Once upon a time in Kalni 

Kalni : My heart wasn’t on my mouth, rather my feet and waist were crying out.

The traveler in me would just not listen, so I went on. On the back of a 125 cc motorbike, into the harshlands of Sunamganj. I wasn’t riding that little old Japanese gem, it was my colleague who was doing that thankless job.

For 2 days, 15 hours and over 300 km… roads, no-roads, boat, bamboo bridges known as Shako‘s, held our destiny with aplomb. The roads, aah well, that is why I went there. No, not to build them or break them. Rather to find a way to reach out to those god-forsaken people with information! Good thing about motorbikes, they don’t need roads. They just need to know the Newtonian third law is at work, that’s it!

Kalni River - Derai, Sunamganj
Kalni River – Derai, Sunamganj

I was standing upright when I started for Sunamganj. It never occurred that walking could get difficult. It was evening when I reached. Our journey inside started the next day, early morning.

Purpose of my visit was to do research on a new project we were starting. I traveled to find out certain needs and observations of the people of the Haor. Before that I did go to Sunamganj town, but not an inch beyond. This time it was ‘the real’ Sunamganj I was experiencing.

The 26 km road from Sunamgganj to Derai is majestic. We crossed Derai and went beyond. To places I never been before, never imagined before! Crossing the majestic Derai road is always a treat. A complete confusion. Smooth asphalt followed by broken bones; cropland followed by thin forestation; steel bridges every now and then and forgotten old ones just beside; bazaars followed by serenity; ashrom of goddess Kali on the right while a madrassah on the left. That is the most beautiful looking religious site I ever seen – made in heaven. A tale of 26 km! And rightfully, it takes much longer than it should. Otherwise how on earth one would sit back and enjoy this diversity. If you look a bit far, find the range of hills on the Meghalaya border. Yes, it is magic!

A boat loading passengers to cross the Kalni.
A boat loading passengers to cross the Kalni.
Photo Credit: Mishael Aziz Ahmad

I can go on telling stories of this road. This is the distance – between materialism and non-materialism (not sure, if that is idealism!); between separation of banjo from dokki; hummer from dinghi; habib wahid from Shah Abdul Karim. This road leads you to the outback.

Speaking of the great mystic, Shah Abdul Karim, I have fond memories of him. But that is a different story. As one enters Derai, will not be impressed. Dirt and potholes to welcome you along with the customary dilapidated shops. That is what I like about Sunamganj, as a whole, its power to surprise you. It has that ‘oomph’. A feel that is so unique. Maybe it is because of the islandic nature of the place. It is not your usual rural Bangladesh. The same waterways, the same paddy fields, the same human species – still it is not what you may think it is. Or maybe it is just me, SunamG is very personal.

Sunamganj has a history of folklore, a very rich one. Musicians are found as easily as you may find fish in the Haors. Shah Abdul Karim, Amiruddin, Hason Raja, Firoz Shai to name a few mystics who ‘made it’. I have come across numerous musicians. How can I not mention Dhonu and Dewan. Dewan is a class apart! I remember fondly the times I went there, spending hours at night on top of a boat; with the moonlight washing down my beloved Kalni and Kirton sailing its way from the other side. It took me back again and again. Boatman Sridham would narrate those myths and he would patiently tell me the inner meaning of the ‘Haare Ram Haare Krishna…’ and legends of the land of the mystics.

Mishael on a local boat living on the great Kalni
Mishael on a local boat living on the great Kalni.
Photo: Mishael Aziz Ahmad

Now as we entered Sunamganj and found our way to a tea-stall to wet our beak. We kept on charging our way by the banks of Kalni towards Sulla. This river is timeless. It defines the way of life here. The way which is simple yet invigorating. It made Karim what he is today. Kalni has the magic to bring out the best. The best of a philosopher, of a musician and that of a farmer of a fisherman. Kalni is lyrical, it is ‘shorgiyo’.

We crossed one human habitat after another and between experienced life. At times I would be struck by the ‘hole’ it created and could hear the sound of silence.  I would turn to see old ladies in white saris passing by. Sometimes I would be awed by the extent of paddy fields that stretched beyond horizon and would imagine the despair of the place filled with water during monsoon. I had to go back many times in love with both.  Never knew before such dryness could bring out the gold out of the land. It was a pilgrimage to fill up my eyes with lands of gold, of the struggle and labour our farmers are putting to feed us. And it is not even their land! While I amused myself having good lunches with the Atop rice, caviar and Bagra fish fries, could imagine the sarcasm people of Kalni lives with.

The road to Derai beside the river kalni.
The road to Derai beside the river kalni.
Photo Mishael Aziz Ahmad

What more unselfish, unfortunate bunch of people can one come across? I left thinking to come back to do good. I am still coming back and could do little. I will keep on coming back and sail in Kalni, because the fate of these people lies here.


Author: Shadhumishael 

Photo: Shadhumishael 

[ Once upon a time in Kalni  ]

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Banglapedia: Kalni River