We broad the TATA MAGIC which will take us to the city of Jorhat. Mihir and I cramp into the backseat of this petty public transport module as four of our friends adjust themselves into the main seats slightly ahead. The lot was heading to the town because Mihir had planned to throw a party with the scholarship that had been credited to his account just the day before and the lot is visibly excited to eat off somebody else. The MAGIC drags ahead squeaking with the weight way beyond its safe capacity but what is India without such little ‘Chalta Hai’s we take pride in; the wind blows gently in our faces as could be felt by the dust smacking against our cheeks and Mihir starts the conversation with a smirk on his face,
“Remember how I got this scholarship?”
I smirk in reply as we take turns to reminisce the highlights of that fateful day when Mihir Jyoti Doley applied for his scholarship.
*** ** * ** ***
It had been a short day at college as I skipped two lectures, a small pasture and a short strip of National Highway No. 37 and presented myself all ready at his hostel room where Mihir lay in his bed idle not even remotely matching my expectations. Seeing me, he jumped off his bed, changed from his boxers into a pair of jeans and slinging a tank top over his shoulders in half a minute, began to ramble on me being late leaving me to stare at him open-mouthed as he bolted out of his room and then coming back again to urge me to hurry up at last, dragged me down the stairs and onto the edge of NH-37 and waited for a MAGIC as I rolled my eyes in disgust at the circus that I had just witnessed and he smiled like a stupid monkey having being succeeded in irritating me. A MAGIC stopped a few moments later, he shrugged his shoulders as we boarded the MAGIC and the momentary rift was slammed jocundly.
The highway though being a busy road in respect to the Assamese roads would be the laughing stock in the Annual National Highway Meet should it happen when NH-1 would go like, “Have you noticed only 14 Highways turned up?” when NH-15 would answer looking in NH-37’s direction, “Still one more than the cars you could see at NH-37,” and the whole room would be hooting with laughter. The either sides of this ‘highway’ were dotted with pastures, houses and motels just like any other road in Assam and the only claim it had to be called a highway was the fact that it was boarder, dustier and plagued with marginally fewer potholes than the other roads. Nonetheless, we dragged along with the MAGIC absorbed in our little conversations and trying hard not to forget the purpose of our visit to Jorhat: application for scholarship. Forty minutes of dust trying to shovel itself up our noses, recurring back-ache and a million socially inappropriate conversations later, we stepped down at the heart of the city.
We descended off our MAGIC-al ride at Boruah Chariali which is sort of the capital of the once-capital city of the Ahom Kingdom of Assam and were faced with an awkward predicament. The purpose of our foray into this aristocratic town was to submit a scholarship application but the funny thing was that we didn’t know where the hell in this world to submit it. The fact that this so very important detail came to our notice only when we landed at Jorhat only served to underline the reality that we were nothing but sheer idiots.
“What now?” I asked eyebrows raised.
“I know the same as you.” Mihir muttered pulling his phone out of his pocket.
“I am calling Papa…” he stopped. Calling his parents would only testify our idiocy. He looked at me and cleared the number. “We’ll find the office.” He said as confidently as a student who took an exam he knows he’s going to fail for sure. I gulped.
Horns threatened to kill us and that was when we realized that we had been standing on the road all this while and quickly jumped on to the footpath. The drivers of the cars that passed by rolled their eyes at us and we tried not to notice; walking briskly off to nowhere. The honkers soon lost themselves in the pack of cars plying in the busy roads of the city and we settled ourselves in front of some irrelevant shop. Mihir took out his form and read it voraciously while I was figuring out where to go. Suddenly, he barked out of reading,
“What?!” I asked instinctively.
“Google ITDP. It says on the form to submit it to ITDP office. Search for it.” He hissed.
“Okay… ITDP… is it?” I pull out my phone and search for it on Google.
The search results load and it said that the ITDP office was in Guwahati. I burst out laughing as Mihir snatched the phone from my hands and glares at the screen, his face painted into a grave shade. He turned to me and I laugh out louder. I recollect myself as he leers at me.
“Try searching for ITDP, Jorhat.” I stutter in the most composed tone I could muster.
“Already did while you were enjoying the fun. There is no exact location of the office but Tennis Club Jorhat pops up every time I search for ITDP Jorhat.” He barks.
“Maybe the office is close to the tennis club?”
“Maybe… Let’s go.”
We start walking. The Tennis Club was some half a kilometre away and during the ten minutes’ walk, I tried to make amends with phrases like, “Don’t worry,” “We’ll find it,” only to be replied with “You are enjoying it, aren’t you?” and it was my turn to shrug my shoulders as we laughed it off unaware of the fact that I was about to enjoy a lot more; a hell lot more.
We reached the Jorhat Lawn Tennis Club, its 100 years of glorious existence painted horribly on its high crimson-coloured walls. We didn’t notice the hordes of children and adults whacking their racquets right, left and centre nor did we notice the punctured calmness that the place commanded right in the middle of the city. The things our minds decided to notice instead was the Big Bazaar teeming with people, the Circuit House surrounded by important-looking cars, the deserted Irrigation Office and most importantly no ITDP-looking building. We looked around the place, once going right and then left trying to find a dull-painted old-looking structure, the general description of government offices, but couldn’t find any. We went across and repeated the parade to the same extent. There was no ITDP. We looked at each other, our brows raised, when a rickshaw-puller shrieked,
“Babu… ‘ere you go?”
“ITDP office.” I replied instinctively with a meek ray of hope.
“I… D… P… ‘ere is it?” He stopped paddling and stared at us.
“ST office…. Tribe. tribe. Any tribal office you know?” Mihir asked.
“Tribe.. aha.. I kno’ a tribal office… its on the road to DCB.. 40 rupees.” The paddler demanded trying to decide whether to turn his rickshaw the other way or not.
Devicharan Baruah Girls’ College, or DCB as known popularly, was some a distant place from where we were standing but though being relatively new to the city, we knew for sure that the distance did not wager forty rupees for sure. We decide to walk to the audible grumbling of the rickshaw-puller. DCB was closer from Baruah Chariali, our first steps at Jorhat, but from Jorhat Tennis Club, a twenty-minute walk lay before us. On the way, we relished the presence of mind of Mihir to ask for the Tribal Office as the ITDP dealt with tribal affairs and people might have known it better as the Tribes office rather than its proper name as the people know detergent as Surf Excel, soybean chunks as Nutrella and potato chips as Uncle Chips among others. In our relishing however, we took one turn wrong and realised it at a very interesting position. If we took a U-turn and tracked back our paths before moving onto the correct road, it would take us five more minutes but if we crossed through a public park right ahead of us, it would land us right on the right road. We being lazy went for the latter and crossed the circumference of the park around the pond in the centre of the park and around the young lovebirds busy in their trade at various corners and benches of the park. The place was crowded with young couples and we two walking through the park were met with odd stares as if the sole purpose of our going into the club was to intrude in the love-affairs of the people we needn’t knowing. Amidst it all, we crossed the park onto the road and walked on. The road to DCB though a long and windy one was not a boring one for us as we witnessed dozens of the distractions of youth walking home from the college but somehow being in the spirit of doing one’s work with one hundred percent dedication, we were distracted with so much dedication that we forgot all about the office we were to find and realised it only at the gates of DCB. We traced our footsteps back and began to look frantically for the office but couldn’t find any. After three or four parades up and down the small stretch of road we decide to survey and presenting an amusing spectacle for the girls who were walking down there we spotted a creaky stout building with the banner “Social Affairs Dept.” and hoping that this should be our destination went for it.
We enter the hut of sorts. The office had only two rooms where eight tables lay in a dainty state. One room had been devoid of any human presence when we entered and by the looks of it we wouldn’t be surprised if it had been devoid since inception. The other room was breathed by a lanky fellow doing some paperwork on one of the tables and another stocky man operating a typewriter.
“Sir.” Mihir began politely, “Do you perhaps know where is the ITDP office?”
“The what office?” The typewriter replied sluggishly as the lanky fellow stopped scribbling and looked at us.
“The Tribal Affairs office?” Mihir asked; the strength in his voice diminishing by the second.
“Oh… Go to Shankar Hall. You’ll find it there.” The typewriter said confidently and the lanky fellow went back to his scribbling.
We thanked them and were back on the road. Being new to the city, we have never heard of the Shankar Hall and decided to take a rickshaw and were subsequently pulled along the manicured streets of the cultural capital of Assam. We were breathing relaxed after a long while as we thought that our mission was to be completed but a surprise waited in gift wrapping for us at Shankar Hall. After a few minutes, we descended in front of the Shankar Hall and relieving the paddler of his duties looked for the Tribal Affairs office around the area and this time we found the building with no problems therein but were faced with an even larger problem as the building was not a Tribal Affairs building but the Tribal Rest-House.
The previous failures were bemusing at the very least but this had pushed our patience over the line. Mihir broke into a rambling and decided to return back claiming he needed no scholarship. I was in a Shakespearian dilemma of whether to laugh or not and seeing the fire burning at an arm’s length from me decided against it. So it was decided then, no scholarship for him and we took another rickshaw, this time to Baruah Chariali. On the way however, Mihir’s phone rang. It was his father. We wondered why he might have been calling. Mihir picked up the call. His father informed him that he would be coming to Jorhat the day after to see him and Mihir nodded but just as he was about to hang up, Mihir recounted the whole debacle we had just witnessed hesitantly and embarrassingly. Suddenly, the wrinkles of Mihir’s face vanished and a smile began to illuminate his features as he hung up the phone. Naturally, I enquired.
“Father rebuked me for not asking at the beginning.” He began softly.
“And?” I quizzed. I guessed that part, you idiot, I thought.
“And the office is at the DC Court, Jorhat.” He snorted.
“What!?” I couldn’t help breaking into a riot of laughter at the irony. The DC Court was exactly in front of the place where we landed at Baruah Chariali in the very beginning of our hectic adventure at Jorhat and now after roaming a quarter of Jorhat futilely we were returning to the very same place where we started to sort it all out. Mihir landed a punch on my shoulders but I couldn’t stop laughing and the rickshaw dragged along the aristocratic streets.
*** ** * ** ***
A. D. Konwar