<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 156 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 28, 2004

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From Munkhia’s World to Melbourne

Dilshad Rahat Ara

It is winter in Melbourne. What can you get in an average winter day in Melbourne? Shower, gale, cloud, sunshine and what not. So every morning I start my day with the news and the weather update on television. I switch back and forth between channel seven and channel nineten to watch if there is any discrepancy in weather forecast between two channels and try to sort out in my mind if I have to put on two or three layers. While I do that I make several attempts to get out of the warm quilt. And it is not an easy task especially on some cold and dark mornings. Fortunately this is a sunny Sunday and I am up early; I have my backpack ready with a Mars bar and a bottle of 'Miy Zzone'. Today I am having my weekend adventure along Sydney road. It has become increasingly difficult for me recently to recall any particular place by physical details all I can remember once a path is traversed is its deconstructed smell, sound and sights and all in bite size pieces. Each time I think about Sydney road I smell pizza and lemon-pepper and feel the hustle and bustle of a faraway Middle-eastern bazaar. I am on the tram 19 and the tram is passing Don-Boscho Oop-p. Shop. Suddenly the deconstruction starts to happen.


The sound of a jhiri and that mushy smell of forest…Munkhia is already drunk from the rice beer. I had to sip a little too. Mongpur the karbari is busy serving us jhum rice and sutki. I am tired; still have difficulty disassociating myself from my trip from Down Under. My legs are aching and I know tomorrow will be a difficult day for me as we will be climbing down. The meal is finished and Munkhia is calling us out. I have already met most of the people in this para and by this time some of them have gone back. I have put my backpack against the communal pillow the bamboo pole set on the ground, which very soon I will have to share with many others. As I am climbing down from the machan I can see the open theatre in dark bluish light. It is nearing midnight and a fire is lit in the open field. For a moment I feel like a misanthrope among these beautiful, simple people. With wild natural flowers behind the ears, their young boys are warming up with their back to the fire, and I am standing - facing it, just the opposite. It makes me ponder on Lévi-Strauss, the French philosopher who later turned anthropologist and how he dwelled on points that I now share with him. If only I could strip me of my ethnocentric prejudices… and I may feel like the luckiest person alive to breathe in this blessed life. I could really see!. It's very quiet up here. People speak in a low voice and children hardly cry and I wonder like Strauss where the real civility lies.

Munkhia is already under the effect of too many cups of rice wine and is talking quite poetically with half closed eyes. He is saying something fuzzily, pointing to a big tree with dried branches., - a dead tree…nothing in it……it doesn't have leaves! I look up at the tree rising tall and slender branching out from thick to thin lines from straight to twisted, arched, curved shadowlines.

Am I a thousand feet above the ground? The full moon is casting a spell on me. Munkhia's words are slowly filling in the void between the crevices of deep green blackish robe covering the distant hills. The hushing sound of fresh mountain air intermingled with the moonlight seem to play with the mystique of the whole space, and all these strange stunning faces of innocence of indigenous people, grouped around a single fire make me feel that we are performing a ritual in a mystique land. Slowly but surely I become conscious of my phoney identity in this space and time. The full moon has done its trick. The dark shadow of the usual night has taken a different ambience. I can count almost all the stars, dazzling like diamonds from here, and they seem so nearer to me. Munkhia is muttering something with a deep voice with his neck arched back…so you have a sky full of fused stars and you think you have it all in Dhaka!

We are back from hills. For two days we are resting in Bandarban. I am exhausted preparing for my trip to Dhaka. I am looking for Munkhia and suddenly find him standing in front of a signboard it's an advertisement for schooling. And I can read it from here 'Don Boscho School'. Suddenly I feel like a pendulum oscillating between two extreme points. It is weekend in Melbourne. The tram 19 is passing along Sydney road. I see faces and hear voices not so familiar to me but my mind is calling some other faces by name…

Mongpur, Munkhia, Tumrao. I hear the sweeping hushing sound of mountain breeze against familiar hills. I insert the ticket and hear the validating sound. The green machine pops up the validated card and it shows that I have three hours before it expires. I am thinking about getting down at Stop 26, from there I will take a few detours and that will be the start of yet another day in Melbourne.



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