Bamutia Village, Rongutia, Tripura
It takes about 40 minutes from the Agartala airport for the paved road to run its course. Another kilometer towards the interiors and you will be arriving at Bamutia BSF check post. A bit of journey more, along the alleyway beside the check post, brought us to the end of our auto ride. A few houses scattered here and there. Most of them, made of mud and bamboo. However, the one given to us had proper walls with a tin roof. After a quick exchange of pleasantries with our hosts, we went out to get a feel of the location.
The greenery was breathtaking with rubber plantations all around. Apparently, that is the main source of employment there. A few steps ahead we saw a weird looking fence. When asked, our guide answered ‘That’s the border.’ India Bangladesh border.
He continued ‘The trees you see that side are ours. We go over all the time. We have special cards for this purpose. You see those clothes drying on that fence, that’s Bangladesh. We used to go fishing in the pond nearby. They used to come over as well. The ‘fence’ wasn’t there at that time. There used to be football & cricket matches. That has stopped now.’
His tone was pretty matter of fact but I became unceremoniously emotional. My grandfather was born in Bangladesh, Barisal district. My father had also visited ‘the country home’ once in his childhood. I have heard so many stories of ‘the country’. Today there was a weird looking border between my country and ‘the country’ of my forefathers. A long line of barbed wires between the two. My father and grandfather are both long gone but their country is a separate piece of land, a different nation - Bangladesh.
Our workshop was for 7 days. The cumulative effort of 12 artists. We were to visit Rangutia and get to know the people. The idea was to know the human beings, know their humanity. The process, of course, meant knowing their politics, their economy and the complete social framework. The untapped potential of these endeavours are limitless. Numerous ideas started nudging their heads in my brain. I believe I can only start on a path from there. However, trying to predict a destination for that path is futile. There’s never one singular vision and I am not sure if I can ever achieve that singularity in one lifetime. But we try nonetheless. We start on our individual journeys from that commotion of possibilities.
There were few words that were continuously appearing in my head - line, border, cracks, breakage. Somehow all of them felt like synonyms. I think we are already hardwired to navigate the world around us by creating boundaries between things and experiences and beings. Segregating right from wrong, black from white and so on and so forth. Add to this an external intervention where yet another border is introduced. Our system goes into complete breakdown and the ‘you’ on my side of the border faces the eternal question - Who Are You? I am an independent human being with free thoughts, ideas and belief. I think this conviction is stronger in artists than anyone else. For we have little but our conviction and self-confidence. In our lifetime, we acquire loans and credits and experience. The ones we have collected through our work and our life.
I accepted the challenge. My search began. One can call it observation. The pointless roaming in the forest brought the movement of a few lines to my notice. It was like a conversation of creases. Termites have drawn their own borders on tree trunks. Increasingly their empire is taking over the entire tree and the tree’s body is getting mutilated by this expansion of territory. Surely, I had seen this before but never did the occurrence make me feel this way. The bark, on which the termites survive, is gradually vanishing while a surreal crisscross of lines is taking over.
I started clicking photographs and collecting references from nature. The lines and boundaries that are scattered in the surroundings were captured in my lens. From termites the lines graduated to the cracks on the walls of the mud huts. These cracks which are formed around us ever so silently reminded me of the helplessness of humans. The pain we carry, our shrieks of despair. But in our everyday struggle with this anguish and misery we can’t even draw a single line.
The lines, however, that we are capable of are manifestations of our labour. The lines drawn on a field while ploughing. The long, relentless, hard lines on the face of the earth that does not divide but nourishes life. We can give birth to rows of lush paddy fields. We can build cities and civilizations. But this creation is not ours to own. We shall always remain on the other side of the border. This side, we don’t know or choose but isn’t that our country, our homeland?