About a week ago, I knew only two things about Tripura. One: it is an Indian state; Two: Agartala is its Capital – thanks to my middle school Geography teacher!! When I received ticket for Agartala, I hurriedly browsed through Wikipedia and updated myself. Sometimes I wonder whether now I depend too much on Wikipedia; is it another kind of GranthapraamaNya (Unchallenged Authority of books)?
I am basically not an ‘information’ kind of person. I would certainly fail any and all General Knowledge tests. I value information. But there is too much of information around and one would never be able to say ‘I know completely’. Secondly, there are sources of information – books, websites, and people. You only should not feel shy about accepting your ignorance – then there are many sources. By experience I know that information is many time ‘fact interpreted’ by someone; so it carries biases. The way information is collected gives the form to information collected; and we can interpret the information the way we want.
While discussing the population size of Tripura, someone informed me that it is about 36 lakhs (3.6 million). Another person, who had been part of India Census 2011, immediately corrected him by saying, “actually it is 3,671,032”. Well, I was impressed by the accurateness, the efficiency, the enthusiasm and the memory of the person. But for my purpose, the difference of 71,032 was not very critical. I could understand that the population of Tripura was almost same as Pune.
After a weeklong stay in Agartala and visits to eight villages, I have gathered little information. Well, I now know that Tripura has four districts as I interacted with people from all these four districts. I now know that Tripura shares border with Bangla Desh, because I was on the border a few times. I know Bengali and Kokborok are the two official languages of Tripura – I saw official boards in these two languages. I know that Tripura was a Princely State as I saw the Palace of the then King. I know that Tripura has still not banned animal sacrifice in the temple, as I saw those spots in the temples I visited.
But there are still many things that I do not know about Tripura. What I have is: hundreds and thousands of impressions.
On the first evening, I went on walking alone through Agartala for an hour. It was a lovely walk, the evening was pleasant. Being Sunday evening, there was not much traffic on the road. Walking always shows things differently – from different angle, in slow motion. The city though strange, sounded familiar to me. It is a sort of hilly city – with roads up and down, bridges on river, and many ponds. It ridiculously reminded me of Dharwad – ridiculous because I have visited Dharwad only once.
Next morning, when I woke up, the Sun was already ablaze. I thought it must be 7.00. The wall clock in the room was ticking and showed 5.07. I thought the clock must be running behind. Then suddenly I realized that I was in the North East. I enjoyed the early Sunrise for the next few days.
However, the early rising of Sun does not ensure that people reach on time. They came late and they had all the excuses for reaching late. They went early and they had all the excuses in the world for leaving early. Whichever part we visit in India, some things are common; and this is one of those.
For long I have been fascinated by Bengali. Here I listened to it continuously; read shop boards on the way almost perfectly; picked up couple of ‘utility’ sentences like ‘tommara naama kee? “(what is your name); and listened to Bengali music. As I tried to make most of this opportunity to polish my Bengali- it was fun not only for me but for others too as I kept on committing silly mistakes. They had hearty laugh each time I asked something very preliminary. I never had an opportunity to learn Sanskrit formally, but I realized that Bengali has too many words which are close to Sanskrit. So I could make 2+2 and picked up many words in conversations. This could happen as I knew the context of the discussion – I have been fully into the subject that was being discussed. People were surprised when I answered the questions asked in Bengali without waiting for them to get translated. “If you stay here for a month, you would be able to speak Bengali well” – they gave me a certificate. I know people were just polite to me. Picking up a language is not so easy.
Tripura is surrounded by Bangla Desh on the North, South and West. National Highway no 44 connects Agartala to Mizoram and Assam. On the highway I saw many buses traveling towards Gohati. It takes about 30 hours to reach Gohati by bus, people told me. Agartala has a beautiful railway station. Silchar is the nearest junction which takes people to other destinations in India. I also was shown a train going towards Bangla Desh – but to which station it reaches, I do not remember. So, in short Tripura is connected with rest of the India only through East - to know that was indeed scary.
I traveled in West Tripura district and I liked the landscape of Tripura. For the first two days, the humidity was awful. People told me that about ten years ago, they did not need fans – now they need Air Conditioners. This has to do with climate change and also with the changing pattern of crops and trees. For example, Bamboo is making a way for Rubber. A huge rubber plantation can be seen on both the sides of roads and bamboo was seen only in remote areas. In Melaaghara, I had an opportunity to interact with members of a Bamboo Federation. This is a Federation of self employed workers who are engaged in making Bamboo products. They told me that the Bamboo prices are constantly rising – earlier they used to get on ‘Paavaraa’ bamboo for Rs. 10/- and now they have to pay Rs. 180/- for the same piece. They also told me that the bamboo cultivation area is diminishing due to rubber plantation.
I saw many fruits in the markets – jackfruit, pineapple, mango, banana, were available in abundance. Fish, meat and chicken are consumed a lot. At Heazemara, my car driver complained that food was not good. I asked him why and he answered that ‘it was cooked by Tripuri people and not by Bengalis’. There is no apparent tension in local tribes and Bengali communities now – but in many ways they are still different.
Tripura Legislative Assembly has 60 members – a very small assembly indeed. In February 2008, the Left Front came to power with 49 seats. Now as it is the only Left Front state in the country after the loss in West Bengal and Kerala in 2011 state assembly elections. The environment in Agartala seemed politically active... red flags across the roads and corner meetings at couple of places.
As Agartala is state capital and as the state is surrounded by Bangla Desh, the presence of Military is very noticeable in Agartala. I came across buildings indicating presence of Border Security Force (BSF), Tripura State Rifles (TSR), and Assam Rifles (AR). On my way to Teliamura I saw the board “For your tomorrow BRO is here” and was confused about who this BRO could be. Then I realized it was Border Road Organization.
Border was an important experience for me. I will write about it later – maybe in the next post.
For me the process of Tripurization has just begun.