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A Heartfelt tribute to Abhi – Nil by their Friend
When someone would ask him, “tumi tumaar jota khini nakata? Maa deutai eku nokoi?” (Won't u trim your dreadlocks? Don’t your mom and dad say anything?) To this Neel would beam his usual mischievous smile and reply jovially, “Maa deutai Kamakhya te thakibo dise aru!” (my parents have asked me to move to Kamakhya altogether).
We would laugh; so would everyone around.
Such was his nature. Taking life never too seriously; yet living it with passion and a deep sense of gratitude.
We all met when we were barely teenagers of thirteen in Faculty Higher Secondary school.
There is a whole treasure trove of memories of Neel in our hearts, most of it layered in mischief. His love for pork momo was legendary. From simple, yet finger licking traditional Assamese dishes to exotic Russian fare, he could whisk it all up with such ease. Back in school, while most of us struggled to keep our eyes open during dull classes, Neel would quietly turn mundane bits of chalk into pieces of art. I particularly remember a full-scale chess board made within a day! Talking about art, his fascination with tattoos started at a very early age. He started off with black ink and tooth picks to experiment on himself, till he grew confident.
Abhijeet was known to me through our mutual friends. A nature and animal lover at heart, he was one of the nicest persons that we came across. He loved dogs and fish; and went to Karbi Anglong in search of ornamental fish. He would spend hefty amount to buy a fish or het home a dog. Little did we know that his love for nature would call for such an unfortunate end to his life. He loved eating and was an wonderful cook too. He was at the verge of beginning a new life with his partner. When it all looked perfect and dreamy, destiny had something bitter stored for him.
We had a blast all throughout school, then spread out far and wide, but never lost what we shared. Every time, till now, whenever we are together, we become carefree teens all over again, lost in vivacious laughter and rib tickling banter.
It all changed forever on that fateful night.
It’s not just Neel and Abhi’s life they barbarically lynched. Along with it, they took away whatever precious, little innocence we had left. They mercilessly tore down the albeit utopian mental construct we had about Assam and Northeast; that we are different. When rest of India is ravaged by social violence, I felt we managed to retain our small-town warmth. Our part of the country always had its share of issues. But we always believed we are safe amongst our own folks, that when things go wrong, we can count on those familiar strangers in the mist. Not any more...not anymore.
Neel travelled all the way from Goa to Assam on a bike; a breathtaking journey of almost 6000 km across the breath of our country. Knowing him, he must have shared meals, music and his infectious laugh with countless people from myriad backgrounds. Yet, he felt safe. He made it home without a scratch on his body or scar on his soul. How was he to even anticipate that it will be his own people who will lynch him to death, in his own motherland?
I will not vent here about how I feel, because i know there isn’t a single soul in Assam today whose eyes are not moist; who don’t hear echo of Neel screaming, “Moi Axomia!” We all share the same rage, anguish and despair.
But the question is what do with this tide of emotions? Do we go on a rampage for a few days till we run out of steam and go back to our average lives, or do we keep this flame burning, till there is a meaningful change? A change towards a society where we don’t slaughter the ones who are bold and stand out in the crowd; where we can roam, learn and grow without the shadows of fear; a change where we do not look the other way every time the loud and the brash take law in their own hands; a change where the administration has real accountability and not excuses.
What happened in Panjuri village was not the first or an isolated episode. From Jhankar to Nirbhaya incident, Northeast and the whole of India has witnessed a gory string of barbarism, even in recent past. Every event is almost like a rewind of the last: innocents killed brutally, huge public outcry for a week at best, then everyone moves on, administration conveniently looks the other way, till it happens all over again!
When does this stop?
Today we as a society are at a critical crossroad. If this time too, the public angst fades away without exemplary justice, humanity will be lost forever. It will go on to indicate that in our country innocent lives don’t matter. That monstrous people can stain the earth with blood and there will be no retribution, just momentary tears.
We can’t let that happen. Not this time. Neel and Abhi are dead; nothing will bring them back. The least we can do is ensure that not another son, brother, friend and lover is snuffed into oblivion like this.
All said and done, I have a special appeal to our parents and elders.
We know you have nightmares every time you close your eyes. We know you worry about our safety. But do not stop your children and loved ones from exploring, travelling and building bridges. We all came back enriched because of the places we saw and people we met.
Do not raise your little ones behind walls and closed doors. Instead, teach them to be compassionate, tell their hearts to be brave. Teach them caution; its important in this big bad world. But also teach them to lay their guards down and embrace the different with arms wide open.
Till that happens we will always have the feeling of “us against them” and we all have seen what that does.
A few lines come to mind as a tribute to his way of life and a prayer for all of us:
To exist beyond our screens,
Live beyond the walls and the rules.
To love with no strings attached,
Learning to give, even when we know nothing is going to come back.
To pray with closed eyes and open hearts,
Mouth words we really mean.
To yearn for changes that really matter.
Believe in something bigger,
Bigger than what society, religion, government and flashy ads tell us to.
To throw caution to the wind and saunter down the edge,
To have the courage to stare at the eye of the storm and not blink.
To make mistakes and fail fast,
To start everyday like it’s the last,
To make every single moment worth it.
To Live…like Neel did.