**The story is inspired by true events that happened almost a decade ago
The swaying rice fields look exquisite during the harvesting season, glistening like gold in the afternoon sun. A delightful sight to behold with a plate of Narikol laddu and Til Pitha. Like every year, popular Bihu songs filled the frosty streets of the countryside. But, the happiness failed to reach my heart as my life began to take an unforeseen turn this winter.
I am Fagun, your average village lass, pretty enough to turn a few heads at the grocery store, and smart enough to pass my higher secondary examination. Our village resides on the bank of river Jhanji, that looks stunning almost every season except in the monsoon when it swells and submerges all the nearby villages. There have been days when the water would flow into our thatched roof house, while I would be cooking on a portable stove, sitting atop the makeshift dining table. The water level would be high enough for me to lean down and wash the utensils. And even in those days, I had never felt lost and desperate as I felt on that fateful night of January.
I had fallen for a boy who lived on the other end of the village. We had been dating secretly for over 10 months. Ours is a community where everybody knew everybody. Sometimes, old women from nearby villages would stop me and ask if I am Mimi’s daughter as I look exactly like her. So you see, keeping my love story secret, was a humongous task.
It’s not that Atanu was of questionable character, but I was sure Ma-Deuta would never approve of a love affair and the bad name it could bring to the family. My elder sister was still unmarried at the age of 35. In a village like ours, tongues waggle and people insinuate all sorts of things.
In the morning just a few days before Magh Bihu, Atanu suggested that we go to the fair in the city. I had hardly visited the city in the past year. The visits were limited to special occasions like Durga Pooja or Rongali Bihu. The thought of spending a whole day together, without the worry of being caught filled my heart with excitement. The plan was to sneak out of our homes late in the morning and return well before sundown. I made an excuse of going to visit a friend and then we boarded the bus together to Jorhat city.
The fair was huge with a variety of food stalls, clothing shops, roller coaster rides, and my favorite – candy floss. We talked non-stop, laughing at each other’s tales – just two young people in love. As the evening started rolling in, we made our way to the bus stop. But the sight made my heart sink. Due to a bus malfunction, hundreds of people had already queued for the bus that would take us back to the village. Although the journey is only an hour long, there was no way we could possibly reach home before dark. Dreadfully, I stood in the queue, waiting for the next bus.
It was past 8 pm when I walked through the familiar path of our neighborhood. I was trembling with the fear of confronting my parents. Atanu silently walked beside me, probably just as nervous at the prospect of an impending outburst. From afar, I could see a huge crowd in our front yard. Someone was wailing, and there were few angry voices too.
“Where were you?“, Deuta screamed at me as soon as I reached the gate. I had never seen him this furious before. Ma was crying non-stop while my sister consoled her.
“I went to the fair… in… in the city“, I said, almost in a whisper, still unable to understand why Ma was crying.
“Fair? FAIR? You think I am a fool. You ran away with that boy.“
It was then I understood the situation. When I didn’t return in the evening, my parents and cousins went in search of me. A shopkeeper at the bus stop told them that I was seen boarding a bus with Atanu. As the hours passed by, they started suspecting that I had eloped. Married him in a temple or alike.
I could barely utter a word. I cried and tried to convince them that I had only gone to the fair, we didn’t get married – but to no avail.
“You have to marry her. Take her to your home. Tonight!“, I heard my father’s stony voice.
Atanu looked perplexed. I was too shocked to say anything in return. Some of the villagers tried to convince Deuta against this rash decision, but he was obstinate.
“Marry her now or never step in this house again. This has brought enough shame to our family“
Atanu looked at me, our eyes met and then he turned to Deuta,” Ok, I will take her to my home“.
I stayed at his house that night, and then the next day we were married in a small ceremony. His parents were just as shocked as we were, but they did not wish their son’s name to be dragged into a scandal like this.
Life has been different since then. I became a daughter-in-law, a mother a year later. I was not the same carefree girl who ran in the narrow paths between paddy fields. But at least I am happy, that I could spend my life with the man I love.
Deuta – Dad
Ma – Mother
Narikol Laddu – Coconut Laddu (sweets)
Til pitha – An Assamese sweet make of rice powder and crushed sesame seeds mixed with jaggery.
Magh Bihu – A festival in Assam celebrating the harvesting of rice
Rongali Bihu – A festival in Assam, celebrated in mid-April marking the start of a new year.