Again and always, East Lancashire rain – in the car
on top of the hill, we’re looking down on our mill town
and talking about ROOTS, how roots are mixed,
roots are a tangle, a wood, a thicket, a jungle,
how roots are something to search out – always –
and how complicated they are, how tricky
‘cos it’s not just back to backs, drizzle down yer neck,
uncles, claret and blue, me an’ you…BD.
BD, BD, we always end up with BD, the desh,
the green and red, the aunties, that other home
where the blood sun beats down on the paddies,
every bari has a pond that churns with fish.
And last year, in the car, that friend talked
about perfume, oudh, black oil, drops of gold,
‘From Arabia’, he said, ‘Oudh, oudh, oudh’
and again we searched, dug deep, looked it up, found Assam.
An oily lamp lit up for us: Assam, Assam, Assam,
not Arabia but the old name for where we’re from,
the borderlands, part India, part Bangladesh,
our backyard, our farms, our forests, our trees…
and then we dug deeper, dug up some roots,
saw of ashy scars in wounded wood,
found out they hammer iron nails into agar trees
and brew a ceremony of scent, a drizzle of sacred sap.
We go back, every year now, to meet and greet,
chew the BD fat over cups of ginger infused saa, land deals,
Philosophy, Baul talk, the different fruits, a rare Sufi text,
the book festival, our language, our music,
single string, double string, drums an’ bells,
who is to marry who, who’s available and
how to hammer iron nails into agar trees,
how we prefer the romantic to the cruel.
We could talk forever, always, in Sylhet Town,
but at the coolest hour, one of us gets up
our drummer-businessman – he’s heard a rumour
and is off to find that text beyond Moulvi Bazar,
over the border, at Tripura, where the saint’s buried.
And he’ll kill two birds, search out that agar wood,
find the iron nails and that perfumed Assam oil
in the land where his family toiled and grew.
He asks for directions, to find the Moulana’s words
and see if there’s a forest, a harvest of bark.
But as he talks a friend of a friend is listening,
asks him why he wants such a long journey
to a particular tree, a particular oil. A smile says,
‘Give me two days’. Then, on tenterhooks, he shares
some paan supari with a beaming gentleman
who talks of a particular tree and a particular oil.
Like sleight of hand, the gentleman leaves, returns
with a magic bottle, a litre of the black, black oil –
oudh, agar tel, fruit of his family for eighty years.
‘See what you think’, he says, ‘rub it into your skin,
treat yourself, breathe it in, wrap yourself in it’.
Hours later, after all the craic and goodness,
more betel nut, Baul-talk of alphabets and wisdom,
he gives our drummer-businessman some drops of oil…
to take London-desh, and Assam Aroma is born,
heritage reclaimed by two British Bangladeshis
from the drizzly hills of the north, and a gentleman
from a mesh of forest three planes away
because you can have it all – far away, close to home,
the wash in the village pond and the handbrake turn,
techno and folk, jeans and kurta, body and spirit,
iron nails and sophistication: oudh, oudh, oudh.