A wedding at the time of citizenship amendment | Opinion
By 8pm as the Citizenship Amendment Bill easily went through Parliament, Guwahati was burning and only a handful of people, mostly that lived close to the venue were able to come in.Updated: Dec 13, 2019 18:08 IST
In the frenzied run up to the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, what I completely forgot was that my nephew (a cousin’s son) was getting married in Guwahati on the same day. While I fussed around with planning coverage of the contentious legislation, I forgot that my parents were in Kolkata to attend the reception. They’re 70 years old and so had at the last minute decided to skip the wedding but the rest of the family, numerous aunts and uncles, friends had all come in for the quintessential big fat Indian wedding.
When I say big and fat, I mean 1300 people because how could you have a wedding for the family that is spread out over Tezpur, Guwahti and Silchar and some in Shillong (now many of them relocated to Kolkata), without calling everyone. So caterers and wedding planners were specially brought in from Siliguri to get the wedding going. What the planners had forgotten to plan for was that at the time the guests would be arriving in Guwahati, voting and passage of the bill would be happening in the Capital. By 8pm as the Citizenship Amendment Bill easily went through Parliament, Guwahati was burning and only a handful of people, mostly that lived close to the venue were able to come in.
“You won’t believe it, it was like we were moving through fire,’’ my cousin recalled when I finally spoke to her today. A doctor by profession, she’s had enough drama this year. Her mother, my pishi (father’s sister) was knocked out of the National Register of Citizens at the age of 80. So a lot of the month had gone in trying to establish the entire family’s identity. The Choudhurys were originally from Sylhet in Bangladesh and at some point my grandfather’s family settled in Tezpur. My father says they were all born in Tezpur but while his birth certificate was accepted, my aunt’s matric certificate wasn’t considered kosher. I realized in the midst of this that I have no idea where my grandfather was born or even his full name and so I would surely fail the citizenship test if the NRC was to come to Delhi. They tried to get my retired father to travel all the way from Delhi to Tezpur to prove his credentials despite the fact that he’s a Prime Minister awardee for his role in the government but thanks to some friends in the police, were were excused. My aunt, however, a formidable businesswoman was left with doubts about her identity.
The irony is that the very tool that was meant to give relief to my aunt, caused her another blow. As they travelled in the car to the wedding venue with the groom (who’s an IIM graduate working with a well known tech company) , they were stopped several times by mobs. ``I don’t know how we got out alive,’’ my cousin told me. Apparently, they let them go after making them shout their slogan- Joy, joy Ahom! Joy, joy, Ahom!
My other pishi had travelled from Kolkata to attend the wedding. She’d moved to Kolkata from Silchar after her husband, an engineer working for the state electricity board, had been threatened by militants in Assam. On Wednesday, the mob and the fires were raging so hard outside her hotel that she couldn’t travel a few miles to attend the very wedding she’d travelled so far to see. They sat in their hotel room cowering, she and another young cousin, while some male members took a chance and ventured outside. The pandit couldn’t come either. ``For a while we thought the wedding rites would have to be done via phone because the internet also wasn’t working and so he couldn’t even join on a video call. But then someone got a pandit from the neighbourhood, and the cousin was married off.
But the ordeal wasn’t over. Getting to the airport was so tough that post the wedding, they immediately moved to the airport for their flights next day. Senior citizens, mothers with children all sat outside the airport hoping to be let in, and keeping their fingers crossed that their flights wouldn’t be cancelled. But if Chief Minister Sonowal himself was stranded, then where did regular folks like my family have a chance? My cousin who had ferried several to and from the wedding is still stuck at some hotel in Guwahti, unable to go back to his family in Tezpur.
The reception is tomorrow in Kolkata. It’s a city that the Choudhurys, the Chakraborties and several other offshoots of the family, have all now made their own, having been driven out from Assam and Meghalaya due to several agitations. They chose Bengal because Bengalis won’t be driven out from Kolkata but it will never truly be their home. My father in his retirement has chosen to live in a Assamese society in the Capital because Ahomiya is the language that he loves to speak. My mother and my aunts can’t deal with heat and forever they’ll be talking of the cherry tree and the pear trees that was in their Shillong home, and how they stayed up all night when I was born at Nazareth hospital. In the shadow of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, they’ll be another lot of people just dealing with the eternal feeling of being forever in flux, of lost homes and confused identities.