy, thin body. Because of a tall, thin physique like hers, one of her paternal aunts was ageing without finding a match. She would try her best to keep her body covered. Even in the hot July weather she would wear blouses and salwar kameezes with long sleeves and high necks. She would move from shop to shop looking for flat number 8/9 sandals. She would hesitate to move around among people with her 6-foot tall body. 
* * * 
She worked in the advertisement department of an English newspaper. She drew a salary with which she could pull herself through. So long she had been alone, not having made any new friends like they did. Now after five years they met again. They had changed. Nira’s long hair had been shortened to ear length. As a result of dieting the roly-poly girl had slimmed down and turned into a piece of fencing wood. Her dresses were no longer modest. She had opened a boutique named Up-to-date. Jishnu too remained very busy in his studio. He had groomed many popular models. New faces thronged his studio every day. And Nira! She watched Nira’s activities in amazement. She cut into pieces and made new dresses out of the colourful dresses her mother had woven in vivid variety, each of which was as beautiful as a picture. At her fashion shows the models wore clothes designed by her. If through one pair were revealed portions of the breasts, another pair gave prominence to the buttocks. How strangely they had changed! This Nira, whose hair had made poetry spring forth from Putala’s mouth! With an innocent open smile she would treat them to naamching, por apong and pork that she brought from her home. The way they would fight over those delicacies! So full of simplicity was Nira’s appearance! And, daubing that simplicity with a layer she turned into an artificial career woman. 
As she mused on the matter, she got a start upon hearing Putala’s voice: “Look Kis, you have a beautiful figure. You’ve got height. They want to make you glamorous. You can look at it in a positive way too.” 
Jishnu joined in: “Even I have been saying that. And, I shall first click a number of your photographs in different poses.” The heart reverberating with words fell silent. Maybe this was how people had been making sacrifices for ages for the sake of love. What was happening to her right now, that she was taking Putala’s advice to her heart! Did he too want her that way? As a model? Did he know that love never sought anything in return? It could only give. Like a hilly river, like a fast flowing stream of water-it simply flowed on through the heart. 
“Do you agree Kis?” Nira asked. She shook her head. 
Nira prepared many dresses for her in various designs. Placing the cosmetic box in front of her, Nira put make-up on her. With lipliner she gave a different shape to her lips. Then there was dark eyeshadow. Applying blue eyeliner on the eyes she turned her into a doll, a lifeless doll. Adjusting her top Jishnu slightly exposed her breasts. She shuddered. Sometimes her navel was revealed, sometimes her thighs. She closed her eyes. This was the modern age. This was not an age in which to remain ensconced like a snail inside a shell. She must be able to keep pace with them. Everything was changing, she too must be able to change. But, what was happening to her? Why these teardrops? 
This was not her world. She had kept this body of hers covered with long-sleeved, high-necked dresses. Who were they to her that she should sacrifice everything for them? Why were the people, who had once made her life, now turning her into a corpse? She was Ratna teacher’s daughter, a simple human being who had tasted water from the pond and worked in the paddy field….she was not a clay idol! Looking into Aditya’s eyes she was surprised. This was not Aditya, with eyes that shone like those of a ferocious carnivorous beast. A pair of loveless dull eyes. These were not the eyes that she had been holding close to herself. There was no love in them, only burning desire, thirst. There was in them bestiality that could pounce on her and tear her to pieces in moments. A girl like her who loved the moonlight could never tolerate the greedy eyes of a lover. Let your eyes be the moonlight…spread out your hands in love…stress living life in love… that is a lover. That love had vanished from Aditya’s eyes. And for the first time she felt lonely with them. As if she was a helpless doe surrounded by hunters. 
Suddenly, to flee from four greedy eyes and the sight of a businesswoman, she picked up her long-sleeved churidar. 

Translated from Assamese by Biman Arandhara