MAJULI

Before i started my journey into North East India, I was told by many to visit the land of SANJOY GHOSH- Majuli! sanjoy ghosh was a man who lived, worked and died in Majuli for his outstanding work with the talented MISING tribe (The Misings or Mishings are an Indo-Mongoloid group of people who migrated from the eastern Himalayan regions in Tibet). his  goodwill among the MISINGS couldn’t go well with the ULFA goons and he was shot dead by them.

Then I read about Majuli being the biggest river (Brahmaputra) island in the world

N then I heard about the annual floods that wash away this beautiful island every single year vis a viz flood politics.

I knew one day by some stroke of chance I will be there…

I was in Mokukchung, Nagaland when I finally managed to get a right contact to get into majuli- kumarbari. For that I had to take a shared sumo from mokukchung to jorhat (assam) and join Iva (who later will turn out be my majuli hero) in jorhat. Spend the night at her small one room, (a single bed in one corner with kitchen on another room).she insisted on sleeping on the floor while she made sure I stay comfortable throughout the night sleeping on the bamboo “chatai” which incidentally helped me not feel hot at all through that very hot and humid jorhat night.

We were to leave next morning by 10 to go the ferry station to kamlabari and then get into a bus to get to kumarbari where I was going to spend my next 13 days…

the journey took much longer than expected- after changing 2 auto rickshaws (a luxury IVA thought), 1 man pulled rickshaw… 3 km of walk… n then 1.5 hour long journey on the ferry…

Ferry Ticket to kamlabari

IVA, my majuli hero n her aunt

my co passengers… very intrigued by this FOREIGNER

by the time we reached Kumarbari, it was pouring and we knew we had quite a bit of walking to do with our huge bags before we get to the bus station…

it was harder than I thought… the kachcha roads were slippery and I had never seen that kind of rain…

it was fierce!

Somehow we managed with a help of few people n got to the bus station.

Felt like a journey home!


my first impression of majuli… n its was more… much more beautiful than I thought… didn’t know at that point of time that it’s actually so tragic.

Brahmaputra just across the place I was staying…

Village bowaris after their bath at Brahmaputra

I saw Brahmaputra and right in front of that was a small bamboo hut… that was where I was asked to get down… IVA’s place… where I stayed for the next 13 days and evolved n changed everyday… kumarbari has no electricity, only bamboo houses on stilts, what I didn’t know was that I will be bathing and washing my clothes at Brahmaputra as well…

It was a big family I stayed with 5 bowaris (sister in-laws), 6 brothers, ma, baba, their kids, 6 unmarried sisters and a lot of neighbours living in the same compound…

Misings live in thatched houses raised on bamboo stilts , called Chaang ghar which means house on stilts . Under the raised structure they keep their domestic animals .This chaang ghar helps protect themselves from flood as they are forced to live at the fertile banks of rivers, agriculture being their main occupation.

Majuli house where I spent 13 days.

Day 1: I thought the bamboo would crack and I will fall n die.. day 5: I was walking without holding things for support. Day 12: I did bihu. Day 13: I went down those 2 steps crying… knowing I m going to miss this family.

My bowaris.. who loved me so much… buhari on the extreme right, wanted me to teach her English. We didn’t know each others language but we connected.

the hard-working house maker… she was never seen without doing something important… inspiring in a way!

apun bowari is my super favourite. We could laugh all day.

And as they say to everything nice… I say “I dun” too!

The kitchen of the household and the food I ate… there was always so much food for me.. whether family ate or no…

My first attempt at washing clothes at Brahmaputra n the smart Iva practises  her newly learnt camera tricks on me who taught her.  Washing is easy but what got really complicated was bathing wearing a mekhola and changing in and out of your clothes in broad day light in front of the whole village n the mighty Brahmaputra… I was a serious disaster with the whole family n the neighbours and the neighbour’s neighbours all collecting there to look at me bathing… wasn’t a very exciting experience but I learnt my lesson.. DON”T ACT CUTE WHEN U R FEELING STUPID!! Every one thought I was liking the attention!

Iva immediately took me for a village tour introducing me to almost everyone we saw…

Iva showing me the famous, 5-rung ladder of mising houses.

these houses and the flight of 5-7 stairs leading to these houses have religious and social beliefs and practices attached to it. A guest is accepted or a new bride only becomes a part of the family when led up the flight of stairs.

procession on the streets of Kumarbari…

many years went into deciding a script for Misings- roman or assamese or at some level devnagari… still many a books/ papers are published using both scripts… though amended roman script was announced as the official Mising script in 1978… debate still continues

Kumarbari’s most reputed school and cultural training centre. the day i reached there, about 20-25 girls were practising a Mising Folk song for a celebration in the village

making her morning doze of tamul (betel nut, generally raw) n paan. Mising or rather a typical north eastern meal is concluded with Tamul

first thing that you notice on majuli streets is that its the women who run the show. they seem to be doing all the work, while most men either while away time playing cards or doing mundane jobs at home!


almost pea- size potatoes at Majuli

**********************************************************************

This is the family that eat what they grow (mustard, pulses, maize, vegetables, tobacco, bamboo, rice, tamul (supari)), wear what they weave, n live in the house that they made themselves. because that is all they can manage. So if the crop goes bad the family is left with nothing but to cut their pigs/ poultry at a much lesser cost. (poultry/pigs  live right below their bamboo platform you see in the photos. You can actually see pigs/ poultry running n making noises right below you. Quite a turn off for the appetite of a vegetarian like me)

I saw one of those days… when the patriarch ordered to cut off Rani- their oldest pig. That’s because the annual floods were acting up and had ruined almost all their crop.

It must have been a gory sight for I was asked to stay indoors… later I saw blood n remains n lots of sullen faces trying to forget what happened.

That’s how the first day went.

Day 2 started with a plan of action… I woke up to the sound of the whole family doing their household chores… making local rice beer apong, cleaning the house, weaving, making eri yarns, doing repair jobs, making food…

Mother making hand spun eri yarn while taking care of the grand kid

Didi cutting bananas grown at home to take for sale.

master weaver, didi

Iva washing the eri shawl with reetha soaked overnight

bhaiya doing minor repair work in the house

what was most interesting was that everyone seemed to be looking forward to some big occasion…

Today the patriarch’s brother who lives in the same compound finished making his house… so there was to be a feast!!

With
PORK, RICE n APONG.

The new house…

APONG- rice beer, Fully fermented over a week now ready for feast

And Father waiting for his share of apong and the feast to begin

traditional Mising pork curry being cooked

What followed was a silent festivity eating n drinking apong and people going back to their houses after that.

That day the daughter of the house looked very pretty dressed up for the festivities… suddenly she fell sick n started screaming and throwing things…

A pooja was performed later to appease the Goddess “devi” who had possessed her. She had done something wrong by looking pretty and getting a lot of male attention.

this was also taken care of by going to the traditional religious schools in ASSAM, called SATRA ( Majuli satras, being the abode of the ahomiya  neo-Vaisnavite culture are the most worshipped and respected)

SATRA

The daughters of the family accompanied me while the daughter in-laws stayed behind to take care of household chores…  i thought it was unfair and raised my disapproval for the same.. apun bowari silently told me not to react to it  because this is what is followed here… daughter-in-laws have little to be rewarded for all that they do for their husbands’ families…

me with my majuli family dressed up to go to SATRA

Guess Majuli wasn’t very different from other places in india in their treatment to women even though women are the ones handling not only the household chores but also the economics/ finances of the family.

*************************************************************************************************

I was getting more and more intrigued by the mekhola chadors everyone was wearing… I had heard Misings are master weavers but now I could see it..

Women walking on the road with umbrellas in their hands, doing household chores, with looms in every house… suddenly I was face to face with the rich textiles that everyone keeps raving about… the beautiful weaves by  the misings…

mising design on eri, shawl more than 50 yrs old. this tradition of weaving with cotton on eri is almost dying in Majuli

traditional ghai design

mising weaves are so complicated that it is impossible to weave without a meticulously marked graph

but what I didn’t realize while admiring these gorgeous weaves is that an ugly synthetic yarn had completely taken over cotton yarn. Cotton has disappeared from the face of north-east india.

Could it be because cotton plantation was discouraged in massive way by the state govt.s to bring in synthetic/ Thailand/ dulia yarn?

Now the condition is so bad that I had to go door to door looking for cotton n there was none…

They don’t like cotton anymore coz bad quality cotton with bad dyes was introduced to shut up people asking for cotton to be brought back.

One wash of these cottons and the colour comes off. Plus they are more delicate to weave so no one wants to work on cotton anymore.

That’s when I realized the seriousness of the situation… and that’s when I traveled from one village to another sensitizing villagers about the hazards of using synthetic and how cancerous it can be and encouraging not only good health but trade and commerce by producing cotton… villagers were initially very reluctant but talking to them with examples and advance money for orders to be woven on cotton helped and finally we found a team that was ready to help me bring back cotton in majuli to start with…

Kamini, a master at natural dyes and me (in bowari’s mekhla chador)

handloom shop run by Kamini, the pink dupatta made it to the collection not only because its beautiful but also because that was the only ready cotton piece she had then, thank you Kamini for promising me to make more!.


Our team…

Iva on our mission to bring back cotton supervising the new weaves with cotton

In these 13 days that I spent alone with this Majuli family, I was loved, taken care of and at some level completely pampered. They were my family suddenly.

It wasn’t a group against a group… it was me with a new family! And that is what makes my trip to this beautiful place so amazing…

My farewell with this family was bihu by my lovely angels… the one in front is Apun’s bowari’s daughter and is going to an english medium school. i taught her how to say “I am a very smart girl” and go tell that to her English teacher. she came back home jumping from her school that her teacher quite liked what s he told her! She’s apun bowari’s everything… and all she wants from her life is to be able to educate her daughter properly and be able to make her independent. SHE DOESN’T WANT ANOTHER CHILD.

These 2 girls would stick to me the whole day and cried when I was leaving… I was touched… I was leaving a new-found family behind…

The reward the girls got for their lovely performance was cup- a noodles… their first taste of noodles ever!! N they ate it so adorably with their hands… my camera battery died while clicking their photos when they were dancing… n there was no electricity to charge it and chronicle this absolute cuteness!!

Another beautiful thing that happened just before i left… all the bowaris got together and searched for everything cotton that they had ever woven… they wanted me to choose from those and take with me as their token of love… i was TOUCHED! what touched me the most was what apun bowari said.. “thailand yarn ka to bahut mekhola chador hai… par tum to cotton hi lega… agli baar aur cotton weave karke rakhega”- ” there are many mekhola chadors woven with thailand synthetic yarn that we have at the moment but you will only wear cotton… so next time you come we will make sure there are options of cotton weaves to choose from”

somewhere… i had achieved little of what i wanted… they were interested in weaving/ wearing cotton! this little step taken by them… came as a big relief!

Iva told me 20 days after I left that house that kumarbari is washed away by the annual floods and the people are in the process of rebuilding their broken houses n spirits to make them strong enough to survive year by year…

travel back to jorhat… a 5-6 hour journey to jorhat through Dhemaji district took about 19 hours and many different modes of trasportation: bus, naav- small make shift boats to cross flooded areas… behind bikes… autos… open gypsies… sometimes walking quite a distance… this picture was taken at a place 2 km away the  ferry station. just 2 days back it got flooded… some the houses disappeared with the water. the transportation came to a halt… our sumo in the picture could not go any further.
Majuli, just before i left… showing signs of flooding already

temporary measures taken by villagers with the help of some NGOs

the last Majuli road i walked on… Iva taking the lead…

this almost relaxed afternoon for these women that soon turned into a tragic tale of putting together their broken lives and houses.

The things that we read in papers and books of poverty, callousness of government, corruption, I suddenly came face to face with them in majuli- with flood politics, corruption on behalf of govt. officials who think they own the place, bank managers’ favouritism to the families and friends, extreme poverty and helplessness.

I will keep going back to Majuli, ALONE so I can be with my people again and work with them, for them and fight against the govt. officials who think its their birth right to exploit their own people. I am not going to let this happen to Majuli, the place I love, n the place I wish to protect!

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41 Responses to MAJULI

  1. Dolly shetty says:

    i am touched ..the way u go about does inspire me a lot and i simply loved loved that green saree u wore …get one of the similar kind for me next time…when i c ur pics one questions arises in my mind what u want to do what is that keeps u going on and on and on…..what is that u want to achieve ??? u inspire me a lot..thanks buddy…
    take care

    • Dolly sometimes i think what keeps me going… its this urge to keep learning… keep traveling… i guess… i am glad the blog touched your heart just as much my experience in Majuli did…

      what u want to do?- don’t want any of this change… so whatever that is that i am doing… continues… never gave much thought to it.. may be thats why its still going on…

      what is that u want to achieve ? BLISS… unadulterated bliss!

      🙂

  2. Pratishtha says:

    What an amazing journey, and what a lovely experience, Ritika. I guess, any journey is never about the destination. It’s the seeking, the finding that fuels our desire for more. And the more you find, the more you want to seek. This is a truly inspiring blog, and with such beautiful pictures of your new family! Love those smiles that come from within. Take care, and G-d bless. Am awaiting more write-ups. Want to live travel vicariously through your journeys.

    • thanks a lot Pratishtha! very true… its in this journey that i have lived the most beautiful moments of my life… m not much of a writer…and words don’t flow too easily for me… but there’s just too much to share… so hoping that i will get over this inhibition/ block soon and can write more freely… what i wrote is the most honest draft without any edits! somehow… i like the stream of consciousness.. but i know i need to work on expressing better! will need ur honest opinions always… u being such a goooood writer! 🙂

  3. Vimmy Singh says:

    Whoever said you are not a good writer.In fact your experience and expression both are unique,genuine and straight out of the heart . Keep this honesty intact…it is what makes you you… love and wish many more such ventures

    • Ma’am, can i say… i AM just tooooooooo proud to be your student…!! sorry about the grammatical/word error (“toooooooooooooooo”)…didn’t know how else to express it! 🙂

  4. kaloskaiagathos says:

    I don’t think i could be more ‘proud-er’
    🙂

  5. Sharmila Karve says:

    Am impressed with your enthusiasm and zest.

    • thanks a lot 🙂 you know what’s that one thing i don’t want from MORA at all is becoming tooooo big or having a store… i just want the same pace… so i can keep traveling and exploring… i want it to be “my baby” always… 🙂 then it would be fun na…

  6. ritu says:

    hi ritika,
    just finished reading this blog. what a beautiful passion and drive! and idealism.
    so i had to call and talk to you. and i enjoyed talking to you too. very much!

    i sincerely hope you dont get cynical and tired on this path you’ve chosen. its a difficult one but then that’s why the universe put some ‘fighters’ amongst us… who cannot help but try and make things ‘right’ …

    best of luck.
    ritu.

    • Thanks a lot ritu… i won’t get cynical because i love what i am doing.. yes i was getting cynical working in media because i just stopped seeing people who i could relate to or who would be remotely “real”… here i meet my weavers and they make me too happy!! 🙂 looking forward to meet you!:) so we can make things “right”..na!

  7. i really loved ur writing n narration of majuli days…
    i was born in majuli….eventhough i dont remember my days after birth, however i visited Majuli several times in my childhood n college days…my mother belongs to majuli garamur satra…my father was there for long more than10 yrs…he wrote a very famous novel ‘Sonali setu’–the heroine being a mishing girl….
    do let me know if i could be a part of any of ur initiatives in majuli !
    take care,
    sonmoni borah
    Collector & DM, Bilaspur
    Chhattisgarh
    09425220168
    07752-223344(o)

    sonmoni borah

  8. assamfoodie says:

    Beautifully captivated.Enjoyed your blog.
    Sharmin

  9. SuhaelAmrita says:

    Hi Ritika.

    I have come backwards on your blog. This is such a thought provoking post, guess that’s why your ‘seeking cotton’ mission is so detailed and centered!

    It’s amazing how the North East living is so similar to the ‘Kampung’ living of the Indonasians n Malay’s. In fact even the weaves are very similar in these regions. I was very intrigued with this art but obviously didn’t have the depth of knowledge like what you have. I feel enlightened and also intrigued…maybe I found my next subject for research! 🙂

    Delightfully attactive blog… oh, you looked very beautiful in the green sari or was it a mekhala?

    Will keep peeping into your space to read more!

    SuhaelAmrita

  10. vidu says:

    Beautiful moments (images)!!

  11. Deepa says:

    Loved reading your posts, totally admire your spirit and enthusiasm to revive traditional fabrics. I salute you! I am a huge fan of your collection by the way, please please activate the online sale feature!!!

    God bless,
    Deepa

  12. jeeva says:

    ritika..really liked your experience in Majuli….I am from Kerala, the Southern Most state of India, settled in Cochin
    its really touching ..the innocence of the people in Majuli , the artistic mind and struggle with the nature…
    They are the real people…
    Would love to meet you , if any chance to visit Kerala pls connect me…
    devakijeeva@gmail.com

  13. youngja Kim says:

    i’m glad meet everyone~
    my name is youngja Kim.
    I live in Seoul, KOREA.

    I love HINDUSTAN too much. i visited whole India, 7 times.
    About my firm book, ASSAM’s Tea storytelling….. i stayed in Tea garden with Tea women for 3 month(each), 2 times of the number. the book(아쌈 차차차= Assam chachacha(teateatea)) is a touching story about sorrow & joy life.

    my second book will come out whole book store & on – line book store, soon. i’ v written a book about Majuli island(in Satra, in tribes, culture, Apong=Assam wine).
    that is soon to be published. vibrate with joy more everyday.
    i’m waiting release date for my second book(Majuli story) more and everyday.
    And~
    silchar, guwahati, tezpur, jorhat, majuli island, sivasagar, dibrugarh, tinsukia,,,, in Assam.
    my friend, Anjali(assamese) live in sivasagar now.

    i’m happy now!

  14. Vaivhav Todi says:

    Greetings from Assam. It is wonderful to see people like you trying your best to protect Majuli. The island is magical and we have to play our parts in protecting it. Someday i plan to settle in Majuli and take life rather slowly and the way it is meant to be.

    Best of Luck! Hope the youth like us can do our bit.

  15. Hi Ritika, i am writing an article on Assamese rice beer and would like to use one of the shots in this post of pots storing apong for teh article. It is for a magazine called Liquid which is for private circulation in the F&B industry. I can give you/ your blog a photo credit. I need your permssion to use the image acptioned ‘APONG- rice beer, Fully fermented over a week now ready for feast’.

    The magazine pays between rs. 250 – 750 for an image , depending on the size of the image used. i will happily pass on whatever amount i get for your image.

    lastly, I can imagine your sentiments for Majuli as I had done a 1 hr documentary on the island almost 10 years ago. I am a professional communicator and a passionate travel writer on http://www.gypsytales.com

    Please email your permission to me at gypsycy@gypsytales.com and mention what photo credit caption you desire.

    I need to submit this by tomorrow, i.e June 28 2011, so would appreciate a speedy response.

    Regards

    cyrus dadachanji + 91 91897 49779 http://www.gypsytales.com

  16. Pallavi says:

    Hi,
    I chanced upon your Mora website while browsing for sarees and fell in love with your collections and I am even more delighted to learn about you and your passion to revive traditional weaves in remotest parts of India. Very rarely does one come across someone who wants to preserve the purity of a fabric like you do. I do understand from your blogs that you do not want to grow big so you can travel but at the same time making your sarees easily available online puts us one step closer to being like you…….even when we r thousands of miles away from home. Hope you have many more enriching experiences in life to share with the world.

  17. karuna says:

    Be the change that you want to see….i have read this line but rarely have i seen it embodied so well by someone in thought and act.

    am a huge fan of yours so is my mom (shammi). the work you are doing is excellent especially the blending of fabrics and design…i love your aesthetic. I am a lawyer and after reading your blog for the life of me cant understand y i wud choose such a dreary profession…if there’s anything (absolutely anything or anyway) that i can help further this cause, please let me know (besides the word of mouth publicity). One day i too will have the courage to pursue a passion.

    until then,
    always in support
    Karuna

    • karuna… was so nice connecting with you… and our deal is locked now… you come home and make chai for me… that station chai with less milk… 🙂 looking forward to see you super soon 🙂 we have loads to talk about 🙂

  18. Mitalee Verma says:

    loved your blog…..beautiful, heart-warming and captivating……and all coz my daughter needed some help wth her h.w…..can’t thank her enuff……n u…..my husband n i are both artists n maybe someday we might connect n help wth wot u do…kudos

  19. The pictures and write-ups are very educative. These give a unique perspective of the majuli island of which very little is known in the literature. I seek your kind permission to use some of its visuals for my presentation on Majuli for my students of the Appreciation Course on Environment of IGNOU with gratitude and credits reflected in the presentation.

    With regards
    Jaswant Sokhi
    IGNOU (jsokhi@ignou.ac.in)

  20. JUHIE S SINGH says:

    Beautiful account of your visit to Assam – rather Majuli.. So real & so new! I wonder if i can really claim being born & brought up in Assam!!!!
    There’s so much more beauty added to your vibrant & seamless creations! Kudos to you, Ritika… Its definitely a road less travelled & very very inspiring for those of us, who often get caught up in the normal, mundane things in life..
    Cheers,
    Juhie

  21. Padma says:

    Beautiful story, but i am reading this very late.
    Is there any way to purchase their sarees or borders?
    Pl let me know
    thanks
    Padma

  22. Hemen Kalita says:

    its WONDER-fu…. 🙂

  23. Bishnu Bakul says:

    Thank u very much. i m very satisfy

  24. valsa says:

    Hai Ritika,

    Your sarees are fabulous and waiting to get hold of one. Kudos to the weavers too.

  25. Manoshij Banerjee says:

    A serious course of discussion on the issue of Majuli is what I am earnestly looking forward to, Madam. If I may have your email id (mine is manoshijbanerjee@yahoo.com) please.

    Sincerely,
    Manoshij Banerjee

  26. Swaram says:

    Lovvvved reading this 🙂 Will be back for more!

  27. rekha says:

    BEEEEEAUTIFUL!!!!! stunningggg…. loooooooooooved ❤ ❤ ❤ it!!! the details, the spread of it… the personal touches, the info, the designs, the pots of piong, the pe potatis,,, all totally delightful!!! thank you for shring this wealth!! God bless!!!!! have a beautiful life!!!

  28. Madhavi Tatineni says:

    Read and re-read quite a few times.It was as though i was travelling right behind u. u, ur journey and majuli…all are awesome.!

  29. Bijit Dutta says:

    Well written! Amazing photos. Proud of our Majuli. I live in Jorhat near to Majuli.

  30. Pingback: 10 Exotic Local Drinks From India That Will Complete Your Alcoholic Journey

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