They don’t call it homeSICK for no reason.
It all started with the Namami Brahmaputra song. Like any other khar-khuwa, bhaat-dali-aloo pitika lover Assamese true to her salt, I too got goosebumps after listening to the voices I grew up with. Admittedly, the video left a lot to be desired, but the vocals struck just the right chord, tugging and pulling at my heartstrings till there was a palpable ache in my heart.
And just like that I wanted to be home. The other videos I watched right after, including Nilotpal Bora’s Majuli and Abhishruti Bezbaruah’s Tok Dekhi Mor Gaa didn’t help much. Majuli reminded me, no accused me, that I hadn’t been to Majuli, the biggest river island in the world in our very own Asom, despite being an Oxomiya, and I had the sudden urge to impulsively pack my bags and just up and leave to be there. Absolutely loved the lyrics and the cinematography, and the video gives me hope for the future of Assamese music.
Tok Dekhi Mor Gaa made me miss Bihu, and the shivers I get down my spine whenever I hear the dhulor-maat. Something about that sound… I remember one time when I was still studying in Tezpur University and we’d invited a Bihu troupe to perform at a programme showcasing the culture of North-East India. The troupe consisted of mostly young boys and girls, barely in their tweens, and the moment they started playing I wanted to get up and dance. Except of course I couldn’t because it was an uber formal setting.
It took me decades but I finally understand what they mean when they say “bihu-boliya“. I know the literal meaning of the expression is “mad about Bihu” but I didn’t know until now what exactly it entails. Bihu-boliya is when you would do anything, but anything, to hear the sound of the dhol just once. It is that tingle in your toes that renders you incapable of sitting still the moment you hear it. It is that inexplicable happy song your heart sings whenever spring approaches and each breath of air brings in the smell of togor and kopou phool. It is that feeling of longing, come April, to be home. Because home means getting to feel the drumbeats reverberating in your heart, and dancing with no fear of being deemed crazy with the husori dols.
Funny story: Growing up, our neighbourhood was sandwiched between two “villages”, which basically meant we were a cluster of Assam-type houses in an extended semi-rural area that has only recently graduated to bricks and mortar. It basically meant that even though we passed through the village every single day and knew almost everyone by name, we were never considered one of them. Oh yeah, there was a definite “them” and a definite “us”. This was most apparent during Bihu when the village Bihu troupe would make the rounds of the neighbourhood. I would be envious of the young girls dressed in muga mekhela sadors on top of their red frocks, puffy frilly sleeves peeking under their pinned sador pleats. These young girls got to dance around the neighbourhood, while collecting the symbolic token money, and they definitely didn’t have mothers who thought anytime after dark was too late to be outside.
By a happy twist of fate, I chanced upon an all-girls troupe that was in need of a new member. I must have been around thirteen, that impressionable age when a girl those days was old enough to understand that talking to strange boys was a no-no, yet young enough to be innocently unaware why. It was as though I was given a short-term pass into a world I had since then only admired from afar. I went for practice religiously, every single day. I tried to laugh at their jokes, although most of the times I didn’t understand them. The girls tried to make me feel comfortable, but I guess even they knew that I wasn’t one of them. Didn’t help that I was the only one who went to an English-medium school. We were practising for the prestigious husori competition that was to be held on the first day of the Assamese new year, and I was only remotely interested in it (mainly because I knew we were terrible) but what made me breathless and sleepless in excitement was the fact that we would be doing the neighbourhood rounds. I would be one of those clumsily dressed girls! I would get to wear a fake kopou phool on my fake bun! Eleven year old me thought it was the heights of popularity I could ever hope to gain. Why, I would practically be a celebrity!
On the highly anticipated day, I could barely make it through breakfast. I fidgeted while Mamma dressed me up in a mekhela sador. I went to pee three times before she did though, just in case. I didn’t want to take any chances. When I walked out of the door, I could feel my palms get clammy. I stumbled in my steps (walking in a mekhela sador can be tricky sometimes) and when I reached the house where we had been practising, I realised I was the first to arrive. I nervously rang the bell. Patiently waited for five minutes and rang the bell again. And because my Mamma had taught me not to be crass I didn’t shout out my “friend’s” name. I must have waited for fifteen minutes, smoothing my pleats and touching my bun for the umpteenth time when a kind neighbour took pity on me and told me the people weren’t home. “Aren’t home?” I stammered, “But… our husori…” She hadn’t had the faintest, of course. She told me maybe they had sudden plans and had to go somewhere. With no other point of contact, I had no option but to stumble my way back home. I was devastated. What shattered me most was admitting to my parents that I wouldn’t get to dance around the neighbourhood after all.
And thus ended my husori-dancing career.
I think I have been jinxed to never dance Bihu, I swear there is a jinx. Each time I get remotely close to donning our gorgeous Bihu dancing costume, something or the other happens and I never end up wearing it. Which is why I guess right now one of my deepest desires is to get all dressed up in the costume, big red dot on my forehead, bright red lipstick on my lips (staining my teeth for good measure), grinning ear to ear. And dancing. Forget the fact that I might just be a terrible Bihu dancer. I mean, I have never been complimented on my Bihu dancing anyway so for all I know I could be pathetic. But hey, I am an Oxomiya. Bihu runs in my blood.
Which brings me back to where I started. We haven’t stepped into April yet, and this first wave of homesickness threatens to drown me in misery. Heaven save me when it actually is Bihu.
Leaving this here because the dhol and the pepa sounds the most authentic here: