Border was one of the most frequently talked topics during my stay in Tripura. Maybe, people around me understood that I was fascinated by the fact of their life – with which they have learnt to co-exist, rather peacefully now. I did not meet old people who might have memories of at least 1971 (leave apart 1947); if that opportunity had been there, I might have experienced something different. These are all ifs and buts! What I experienced is still worth remembering and worth sharing.
When I was six year child, I had my first experience of ‘border’ which I still remember. We were traveling by a bullock-cart to the neighboring village for some religious function. I was looking forward to some kind of demarcation separating the two villages. To my utter disappointment, there was no border as such... the land continued, the people were of the same type, the animals were the same kind of animals, and the trees were no different. I was expecting so much from the ‘border’ and was completely disillusioned. The disillusionment was so strong, that I still remember that evening and that moment.
Later I realized that there are no district borders, no state borders. In USA and Canada people were different but there was somehow no feeling of crossing the border then. Maybe that is because these countries are at such a distance, that I expected to find different things there and was not surprised with the change. However, here in Tripura, I was to re-live my childhood experience. In a way a sort of disillusionment and in a way standing face to face with reality!
On the first day, there was no range for BSNL cell phones. I took it as a normal situation. BSNL is certainly an enigma to me. In remote areas, BSNL always provides good range. Only in bigger cities it has a problem in providing satisfactory services. Maybe in remote areas BSNL does not have competitors, in urban areas it has. It seems that BSNL cannot handle competition or it has some subtle ways of accommodating its competitors!!
During lunch break, there was discussion about ‘no range’. People nowadays get so uncomfortable if they can’t send or receive SMS for couple of hours!! Then one local person explained, “Oh! The border is just half a kilometer away from this place, so there is no range!”
“Just half a kilometer?” I was indeed surprised.
“If you go to the top of this building, you will see Bangladesh” another person explained.
I actually planned to go to the top of the building (which was just a two storied building by the way) but once the meeting started, forgot all about it. Well, one forgets border when one is not directly affected by it, or when one in involved in something more interesting!
One evening we went to visit Kamala Sundaree temple at Kasabaa. The place is about 25 kilometers from Agartala. On the way, the scenic landscape mesmerized me. It is in fact a Kaalee temple situated on a hillock and has a huge lake at its base. The lake is called Kamalaa Saaagara and was excavated by Maharaja Dhanya Maanikya Bahaadura in the late 15th Century AD. It was evening time, and the place was peaceful. (See the third photograph in the earlier post) A train was passing by beyond the lake and my colleague told me, “Look, the train is going to Bangladesh”. A tiny light was seen on the other side of the lake – that too was from Bangladesh – I was told. I was amazed at that. And then the ‘Aarti’ started in the temple (by then I was wandering around the lake) and simultaneously the ‘Ajaan’ was heard from mosque in Bangladesh. An Aarti and an Ajaan at the same time, on the same piece of land, but divided into two countries - by the border!
While traveling to Hezamera, my car driver showed me ‘the border’ again. Here it was a huge fence cutting across the land. On the Bangladesh side were fields and on the India side were shops, houses, and a road running by. Though very peaceful I thought it to be so artificial.
While returning from Khowai, I received a SMS saying ‘Welcome to Bangladesh’. I had not entered into Bangladesh, but somehow I received this SMS. Does it mean land and space work in different ways? I wonder.
Another day, I was coming back to Agartala. Looking at the setting Sun, I realized that the Sun actually never sets in this village... it always sets in Bangladesh. That could be a tagline to attract tourists here!
Border no doubt is human-made ( I am tempted to use ‘man-made’ here!) concept. These were not the two separate lands just 64 years ago. It is an artificial line that divides people, land, water, sky, trees... emotions and lives. This side of the fence, you are an Indian and that side of fence; you are traitor if you are in Indian. This side, this is the law, other side is the other law though the crops, the food, the landscape is the same. Standing there I wished that all these borders vanish!!
After those moments at the border, I am glad that I am not accountable to the larger world; the masses – I am accountable to some but that is more of my choice. I can imagine the burden the leaders would have carried in the heart during Partition, during 1971 war. It is a difficult call to make. One can’t be Utopian (like me) when one has the responsibility of thousands and crores of lives, their present and their future. One has to take into consideration that if I am not ready to defend myself (and my country) others would mercilessly attack and kill my people. If the leaders were like me, they would have been blamed more than they are blamed today. We could always debate about ‘what could and should have been done then’ but whatever would have been done; this debate would have continued. I am sure of that.
Has the partition helped? Had the border made people happier- though not completely happy? Do they feel secure? Well, the people I met seemed not much bothered about the border. They have accepted it as a fact of life; they have learned to live with it.
Of course, there would be other people with other experiences, other opinions, other views. Unfortunately I could not meet them. So, my perception of border remains incomplete! It is incomplete not only due to my personal bias but also because of not meeting the representative strata of the communities, of the generations, of the history.
And the border continues. There are many more borders around. It is not the border with Bangladesh alone. Within the country, within the state and within the community there are more borders that need to be destroyed.
Take the example of caste! In a small state like Tripura there are as many as 34 notified scheduled castes (http://socialjustice.nic.in/sectorsc239.php) and as many as 19 notified scheduled tribes (http://tribal.nic.in/writereaddata/mainlinkFile/File1067.pdf)! Why such a tiny population is divided into so many categories? Is it not a kind of border that too is artificially created by us?
Take another example of women’s status. I was happy to see women traffic police and women on petrol pumps. However I noticed one very young girl maybe 14 or 15 in a Saree. First I thought that it must be school function or some religious day. Then while traveling to many villages, I saw many more such young girls in Saree. When asked about it, I was told that in the government schools Saree is mandatory for girls after 9th standard. Is it not an artificially created border between 21st century and 20th century? Can’t we leave the choice to people about clothes? Why government wants to rule young girls in this way?
I met two women who receive monthly salary of Rs. 1700/- ; they work in the organized sector. I felt ashamed while talking to them, because I earn much more than what they earn! The amount of work we are putting in would be in the same range though. Is it not another kind of artificially created border which differentiates physical work and intellectual work in such an exploitative manner?
Well, there are borders and borders around! All of them, rather most of them are created by human beings. We respect them, nay, we adore them! We feel that limits set by borders are to be strictly followed; anybody crossing the border is treated as a traitor!
Can’t we change that? Should not we change that?
If we can destroy the borders within the community, within a state, within a country ... then international borders would cease to exist. At least they won’t matter much, they won’t be frightening, they won’t hurt and they won’t make people more violent in the name of patriotism.
As I said earlier, for me the process of Tripurization has just begun. To be in Tripura, I do not have to be physically in Tripura! I can close my eyes and remember the beautiful landscape, the rain, the peace, the coconut and beetle-nut trees, the people, and I am in Tripura.
For me, the process of Tripurization means a lot more than just being in Tripura. It means opening of a new window; it means seeing reality with new perspective; it means understanding our own flaws; it means the art of differentiating between good and not so good; and it also means the determined courage to make a change!