When I wake up early morning, I know immediately that the weather has not improved: the loud tapping on the thatched roof of our hut is a clear enough indication. Armed with a wide umbrella, I peep out to discover a scenery which makes me think of how I can imagine a village in Amazonia: thick green jungle surroundings, a gathering of thatched huts perched on bamboo poles to beat the omnipresent flowing water, mud everywhere, bikes collapsed on their side during the night (result of the side stand sinking into the mud), and rain, and rain, and more rain!
Somehow I manage to reach the hut that serves as a kitchen-cum-dining room without falling in the slippery mud, where I find everyone, trying to improvise a course of action for the day. Unanimously, we decide to stick to plan, and instead of doing it the dry way, we will do it the wet way!
Having slipped on our rain protective biking gear we set off towards a village about 20 kilometres away where, we have been told, traditional hand-made pottery is a speciality. Very soon the tarmac ends, and back we are riding through mud and slush. With her growing practice Kalki is soon becoming a mud expert and splashes from puddle to puddle with ease, the RE “Himalayan”, I have to acknowledge the fact, proving to be very responsive and forgiving in this type of terrain (or should we call it “fluid” instead of terrain?).
At last we reach this small gathering of huts called Shalmora. Houses are usually built on bamboo piles to cater with periodical flooding (let’s not forget that Majuli is a river island, Asian largest, in the middle of the Brahmaputra, quite a temperamental river). So, the lower part of the house, below the floor, is used as the potter’s workshop cum production storage space. The unique particularity of this handicraft — that I had never encountered before — is that there is no potter’s wheel. Instead, the clay is set on a circular dish resting on a plank with a thin layer of very fine sand as a lubricant in-between. The potter in a squatted position — in our case a seventy-ish years old lady, who says that she has practiced this art since she was a little girl — keeps the work in steady rotation, thanks to the action of her very well-trained right foot! Quiet an amazing feat to watch.. (no pun intended)
A few kilometres away from the pottery, lunch awaits us, with a few local tribal specialities specially cooked for us by a beautiful young woman belonging to the ethnic group called Missing, quite a surprising menu indeed: a curry of a multitude of tiny little fried fish about 1 inch long each as starters, followed with delicious river crabs, and a main course of big black fried snails to be extracted from the shell, decidedly less appetising. Actually Kalki seems to have a serious issue with her first snail, pretending that it has eyes that are staring at her and obviously she can’t eat an animal looking at her! Eventually, the rice beer which accompany our meal helps her drown her scruples…
Third item on our agenda of the day, is the nearby Kamalabari Satra with the artists performing for us an act of the Ramlila (“Bhaona nat” in Assamese) a form of theatre including music, narration and dance. This Satra is a tight knit Brahmin community harbouring about 80 artists and 20 children students, who seem to start learning the art at a very young age. What mostly arises Kalki’s interest is the make up techniques involved in painting the actor’s faces (remember Ophelia in the play “Hamlet, the Clown Prince”?) and at the end of the performance, the artists are kind enough to decorate her face for the role of Sita.
At the end of the show the muddy roads awaits us again under the incessant rain. We reach our sweet home — rustic but dry — in the late afternoon, drenched to the bone and walking in slushy boots. Later in the evening, an exhausted Kalki drops her guard and allows her “dark side of the Force” to shine, when I dare bring her a dish of fried silk worms for dinner… I barely escape with my life!
Ultimately the crew manages to cheer her up by organising a small party in the dining room around a warm fire — with an excellent local guitarist singer —, and acknowledge her newly acquired and impressive biking skills, by offering her the “Queen of Slush Award”!
(to be continued: Majuli to Shillong)
Want to see Kalki attempt the potter’s wheel trick with her right foot, or her angry face when I bring her a dish of fried silk worm for dinner? Don’t miss our upcoming TraveL Show “The Great Escape with Kalki”, to be aired on FOX life TV next August.