23 December 2008


The semester exams came and went. Yes, this is precisely why I’d disappeared anyways. The exams are over but some things end only to start afresh and there is no escape. I mean, even before the exams were over I’d been given my future works. There is the documentary shooting and editing to finish and finally the work on my final dissertation. Yes, I know I’m boring everyone terribly.
The good part is that after a long time I’m back with my reading. Oh! I feels great, believe me – doing things one love doing. The annual book fair has begun this is one more of the reason why I love winters unlike the ants. Got a few books. Will be reading Noam Chomsky for the first time ‘Class Warfare’. I am reading Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”. Yup! The one that was made into a movie recently starring James McAvoy and Kiera Knightly. This is the second McEwan book for me. And I’m enjoying it. Though the first one, “Amsterdam” was a bit too much.
But these are not the reasons why I’m writing (never mind, I never write for any damn reason). Our group’s documentary shoot is about to start. Our subject is the minuscule Portuguese descendents who had been having a camouflaged presence in the Bondashil area of Badarpur for the last twenty decades. It’s amazing how we all had been so unaware of their presence for so long.
Almost three weeks back we had gone there to have a feel of the place and to gather some traces of their history. It houses one of the oldest churches in entire northeast, St. Joseph Church. They have a school too, St. Josephs which has its own hostels. It was great talking to the headmistress, Sister Ursula for hours on end. She gave us brief on the history and about the school and the community. Roaming about the place, by the river Barak running by the hundred years old Cemetery smelling of dry leaves and the piercing sunrays, listening to the tales of old times, you are transported to a different time and place. She let us know that the river had changed its course about a hundred years back, washing away half of the cemetery. She said, a thousand bones of early Christians just got washed away. May be some even got ingrained into the fertile soil of the valley. There was an amazing peacefulness. The picture was so perfect (I mean not plastic perfect, real perfect). No camera would have been good enough to freeze these moments. The boats loaded and heavy, the little boys having their routine afternoon dip in the river, and the pleasing breeze which just kept on hovering all around the place like an unavoidable good ghost.
Saw many faces coloured with the patina of old age sparkle up when they were said that they had guests who wanted to talk to them. It’s is the only truth, we just desire simple things out of life, like may be conversations in an apt hour.
Got to see the oldest building in the entire village belonging to the Anthony’s. It smelled of a different time. The skull of the deer (I wonder how many years old) outside the battered door reminded of the unconventional old custom.
Our meeting with the people there was a good experience. Everyone was so warm and open. Even after so many days have passed since our last visit, I still get filled with a surge of happy feeling whenever I picture the sunrays trying to impenetrate through the tall trees and bushes, creating soft shadows, keeping you warm; the smile of the children of the hostel, the boys playing pranks and avoiding that light-emanating equipment, camera….

We will be going there this Christmas to shoot the festivity and may be some part of the documentary. The thought of meeting all of them and to walk by the side of the river makes me happy. We’re all so excited. This is a story that needs to be told and felt. I know I’ve not said anything about them. That I’ll do in another blog. It’s about the lost case of identity, its mess up, eroding in a sense. What do they call themselves- Portuguese or Indians? Once upon a time it was proud of them to speak highly of their European lineage.
For these Portuguese descendents, their surnames are the only remains of their European lineage. They speak the local language., they intermarry, they are Catholics unlike any other. You can see the Christian married women wearing vermilion on their forehead; they have integrated some of the Hindu marriage rituals as well.

At the end of the day, this identity crisis is not concentrated only among this fraction of the society; it’s a universal phenomenon. We want autonomy, we want our tribe to proliferate, we think we will extinct, we don’t want people crossing over the borders and taking over our land, our life. We want to protect out identity. But what exactly is identity??
I just know that we are all in search for ourselves and we don’t know how to go about it. We all employ our own means and processes.
Lets see how far we can proceed.

7 after-thought(s):

voice of silence said...

i had known about this portuguese community long back, and always wanted to do a story on them, but could never trace them, staying in Delhi. There is another such community of punjabies near Nogoan in Assam....anyways it was wonderful to know that you guys are doing such a wonderful job....keep walking!!!

modern exile said...

hopefully we can do justice to the story... have shot half of the docu...i know in bits and pieces about the punjabis as well.. do wish us luck amit da... have a long way to go.. must keep walking..
P.S thanks for the tag :)

ShantanuDas said...

Ohh thanks for this info!! I never knew Badarpur had a Portugese history of this sort even after living there for 9 years! ...of course I do not feel ashamed because I am sure many Delhites too would not know this!!

Sujoy Bhattacharjee said...

This is amazing. I mean really. Didn't have a clue about this.
Would have been an interesting trip there. Sadly, I don't think I will ever be able to make it now.

modern exile said...

@ shantanu:
i don't mean the badarpur in delhi. the badarpur i'm talking about is located in the karimganj district of south assam. google it for more info. best of luck.

@ sujoy:
it's preety amazing to see how these people have completely mingled with the locals(who are predominantly Bengali Hindu.
no trace, nothing of their lineage remains. they are diffrent than other Catholics in india.
will write more soon.

ShantanuDas said...

I am relieved now !! :-)yes I will.

still thinking !!! said...

loved it .sorry for being outta time and outta touch!