“Yun to mohabbat ka dushman zamana hai, fir bhi jawaani mein dil to lagaana hai…”, I flirtatiously looked at Neelam as I mouthed the lines.
“What’s the point in singing this song now?” she asked with curiosity.
“Arre I was flirting with you, my dear.”
“Aren’t we married now? Besides, this song is old. Why didn’t you sing it when we were dating?”
“So what if we are married? I can still flirt with you. And this song didn’t come to my mind then. But I did sing good songs to you then.”
“Yeah right, all Mithun Chakravarty-Bappi Lahiri songs. Did I tell you how my blood used to boil those days? You had ruined so many moments when I had felt particularly romantic. I can never forgive you for that.”
“Arre, but those were good songs…”
“Who sings Krishna dharti pe aaja tu to a girl?”
“Well all right. You won’t understand the beauty of Bappi da’s songs. But yeah, I had something in mind when I sang this song to you abhi.”
“My dear hubby, I know you too well. You definitely have something on your mind. So spill it out!”
“Waah, Neelam rani giving orders to Emperor Ajatashatru.”
“Cut the crap! Tell me what it is.”
“Okay! I was thinking if we could go to Tezpur. They say it’s the city of love and there are a lot of good places to see. Besides, I have some relatives on my mom’s side staying there. Accommodation won’t be too much of a problem. It’s been a while since we last went on a trip. Remember Shillong?”
Tezpur, the city that has the eternal love between Usha and Aniruddha etched on its spirit. The name Tezpur literally means “city of blood”, and is believed to have got this name after the violent battle between King Bana and Lord Krishna that had painted the city red.
“Tell me the story na,” Neelam insisted.
“Well, there was this princess named Usha who had dreamt of a prince and fallen in love with him. Her friend Chitralekha drew a lifelike sketch of the prince based on her description. I think this gave rise to the concept of police artists drawing sketches of suspects based on eyewitness descriptions.”
“Offo, why do you always have to be so smart? Tell me the story na.”
“All right, all right. It was just an analysis, sweetie. Anyhow, Chitralekha identified the prince as Aniruddha, nephew of Lord Krishna. But Usha ji was prem deewani and shaadi was on her mind. But she had a kharoos bapu in King Bana. Chitralekha was a mayavi. She spirited Aniruddha away to the princess’ boudoir, where the two got married as per Gandharva rites. But when Bana got wind of the affair, he imprisoned Aniruddha. This infuriated Lord Krishna so much that he came to the city to give battle to Bana. A fierce battle ensued and there was a lot of bloodshed. It also happened that Lord Shiva, whose staunch devotee was Bana, intervened on his behalf and fought Lord Krishna.”
“Kya story hai yaar. Dekha, love kitna strong hota hai?” Neelam was thoroughly impressed.
“Haan, sahi. Moral of the story is love ke liye saala har koi marega.”
“Bakwaas! Tum mare ho?”
“Marne waala tha almost…woh tumhare dad ka favourite banda jo tha, Parveen Kumar Chaddha, whom your dad wanted you to marry…uske chakkar mein kya kya huwa tha you know. But I proved to be your knight in shining armour.”
“Aha ha ha, woh kaise?”
“Arre I saved you from becoming Chaddha ki chaddi.”
“What crap! Seriously, what crap! How dare you!” Neelam used a little violence with me.
We set out for Tezpur early. My dad had asked us to take the Mangaldai route, but we decided to go via Nagaon. It wasn’t exactly a great decision, as it turned out later, for the road was bumpy and not so great till Jagiroad. Actually, a new express highway is under construction, and the road is good in patches only. It normally takes about an hour to reach Jagiroad from Guwahati, but only it took us nearly two hours. Of course, some credit must be given to my dear wife also, who wouldn’t let me step on the gas.
We stopped for chai at Jagiroad and went to a restaurant named Jain Hotel. When I was young, I would come here with my family for refreshments whenever we stopped by at this town. This restaurant is known for its maintenance of hygiene…barring the toilets, of course. Kalakands here are really famous.
When I was young, I would stop my breath whenever we passed by the paper factory in Jagiroad; but this time, the smell of chemicals seemed so nice. I took a deep breath. I was in the city after nearly six years.
“Wow, the forest on the right is so dense! I feel like I’m on a tropical jungle adventure,” Neelam clapped with glee. Poor little girl! In Delhi, one doesn’t find such forest areas.
“That’s the Hornbill Park, my love. Kisi zamane mein idhar hornbills milte the. Abhi bhi milte honge, I don’t know. It is the state bird of Arunachal Pradesh.” What followed was an intellectual discussion on the disappearing flora and fauna in the country and the usual government-doing-nothing conclusions.
We stopped for lunch at a place called Amoni near Nagaon. We had roti thali, which tasted like manna. Neelam was particularly happy and kept on saying “Punjab ka mazzaa aa gaya”. I had to tell her that it’s a unique fusion dish, for the subzee and dal are very much Assamese in taste.
Another thing about this place that has always struck me is the availability of rare audio cassettes and CDs, which you cannot hope to find in big cities.
The next time we stopped was at the Koliya Bhomora Bridge. Inaugurated in 1987, it’s the longest bridge over the Brahmaputra with a length of over three kilometres. The bridge has been named after an ambitious Ahom general, who had envisaged a bridge over the river connecting the two banks several centuries ago.
We put up at my aunt’s place. Neelam was a bit uneasy initially, for this aunt of mine couldn’t make it to our wedding. So they never met. On the way, she was asking me if my aunt’s family would mind her presence. I had to make her understand that I’m no longer a kiddo who comes with his parents and that she being my wife was an inseparable part of me. She didn’t take long to feel comfortable, thanks to my aunt and her daughter.
That day we just had time to see the Cole Park or Chitralekha Udyan. It’s a beautiful place! It’s been named after one Mr Cole, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Assam in British India. The park has been spruced up in recent times and houses 9th century sculptural remains, which include two massive stone pillars and remains of a palace. There is also the Bhomoraguri rock inscription, which hints at an ancient plan to bridge the Brahmaputra. We also spotted several coochi-cooing couples—a reminder of the fact that we were in the city of love.
The next day we went to see the Agnigarh Hill. It is believed that Usha was confined in a palace surrounded by fire here to keep her out of Aniruddha’s reach, hence the name Agnigarh. It’s basically a park today atop a hillock, and a popular hangout for couples. There’s a tower that offers a panoramic view of the river and the city. And there are several sculptures depicting episodes of Usha-Aniruddha romance.
(to be continued…)
Photo Credits: Lord Mani
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