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.

Travel travails in North East India in 1988-Return Journey

So we reached Nazira after harrowing experience. It was very cold there. In the winter, the sun goes down at about half past four in the evening. Those were the days when an extremist outfit called ULFA was very active. There were kidnappings and murders. So people ventured outside mostly in the daytime or under the protection of security forces.

We left in the early mornings and came back early. We went to see the Sivasagar town which was the capital once upon a time of Assam under the rule of Ahom kings. Ahoms came from South-East Asia and settled in North East India for good. Although in the beginning they followed Buddhism but converted to Hinduism and began suffixing “Singh” to their names. Thus the town of Sivasagar was founded by King Shiv Singh. It is a large town. There is a very large lake called Shiv Sagar. In fact the whole area has number of such lakes and the water in them is very clear.Adjacent to the lake is a Shiv temple called “Shiv Dol”. It is gigantic structure.

Most of the trading is in the hands of Marwaris which originally migrated from Rajasthan. In fact they are so enterprising merchants that there is hardly any place in the North-East where they have not set the shops.One reason for their flourishing in this part of the region is the indolent nature of the local people.There is many shops which sell the silk sarees and cloths. The silk is from Assam and Manipur and comes in three main varieties namely Golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri Silk. These varieties are produced by the same silkworms when fed on leaves of different trees. Everyone who goes there purchases the silk along with the tea. You can see unending stretches of tea plantations everywhere along the main roads.

Then we visited the “Madams” which are very elaborate mud structures where the bodies of kings and other royal people are interred exactly in the same fashion as the Pharaohs in Egypt.

Days went by very fast and time came for returning. There was a train in the early afternoon and we went to Simulgudi station again. There people moving here and there confused and worried. There we saw a notice saying that due to “Bandh (strike)” in Cachar Hills all the trains going towards Silchar shall remain cancelled for next 4 days. We went back feeling helpless and thought of going to Guwahati and from there more trains shall be available for Silchar although we had to do a lot of useless journey. So we boarded a train after 2 days and it reached Guwahati at noon. The scene was not promising.I went to booking counter for a train inquiry and ticket. As usual no reservation was available on the counter. I caught hold of a tout and gave him extra money for getting the berth reservation. The train was at about 4 O’clock in the evening which meant we have to occupy the berths after sometime and sleep and reach in the early morning at Silchar.

But as the night approached, there happened a surprising thing in the train. There was no electricity in the train. On top of it, the train was over crowded and there was not an inch to move for going to toilet. The reservation did not have any relevance because on such trains which stop at every station people alight and board at every station. The train halted at some station where we procured some candles and a match box. Without light you could see the person sitting next to you. Sometimes I was afraid that if anyone of us moved, he or she could not retrieve the way back.

Somehow, the night passed and reached Silchar in the early morning. It was such a perilous journey.

Famed Silk of Assam

For some people, Assam is synonymous with tea. It is not an under statement, it is true because the tea of Assam travels all over the world. Assam tea is known for its strength and Darjeeling tea on the other hand is famous for its aroma. When two are blended in right proportions, magic is created. The people in Assam like their tea brew without any milk added to it. They call it “Lal cha”, the red tea liquor due to beautiful red color. This brew has been proved to be very good for health as it contains many chemicals which are antioxidants. Apart from the tea, Assam is known for the silk fabrics. This silk is so much in demand that the people who go to Assam for work in oil industry, tea gardens and as tourists makes it a point to buy lots of silk sarees and cloth for making salwar and kameez. There are good shops selling silk fabrics in all the big cities.

Silk weaving is an very ancient art of Assam. There are references of silk in the early literature of India. For example, in the times of Chandragupta Maurya, this silk was highly praised by Chanakya. The writer of Alamgir Nama, Mirza Muhammad Kazim mentioned that quality of the silk products in Assam was at par with the Chinese silk.

Three varieties of silk are available in Assam. These are Eri, Muga and Pat. There was a caste of weavers called Katani which specialized in Pat silk. Muga variety is the golden silk with natural color. When I was in Assam at Sibsagar, I saw villagers selling the the silk worm cocoons and someone told me that people here eat these worms as food.

The most famous place for silk weaving is Soalkuchi which is also called the “Manchester of East”. It is a weavers village specializing in the silk weaving. It is said that artisans here were brought to this place from Tantikuchi which was the village of weaver nearby. In fact, the word “tant” stands for the thread.

“Khat khat khat khatsalare sabade prean mor nite nachuyai” was one of the most popular radio songs composed and sung during the fifties of the last century by the present artist pensioner Narayan Chandra Das Of Sualkuchhi.Actually the ‘click-clack click-clack’sound of the loom make the soul of the passerby dance with the rhythmic rattle of the shuttle flying through the sheds of the wrap. In fact the weaving the cloth on hand loom brings the mind closer to the God because of the “Tana” warp and “bana” weft threads are akin to the illusion of this world and we are all lost in the tana bana. Saint Kabir wove the cloth and sung the songs of joy and praise and friendship with God.

Last Days in Assam

Peculiar things happened with me as I made preparations for leaving Sibsagar on my transfer back to Mumbai.
A few days prior to my planned departure, the weather became very hot and humid as it becomes there during summer days. But on the day of my journey to airport at Dibrugarh, it began to rain and rained so much that it became a deluge. Without any respite, the rain was falling in solid sheets. Visibility became very poor. My flight was canceled on the scheduled day despite the fact that our luggage was boarded and boarding passes were issued. Such a thing never happened to me in my three years sojourn in Assam. My flight never got canceled and I made it to airport even on the days of ULFA bandh. It seemed that there were some scores remaining unsettled, as if I owed something to others and others to me, as if someone was waiting for me to see me and fulfill the unfulfilled desires. My colleagues advised me to stay put at some hotel for next day journey but I returned back. Luckily, one of my colleagues brought back the key of the house which I had surrendered that very day. I changed my flight altogether for next day.
Next day flight again arrived one hour late and I began to have doubts again. At last it took off for Guwahati on its way to Kolkata. On my adjacent seats-I was on window seat-were sitting two very pretty young girls who incidentally happened to belong to same place I was coming from and their parents worked in same company as I. They were going to Chennai, but worried about missing their connecting flight from Kolkata to Chennai due to delay in this flight. It turned out that they were having non-refundable tickets of different airlines. If everything went on time from Kolkata not only would they miss the flight but also lose the money. I tried to help them and luckily at Kolkata when they were waiting for luggage, inquiry at help counter of the airlines revealed that the flight as usual was delayed for one hour.

But I made to Kolkata with no hurry as my connecting flight to Mumbai was late in the evening with enough time remaining. Flight to Mumbai also was delayed and reached at midnight. My real nightmare started when I hired a taxi from outside. There is a great racket going on at Mumbai airport. Some taxi driver and accompanying person will board the taxi with you and take a just outside the airport where number of taxis are waiting. He will charge money from you as they pretend it be prepaid taxi and will ask you to shift to some waiting taxi and will give the driver very vague instructions about the destination and give him some share. After traveling about half the distance, the driver will ask for the spot where the passenger will drop but he will give the name of place nearby. As you will protest that I have to go to where I have to, he will say that the fellow who transferred you in my cab told me to drop you elsewhere and for going further he will again demand some more money. Really, Mumbai is going to dogs, it will go bust. It is the city whose cycle of decline has really well started. It has become a old vamp. Name any kind of maladies-physical as well as mental- you will find them in Mumbai.
Best of luck for this dying city. My lungs choked on pollution as I sucked so many pollutants in two hours as I have done in Assam in 3 years.

A Pair of Mynahs

The story is set in the Sivasagar district of Assam. I was working there after a transfer from India’s most advanced city of Mumbai. This was transfer after long stay in Mumbai so it took some time to adjust in these surroundings. There is a big colony of our company and has given us quarters to live. My family did not accompany me. The place is abysmal if you are alone as the area lags behind rest of India in progress and it is very difficult to spend the time. The place is full of natural beauty because of lack of progress in industries. In fact the place can boast of being few places free of pollution in India.

It was a holiday and as usual I was sitting in the Verandah. I saw a pair of mynah sitting on the fence of the opposite building boundary. Male warbled continuously; spread his feathers from time to time and moved his neck up and down as if beckoning someone. Was he calling to some another female even as his wife was sitting with him? Was he polygamous or a philanderer?

Female, on the contrary was very reticent and sat peacefully presenting a complete contrast to us humans where all the talking after the marriage is done by females and males only listens. Whenever, female jumped away a few steps, the male kept the distance constant and hopped too. He preened his feathers intermittently to look a toff.

There were squirrels frolicking and jumping from one branch to another branch of the trees; they nibbled at the gnarled surface of the tree to scoop the gums oozed by the tree. These squirrels are blacker and more agile in comparison to their cousins in the North India; they can as long as six to seven feet without any need to taxi before take off. They are a nightmare of betel nut growers as they nibble at fruit; eat some and throw away the rest.

Akashitora Dutta

Akashitora Dutta has pleasing personality and talent with which she has lent glamour and substance to many television programmes and films. She has tragedies in her life which she hides behind the facade of journalism and acting in serials and films.

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Model, actor and writer Akashitora Dutta, whose father Kamala Saikia was the first journalist to be killed by Ulfa militants, is working on a cathartic second novel that will lay bare the erosion of the values which the banned militant group claims to uphold. Coming 15 years after her father?s death, the novel is based on real-life events ? from the journalist?s murder to the kidnapping and killing of social worker Sanjoy Ghose.

Akashitora, now 35 and a mother of one, is writing the novel in Assamese, but it will also be published in English and Bengali. ?This is not only my story, but of all those who have suffered because of militancy. It has to be told not only to those who read Assamese, but to all in the country and outside,? she said.

The multi-faceted actor?s previous novel, Xei Prem, was moderately successful.

Akashitora, who earned a PhD from Gauhati University for her thesis on the “Changing Profile of the Educated Assamese Housewife”, laments about UFLA outfit and says that the initial Robin Hood image of Ulfa militants had become a myth. ?Her father, who was a fountainhead of inspiration, was killed in a brutal manner just because he took up cudgels against some of the wrong ideologies adopted by the outfit. she vividly remembers the days when the outfit threatened my father not to write a single word against them,? she said.

After Kamala Saikia was killed on August 9, 1991, his shocked daughter moved away from the limelight for a while. But acting was too close to her heart and she returned to tote up an impressive oeuvre of more than 45 television serials, 50 telefilms and six films.

Akashitora’s initiation into acting was on a stage in Sivasagar when she was just four. Playing the role of little Krishna, she impressed the audience so much that one admirer gifted her a gold coin. She never looked back after being adjudged as the best actress and debater in a Gauhati University youth festival in 1987. So convincing was she as a Naga woman, Kemi, in a drama staged during the festival that the name “Kemi” became her moniker, her cognomen. As a writer, Akashitora focuses primarily on women.

Latest, I heard about her is that she is going to play a special role in the forthcoming Assamese movie titled “Surjyasta”. The film was announced in December 2011.