Today I got a call from Assam
From my 85 year-old sister in law, the oldest of us boumas
Bolo toh Ranu, morba biya hoil kun shunot? When did I cross this threshold?
I don’t know Didi
I came years after you But why are you asking?
It is not me, dear, it’s those men. The census people
So many questions they have: “How long have you lived here? Is this land yours? You are a member of this rajbari?
Do you have identity proof?” Impertinence!
But how do I tell them – all these things?
Our father-in-law, in those days
Would not let us go out of the gate without an escort We did not look around; we did not see the bazaar pro-per-ly
Things were brought to us.
Within these walls, I have spent seventy years Is that enough to count?
I forget my mother’s house, except for the leaves Of the Nahar that grew at the garden door
The sweets that were brought home, the day I was betrothed
Now, it will all go down in paper
As though it is some underground group And not a household
If only they would ask me something I know Like the weaves of this diverse land
Where every bend in the river, means a new tribe, a new pattern I know them all
Mishmi to Apatani. Monpa to Wanchoo
The seven sisters? Na re!
If you ask me, we are seven times that
In this tapestry, all are ours. We are everybody’s
And we all belong here, in equal measure
Lina Krishnan is a poet and abstract artist in Auroville. Census was written in 2016, when citizens in Assam were just beginning to be questioned on their roots, identities, and ethnic affinities. The spiral from then to Manipur seven years later, has taken the region not only into unrest but also fostered mutual distrust between communities. For the old order, this has been particularly hard to bear.
This poem was first printed in Brown Critique’s Home anthology, in 2022. We thank the editors Gayatri Majumdar, Sekhar Banerjee and Gopal Lahiri, for letting us share it here.