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Lakshminath Bezbaroa
Date of Publish: 2015-10-04

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MILARAM

(MILARAMOR ATMAJIVANI)

 

Original: Lakshminath Bezbaroa

Translated from Assamese by: Uttam Kumar Borthakur  and Shantanu Kumar Barua

 

 

I chose to write my own biography for the following reasons:

(1) By count, either through matrimony or by kinship, I have three relatives. The first is from my wife’s side, then from my mother’s side, and finally, the last, from my father’s side. From each of these three, I have received three separate letters of three pages each in the interval of three days each, the gist of which goes like this:

“If you write about the extra-ordinary events of your life under your own hand and publish it for the benefit of mankind, then we shall get to read your story.”

(2) By following the path of my iconic life, many shall be able to be as g-g-great as I am.

(3)  If I do not leave behind my own biography written by my own hand, who at a later day would write it, treading the path of righteousness, in this Age of the Downfall, when people have all become heretics?

(4) Devotionally reading the life of a holy person is a virtuous act. If you permit me to say so, without taking any offence, I may refer to this story of my life as the spectacles of the blind, wooden pegs of the lame, chiropractic blows on the humpback, salve for the carbuncle, soothing balm for the itchy eczema, soft pulp of the cane for curing the in-growing toenail, or the cotton-wool and betel-leaf henna for the flaky dishpan hands.

Our clan in Assam is as old as the Patkai Hills, as tall as the temple at Joysagar, as large as the water-tank at Sivasagar, and as bright as the shooting star. The name of our ancestor was Haibar. In 1619 of the Saka era, in the company of five other noble personages like him, armed with bludgeons for hammering people, jimmy-bars to pry open pad-locks and picks for digging holes under the walls of a house, he arrived from Kanauj, slowly conquering all in the way to finally reach Assam. Swargadeo Rudrasingha, one who could appreciate the merit in the meritorious, welcomed them and offered them wonderful lodgings in the royal prison forever, and took upon himself the responsibility of their maintenance.

Fifteen years later, Haribar, the son and heir of Haibar, having wandered six months over land and water in search of his father, reached Rongpur and bowed his head at his father’s holy feet in the aforesaid royal shelter. Having been blessed by his father to “have a long life”, loudly enough for all to hear, and hoping to get glimpses of the holy paternal feet more often, Haribar took up residence in that very town. Hardly a year had passed or not, when the fragrance of Haribar’s fame had reached the appreciative royal nostrils, and the generous Swargadeo, in an expression of his generosity, and not to cause any separation between the father-son duo, arranged for his stay in the same lodgings.

The name of the famous Manbar pundit, the son of Haribar, can be found if you search the pages of history. The perfume of his erudition pervaded the whole state of Assam. He had this uncanny ability to exactly copy someone’s signature. This great artistry of his found discussion in the court of Swargadeo Sivasingha, the son of Swargadeo Rudrasingha, and when the king found that people in large numbers were rushing to see the pundit from distant lands, he eagerly received him, dressed him up in hiked-up shorts, put him up on the high street, so as to enable all to give him an appreciative eyeful. Further, fearing that he might lose his artistry due to inactivity, this academic enthusiast Swargadeo placed in his hands a hammer to break stones for the road, so as to ensure that his skills remained in good practice.

After Manbar pundit had taken leave of his worldly affairs, his five sons and a daughter remained as his “footsteps” in this world. By the grace of God, Xindhiram, Ratiram, Batiram, Katiram, Suwaram and Kopahi, these five “little sons” and the gem of a daughter grew up to become capable of earning their keep. Others chose to name the boys as the Five Pandavas and the girl as Jumbowati, but it was not known as to why and on what analogy they were so named. Where were the Five Pandavas, and where was Jumbowati, made out to be the sister of the Five Pandava? Ha, Ha, Ha, is it not a matter of mirth?

The old folks called hermits and sages had mentioned in the Hindu scriptures that names resemble men. With great protestation, and in defiance of such dictum, it needs to be stated that it is people who actually resemble their names. For my saying so, for brushing aside the Hindu scriptures, even if you call me a Christian, I shall agree to it. Though I may not wish to speak the truth, my boneless tongue would not leave it unsaid. I wish to tell you something here now, don’t you forget, that if you think about it carefully, the sayings of the hermits and the sages were pretty incoherent. It was not unknown, even to them, that our forefathers of their times did not always pay much attention to what they had to say! That they had to speak to the Sanchi-pat, Tal-pat and Bhojpatra on what they had to say, rather than dare to speak to our forefathers directly, verily proves the fact. The Sanchi-pat and the likes of them, on their part, having failed to understand the pith and substance of such gobbledygook, spread these among the termites. And from there those went on to the termite mounds. From termite mounds on to Valmiki and from Valmiki on to the Ramayana – and now, here, I have let you into this great hidden truth.

Whatever be it, it is to be said with pride that my ancestors were persons worthy of their names. None could match the ability of Xindhiram, the boy from this house, in digging a tunnel into another’s house. When it came to tunnel into the house of an eminent person, teeming with servants and sentries, none other than this great soul, this ‘Professor’ Ratiram was a person of divine powers, at least with his eyes. He could see things with great clarity even in pitch dark, just like the fox or the owl. His comings and goings were more fluent at night rather than in the daytime. Like the best of the animals, the fox, and the best of the birds, the owl, he spends the day dozing and crouching in the corner, but as soon as evening approaches, he stretches out his limbs and flexes his body to stand erect. Astounded on observing this divine power in him, the king Pramattasingha was mightily pleased to confer upon him the stately award of two iron chains to wear on his limbs. A link of this chain still remains in my home. I have placed it on an altar atop the gable of my house of worship, as a souvenir of my ancestor. On Bihu and such-like occasions, I take it out to pay my obeisance.

In this world it is not difficult for a hard working and persevering person to work his way up from a humble origin to be in a well-established position. I have heard that step by step, from the position of a printer in a printing press, Benjamin Franklin had become a person of great renown. It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte rose to be an Emperor from a mere private soldier.  Our forefather Ratiram too had become a very notable person with his immense labour and irrepressible tenacity. Ratiram is an example of what is referred to in English as a “self-made man”. At first he purloined the chalice belonging to others, then the water-pot, then the brass jar, then the goat, the cow, the buffalo without the permission and knowledge of the owners, day after day, until he could attain such height in his trade so as to reach the crown of the temple. So much so that when the selfish, Jolombota (pretender Ahom) Kirti Chandra Borborua, who seared and devoured pages of Assam history, started riding the high horse after being appointed the confidant Khatoniar of the King, a grand design to uproot this thorny Kotkora shrub took shape, and the large round opium-bowl eyes of the leading personalities of the state, such as the Borgohains, fell on our Ratiram. Ratiram was not made of such stuff as to shy away. In the saka era of 1685, when Borborua was on his way to town, this Ratiram had chopped him as if he was the trunk of a Bhim banana tree. But the strength of fate is immense. Borborua survived, Ratiram did not. He was chopped down.

Kati, the brother of Rati, wasn’t a pushover either. He spared no effort to save the name and fame of our family. When the Moamoriyas imprisoned Swargadeo Lakhmi Singha, impaled Kirti Chandra Borborua on the punji spike, in an effort to install Ramakanta, the son of Khoramoran, as the king, the mighty Katiram joined issues with the Moamoriyas by putting his might behind them, against the king, and displayed his valour equally with the General Khoramoran and the wives of Raghmoran while fighting along their side. This Katiram had on that day struck at the back of king Lakhmisingha at Joi Doul three times with the whip, to give him a taste of the whiplash, so as to teach his eminence that he ought not to whip another person, ever. This same Katiram again, after a while, conspired with Ghanashyam (later Buragohain), to put an end to the rebel Ramakanta when he feigned to meet him to pay his obeisance.  It is to be said with a heavy heart that this ungrateful Ghanashyam Burhagohian treacherously invited the hero, and along with other Moamoriyas, buried him alive in a pit dug for that very purpose. Else, in all probability, he would have today been a living legend in Badarikashram along with the likes of Uddhav, Ashwathama, Hanumanta and Bibhishana. God only knows if it is true, or false, but a legend is in circulation that right at the place where he had been buried, a sapling sprouted from his head that went on to become a huge bottle-gourd plant. 

The youngest of them all, Suaram, was also not wanting in calibre. He too was a war-horse son of a worthy father. He was the “captain” of the Morans, who had set fire to the coronation house on the 2nd day of Bohag of the 1704th year of the Saka Era. He was a person of great intelligence, wisdom and sound moral character. He could not at all bear to see anyone’s possessions lying unattended in disarray. Whenever he came across such things, he picked them up with his own hands and kept them carefully in his own home. Fools fail to recognize friends and relatives. Fools also knew not how to keep their own possessions properly nor do they allow others to keep these as they should be. That’s the reason why the benevolent Suaram was forced to keep those goods, belonging to such foolish owners, carefully in his own custody, without bothering to inform them. A tale about him is still in vogue.  In one household there was a little surfeit of brass-jars, bowls, plates, pitchers. But to what end, as mentioned above, since those were in disarray. Out of kindness, our Suaram, who had considered it his own duty to take up the responsibility of safeguarding those jars and bowls, sat in wait on the plinth under the eaves of the house on a dark night for the inmates to go to sleep. All affairs of the Assamese people are somewhat bizarre. There was no method in the layout of the house. The refuse dump was next to the eaves drop. When the mistress of the house, having eaten her dinner, and carrying her wash-water in a basin, came out and threw away the water towards the refuse dump, unfortunately the entire content fell upon our forefather, who was sitting crouched in the darkness under the overhang.  Immediately thereupon, uttering the invective ‘very uncouth woman!’, he got up and straightaway left the place! Sad to say, our forefather, the kind-hearted Suaram Saikia, left for his heavenly abode three days later, of fever and consumption, having bathed on cold wash-water from an impure wash-basin on a Puh-month night.

There is not much material in the history of Assam on Kopahi (who had been unfairly nicknamed by the envious as Jumbowati. Only what is known is that within a span of five years she had been tended by seven husbands, finally getting married to Rupsingh Subedar, the slayer of Badanchandra Borphukon.

This is the way eminent persons have been perennially continuing like a string of pearls in our family. To write about the events of all those lives would make it a Mahabharata, and I too am no second Vyasa. Therefore, I shall randomly mention one or two names and then directly reach my grandfather at one go.

The king-chaser Xindhura Hazarika from Nagaon, who had taken along people to pursue King Gaurinath Singha to kill him when he had visited Nagaon, was also our kinsman from our great-grandmother’s side. The famous Panimua, news about whom is still known as ‘Panimua’s news’, is also a pole-star of our family.  The principal ally and the right-hand man of Xotram Charingia-Phookan, the son of late Kukurasowa Bora, in all his dilly-dallying, also belonged to our clan.  And it was he who finally testified against Xotram Phookan, keeping the honour of our ancient family intact.

Our grandfather was a very sharp-witted and patriotic person. When the Maan (Burmese) came in 1738 Saka, he joined up with them and displayed enormous valour in looting the belongings of the Assamese people. It is said, truth or falsity not known to me, that our grandfather dressed himself like a Maan, spoke in a loong-laang-toong-taang tongue, lanced nine infants and minced three women to pieces like you would do with the kawoi (tilapia) fish. One of those three women was allegedly his own sister-in-law. He finally met his death in the hands of a woman. My grandfather went to heaven dressed as a hero, in the manner of a great warrior, having been felled in a frontal combat.

My father was a person of very high calibre. There was none in Assam to match his courage. He prematurely made his way to the perpetual paradise by leaving the sun of Assam in the hands of Rahu. (Readers, a little tear may have spilled, let me wipe it off, with your permission). I may have already mentioned above that the intelligence of my father figure was very acute, have I not? If I have not, let me tell you now. In matters of rules and regulations, civil and criminal proceedings, he could play his ingenuity with great aplomb. It is not that he had the qualification or the stamp of a lawyer or an attorney on him. However, on any given day, a score or more plaints-complaints would not leave his person. Yet, on the other hand, till the day he died, he could not come to a conclusion whether the God’s letter 'ka' ( the first consonant in Assamese alphabet) had five or seven corners.  At his death-bed, he called me close to him and said, “My son Mila, ou!” I went near him to reply, “Father, what it is that you want to say?” He said, “One thing that bothers me and shall go with me.” I said, “Tell me father, what is it, I shall accomplish that.” He said, “Son, I failed in my entire life to determine whether the 'ka' has seven or five corners.” I said, “Father, I shall determine that.” Father said, “Will you?” I said, “Father, I will.”  Father again asked, “Will you?” I said, “I will”. Father asked once more, “Will you?” I pumped up my chest and said once again, “Father, I will.” Father said, “Then I will now die happily without worries.” I said, “Father, you may die, I have no objection.” On hearing this, father closed his eyes. From that day onwards, I started paying a little attention to my studies.

Just as the tick-eater cattle-egret would not leave the side of the cattle, complainants and defendants would not leave my father’s side. He would prepare a court case for one, he would coach another with the queries and responses, he would prime a witness for one, he would arrange for lawyer and attorney for another, he spent his time in such munificent benevolence.

We shall take leave today by mentioning one great event of his life. He and his Guru (spiritual guide) once had a difference of opinion over some issues. By saying, “Alright, I will show you what kind of a priest you are”, my father had the gall to lodge a strong criminal case against the priest. One day, father got the news that in a nearby village, on a particular day, a dead girl of a particular household was interred in a particular spot. In as much the same way King Indradumnya had all alone carried an axe on his shoulder to search for Neem wood to make an idol of Jagannath, my father carried a shovel on his shoulder, alone, that very night, dug out and brought the corpse, hid it under the aquatic grass of a small lake near the house of the holy man, and informed the police that the particular holy man, on account of a tiff with him for one reason or the other, had killed his sister and hid the “body” somewhere. This news caused uproar, and the guru went to the lock-up. My father led the police to bring out the corpse from under the aquatic grass to start crying aloud, thumping his head and chest. Finally, when the whole case was proved false, the priest was let go. But as regards my father, the kind judge, having considered the matter, had realised that if something is not done about him, the malicious and powerful priest would always go about backbiting him before the precincts of the government. With a heavy heart, the honourable judge allotted him a space in the principal prison for three years, thereby “stopping the envious priest in his track”.

There goes the story of my father. Who comes after my father? Who? Who? Is it me? Yes. It has now caught up with me, this old man. Alas, had I not initially taken up the pen to write about my own life-story? What a mistake! I have not written anything about myself! Nevertheless, there is still time.

 

  • Uttam Kumar Borthakur  is a senior lawyer of Gauhati High Court.  
  • Shantanu Kumar Barua is a radiologist by profession

 

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