Sunday, November 28, 2010

Paltan Bazar

(dedicated to that very eclectic and chaotic part of my city..which we call Paltan Bazar.
i had been passing through this part for five years at a stretch and inspite of the noise and the my  surprise this morning i realised how much i had fallen in love with it...after all this spot..alongwith all the other spots in my hour long journey from home to college had attained so special a significance for me and my ruminations)

broken windows
plywood sheets on merry three wheelers
flies and beggars,
lovers meeting, families departing ;
a harrowed and sweaty tourist lost in the chaos,
a confused new comer gazing at signboards ;

business laces the air, and  pavements.
sweetmeats in doubles-- split shops between split families;
honks and shouts, swears and smiles jostle for space,

a man blissfully sleeps in the shadow of the temple
where devotees throng... but the song of the gong
is drowned in the song of the nearby shops;
songs.... of little girls being defamed.

some yards, and a creek ahead--
a fair skinned sadhu narrates stories of distant lands--while
smeared in the white of the math,
his desi companions sing 'praise be the lord!'

Outside flows a clogged stream of filth
on whose banks sits a daily haat--
presenting life in all its shades--bright ,dark and wane
As an old lady
solitary, half-hidden amidst weeds, in an unkempt garden
perched atop a stone pedestal--
watches on--stone faced
the passage of  time,
 the antics of life flitting its fickle wings...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

in the City of Sleep

as i stand on the shores of a new road
i grapple...i sweat..i cry
anguish stifles--
dreams sigh, and pass by
memories linger to welcome...another day gone stale
dreams sigh,
and pass by
and i wait for the shadow to crawl
on and on and on.
The shadow stinks
i recite songs from my memory
Songs--fragments of desires, of love, of lust gone stale.
what songs do i croon?
wha..oh..what tune was it?


i grapple with anguish. the shadow grows big
senses go numb,
and i hear voices in the wind.
Voices of long lost friends,
Voices of days that will no longer end.
I stand on the shores of a new road...a silky road,
The dark sun glowers brighter still.
forgotten voices wave their arms in the wind--beckoning, calling
come, Sarah ends not with your body.
I step across the twilight zone,
the moon sends sparkles across my feet.
And I turn, one last time
bright life is still running its course
once-kins running away from shadows
grappling with their anguishes-- sweating, crying.

i smile.
i croon.
i join my friends , waving arms in the wind.
joining voices in the Eternal Song...

Shadows scare me no more.
 i myself am, a shadow in the wind
a shadow on the wall.
a shadow
a shadow,
in the City of Sleep.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

a new turn...

the sky sings..
dreams whisper...
clouds ring whistles of love.
yellow books remind
honey...time for you to rewind...

candied memories melted,
wisdom sugared
words flavoured
patience counts moments on your fingertips...

life takes on a new turn.

[Reflections out of my new experiences as a teacher]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Visitations from the past

 The shrill ring brought Darpana out of her reverie. Another of those customer care calls. Of late, these call centres are turning out to be a bother. The number was saved on her phonebook; so she had no difficulty in  canceling the call.

A sigh slipped out of her. Something made her glance upward--she couldn't see  herself in the rusty mirror, ...and yet she knew that her lips were parted...Abhi would often tease her for this—whether sad, or happy, or listening intently , or viewing somebody ... or simply thinking—her lips would remain parted. Whenever they went hiking into the wilds,  he would tell her that this would be her last trip, for “won’t a baby snake enter your gaping mouth  as you sleep? Or else an insect”, curving his lips hw would smile....he had a unique smile, didn't he?... he would emphasise, “some insect will definitely crawl in…the way you sleep with your mouth open”. “Don’t say mouth, say lips…that sounds better”, Darpana would feign anger. And thus they would go on with their meaningless ramble. How nice it had felt then. It feels good even now, reminiscing...
she absently pushed away a strand of hair from her he had loved that..the way her long black tresses, would fall over him as he lay on her lap, while she kept poring over her books..she glanced upwards

Darpana suddenly  stifled. the cobwebs had been pushed back. She could see herself clearly in the mirror now...

lips withered, hair frayed , ashy...Darpana Rajkumari couldn't recognize anymore (those) visitations from her past....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

memories, imagination and words

we paint with colours....we paint with words....and we paint with feelings as well.
as i sit down at my computer this rain drenched morning, i witness a beautiful sight just outside my emerald countryside, with lush green paddy on either side, as far and as wide as the eye can see....bluish hils in the distance, and a silent solemn Kopili sailing beside. The road is bumpy, and full of interjections--cows lazing, snotty children playing, tanned workers drying hay in d sun--all on the road, and yet, for a first timer like yours truly, its fun. The driver grumbles at the pathetic roads...and i laugh in glee each time we ride the bumps and troughs of this apology of a road...the countryside around me lilts and sways .. and .i am reminded of Dylan Thomas
                    "All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay"
                                                                                 I know not how it is, and yet I can smell the hay.
we arrive at our destination--kampur--snuggled amidst memories, in the district of Nagon, it falls somewhere in between NH 36 and NH 37. The railways are the most effective means for transmuters. It is a town, and yet, the Kapili flows is a few steps away from where we are put up. I am thrilled. The blessings of technology are to be seen everywhere, and yet somehow people haven't forgotten to be warm. It is my first time there, and not even for once do i feel that i am not  at home. a small world, people mostly know one another, and by the time we bid adieus to this place..i know most of them too...
we returned through  nagaon via Kathiatoli , and the sights, once again, are breathtaking. This road too isn't different--bumpy as the previous one(which by the way was the road that led directly to Kampur from Roha)---and yet the countryside is equally enthralling. It is emerald-hued, and as we  drive along country roads, the rain sprinkles... soon after the sun smiles....and then, like magic i see the most beautiful rainbow i have ever is a double rainbow actually....two wide colourful a reversed shadow of the other, two beauty-full almost seems as though the heavens are smiling...(doesnt a rainbow remind you of an inverted smile??to me it does, here there are two)................and then just at the point on the earth from where the brighter arc seems2emanate there is a solitary hut, with a clump of trees(in the midst of acres and acres of paddy). Screened by the rainbow, the hut is drenched in colour. It feels as though this hut were a pebble plonked into the river of nature , and the rainbow, and its shadow close by  ripples in the wind.........
the phone barks out its vibrations,..and i m jolted out of my reverie...a missed call.......i look out of my window,the countryside vanishes..its a concrete porch right outside my window...replete with cars parked and labourers working...obstructing the view of the lawn at our neighbours.....dejection tries to set in...d feeling that had originally led me into my reverie through words....but i refuse..i refuse to be bogged down any longer...rejuvenated, i wind up my account, and gear myself for my next project......suffused with colours, suffused  with memories, imaginations and words..........

*besides i was foolhardy enough to forget my camera at i hv uploaded acouple of pix hoping it helps in d effect...

Thursday, May 20, 2010


a strip of ice floats over the azure sky,

ramola gazes, open eyed...
       her eyes...
                 caverns of her soul.
Sprinkilng love, she croons
pristine melodies ...
ramola gazes open-eyed...
a strip of ice glides across an azure sky
Sprinkling hope
...the parched earth would be quenched soon...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


as is sat before my computer this afternoon, to check my mails...something told me this was to be an afternoon with a difference.

(Sounds clichéd ..ain't it? but then we are all made up of clichés ....) anyway....i felt an urge...there were those strange waves at the pit of my stomach....a strange tumult that i have long not felt...a feeling which is excitement, thrill and glee mixed in sweet harmony.....a feeling that has caused a spring in my step, a smile hangs upon my lips…when I answer a call, it is with a zest that surprises even my closest friends.…m not even angry anymore….
People call it love….for me, it is the experience of creation…

Saturday, April 17, 2010


We can hardly think of Bohaag Bihu without remembering the Bihugeet. In fact, the festival of Bihu, particularly Rongali Bihu is incomplete without the rendition of the bihugeet to the accompaniment of the reverberating dhol(drum) , the throbbing gogona, the rhythm of the toka, and the melody of the baahi(flute) and the mohor xingor pepa (instrument made out of buffalo horn); and the eternal Bihu dance matching steps.

And yet, the bihuget has undergone its own journey since the beginnings of time, evolving through the ages.It traces its origins to the distant past when, primitive man, leaving behind his nomadic life, began living in settlements. Probably at such a time during his spare hours or even while engrossed in his daily activities man’s creativity had sprouted –pouring forth impromptu tunes and verses. These melodious notes were derived from nature; and so were the verses –(which were) impressions and inspirations of nature’s myriad forms. Thus nature is central to the bihugeet.

Almost all festivals the world over have economic victory as their major driving force. And Bihu too is no exception. Even the Vedic yagya had as its primary objective prayers for increase of production. Since societies were essentially agrarian increase in production implied (the need for ) increase in the fertility of the soil. For this purpose in the ancient times different societies performed different rituals songs and dances, songs which had overtly erotic sentiments. It was believed that such songs and dances would stimulate Mother Earth and heighten her productivity. Thus love, passion, the sensual urge have found expression in the bihugeet. However, there is much more to the bihugeet than these. The bihugeet is the living reservoir of the Assamese culture. It is man’s intense desire for life. It is the succour for the (city-going) multitudes distanced from the joy and sweat of work in the fields. The melody of the Bihugeet revives life just as the season of Spring(Bohaag) rejuvenates barren nature. The bihugeet in true ,earthy colours give expression to the hopes, aspirations joys, sorrows, emotions and experiences of the people. However, for a long time, and for diverse reasons many people particularly the so-called educated class and /or the middle class had strong reservations about these (Bihu) songs and dances. There were people who would even term it obscene. However, with time and with its simplicity and grandeur, the Bihugeet has won over its obstacles, establishing itself as an art form , as the song of life. As somebody has rightly said whatever is not in the bihugeet is not to be found in Assamese social life.

At the same time in its long journey down the meshes of time the bihugeet has added different elements repertoire. Under the influence of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement under Sri Sri Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhavdeva, words like ‘Ram’, ‘Krishna’, ‘Gobinda’, ‘Gobindaai-Ram’ were incorpoprated into the bihugeet. For instance—

“Joidoul Xivadoul Oi Ram, Ranghar Karenghar Oi Ram

Axomor Bijoy Kiriti Hari Gopaalo Gobindo Ram”

During the Ahom reign, the bihugeet, underwent many additions. In the eighteenth century during the reign of Swargadeo Rudrasingha the festival of Bihu earned royal patronage. Bihu songs and dances came to be performed by villagers before the Swargadeo(king) at Ranghar Baakori besides at the households of other important ministers and the Ahom nobility. For instance—

“Swargadeo Olale, Batsorar Mukholoi

Duliyai Paatile Dola

Kaanote Jilikil Nora Jangfai

Gaate Gomsengor Solaa”

[The Swargadeo appears at the gateway/The palanquin bearer readies his palanquin(dola)/Nora Jangfai(traditional jewellery) glitters on his(the Swargadeo’s) earlobes/As he dons himself in the finest robes]

Again, commemorating the Swargadeo’s hunting trips(for they were expert hunters), somebody had sung-

“Swargadeo Goisil Pohu Mariboloi

Sungote Godhuli Hol,

Kunworiye Xudhile Kom Kiye Buli

Jaal Faali Horina Gol”

[The Swargadeo had been to hunt deer, and it got late in the evening, what do I answer the Kunwori(queen) when she asks about the hunt, the deer ran away tearing the trap]

The bravery of the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan in a historical event like the famous battle at Saraighat (where an ailing Lachit led the Assamese army to victory over the Mughals) have been immortalized in such compositions as—

“Saraighatot Kandile Lachit Borphukane

Barhamputrai Xolaale Bhex,

Xonar Axomot Kinu Jui Laagise

Sokut Nai Tuponir Lex”

[Lachit creid at Saraighat , and the Brahmaputra changed its form/What fire swathes the Golden Axom, all sleep have deserted

during the British rule again, many significant changes came over the bihugeet. The Britishers set up tea gardens all over Assam. Consequently, somebody sang—

“Mohoriloi Jabagoi MOharani hobagoi

Sokit Bohi Khabagoi Bhat,

Bagaanor Cooliye Babuwoni Bulibo

Xiu hobo Omaator-maat.”

[If you get married to a mohori (clerk), you’ll live like a queen(maharani)/you’ll sit

on chairs and eat/the labourers(coolie) will call you babuwoni, even that will sound pleasing to the ear].

The British rule ushered in radical shifts/changes in the lifestyle of the Assamese people , and the above geet throws such a hint. Among others, one of the blessings(if we might use the term) of the British rule was the railways that improved transport and communication. That moment too was crystallized for posterity with a bihugeetlike—

“Ukiyai Ukiyai, Relgaari Solile

Dibrut Godhuli Hol;

Tomaak Anim Buli Bore Ghore Xajilu

Goru Bondha Gohali HOl”

[Screeching loudly, the train(relgaari) moved on/Dusk fell on Dibru/Dreaming of bringing you home, I built a bor ghar(the house in which the owner sleeps and valuable possessions are kept)/ that has now turned into a gohali(cowshed)]
We also learn about the different artifacts of our culture from our bihugeet. For instance, when we sing—

“Gogona Aaaroni Gogona Puroni

Gogona Kihere Baai

Dufaale Dusoti Maajote Esoti

Mugaxuta Logaaye Baai”

--we are teaching our future about the musical instrument gogona.

At the same time, the bihugeet cries out in protest against discriminations of caste that hinder the union of two lovers—

“Saut Saute Jopona Doete

Bindhile Aghoya Hule

Tomaar Mone Gole Muru Mone Gole

Ki Koribo Kalita Kule.”

Spring is not only the season of the young(the young at heart), it is also the season when passions are in a tumult. Bihugeet speak of the passion throbbing the bosom of lovers—

“Dhole bai dhuliyai khole bai khuliyai

Kar ghoror nasoniye nase

Osor sapi sapi nahiba nasoni

Tomar gat mohani ase.”

[the dhuliya plays the dhol the khuliya plays the khol/to which family does the dancer belong/do not draw near O fair dancer/you have charm in you] or else

“Haah hoi porimgoi tomare pukhurit
Paro hoi porimgoi saalot
Ghame hoi bagorim tumare xorirot
Makhi hoi suma dim gaalot”

[I shall be a swan and swim in your pond/I shall be a pigeon and perch on your roof/I shall ne a streak of sweat and roll down your body/I shall be a fly and kiss your cheeks]


“Sote goye goye bohaage paalehi

Phulile bhebeli lota

Koino koi thakote oroke nopore

Rongali bihure kotha.”

with the month of sot drawing to an end and the arrival of Bohaag, the bhebeli creeper is in full bloom, there will be no end, (even) if I go on talking of Bihu[and in this context, the Bihugeet. Therefore, with the belief that we shall meet again to continue our discussion on this beautiful art form, here’s wishing you all a colourful and melodious Rongali Bihu…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Even as these words appear before you...thousands, if not lakhs of girls across the country are compromising with their lives as their careers are put on hold simply because their parents can afford to ‘support’ just one child and that fortunate one is inadvertently the son.....Fortunately (as we are wont to believe) things are changing for the better. Yet when viewed from a broader perspective, epithets like women’s empowerment or women’s emancipation seem more of illusion than reality. Female foeticide, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, emotional harassment (on women) are undeniable realities even today. A woman who wants to fight society has still very few supporters...often even the family (including mothers, aunts and grandmothers)—ones strongest support is more worried about the samaj-- the society than its daughter’s beliefs. As an aunt, wizened through ‘life’s experiences’, had once remarked, she and her husband would not have worried as much had their eldest child been a son.

Such statements on a public forum will not be palatable to the urban(e) reader. For (as she is bound to feel) haven’t things changed? Women are increasingly more visible outside their homes, at the workplaces. The Indian woman has reached up to outer space and scaled the Mt. Everest; she is walking hand-in-hand with man etcetera are clichés that we often hear in feminist discourses and liberalist arguments. But scratch beneath the surface and the reality surfaces. This is the story of many villages and smaller towns across the expanse of the country. And India, despite rapid urbanization and an increasingly expanding concrete jungle--still lives in its villages and smaller towns. Often girls are heard to speak of the ‘liberty’ their parents have given them, but more often than not they themselves are not aware of the tentacles of (patriarchal) oppression that lurk underneath. A girl’s parents might never ask her specifically not to do certain things, wear certain kinds of dresses, and so on; but right from her earliest days, she is (un)consciously conditioned to believe that doing certain things or wearing a certain kind of dress, behaving in a certain kind of manner are improper and do not bespeak a girl of ‘respectable family’. With such ‘conditioning’ , a girl needs no other instructions. The epithet of being ‘traditional’, of being sanskari are oft tagged to such facets of a girl’s conduct. To add to this present-day entertainment and news channels too leave no stone unturned (in their mad scramble for TRPs) in presenting the woman as vulnerable.

Often, ‘Children’ are the biggest reasons (rather pretexts) for a woman . Feminists might rave and rant—but the average Narmada, Charulatha or Maloti of the small village or town -- who has no economic independence , not much education to back and least of all morale support—will continue drying her moist eyes with the edge of her pallu and let life go on. A woman’s sorrow need not only be the scars on her body. There are the innumerable scars in her mind that take much longer to heal. Every careless remark, every inconsideration leaves its mark in a woman’s consciousness. She might muffle her sob under the folds of a forced smile. But the fester remains.

Till the time w(o[m)e(n) ] do not release themselves from the straitjacket of the pater familias, and men and women alike do not broaden their frames of reference and recognize the “metamorphic nature of things”, the woman will only be moving in circles. Swanky malls and branded apparels cannot alter man’s mentality (here, by ‘men’ we imply all those women as well who are themselves pseudo-patriarchs i.e. who are themselves a cog each in the wheel of patriarchy). The change has to be(gin) from within.

The need of the times is change of mindset, a shift in perspective. William Shakespeare wrote in his sonnet number 65—

“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,


When rocks impregnable are not so stout,

Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?”

Nothing is permanent in this universe. Everything is susceptible to change, including man and the circumstances around him. It is in the best interests of the woman that the changes be accepted by society—which again is an incomprehensible matrix that one dares not transcend. Stereotypes are to be shattered if society is to coherently move ahead. And when the coherence is missing, we have instances when irate men try to strip a woman naked in full view of the world.( Wearing ‘modern’(Western) dresses do not imply liberation alone. Nor do wearing traditional dresses indicate upholding of ones tradition.)

What is required presently is no elite panel or high brow discussion on all these matters but a percolation of the ideas (that will usher in) change to the grassroot level, to the deeper subconsciousness of men and women. Only then can the woman be thought of as ‘liberated’. Let she not seek comfort from compromise. Society and the nation will progress only when the ‘other half’ of the population is liberated in the true sense.

[pulished in 'Horizon'--The Assam Tribune]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Remembering a lost brother.

Death be not proud, so had written the poet John Donne. What is death?the end of life?the ultimate destiny of man’s existence?we know all this, and yet does this knowledge not console us.
On the 4th of March, 2010, I lost my brother..........Dr.Shekhar Goswami left us all for his journey to the nether world. This loss was tragic: the family had lost a son,friends lost a great human being and society lost a talented individual who was sincerely dedicated to the social cause—particularly in the field of medical science and health care.
As a student Dr. Shekhar had remained a topper throughout his academic career. He completed his schooling from Don Bosco High School, Baghchung, Jorhat with flying colours. After this, he was admitted to prestigious Cotton College in the Science Stream, from which again he passed out with distinction. In 2000, he joined the M.B.B.S. course in Assam Medical College ; in 2005 he became a doctor.
But Dr. Shekhar Goswami was much more than that…
He represented his school in various competitions and was also a founding member of social service club. A keen sportsperson he was a member of AMC cricket team which successfully won the Inter-University Cricket Tournament for two consecutive years. He represented AMC in Table Tennis and badminton. He was also the Table Tennis champion of AMC for three years. He was actively involved in various cultural activities; he was a good singer, he played the guitar and was also a good Bihu dancer. He had amazing organizational and leadership capabilities, and this was manifest in the pivotal role he had played in different activities in Assam Medical College. He was the General Secretary of AMC.One of his biggest contributions towards AMC was the stellar role he had played in leading the movement to stall derecognition of AMC. Some of his other contributions include—
a) Operation ‘HOPE’—for improving AMC was started during his tenure as General Secretary.
b) He organized Voluntary blood donation camps among students to help poor and needy patients.
c) He organized and took part in Health camps and distribution of life saving medicines in various villages.
d)He was the spokesperson of Junior Doctors Association in 2005.
e) He was founder member of an NGO “Maitri Misil” which successfully completed a ‘bicycle rally’ from Dibrugarh to Delhi for improving rural health infrastructure.
f)He organized a National level ‘AIDS awareness campaign’ in Assam.

In 2007, Shekhar joined the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai for a post graduate course in Health Administration. As part of his curriculum, he undertook projects in the slum areas at the Santa Cruz in Mumbai and also in Dhirubhai Ambani’s native village near Rajkot, Gujarat.
Thereafter, in February 2009 he joined Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) a Holland based organization working in several frontiers around the world.His initial deputation was in an interior area of Chattisgarh.He also undertook special projects in militant hit area of Manipur, Kashmir, and in the state of Delhi. He was specially interested in the areas of sanitary surveillance, malaria, leprosy, women’s health concerns, and tuberculosis. In fact, even when he was in AMC, he had wholeheartedly treated TB patients while the fear of infection was paramount. In fact, he himself had been infected by TB due to his untiring services to poor patients. In 2009,MSF India promoted him to the post of Assistant Country Coordinator and he shifted his base to New Delhi. In February 2010, Dr. Shekhar was selected by MSF and sent to European cities of Amsterdam and Barcelona for a month long training.
My brother, Dr. Shekhar was not only a great human being; he was an inspiration to many. He had a dream, a vision—for his society and his Country. He believed that to live, one has to love. He believed in winning the world, and all hatred through love. Probably, this was why he was liked by all; and probably this was why eventually he became dearer to God.Today, we can only reminisce his goodness, and virtues; and regret that, for the cold-bloodedness of people for whom probably he never mattered much, a talented young man lost his life.For, what has made this loss tragic has been the fact that this was no natural death. It was a death self inflicted.
 Time may elapse but my brother Dr. Shekhar will continue to live in all our hearts. We believe justice will be delivered and the wrong-doers punished for their sins.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

poetry reading session

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility, so said William Wordsworth.
It is “…a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary”. (Khalil Gibran)
It is “… a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away” (Carl Sandburg).

Subsequent generations might have argued, agreed or differed from these statements, yet the space that poetry has absorbed over time remains the same. To put it simply, poetry might be spoken of as an outpouring of ones innermost feelings, and impressions of life and the world — channelized through the thought-processes of the poet. It is fluid, nebulous, all-ensheathing and yet elusive…

Poetry however is not confined to the written word alone. Poetry entails ‘performance’ ...
Performance poetry traces its roots to the performance of oral poems in human societies in the ancient past. In modern times, this performance of poetry has assumed newer colours with forms such as poetry reading assuming popularity. Though such readings tend to have a niche audience, they are interesting as a reflect upon the times and the places they spring from. In this, one is reminded of the international poetry reading sessions held every month at the Cava Minos in a residential part of the famous port-city of Tripoli in Lebanon, where people from diverse cultural and national backgrounds ‘celebrate evenings of togetherness, … meet and depart peacefully’ — something which assumes such import in an increasingly intolerant world… In another corner of the globe, a similar effort is on. Quaint Essense, a research-based cultural organization in Assam, is making sincere efforts to “establish new idioms in art and culture and provide suitable stimulus to cultural and literary propagation”.

As part of their endeavour, Quaint Essense recently organized an enriching session of poetry reading at the Guwahati Book Fair on the Assam Engineering Institute grounds of the city last year. Chaired by eminent litterateur Pradip Acharya, this session featured poet Shimanta Bhattacharyya from Assam, writer and columnist Susan Waten from Nagaland, and budding poet Anurag Rudra from Guwahati. Noted poet from Meghalaya Ananya Guha, who was also part of the event, however, missed the session due to a rather unfortunate road blockade of the Khasi Students’ Union. Amlandeep Das, senior faculty member of the Department of English, Cotton College also spoke on the occasion.

The highlight of the event was an interactive session, which saw enthusiastic participation by the audience comprising students, intellectuals, writers, artists and poetry (art) aficionados. This unique interaction offered an assemblage of diverse ideas, ranging from translations and mysticism to a poet’s maturity and poetry (in general) — of wanting , and/or desiring to be a poet (to pick some nuggets). Queries were also put forth, and opinions expressed on the poetry that had been read awhile ago as well as contemporary poetry...
 Compeered superbly by Meenakshi Gautam, a booklet was also released to mark the occasion. It featured poets Ananya S Guha, Shimanta Bhattacharya, Uddipana Goswami, Susan Waten and Anurag Rudra. Edited by Anurag Rudra and Stuti Goswami, the cover page featured an artwork (a masterpiece) by internationally acclaimed artist Dilip Tamuly.
In all, this event was a confluence of myriad strands of art, and thought. As an amalgamation of myriad cultures and traditions, offers great scope for art, as well as for strife (and controversies). In an increasingly intolerant world, the slightest misunderstanding is fuel for the fire of conflict. Many efforts towards resolution (of such conflicts) are being made. Yet, probably one of the best, if not the most effective means is art…literature…poetry. As Shelley said, “Poets is the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. But then, let it be remembered that poetry is no civilizer; it is magic. And, in today’s times of conflict and (ir) resolutions, magic is what we all need.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

when silence speaks volumes....

A year ago, on a certain Black Thursday, Guwahati and Assam came to a standstill. A series of explosions perpetrated by a heartless bunch of beasts-in-the-garb-of-men shattered the lives of many. On that day, it was humanity that died a sad death. There were many spontaneous outpourings of protest, and much rhetoric that had emanated, particularly from the powers-that-be. A year later, life is running its normal course. In the past one year, it is questionable as to how many amongst us have actually spared some time to think of the auto rickshaw driver or the vegetable vendor or the lawyer or the student who lost their lives in the blasts on that fateful October 31st? All the rhetoric that had emerged then have long run down the drains that traverse the city of Guwahati. And what have we gained? Nothing, but the realization that man has indeed transformed into machines.We live such mechanized existences that not even death can afford to affect us.

Such feelings hung in the silent air of the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra Auditorium as a bunch of young children put up a ‘Mukabhinay’--a mime show on the 7th of January,2010. Titled ‘Bisphoran’(which means ‘explosion’), this mime show was based on (and was presented as a tribute to all the lives lost in) the serial blasts that rocked the state on 31st October, 2008. It touchingly presented some of our lives’ crucial issues all the while as it highlighted the consequences and aftermath of the ghastly explosions.
This mime show was the outcome of a workshop on the art form of Mime conducted by Pranjal Gogoi, Himanshu Prasad Das, Pranab Jyoti Lahkar and Prince under the aegis of Nisabda , a socio-cultural organization. The outcome of the creative efforts of a few enterprising youths, Nisabda (which in itself means silence) has within a short span of time been able to make a mark for itself in the cultural sphere through mime shows, short films, documentaries, dramas and so on. As Pranjal Gogoi, Director and Secretary Nisabda says—“within the grammar of mime, Nisabda endeavours to create a new wave of consciousness in the sphere of art. Nisabda is ever open to efforts at creativity”. Such efforts at creativity were manifest in this show as well. Video clippings of the (aftermath of the)bomb blasts, shown as the backdrop and a well composed(situational) song, added to the impact.
Conceived and directed by actor, director and mime artist Pranjal Gogoi, the artists of this mime show were-Pran Pratim, Bijit Kumar Das, Radali Hazarika, Hridayjyoti das, Rituraj Konwar, Varnayuattree, Joyrenba Singha, Arindam Bharadwaj, Bidyut Jyoti Burhagohain, Aoshim Chetia, Riddhi Raj Burhagohain, Saheib Ahmed, Dristanta Basumatari, Dhrubajyoti Dutta, Hirak Jyoti Dutta, Ranjit Sharma, Khanjan Kashyap.
While music was by Dipanka Saikia, the song was sung and performed by Ritu Vikash. Light design was by Tapan Baruah and set design by the students (i.e. the participants of the workshop). Make-up was by Prince, and Pranab Jyoti Lahkar was the production controller . Sound was courtesy Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra. Publicity was handled by Nilakshi Deka and Raisy Begum.

We hope we shall get to see further such projects from the creative coffers of Nisabda.

[published in The Sentinel on 9th January, 2010]
**Copyright--Stuti Goswami

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Flavours of Magh

In a world of coloured horizons, where Mother Nature weaves her magical tapestry, where every morning the rising sun glints on many a smiling eye, where a red river and its many tributaries sustain life like the veins in the body…in such a world do festivals offer a manifestation of this magic, life and colour. To such a world, do we proudly belong.

As the December sun,moving into January grows fuller and its warm rays tickle our skins, the air seems to fly in a happy tumult. One can sense a thrill cutting across misty mornings as Bhogali Bihu arrives, amidst colours, flavours and delights.

Also known as Magh Bihu, this festival falls in mid-January, in the month of Magh—the tenth month in the Asomiya calendar. Essentially a harvest festival, Bhogali Bihu is an occasion of feasting and merriment. Agni puja, community feast on Uruka, (the eve of the Bihu), cooking of delicacies are the highlights of this festival. In fact, the term ‘bhogali’ traces its origin to ‘bhoga’ which means eating or enjoyment.

Uruka falls on the Sankranti (The eve of the two months is called ‘Sankranti’). On the night of ‘Uruka’ ,people get together for a community feast (‘urukar bhoj’). Shopping, cooking, and eating around the fireplace as one family would, this bhoj enables people to catch up with one another, leaving aside the “sick hurry and divided aims” of their everyday lives. The warmth of the fire kindles warmth in relationships and in men’s hearts…

The morning after, on the day of the Bihu, people gather around the meji ( built on the previous day itself), and make reverential offerings of til (sesame), rice and other eatables besides betel and paan to the Agni devata--the God of fire. In the villages , ashes of the burnt mejis are sprinkled over the fields; for this is believed to increase the fertility of the soil. This meji ghar is again known by different names in accordance with the manner in which they are made. For instance, while in the districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar etc. (the so-called Upper Assam) the meji ghar is made of firewood—which are arranged in the shape of a square. In Lower Assam again this bonfire is made primarily of straw and is called bhela ghar. Besides firewood and hay, bamboo is also used in preparing the meji. After the offerings are made and the Agni Devata is paid obeisance to, people sit down to relish the different delicacies prepared for the occasion [though traditional delicacies like pitha, laddoos and jalpan are otherwise available in the Asomiya akholghar (kitchen) all through the year, yet it is in the Bihus, especially Bhogali Bihu that one witness greater feasting. Some other customs associated with Magh Bihu include—eating of kaath aloo( a kind of hard yam ) and mitha aloo(sweet potato), gotkarai or maahkarai [ mixture prepared from newly harvested mati maah(Phaseolus radiatus), bora saul(a kind of rice), til(sesame)].

In some places, especially in the village areas, interesting games like- bullfights, bird fights (for instance cock-fights and bulbuli sorair juj i.e. bulbuli bird fights), egg fights, etc are arranged. Besides, there are the timeless Bihu songs and dances that lend a pulsating ambience to the festivities.

As the centres of learning and culture and the seat of the neo-Vaishnavite religion, the Satras assume an important role in the composite Asomiya society. As in the broader society, in the Satras too Bihu is celebrated with much devotion, though much of the activities are observed within namghar precincts (a namghar is a community prayer hall—established by the great saint and reformer Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev) . Especially agni puja, naam-kirtan etc. take place in the namghar. Of course the lighting of the meji and the community feast on Uruka takes place in the open (albeit within the Satra precincts). Even here, there are certain norms to be followed. For one, the food can be cooked only by somebody whose assigned task, in the Satra is to cook. The meji is prepared by placing firewood in a particular manner inside a square formed by planting four uprooted banana trees. After this, four entrances are made into the meji on four sides by digging four holes in the ground beneath the meji. After the meji has been made, a humble yet reverential offering of betel nut-paan and ‘egosi saaki’ is made (i.e. an earthen lamp is lit and offered) to Agni devata. It is after this that the fire is lit and cooking for the feast commences. After the food has been prepared and all the bhakats [monks who live in the Satras , and are often celibate (kewaliya bhakat) ] , the Satradhikar (the supreme head of the monastery) and the other high officials of the Satra have assembled, there is invocation to Lord Hari or Vishnu (hari- dhwani) and the feast begins. In some Satras, there is sankirtan or Sabahuwa naam( communal prayer) at the meji-site after the feast. The next morning, the bhakats , especially the youths rise early. A branch of mango tree is lit and inserted into the meji from the entrance dug in the ground in the eastern direction—and the meji is set alight. After this, betel nut-paan, different delicacies prepared for this occasion (by the Vaishnav Bhakats) are offered on plantain leaves to the fire god. During the day, agni puja, naam-prasang etc. are performed, which extend all through the day. After the agni puja is over, there is ojapali, gayan-bayan, diha naam and other devotional prayer-singing in the namghar. In many Satras, the naam-kirtan extends well into the night. Much of the customs and mores associated with Bhogali Bihu, and observed by the masses, find their observance within the Satra precincts as well. The difference lies largely in the fact that in the Satras, many of the popular beliefs and traditions are adapted and given a spiritual /aesthetic connotation. Naam-kirtan, community prayer et al take precedence over songs and merriment (that are generally associated with Bihu celebrations).

Bhogali being the Bihu of ‘bhoga’ or feasting, preparation and savouring of the different delicacies assume great importance, whether it is the Satra or in the broader society. Til pitha, narikol pitha, kheer pitha, urahiya pitha, sutuli pitha, ghila pitha, tilor laru, narikolor laru/laskara besides jolpaan are some of the delicacies that every Asomiya household serves itself and its guests during Bihu, especially (as mentioned already) during Bhogali Bihu.

Despite fears of digressing, this writer cannot resist undertaking a detour through some of the delicacies that adorn our dining tables, and fill our kitchens and heart(h)s with mouth-watering aromas during the festivities. (As) We believe, this detour will only make the end—the culmination of this journey(of this write-up)--sweeter and more interesting…

Til pitha: the ‘til’ (sesame) is roasted, and then grounded and mixed with ‘gur’ (jaggery). Dry powdered rice [the ‘Bora’ variety of rice to be precise] is taken in handfuls and spread on a hot taava or pan in the shape of a small chapatti. Into this, the mixture made above is stuffed and then the chapatti-shaped powdered rice is folded into a semicircular shape or into the shape of a roll.

Narikol pitha: The procedure is similar as til pitha with the only difference being that in this, the stuffing is made from grated coconut (Narikol) fried in sugar or jaggery (gur).

Kheer pitha: This process is similar except that the stuffing is made of kheer.

Urahiya pitha: Here the dry rice powder is made into a dough, out of which little balls are made which are then flattened with the palm of the hand and stuffed with the til-gur mixture (as used in the til pitha); this then folded into the shape of an ‘urahi’ (i.e. a butter-bean), the sides sealed with deft finger-strokes and fried in oil.

Sutuli pitha or voja pitha: Here the gur is diluted and boiled, when it is tepid powdered rice and a pinch of soda bicarbonate are added: a thick paste is thus prepared which is then fried like maalpuas or .

Ghila pitha: In this,a dough of powdered rice and liquefied gur is prepared, which are then made into little balls and flattened, and deep fried. This pitha is shaped like a knee-cap(ghila is the Asomiya term for the knee cap).

Pheni pitha: This is the Asomiya counterpart of the popular jalebi! Firstly dough is prepared of powdered rice and water, which is then made into small balls and rolled in the wooden board like chapattis which are fried. The fried pithas are then dipped in gur syrup.

Tilor laru: In making these laddoos (or larus as is the Asomiya pronunciation), the dry til (sesame) is first roasted. The liquefied gur is then thickened by boiling. The boiled and thickened gur is finally poured over the roasted til and rolled into balls.

Narikolor laru or loskora, akhoir laru, murir laru and chirar laru: The procedure for these other laddoos is the same as the one described above. Gur or jaggery is used in each of these with the exception of the narikolor laru where the grated coconut (Narikol) is fried in either sugar or gur. Akhoi (roasted paddy) is not fried like the til or the coconut and nor is muri which is parched/puffed rice. Chira (flat rice made out of parched half-boiled paddy) is roasted and made into balls.

Payash pitha: This pitha is unique in itself; and is different from the other kinds of pitha cited above. Here dough is made out of rice-powder (called pitha-guri in Asomiya) and water/milk. This dough is then grated with a sieve: the grated dough is placed into a pan of boiling milk with sugar added in it. The payash (what might probably be termed rice pudding) that is thus prepared is called payash pitha.

Sunga Pitha: It is made of a paste of rice powder, which is then stuffed inside a raw bamboo, the ends are sealed with straw and the sunga or hollow bamboos are put over the fire with the aid of a pole/trunk of banana tree balanced on both ends by two raised poles. The pitha is allowed to cook in the fire.

Tekeli Pitha : Tekeli Pitha (which may be termed steamed rice cakes) is prepared by first soaking the rice grains for some hours before drying them and grinding them. The powdered rice that is thus obtained is then mixed with coconut and sugar and a portion of this mixture is put into a neat cloth placed over the rim of the pitcher’s mouth. The mouth of the pitcher is then ‘sealed’ with cork and the pitcher placed over the fire. The substance is baked with the heat of vapour that comes from inside the earthern pitcher (tekeli).

Another important part of the Bihu meals is the famous jolpaan, which consists of, doi (curd) (nd cream)and gur (i.e. jaggery ) besides hurum [Bora rice soaked for three/four days and then fried, pounded (in the dheki), sifted to remove the husk and then fried in hot sand), chira (flattened rice), kumol saaul (a softened form of rice prepared by soaking the rice grains) , bhoja saaul (rice prepared by roasting the grains) , bora saaul (sticky rice) , pithaguri (rice powder prepared from unroasted grains), sandoh guri (rice powder prepared by roughly grounding roasted grains), and korai guri (rice powder prepared from roasted grains which are then finely grounded).

Of course, with the winds of change blowing hard, and (with) the people actually listening to their silent whispers, many alterations are already on their way in. The traditional delicacies are not always prepared in homes nowadays. These delicacies are easily available in the market and in the pre-Bhogali and Bhogali melas that are a common occurrence in the towns and cities. Yet, changes are but a natural consequence of the evolutionary process: imminent with the flow of time. But, what need to be preserved are those nuggets that are integral to the continuation of our tradition. The availability of the traditional delicacies has enabled the sustenance of a culture in the face of the newer trends in people’s tastes, particularly the younger generations. This has also enabled an honest living to many unemployed men and women.

On this auspicious occasion of Magh Bihu, [having detoured through sumptuous delicacies and Bhogali Bihu celebrations, including (celebrations in the Satras)] we draw to a closure, and wish our dear readers life, magic and colour this Bhogali Bihu, and innumerable tickles, of the expanding sun on our skins, and of the aromas wafting over our taste buds…

Happy feasting to all.

[published in melange, The Sentinel on January 10th 2010]
**Copyright-- Stuti Goswami