Chapter 3 : Absent River (2021 )

Film, 1-channel, Color,

Sound, 00:14:00 mins, 16:9

Photographs, Found Objects, Interviews, Field-recordings

 

Documentary practice as an artistic tool with a participatory, performative approach

Collaborators: Prakash Bhuyan, Hrishikesh Chowdhury, Baba Chamua and his family, Devraj Chaliha, people of Salmora

The Absent River forms the third chapter of my ongoing project about the Brahmaputra river-bank communities, realized on the riparian village of Salmora, located in the fringes of Majuli, Assam. Taking a departure from the reactionary stance that the previous works assumed, Absent River conveys a more reflective position, and tries to focus on aspects of acceptance and resilience on part of river-bank communities.

The work itself becomes a practice of conversations and actions, and continues to grow as a process of collecting documented as well as choreographed narratives and testimonies, using the mediums of film, found objects and photographs. Through these mediums, I seek to examine the temporality of the symbiotic exchange between nature and human, and explore the pragmatic way of life that ritualizes their understanding of loss, interwoven deep within the apparent cycle of creation and destruction.

What happens when the unstoppable force of nature clashes against the immovable determination of the human?

The Brahmaputra River establishes an intimate relationship of contradiction in the socio-cultural reality of Assam. Despite the devastating nature of the floods, the communities continue to live near the river-banks, sometimes owing to historical and emotional bonds, other times following a lack of financial freedom or immediate choice.

Without the dearth of fair choice, the individual is rather forced to face the repetitive consequences of a decision that is not entirely theirs, and the situation becomes an absurdity as the consequences appear as self-inflicted collateral. Neither the reluctant victim can be told that it is their responsibility to bear the consequences of their choice to be in the place of peril, nor the river can be held as sentient and questioned about its actions. This conflict leads to the unwilling surrender of one’s destiny into higher hands, and it becomes relatively simpler to accept the disaster when the disaster itself is perceived upon as a part of God’s play.

The toxic yet thriving relationship between the river and the people manifests itself as the endless loop, the serpent eating its own tail. This unlikely paradox serves itself as an ongoing discourse in the process of looking beyond the surficial understandings and contesting the pre-victimised perceptions prevalent about such river-bank communities.