Facing Floods in Assam….

I was posted in Cachar Project of ONGC during 1987 to 1991. Our company was desperately looking for oil and gas in this area. There were 5 rigs employed for these operations in different areas around the town of silchar which is located in the southern part of Assam adjoining agartala and near this town is another town called Badarpur which is a gateway to north eastern states like agartala, Manipur and Mizoram. This area where drilling operations were being conducted bordered Bangladesh. Two rivers namely Surma and Kushiara flow through this area which are actually two parts of Barak river coming to this area from Manipur. In fact, town of silchar is situated on barak river. These two parts again rejoin and enter Bangladesh where ultimately it joins mighty Brahmaputra river.

There was one site called Adamtilla where I used to go for duties on aan old Romanian rig. It was about 120 kilometers from our residence in silchar and a good 2 to 3 hours journey. Our company has hired maruti gypsy jeeps for this job.

There we did duties on 14 days on and off pattern. It means that for 14 days you will be there on the rig. Of this, first 7 days one officer did day duty from 6 am to 6 pm and other did the night duties. After 7 days pattern reverses and when 14 days are over, the employee shall go to his declared hometown and resume the duties again after 14 days. Mostly people did the off days at their hometowns from different stations throughout India.

But with me the case was different. I was well site chemist which is a supervisory duty but as my family had moved to my hometown in Chandigarh, my boss gave me 14 days chance in addition.

When the shift was off duty, the staff was put up in temporary accommodation at Patharkandi which was about 7 kilometers away. It was a good accommodation with Assam type houses for 2 people each. In addition, there was a mess for food and entertainment room with TV and VCR. There were no TV channels like these days. There was also a badminton court. But real pleasure was the flowering plants like marigolds and dahlias. All this was supervised by a gardener who hailed from orissa. In fact this residency was the first one created when the project commenced.

Buses took shifts to drill site and back. Although it was only 7 kilometers but road condition and ongoing construction of a bridge over the sunai river stretched the time to half an hour or so. Many a times the roads inside the tea gardens were blocked.

When the shift completed its tenure of 14 days, they were transported to airport about 170 kilometers away. It belonged to air force and flights operated only in the day time only. There were only two flights each day and operated between Kolkata, silchar, agartala and Manipur. Everyone was desperate to catch the flight amidst uncertainties like strikes, irregularities of flights and inundations due to floods.

I faced one such flood. We were on the rig when the news of flooding due to overflowing of the sunai river and closing of road traffic trickled in. The river was in spate. It was decided to stop the work. There was a railway station on the line from agartala to badarpur. While all the staff was sent to station we 5 to 6 people stayed back to close all the engines. The drill string was pulled up to casing shoe and BOP was closed. The plan was that staff reaching earlier will try to somehow hold the train till we reach the station. But the work on rig is as difficult to close as it is to begin. So when rest of us reached the station, the train had already left. There was as such scarcely one train daily so there was no chance till next day evening.

We returned to drill site which was now pitch black. Somehow the generator was started and light was restored. There was no food. Nothing to lie back on. Mosquitoes attacked in hordes. Cicadas chirped with piercing sounds. Whole night passed like that. In the morning, flood had not receded. Only way to colony was walking along the railway track all the way 7 kilometres. It was raining incessantly. The going was slow. There were many small rivulets flowing full and the wooden slippers were of uneven thereby increasing the chances of slipping down. Had someone slipped, he would had sure fallen into the stream. After sometimes, as energy was sapped, walking became very tiring and we had to sit in the rain for sometime.

At last, after 3 hours we reached patharkandi colony. We got refreshments and were dead tired. We were held up there for 3 days before the shifts resumed again.

Advertisements

My Peregrinations

I have returned back to the place where we were born, grew up, went to school in our own village of Manimajra, then to college and university in Chandigarh. Graduation and post graduation became possible because of the proximity of Chandigarh. Had this not been the case, there was no chance of my getting higher education in science. Even at that time, some 60 years back, our village was the largest of villages around Chandigarh. There were agricultural lands all around the village. The fields were irrigated with the water from Ghaggar river which flowed nearby emanating from Shivalik hills. There are two very large temples of Godess Mansa Devi where people from all over the nearby places flocked during the annual fares. There are many historical Gurudwaras in the area. One is inside the village is called Mata Raj Kaur Gurudwara after the pious lady who left her husband Guru Ram Rai after she felt the her husband has tweaked some lines from Guru Granth Sahib during recital. Ram Rai established himself with his disciples and properties around Dehradun. Another famous Gurudwara is on the periphery of Panchkula and is called Nadda Sahib. Here tenth Guru Gobind Singh stayed during his journey from Paonta Sahib to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. The person who played the host was known as Naddu and after his name is the name of the place and Gurudwara. There is another Gurudwara called Bawli (step well) sahib located in the village Dhakauli. With the education which I acquired, I found a job in ONGC: India’s leading E&P petroleum company. Since it’s operations extend all over India, it provided me a chance to work in different places like Dehradun, Silchar jutting with Bangladesh and located in South Assam, Sibsagar in upper Assam which was once the capital of mighty Ahom kings which gave the place the name Assam and Mumbai the city maximum and economic capital of India. Assam the North Eastern state of India possesses unparalleled natural beauty. Since the industrialisation has not spread in that area, the region I dun polluted. When you fly over the area, you find tea gardens, Areca nut tress, bamboo groves running over miles and miles. There are rivers like Brahamaputra and Barak rivers which provide the best fish. Whatever vegetables are available are grown on the river beds and grown naturally and are thus purely organic. This provided me the opportunity to watch these diverse cultures and people from close quarters and try to understand their cultures in different points of time. Whereas the Assam took the mind to older quaint times with minimal pollution, natural beauty and innocent people, there was Mumbai which was so fast paced, situated on Arabian Sea with beautiful beaches, coconut palm trees, pav bhaji and bada pav and it’s incessant rains which never stopped in the monsoons. I for the first time came to learn that not only paper document are parcelled but eatables like food from hotels and coconut cream etc is also parcelled for home delivery. Mumbai has developed a peculiar practical language which is the result of mixing of languages from all over India which migrant people to Mumbai has carried along with them. A lot has changed here and it should not be any surprise. Change in Mumbai is minimal now as it has become saturated. Here a complete change in demography also seemed to have taken place. There has been influx of people from states around it and also UP and Bihar. Crime which was almost unheard of is now very rampant. This is due to the high aspirations, comfortable lifestyle and sky rocketing prices of living spaces, everyone wants to become rich overnight.

Magic with Bamboo in Assam India

Assam, North-Eastern State in India is endowed with exceptional natural beauty. It is still not polluted due to industrial expansion. The state has large forests of Bamboo and teak and other trees. Tea is famous all over the world. You will see sprawling tea gardens for miles and miles.

Bamboo is used for making many utility items. Traditional bamboo baskets that evolved through centuries of cultural and functional mediation are a response to a variety of local needs that were ingeniously satisfied by the local craftsmen. These include basket forms that are used for a variety of domestic, farming and fishing activities which are sold in the weekly markets in villages, towns and cities all over Assam. Large trays made from woven mats, structurally stabilized with stiff bamboo splits to form trays, are used for fishing and winnowing, drying, sorting and threshing grains. The fish basket has a wide mouth and narrow neck to prevent the fish from jumping out. Headgear and ceremonial rain shields are a response to the inclement monsoon that brings pouring rain for several months after summer. Rainfall is celebrated by the conversion of the everyday rain shields into a votive offering. The decorative jhappi is an appliqué embosomed rain shield symbolizing the harvest festival.

Numerous other artifacts of farming communities are made from bamboo that include a bullock cart, grain storage bins, low stools, and a distinctive construction called the Assam type house found everywhere. Assamese craftsmen use simple tools such as a dao, bill hook knife, and jigs to shape their products although they are largely based on their visual judgment. The only exception to this rule is while making the jhappi, when a bamboo mould is used.

Following are pictures of some of the artifacts made in Assam.

Below: A bamboo mould that is used for shaping the peak of the jhappi, palm leaf used for waterproofing and a semi-finished jhappi.

jappi mould

Below:Jhakoi, a fish trap with a basket for keeping fish, from Nalbari. The jhakoi is made by moulding a mat woven with bamboo splits.

fish trap

Below:Tray with open weave made from bamboo splits. It is used to catch fish living in the roots of the water hyacinth.

japi

Below: A basket for carrying agri-produce, made in open hexagonal weave construction, from Silchar.

tray

Below: Muddah, a low stool, made in Silchar has a fascinating structure made of thin splits, tied together with cane bindings to form a warped surface that is load bearing. The seat uses split cane weaving.

sitter

Below: Basket for keeping fish. The basket along with the large trays forms a part of the fishing equipment and is carried tied to the waist.

basket

Below: Dimasa Cachari basket for storing valuable cloth. The double walled construction has an inner layer woven with coarser splits, and outer layer of smoother and finer splits. The conical lid is sturdy and hinged with braided bamboo straps.

cloth basket

Eri Silk of Assam, India

Assam and its adjoining stated in the North East of India are famous for silk. Silk was the royal attire of Tai Ahom Kings. These people came to Assam from a Chinese province through Patkai range of hills and enchanted by the beauty of the region, settled permanently and intermingled with the local people. They must have brought the silkworms with them from China.

Silk is woven in the homes. It is part of economy of the state. Of many varieties Muga: the golden silk and Eri or Ahimsa silk are most famous. Eri is produced by the silkworm called Philosamiaricini and is reared indoors on the leaves of Castor, Kesseru, Payam and Tapioca trees. The yarn from cocoons is spun. The word Eri is derived from Erranda which is Indian word for Castor.

It is produced only in Assam, the East Khasi hills and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Bodo women weave Dokhana (draped skirt), Chaddar (upper cloth) and Jhumara in addition to plain shawls. Endi shawls are highly prized outside. The same silkworms produce different colors of thread in different areas.

Silk pattern
Silk pattern
Bodo woman with silk clothes
silk-3
Reared indoors
silk-4
Cocoons & thread

My Stay in Silchar

I have been to Assam earlier also when I was posted in Cachar in the Southern Assam. The area is bounded by Bangladesh and Tripura and North Cachar Hills separate it from the rest of Assam. We lived in a town called Silchar. Although it is in the Assam but most of the population is Bengalis. Muslims dominate the rural areas. The Barak river flows through it and splits into two rivers called Surma and Kushiara which again join together in Bangladesh.

This river is very famous for a variety of fish called illish. Although it has more bones than any other fish, it tastes great and the Bengali people whose weakness for the fish is well known are crazy for this variety.

During the days we were there, there were very few means of communications. All the flights coming into this area from Kolkata fly for most of their journey in the Bangladesh space. Traveling by train taken at least 12 hours to the capital city of Guwahati which is better connected with rest of India. The trains have to cross the North Cachar Hills through tunnels and on meter gauge. But then the whole region is sleepy and naturally gifted with great beauty.

During the monsoons the Barak river is in spate and many a times breaks the dykes and inundates the whole region. Houses are submerged, and crops are destroyed. There are tea gardens on all side and Surma valley tea is quite famous. During British times, the area produced petroleum in places like Badarpur. There were oil wells on the small hillock and crude oil flowed through channels specially made for the purpose to storage tanks on the banks of Barak river. From here the crude was transferred to the ships and sent away.

The boundary of India with Bangladesh was very near. The border was very porous at that time and people sneaked from one country to another easily. In fact many of them have relatives on both the sides. Like in Punjab many Hindus had to migrate as refugees to Silchar leaving behind their properties.

Sibsagar in Assam

ASSAM SILK SAREE SHOP IN NORTH LAKHIMPUR ASSAM
ASSAM SILK SAREE SHOP IN NORTH LAKHIMPUR ASSAM (Photo credit: rajkumar1220)

Sibsagar is a district in upper Assam. It is called Shivasagar these days. It is an important historical town in Assam. It drives its name from a huge water tank named after the Ahom King Sib Singh. Sagar means a large water body. Ahoms are not the original inhabitants of Assam. They came here from China through Patkai range of hills. Slowly from invaders, they stayed here bewitched by the beauty of the land, lush green woods and hills. During there early days they subdued local Chutia and Kachari kings.

They established their capital in Rongpur which falls in this district. They were very fond of very huge water tanks and made so many of them. The water never dries in them indicating that they are fed by underground water sources.

The town is famous for silk clothes. In those times, there was a loom in every home on which women of the house weaved clothes of silk and cotton not for sale but for the family folks. Silk was obtained from three kinds of worms namely eri (Attacus ricini), Muga(anthraea assama) & Pat(Bombyx textor). they produce different kinds of silk. These silk worms feed on leaves of different trees. Eri feeds on castor oil plant, Muga worms feed on sum-tree and Pat worms on mulberry trees. A fine white thread which is much valued is obtained by feeding Muga on chapa (Magnolia griffithi) and mezankuri (tetranthera polyantha). During British times, Muga production ousted all other forms. Pat production was lowest.

These days, there are many shops which do roaring business in silk materials. Silk clothes are acquired from Manipur mostly these days. In the town there is a popular shops called Sangeeta dealing in all sorts of silk materials. Most of the visitors to the city make it a point to buy tea, silk dress materials and visit the sibsagar tank and famous Shiva temple called Shiv dhol.

Tai Ahoms: The Easterly Kshatriyas

Indian subcontinent can be accessed on land and by sea from three sides. In the past, invaders entered it through West from the side of Afghanistan. It is protected from North by Himalayas which act as a formidable wall. The mountains which cover the India from North West to North East have been responsible for keeping the invaders entering from the North directly and also for creating the weather particularly the Monsoon which gives India respite from sweltering heat and helps in meeting the irrigation requirements and bestow bounteous crops to the region. Its snow capped mountains feed the perennial rivers which sustain the life of teeming masses inhabiting the entire northern India.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Sukapha.jpg

The people entering from the West mingled with original people inhabiting the region. Soon their population escalated and they were obliged to spread in search of newer avenues where the conditions existed for habitation. In this process they spread over whole of Ganges valley up to Bengal.

The other entry point was the North East where people from South East Asia and China entered India. In comparison to the Western corridor mentioned earlier, terrain here is more difficult. Also people who came and settled in the North East confined themselves to the Assam and its 6 sister states in the North East. One reason for this might have been the difficult proposition to expand towards West where already stronger kingdoms existed. Secondly the narrow strip called chicken neck area separating the North East states from rest of India must have acted as a bottleneck which might have dissuaded them.

Assam and the 6 other states namely Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland & Manipur in the North Eastern part of India possess enchanting natural beauty. Due to the lack of industrial progress, the environment is still free of pollution. The natural products are forests of bamboo & teak, crops of rice and vegetables grown on the fertile land on the edges of river Brahmaputra without any application of contaminating fertilizers. Of course most famous product of Assam known all over the world is the tea. You travel by car on any road and along both sides are never ending teas plantations. You can see the women laborers with special kind of baskets hanging from their shoulders plucking the leaves and putting in the baskets.

Nederlands: Een vrouw aan het werk op een thee...

Parasuram Kunt, Arunachal Pradesh

There is plenty of fish in the rivers. The area is rich in petroleum. In fact, the oldest oil well in India was drilled in Assam at Digboi. The original people are mainly tribals whose customs and rituals are entirely different from rest of India.

The most important migrants to come and and settle in this area came from Yunnan province. First to enter the North East region was Sukhapa, who came with army, his women and nobles. Although initially they did not practiced Hindusim but later Kings leaned towards this religion and ultimately converted to Hinduism. Local inhabitants called them Tai-Ahoms.

Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its mountainou...
Arunachal Pradesh is famous for its mountainous landscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As they became more tolerant towards Hinduism, the elements of Hindu mythology entered into their history. Thus it was stated that Brahma created the human beings from a gourd. These people were gentle and pious. But by the time of Treta Yuga, the moral values declined and Indra became worried and sent his grandsons: Khunlung & Khunlai to rule the earth and bring back the old order. These were the progenitors of Tai-Ahoms. They descended to earth facilitated by a golden ladder on the Mung-ri-Mung-ram mountains. Thus the Tai Ahoms, as they won over the local people labeled themselves as Eastern Kshatriyas.