THE VILLAGES ARE LONELY
On first look, it feels as if nothing much has changed. The roads are still the same, half coarse, half muddy. The river is still the same. The water hyacinths are still there and are blooming to its glory. The bridge leading to my village is still broken. The school building still has no windows. Some cows are grazing in the field nearby. And Kids are playing in the mud. About 2 and half decades ago, I use to be one of them, digging the mud and playing around. The men are still gathered around playing cards, with a dozen around sneaking into the cards and watching the game. They swear at each other. Often the voices get very loud and I can hear some of them accusing the other of cheating or not paying up. One of them looks behind and scream, ‘Arrey Aine kobv ‘solo, gidung kune?’ Aidun? (Aine ko, how are you?) I respond, I am doing well and walk along.
The Bridge is broken. I had to leave our car on the other side of the bridge. A tiny rest house is built by the Mising autonomous council. People gather here every morning to catch the few auto-rickshaws, which ply them to the nearby town. As I walk across the bridge, a little boy rushes to me and welcomes me home. My cousin’s youngest. He has grown a bit so it takes me some time to recognize his face. But it does not matter. Within a few minutes, the entire crop of kids gather around and take me to the nearby shop for their customary sweets. This happens every time I come back to the Village. The tiny little gumti (shop) still only has the necessities. You can still buy mustard oil for 5 rupees here. The women are still working. As it is evening, they are coming back from the fields. Some ladies, collecting water in the nearby tube well, shout out to me, ‘we also need sweets from the city’, ‘Did you get us some?’ followed with bursts of laughter.
I walk ahead and reach home. My granny, who can barely stand up now welcomes me home. My uncle looks at me, says, ‘Gidungkun’ (you’ve come) and acknowledges me with a nod. I can hear him asking my cousin to get some ‘pork’ for the night as I had come home. He knows I like it. I get fresh and change into casual clothes. At around 5 pm, a bunch of young boys, around 15-20 yrs. of age gather in our house to meet my cousin. They have packed bags with them. My cousin, who is now 24 has been working as a migrant laborer in Bangalore city for the last 4 years. He tells me that he works as a security guard in a mall. 5 other young Mising boys stay with him. He is now back and is contemplating if he wants to go back or not. Those boys tell me that they are on their way to Silapathar Railway station, from where they will take the train to Guwahati and move on to various cities of India to work as migrant laborers. Another one of my cousins decide to join the group. He has recently married. His new bride, quietly looks on, while I try to convince him not to go. He tells me that he is joining the group going to Ahmedabad. ‘Oiya, Giyo no !’ (Oiyow, don’t go) I say. I tell him about the heat in Ahmedabad. He says, ‘Okumse ager kama. Empe’ kape’ duyen’, (there is no work here, how will I stay without doing anything). I get confused. I tell him about the difficulties of being a migrant worker in a city and how unforgiving the city life is. He hears me out, but still decide to go. I don’t say much anymore. After about 2 hours, all of them move towards Silapathar.
Migration, over the years, has become one of the defining characteristics of the modern Mising society. Every day, hundreds move out, from the villages to uncertainty, towards the cities, looking for cash jobs. Our village has no young people left. Those left behind are the women and middle-aged and elderly men and very young kids. Needless to say, most of the work falls on the women left behind. They get up earlier than the rooster and is the last one to hit the bed in the night. It’s tough being a woman in a Mising village.
The important question here is how did ‘Migration’ as a phenomenon emerge in the Mising community? To elucidate this, let me contextualize it to my village. Around 200 years ago, a group of families, migrated to our village and decided to settle down. All the families collectively cleared a patch of land and establish it as their habitat. The group then decided to divide the land among the clans. So the Pegu’s got some, and the Doley’s the others and so on. However, the families within themselves collectively cultivated the land. Vegetables and pulses came from the kitchen garden, while fish came from the river. Firewood came from the forest. The village was run by the Dolung Ke’bang and was self-sufficient.
Then the floods came. The Misings were generally well prepared to deal with it. Each family had a boat, and during the rainy season, they generally kept all the cattle in a raised platform, jointly constructed by the village. However, the intensity of the floods continued to increase over the years. Agricultural land was filled with sand, our neighborhood stream became a full-fledged river and land erosion became regular. In one of those floods, half of the school in our village got drowned in the river. The makeshift bridge disappeared, and our village got cut off. The only way to go across was to use a boat. Agriculture which earlier enough did not even provide subsistence food. The schools, which already had no facilities, remained closed the entire season of floods. Young students started dropping out of school. Thus, the young started moving out and looking for options to work to earn cash income.
Many went to Arunachal, worked as bonded labor. Some came back with Malaria and some did not. Some decided to follow the emerging lower middle-class Mising families to the nearby towns and worked as ‘Haluwa’ (Agricultural Laborer) and ‘Domestic help’. This phase continued for a few years.
With projects like Bogibeel Bridge and other road contracts coming in, the same set of people started working in these projects. The cash income made them happy. With those projects coming to an end or simply not being able to provide work to all the surplus labor, some started moving towards the cities. The initial groups, after months or years of work, came back to the villages, with their stories of hopes and dreams. They were better dressed and more confident than before. Those remaining at the villages got dazed at their stories and soon started joining them in the cities. Batches and batches keep moving every year. The Mising community, which was once a self-sufficient community, today has become a source of surplus labor for the cities.
With the majority of the young moving out, the villages are now deserted. The football fields are empty. No cricket tournaments. Ali-Aye-Ligang and Bihu festivals are shorter because there are no young people for extended merrymaking. There is no more soman-giman (Dancing and Singing). No drum beats, no flutes from the field, and no sudden outbursts of Oi-Nitom. The rivers have no fish, so no collective fishing. A half-constructed concrete bridge lay in the river. The school still has no windows. Not many students go to study anyway. Wives long for their husbands, while mothers await their sons.
The villages are lonely. They look forward to the young coming home……!!!