Tales from Majuli, an island on the edge
The people of Majuli in Assam fiercely uphold their centuries-old cultures and traditions even as the Brahmaputra eats away at their island-home every year
"Do you see that sandbar there?" Ankur Das, a 26-year-old majhi, asks me, pointing to a stretch of sandy land in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra river. "That used to be a village," he says, as I try to search for any semblance of it. Barring some debris that could have been the thatch of roofs, the sandbar is barren.
The ferry undulates slightly as it moves forward into the vast expanse of water towards Majuli – a river island in Assam that has become quite well-known. Its contentious claim to fame – Majuli is the largest river island in the world, and it is shrinking.
"Where have these people gone?" I ask Ankur. "Further inland. That’s where we keep going when our houses get washed away," he says. "I’ve seen the river’s many avatars. In the monsoon, it’ll reach thrice its depth, drowning everything in its way. Visit us a month from now, and it will resemble an angry sea, washing away land, trees, houses and people alike."
Standing on the open deck of the ferry, squeezed between a car, several bikes and sacks of potatoes, I look out at the Brahmaputra spread as far as the eyes can see – gentle, serene, almost innocuous. It’s hard to imagine that the same river is the cause of devastating floods and erosion that batter the island of Majuli.