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.

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Carotenoid Rich Cucumbers

Cucumber along with raw carrots, radish, and tomatoes has been a part of salad for the time immemorial. Cucumber is also consumed as cooked and pickled form in many parts of the world. People on diet for weight control eats this vegetable as it is often regarded as a health food because of its low calorie content and its high vitamins and minerals content.

Common cucumber varieties are white to greenish inside and are of low nutritional quality. On the other hand, orange fleshed cucumber is rich in carotenoids. India, being the centre of origin for cucumbers, is known to be the treasure-house of cucumber diversity. Mostly the first variety is used as it is abundantly grown.

But in the Mamit district of Mizoram, two varieties are found which are very rich in carotenoids as high as 6.5 μg/100 g as compared to 1.17 μg/100 g in the best check variety Himangi.. They have yellow to orange mesocarp and endocarp; an extremely rare trait.

cucumber

Previously orange-flesh cucumber was reported to be derived from a land race named Xishuangbanna Gourd from a Prefecture Xishuangbanna of the Yunnan Province in the South-west China, which is closer to north-eastern part of the India. Studies indicate that orange fleshed cucumber of China (Xishuangbanna Gourd) is closely related to Indian cucumber found in Mizoram. This suggests that orange-fleshed Indian cucumber might have migrated to China from northeastern parts of the country; which is the primary centre of its origin.

All this information is from ICAR.

Doyen of Assamese Films

Assam and its sister states namely Meghalya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh & Nagaland jointly called 7 sisters once upon a time constituted only one state and were known as Assam only. Like every other state and great diversity of cultures in India, Assam and its sister states have preserved their unique culture alive. One reason for this is lesser contact with rest of the country due to nature of terrain and Central government’s apathy for years. Despite being very rich in resources, the area has not seen the prosperity due to it. The most important ingredients for an area to progress economically are transportation facilities, communications and raw resources. First two have been neglected for over 57  years.

During the British rule, it was their sole aim to plunder the wealth of state namely petroleum, tea and precious wood. This trend continued almost unabated even after the independence. The area was taken for granted by the government at centre. The result was disillusionment and rise of unrest and many militant groups which also took their toll of progress.

So one can imagine what must had been the scene way back in 1900. At such a time Jyoti Prasad Agarwala was born into a Marwari family which had migrated some generations back to Assam. Marwaris are a business community from Rajasthan. They have the business acumen in their blood.They don’t need any degrees to be successful businessmen. They are highly adventurous as far as the reaching such remote places where no one will thought of going for establishing their shops. Most of them are non-vegetarians and are known for eating simple food, abstain from drinking, the ingredients which make them ideal businessmen. They spread to the remotest corners of Assam whose people were content to be where they were and eat and wear whatever was available locally. They would not venture outside in search of better opportunities. They are pleasure and self content people. Despite being endowed with most beautiful landscape, Assam could not develop its tourism industry. In this respect Goa and Kerala have been the most enterprising in selling the beauty of nature to foreign tourists. One reason may be their proximity to sea which adds to the natural beauty of the place. One positive aspect of non development of tourism have been that the pristine beauty and unpolluted environment is still intact.

We have digressed much from the subject. It should have been along the straightline but we have made the journey sinuous. Coming to point, it is enough to say that there are abbreations sometimes. Agarwala who was affluent in wealth and was educated in Calcutta and Britain opted for a altoghther different carrer. He became the founding father of Assamese cinema. He was a script writer, song writer, musician and what not. He is fondly called the Roop Kanwar by Assamese people and his death anniversary is celebrated as Shilpi day. He made the fisrt Assamese movie called Joymati which depicted the extreme sacrifice of a princess for his husband who was imprisoned by the  King. She was successful in scheming to free his husband and went into exile. She was captured and tortured.

Agarwala was also a freedom fighter and participated in the freedom movement against the British. He died in 1951 suffering from cancer.

When Bamboo Flowers!!!

Yes, bamboo species called Melocanna Baccifera blossoms copiously approximately every 48 years. While the blossoming of flowers is heralded as spring and is the nature’s way to be happy and show the joys to the world, flowering of bamboo is considered the coming of an calamity in the North East states of India. This variety of bamboo grows densely in Mizoram, Manipur and adjoining Burma. Bamboo is a natural resource extensively used in the construction activities to build scaffolding. It helps in the conservation of soil with its strong roots and also beautifies the landscape of the area.

So, why the flowering of bamboo considered as ill omen?

When the bamboo flowers, whole bamboo jungle is filled with flowers which lead to the formation of copious quantities of seeds and signals the death of the tree. It takes many years for the new bamboo trees to grow. Since the area experiences heavy rains, with the soil having become nude, there is heavy erosion of fertile upper crust of soil.

The floor of jungle is now full of bamboo seeds which are packed with nutrients especially the proteins. Rats from the nearby places are attracted to the seeds like iron fillings towards a magnet. They gorge on these seeds and gets very hefty and indulge in the procreation. There population increases exponentially. After cleaning out the seeds, the hordes of the rats turn their attention on the provisions stored by the people living nearby. In the matter of days, they eat up every thing creating the famine.

Due to the shortage of food, the inhabitants are forced to eat anything they find in the jungle or contaminated left over food and fall ill. Thus along with the famine, a epidemic visits the people. In the past, due to the casual attitude of the government, people revolted against the state.

Many of us have heard the story of pied piper of Hamelin which charmed the hordes of rats which had made the life of people a hell and lured them to their death. May be such a pied piper was there also when these disasters occurred. But no cheating with him in the payment for his services as the governments generally do, otherwise it can invite his wrath and he can lure the innocent children and take them with him.