LOTUS, AS the Hindi saying goes, blooms in keechad (muck).
Monsoon mein multi-lane Srinagar turns really mucky. By Srinagar, I don’t mean the capital of Pakistan’s obsession – never gone north beyond Gurgaon to find out if there’s anything kaala about or around Dal.
This Srinagar – a misnomer, as there’s nothing sri (other than an honorific for Indian males, it means good/nice/clean/beautiful) about this nagar – is our locality in Guwahati. Sandwiched between Guwahati-Shillong Road and Zoo Road, it is marginally closer to the Assam State Zoo than where the more dangerous animals stay – Dispur, the seat of power in Assam.
If you happen to be caught in Srinagar during a downpour, only an anti-Varun – Hindu rain-god unrelated to a rant-raining mortal of the same name – divinity can help you. But while wallowing in the post-shower keechad, you cannot miss the other Varun’s lotus. For, among our neighbors is BJP’s Bijoya Chakraborty, former federal minister and the party’s candidate for the Guwahati parliamentary seat.
Moral of the story: there’s more than one Srinagar on this earth, albeit varying in size, significance and splendor.
Though it carries Srinagar in its womb, Guwahati – the city is woven around 11 reserved forests, several hills, wetlands and a massive river (Brahmaputra) – has never pretended to be anywhere near the Kashmir capital. Both, however, are nerve centers of secessionism-scarred states.
Is there, by any chance, a locality named Guwahati in Kashmir’s Srinagar? Or for that matter, does Guwahati have a namesake anywhere else on this globe? I have no idea.
A name closest to Guwahati I can think of is Guabari, near the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Council. There’s, of course, Goa (could very well have been Goa-hati). And Gao somewhere in Portugal.
I have been trying to discover a Guwahati ‘soundalike’ or clone ever since this businessman in Lucknow’s Aminabad locality asked me if I belonged to the “same Guwahati near China”. Goons shot Agarwala – he was the main dealer of Sintex tanks – for failing to pay hafta (and they think only militants in Northeast India kill Marwaris or other Hindi-speakers!).
“Aap Gawhaati se hai? Woh China ke paas waali?” these words after our introduction still ring in my ears.
He was at least better than some other Lucknowites who thought Assam began and ended with Siliguri, a commercial place and railway junction in northern West Bengal. The slain businessman – some of his acquaintances too – even believed China was as close to Guwahati as NOIDA is to Delhi.
I loved playing along. “Oh, the border is so near a rickshaw will charge you only Rs 25 to take you there,” I said once. He didn’t catch on to the next gaajaa or fakoti (bluff in Assamese). “The rickshaws go up to the border regularly for barter trade. The Chinese depend on us for rice and vegetables, which they take in lieu of electronic goods.”
Geographical ignorance wasn’t a one-way traffic, I found out after returning home. Few in Assam or anywhere in the Northeast knew much about Uttar Pradesh or Bihar besides the obvious. Worse still, many didn’t know or cared to know about their sister states in the Northeast. Some hadn’t even an idea about another half of their own State.
Geography and history, I understand, are passé – no longer taught in schools. But where there’s a will there’s Google. And Wikipedia.
I have surfed for a Guwahati that’s not so close to China. If you have come across one, please send me the link.