When I recently landed in Dibrugarh, little did I expect to be welcomed by many ‘firsts’; a visit to the north-eastern part of India was always on my bucket list, but destiny conspired elsewise, till a chance professional assignment broke the ‘jinx’.
Dibrugarh was not my final destination; it was the beginning of a long chain of experiences. The following day saw the weather playing hide-and-seek with the sun, clouds, and sporadic spells of rain. I was scheduled to travel to the Sasoni Merbeel eco-tourism project, an initiative implemented by the Sasoni Merbeel Eco-Tourism Development Committee.
The drive, interspersed with the pitter-patter of the rain, the overwhelming stretches of greenery boasting of all possible shapes and sizes of flora, and the breeze whisking the hair away wildly, felt like a dream; away from the madding crowd, I thought to myself. The silence served as luxury, a welcome break to retrospect and introspect. The drive culminated at a ‘gate’, which ‘welcomed’ us to explore the beyond.
The ‘kutcha’ path that led into the project space shifted my focus to the feet, the path they were supposed to take, where they led, and how I could overcome little ‘hurdles’ smoothly – a lesson for life, I thought to myself. How many times does one, actually, focus on the journey; the destination is all that matters in the frenzied chaos.
On either side cottages made of bamboo stood stoically. Would the frenzy of nature not blow them away? I was informed of the contrary. Another lesson learnt: things are not always what they seem; there is more than what meets the eye. I walked along, admiring a certain species of shrubs, which were adorned with leaves sporting a riot of colours.
The path led to another discovery – of flora, which was amazingly varied, especially for a sheheri person like me. The city life had spoiled me, in a way. I looked at my ‘guide’, leading the way, and wondered how in sync with nature he was.
In a clearing, I spotted a kind of a ‘jalpari’ being constructed. It seemed like a page out of a story-book: the sky spotting its kaleidoscopic hues, the splash of green, and the ‘under-construction art-work’ in progress, besides which some men stood talking animatedly. One of them, I was told, was Moni Moni Gogoi. The name did not find resonance with me, at first. I was then given a short brief about the gentleman.
We were ushered into a ‘thatched enclosure’, greeted amicably, and offered some tea – a speciality of the region, which I can comfortably say more than meets the hype. As my colleague, Rimpi Bora, spoke in Assamese with Gogoi, I watched the profile of the man in question keenly – determined jawline, and eyes that were capable of displaying a myriad of emotions as the conversation moved along.
ULFA had been a part of Gogoi’s journey, till the desire to pursue social work overcame him, leaving him in a kind of ‘flux’ for some time of his life – a rather difficult time, I would imagine. The uncertainties, the insecurities, and the instabilities would have played havoc with him, his friends and family, but looking at him I did not think that ever broke him; if it did anything, it would have made him tougher and more committed to his pursuit of ‘giving back to society’.
As my colleague continues the conversation, my eyes and mind wander, and take in the scenic beauty of the place. The waters have served as home for migratory birds, the soil an abode for varied trees, shrubs, and countless other creatures. In the distance I spot some rabbits, and excitedly point out, unabashedly, to Gogoi’s son.
He smiles understandingly, and helps me hold one. It may sound silly, but I had never held one before, never felt the soft fur, the rather animated struggle to leap out of my hands and scamper into hiding, the dancing eyes…it is an experience, albeit a short-term one. I follow him around the site, absorbing nature’s unaccountable delights we tend to miss in the hectic of life.
I am told there are pythons too…and panthers…and my eyes continue to open wide…like a child…I then encounter the ‘bird home’, where some varieties of birds are housed for visitors to soak in their mannerisms, the flamboyance of some of the ‘gentlemen’ and the ‘nakhras’ of the some of the ‘ladies’ too.
This project, I am told, has the potential of creating rural entrepreneurs besides protecting flora and fauna of the region. Oil India Limited has funded solar lighting, pedal boats, bio digesters and battery driven eco-friendly vehicles and other requirements.
The 40 kW solar power plant powers a part this project site. Inaugurated in December, 2016 by the Chairman and Managing Director, Oil India Limited, Mr. Utpal Bora, the project is still in its nascent stage, and is seeing continuous change.
I return back to where Rimpi is still in conversation with Gogoi…though I do not understand the language, the non-verbal communication is strong enough to convey the excerpts of the dialogue. Besides being a very efficient community mobilizer, Gogoi also invests a lot of time, effort and passion in this eco-tourism project. He feels it will serve well for all concerned in the coming future.
His conviction is visible for all to see. During the course of the conversation, a bucket with water is kept in front of me. I peek curiously inside, to be pleasantly surprised by a ‘hard shell’ – a tortoise! I am encouraged to hold the little guy (or girl); deftly, I ‘haul’ him (or her) out of his abode, and notice, with glee, the quick retreat into the shell; another first for me. We city beings may have a number of luxuries at our disposal, but meeting this ‘new’ friend is not very common in the usual humdrum of the metro.
As I leave the ‘island of silence’, as the project is nicknamed, I cannot but help feel a pang…back to the madding crowd, I think to myself…but, then I realize an important truth too…nirvana is in each one of us, in each living soul we encounter, and in each object too…it is a matter of perception…perception of life and its true meaning…the island of silence…