It was January 1995 and my friend Robin Ngangom and I were inside a television studio, readying ourselves for an interview. He was already a well-respected and accomplished poet then but was also someone who believed in my writing as a young, aspiring poet. On that typically cold winter afternoon, before the cameras, inside the rather unimpressive structure overlooking our city that looked good from afar, he and I talked about my poetry and song-writing. At one point, he asked me to do an original. Sad loser that I was, I picked up my wooden guitar and chose a song about a lonely Christmas. Robin was not surprised. He and I had spent countless evenings lost in conversations on the subject of unrequited love. We joked a little after and I remember ending the interview with a poem about an industrious community in northeast India that had doggedly gone through two bloody decades contending for self-governance before its leaders agreed to sign a peace accord with India in 1986.
Later that week, somewhere in the city, a young college girl and her dad were watching our interview on local television. As they watched me read, sing and talk about creative influences such as Neruda and themes such as politics and love, she suddenly exclaimed, “Papa, I have seen this man in my dreams!”
Months later, I kept on noticing a young lady at our university campus who was, in my mind, the loveliest girl I had ever seen. Within days, I had totally fallen for her and began devising schemes to get us introduced. Remarkably, I discovered that one of my sisters, Iarika, knew her and so I crafted a strategy to have my sister bring her home on a Sunday after a youth gathering that happened in the church that was in our part of town. My research about her over the week had revealed some important information: Bameri was a good Christian girl and she would probably be attending that youth gathering.
Sunday came and, to my surprise, my strategy did not fail nor backfire. Instead there she was in the living room of our home together with a bunch of other people, many whom I did not know. As we sipped the late afternoon tea and munched on the snacks in that room of many windows, little did I realise that both of us had forgotten everyone else that were there including my sister who had introduced us to each other. The rest of the folks in the room had almost completely faded into oblivion or, at the most, had somehow morphed into formless shadows that did not need our attention.
I do not remember how we got into it but very soon into our conversation, we were delving into some heavy topics like cultural identity and the problem of westernized worship. Of course, I was more of a religious sceptic then and had actually become very antagonistic to Christianity. But I was intentional about not being too overly critical lest I turned her off and squander the delightful opportunity that was there in front of me.
Through a series of planned (unknown to her) and unplanned events, we somewhat developed a friendship and found ourselves sharing cups of tea in the university canteen. I found courage one day to invite her to a literary event in town where the late Khushwant Singh was supposed to speak to a sampling of writers, poets, musicians and scribes from our city, Shillong. Khushwant was at his unconventional and controversial best that day although prior to that, some of us were given the opportunity to read a poem or two. When my turn came, I pulled up a typed sheet and read my recent most poem and it was for her. I had somewhat of a sore throat that day and I had hoped my hoarse voice was having a more dramatic effect as I read lines like these: “There’s something about her footprints / in my room, the lake in her eyes / the boat I cannot ride” and “send me a delegation of angels / send me a word of love, and / I will show you bleeding roses, / of poems written by the fireside / of mornings drunk with your face.” (Something Going On, 1995 https://poeticlogik.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/something-going-on-2/)
Khushwant Singh came and went and soon after, the entire media, countrywide, was ablaze with the news that he had insulted the Bengali community at the meeting where I had read the poem for Bameri. Gripping as the story was, with prominent Bengalis from all over the country expressing outrage and demanding an unequivocal apology from Singh, and him taunting them in return, my heart and mind was more preoccupied with her along with a nagging insecurity that she may reject me if I told her I wanted her to be my girl. But our friendship grew and we got to know each other a little bit more whenever we met.
Photo credit: Hamesan Syiem
End of Part One: Check PART TWO where I share more about meeting her, her dream about me and how I also met “him”.