Monthly Archives: March 2010

Call of roots

The call of roots is something very hard to define. Indeed, just what is it that makes a person come back to his or her roots, even after having gone far away to a distant land, to embrace new people and newer cultures, to a place where there is no trace of her ancestry. While we often tend to forget about our origins in the humdrum of day-to-day existence and in our quest to move ahead in life, the fact remains that a person is incomplete without his roots. Such is its power that it can make one go out of the way to preserve his or her heritage, even in foreign and unknown shores, against the set and conventional patterns of life of the land where he or she now resides.

Sanghamitra Kalita

Born to Mahesh Kalita and Nirmala Kalita – her mother was brought up in the Santipur area of Guwahati – Sanghamitra’s paternal family had settled down in Sadiya, a place of which she has fond remembrances even today. In fact, Sadiya was a place her family visited every few years i.e till she became twelve years old, by when most of her family had already moved to Guwahati. In fluent Assamese, she says, “I really enjoyed my childhood days and especially liked the long trips to Assam. I had once stayed in Sadiya for more than a month and it was truly a revelation for me. I still remember the feel of those times, how it felt to live amidst the lush countryside and to help my cousins with their homework on slates with chalk.” She adds, “Many youngsters living in urban India today are not being able to experience this part of India, which I am thankful for having experienced.”

As of today, Sanghamitra has made a mark as a top-notch journalist with one of America’s largest newspapers. She is presently an editor at the Wall Street Journal and thanks to her penchant for research and incisive analysis, she is today regarded as an authority on global economic trends. Her book on the Indian economy will be released by Harper Collins by the end of this year.

Journalism came calling early in Sanghamitra’s life. Her first efforts in journalism can be traced back to the time when she was around eleven years old, when she actually took the initiative to “produce” a newspaper with art paper by reporting on her parents. Though the newspaper she had produced then was nothing more than a childish prank, it amply signified Sanghamitra’s instinct for journalism, something which she continued to hone throughout her growing-up days. When asked about her newspaper, she elaborates, “My childhood saw a lot of travelling, shifting to new cities and new schools, on account of my father’s frequent job transfers. I did not like the travelling as I hardly got the chance to settle down in one place and make friends. Maybe the newspaper I produced then was symbolic of a social movement that I wanted to start inside my family to protest against this travelling, or it might also be that I saw journalism as a way to have a voice.”

Sanghamitra had the nose for news all right. But even after living in the States which can be much more liberal for children in comparison with India, she still had few role models in the media. Her predicament can be understood from the fact that journalism is not a field that Indo American families normally encourage their children to pursue. She recalls, “When asked to name some other Indian Americans practicing journalism in the States, I remember not being able to give a concrete answer. There were plenty of doctors or computer engineers then.” She, however, followed her dreams and went on to procure a degree from the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism.

Sanghamitra Kalita began her career in journalism in the New Jersey bureau of the Associated Press, a premier American news agency. But it was only when she joined Newsday, a major newspaper in the New York area, that she got noticed for writing a series of articles on the burgeoning Indian economy and how the country was about to burst into the world stage. She also wrote about small business, Enron and the terror attacks of 9/11. That was the beginning and since then, she has been bestowed with a number of awards and commendations and has also been featured in the Best Business Stories of 2003.

Besides economics, Sanghamitra is also a keen follower of immigration issues. Having lived in a variety of places in the US over the years, particularly in Puerto Rico, and having gained a wider perspective of immigration issues, she has extensively covered the South Asian diaspora in her news reports. For instance, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2011 terrorist attack at the World Trade Centre, she had reported extensively on the immediate backlash against Arabs and South Asians living in the New York city area, and had also written a chapter for ‘At Ground Zero: Young Reporters Who Were To Tell Their Stories’.

For someone who has got a taste of Indian journalism as well, Sanghamitra feels that the context in Indian journalism is largely missing and appears to be more “agenda-driven,” which is understandable, she says, given the larger number of newspapers – ideologically, linguistically and regionally – in India. “Over here, the lines seem to be much more blurred – politics, business, journalism,” she said, even as she harped on how ethics comprised a fundamental aspect of journalism. “Public trust and clarity is most important,” she added as she deliberated on the fixation of journalists in both countries for the “breaking news” phenomenon.

Despite her manifold achievements and even after following such a hectic lifestyle, Sanghamitra still treasures her Assamese roots. If you are wondering, just in case, she speaks extremely fluent Assamese and danced Bihu as a child, having learnt it in her grandmother’s drawing room in Santipur. Living in an environment dominated by English, I felt this is indeed commendable. “We speak Assamese at home and so does my daughter now – although we really have to remind her. My parents realized that language was very important for me to have a connection with my relatives back home in India,” she says.

Unlike the clash between cultures that seems to disturb most Indo-Americans, Sanghamitra appears to be comfortable with her identity and feels entirely at home in both Indian and American cultures. “I should thank my parents for rearing me up in such a way as to be comfortable in both settings. There were no cultural clashes as far as I can remember. We grew up celebrating Indian festivals and practicing Hindu rituals. Afterwards, when my father became a practicing Buddhist, we started having an increasing Buddhist influence in our lifestyles.”

As Sanghamitra has worked with immigration issues for a long period of time and since she is also a part of the Indian diaspora in the US, our conversation not surprisingly veered to the issue of racial discrimination, which has started occupying news headlines once again after the recent attacks against Indians in Australia. “The Assamese community in the States is very small and when we talk about representation, it is more on the lines of an entire country, say Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Racial discrimination certainly exists in the US but I can’t say it pervades my daily life. To be honest, Indians benefitted greatly from the Civil Rights movement but the groups that made Indians’ success possible – such as Blacks and Latinos – still lag behind Asians in income levels.

Besides journalism, Sanghamitra Kalita is also a prolific writer, having authored a highly acclaimed non-fiction book, Suburban Sahibs. The book is an account of three immigration families and how they go about following their dreams in a foreign country. Each family represent an entirely different stratum of society, but together they build up the fabric of the greater American society. At a time when Indians have become a major community in the US and have become a defining factor in US politics, Sanghamitra has managed to draw in her book a vivid account of this particular community, touching on how their immigration has changed the American suburbs and how America, in turn, has transformed them.
Suburban Sahibs has won the ‘Winner of the Celebration of Immigrant Voices Award’ from the International Institute of New Jersey and the ‘2004 New Jersey Authors Award’ from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance and New Jersey Library Association. The soft-spoken writer is presently working on her next book which is due to be released later this year.

Sanghamitra is married to Nitin Mukul – a designer and artist who also loves to DJ in his free time. Nitin works as a Visual Art Director for various projects, having conceived the promotional material of quite a few films. Two noteworthy films of recent times of which he was a part are 3 Idiots and Supermen of Malegaon. Together, Sanghamitra and Nitin have a five-year old daughter, whom they have named Naya Meenakshi. She now dances Bihu.

With both spouses following hectic lifestyles, the couple likes to live to the fullest whenever they can squeeze out time together. Having heard that the couple used to drive around in a purple-coloured ambassador while they were posted in New Delhi, I couldn’t resist asking them about the peculiar choice in colour. To this, Sanghamita replies: “We chose the ambassador because it is really a very sturdy car and. at the same time, very classy. With regards to the colour, I wanted a red car while my husband wanted a blue one. So we chose something in between!” She added: “Back in the US, I now drive a more “boring” red-coloured Subaru Station Wagon. I definitely miss the life that was represented in our Amby…”

Shared tales of the Himalayas

Indo-Bhutan literary festival seeks to initiate rich cultural dialogue between both countries

It seems intellectuals and litterateurs of Northeast India are all about solidifying and exploring the region’s age-old relationship with its immediate neighbours. After the much hyped inter-cultural dialogue between Northeast India and South East Asia, another interesting festival is now on the anvil. I am talking about the literary festival being organized by the India-Bhutan Foundation on May 17-20 next at Thimpu in the neighbouring country of Bhutan. Titled ‘Mountain Echoes – A literary festival’, the four-day fest has been organized in association with Siyahi.

A source in the India-Bhutan Foundations said, “We have decided to organize ‘Mountain Echoes – A literary festival’ in association with Siyahi in order to provide a unique literary and cultural experience. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk is the chief patron of the festival, while Namita Gokhale is the chief consultant of the entire festival.”

The Himalayan mountain range and the influence of the majestic terrain in the lives of the people in both the neighbouring countries would be a major feature of the festival, with a number of sessions and special programmes lined up between writers of both regions to explore this very aspect. The source added, “Bhutan provides a perfect setting for the festival, which will communicate tales of our shared landscape in the Himalayan region, both as places of ecological and inspirational value and the region’s cultural leitmotif redolent with the spirit of the mountains. Surrounded by a sense of serenity and mysticism, come treasure moments of stories being told, poems and songs being sung, signifying a rich exchange of inter-cultural dialogue between the two countries.”

The event will be inaugurated on May 17 by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk and Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Jigmi Yoser Thinley. The next day will see discussion on a host of topics, including culture and identity, the influence of the Himalayas in daily life, cinema, poetry reading, and the like. Similar interactive sessions will be organized on all the days with representatives from both Bhutan and India taking part in, what is assumed to be, fruitful literary discussions. Mamang Dai, Prof Temsula Ao and Dr. Kympham Singh Nongkynreih are some of the writers who will represent the Northeast in the festival, along with mainstream writers like Chetan Bhagat.

Popular Blues-Rock band from Shillong, Soulmate, is also scheduled to perform there in Thimpu and give the Butanese people a heavy dose of the Shillong-flavoured Blues that has earned them acclaim globally.

It goes beyond doubt that Moutain Echoes will go a long way in fostering Indo-Butanese ties and also explore how the Himalayas, which is such a major entity, have influenced literature in its unique way in both the countries. A commendable initiative indeed.

The Hills Are Alive

…With the sound of music, the caress of mist and the wonder of magic! All in the north east. A lifetime of living here will yet be less to experience the enchantments of this place. So how do we tell in brief about this amazing, multi faceted land of ours to those who come to visit us?

Through Mist & Magic, India’s North East of course!

Conceived and Produced by Fr. V.M. Thomas SDB, Rector, Don Bosco Institute of Management, the lyrics of Mist & Magic, in English, are by Tarali Sharma and are based on a poem on North East India by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil SDB. Ansur Sha’s brilliant camera work alongwith captivating photography by Samsul Huda Patgiri is bound to captivate the heart of the visitor to this otherwise lesser known part of our country. And this photography is beautifully complemented by the mellifluous voices of singer Simanta Sekhar and national award winner singer Tarali Sharma. Mist & Magic, the musical expose, touches every aspect of life and tradition in the north east despite being put into a capsule of just 8 minutes. That’s what makes the video CD all the more exclusive, to hold out and present before people outside this paradise-like land, to give them an impression of this land. It touches the north east’s ethnic as well as pop music, ancient as well modern lifestyles, the blending of thoughts and cultures despite keeping their individual identities and the harmonious practice of diverse religions. Its about the north east India, its many hues, but one soul…!

The musical venture is complemented by an equally tasteful coffee table book that embraces the whole of the north east of India. Published by Don Bosco Institute, Kharghuli and titled In His Footsteps, North East India, the book comes with breath-taking photographs by Samsul Huda Patgiri and is magnificently designed by Birkhang Narzary. Photographs and short write-ups by renowned personalities from all over the north east take the reader in a trance like journey through the entire length and breath of the mesmerizing north east! Brought out by the untiring efforts of an editorial team headed by Fr. V.M. Thomas, SDB, this coffee table book is a must for every living room wherein lives a heart that loves and cherishes India and her north east!

Great music in store!

A great evening of music is in store ahead for Guwahatians. The first alumni meet of Shrimanta Shankardev Academy, “SSAAM’10” has been convened on April 17 next, which will see musical performances by internationally acclaimed flautist Deepak Sharma and city-based rock ‘n’ roll outfit Voodoo Child.

“SSAAM’10” convenor Dipankar Jakharia said, “Shrimanta Shankardev Academy is an institution which hardly needs an introduction. The first junior science college of Guwahati, the college has acted as the stepping stone for the emergence of countless doctors, engineers, scientists and professionals in every walk of life who are doing commendable service, both in the country and abroad.” The college was established in 1992.

The first alumni meet of SSA, “SSAAM’10” is sure to be a memorable event. In the words of Jakharia, “It will be the perfect occasion for Shankarians and their near and dear ones to network and make new friends, and also to listen to some great music by internationally-acclaimed flautist Deepak Sharma and city-based rock band ‘Voodoo Child’.”

Deepak Sharma is a musician who hardly needs an introduction. Disciple of legendary flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Deepak Sharma has come a long way from a remote village in Nalbari district of Assam to today become an internationally-acclaimed flautist who’s carrying on with his guru’s mission to popularise the bamboo flute with steadfast sincerity and dedication. Having cut a number of music albums besides providing the background scores for countless television serials, documentaries and theatre productions, Deepak Sharma has represented the country in performances in many countries across the globe, including countries as diverse as Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Martinique, Denmark, Spain, amongst others.

On the other hand, Voodoo Child is one of the most popular rock ‘n’ roll outfits of the city. Formed in the summer of 2002 by Rittique Phukan, the band has played in almost all the top clubs of Assam and also parts of the Northeast. With their music ranging from Classic Rock to Jazz Rock, the band is immensely popular among people of all age groups. The current band line-up consists of Rittique (Lead Vocals & Guitars), Amborish (Lead Guitars), Partha (Bass Guitar), Pritam (Keyboards) and Tonmoy (Drums).

From raagas to Bollywood

Music is more than just a soothing performing Art. The possibilities of using this Art form to heal the mind, body and spirit is endless and that is what a number of musicians and artistes have been trying to do all over the globe. The latent powers of music, as has been successfully proved by the Eastern Beats Music Society in Guwahati, can be exploited to a large extent to unite people and to heal wounds, something which is truly remarkable.

Now, another prolific musician from the State has won an innovation award for her attempts to use music to enrich life and productivity in office. I am talking about ace violinist Sunita Bhuyan who is presently working as a Human Resource professional in Mumbai. Sunita recently won the award for ‘Most Innovative HR practice’ at the World HR Congress for her training program in Syntel – ‘Life enrichment though music’.

With long office hours, tough deadlines, grueling schedules, demanding clients and unsympathetic bosses being some of the main features of most of today’s professional careers, stress comes early in a person’s life these days. Add to it lifestyle problems like lack of exercise, more bouts of anger and worry, the result if predictable: decreased productivity and higher chance of psychological and physical problems.

The manifold benefits of Indian classical music need not be undermined and you only need to listen to benefit. The scientific aspects of certain raagas for tackling diseases like hyper tension and cardiac problems have been well documented.

There are raagas for every time of the day. Morning raagas like Raag Bhairav, Todi, Ahir and Bhairav helps boost metabolism and puts you in an energetic and chirpy frame of mind. Besides opening up the nervous system, it lifts endorphins making you feel calm and contented. It also helps in tackling indigestion. Needless to say, the morning raagas are perfect for you to tackle a hectic day at work!

Similarly, post-lunch raagas like Raag Bhimpalashri, Kafi and Dhani helps one beat the post-lunch sluggishness that is usually found to affect one during the afternoons. Besides perking you up, songs with these raagas usually invokes a cool frame of mind. Evening ragas are again mostly romantic, providing vivid images of love, colous and nature – just what you need to relax after a tiring day at work!

An interesting feature of Sunita’s module is ‘Raaga to Bollywood’ – an unique method in which one can make use of the benefits of Indian classical raagas from hit Bollywood numbers. So if you don’t have the patience to listen to raagas and if you are not able to understand the nuances of Indian classical music, you need not worry. Sunita prescribes just a few hit bollywood tracks based on the same raagas and which are just as useful in beating stress! For instance, if you humming the all-time hit Tu cheez bari hai mast mast, you are just listening to Raag Bhimpalshri. And if you think Kaisi Paheli from Parineeta is soothing, it is imperative you know that the song is based on Raag Bilawal!

So next time you go out music shopping, just be a bit more careful in choosing your music. Buy stress-free music, which are available in most music shops in plenty, and help lead a more productive life – both at home and in office! And on a more personal note, let me say that there’s nothing like making music. If you can squeeze out the time, enroll in a music class today! The benefits are enormous, trust me.

Bringing Waste to Life

Have you ever wondered whatever happens to the huge amount of waste material that is dispelled by each household in Guwahati every day? Once the waste is disposed, we hardly stop to think about it, whether it has been disposed in the proper manner and whether it is causing some environmental hazards.

In the backdrop of such a scenario, a young artist has come up in the region practicing “waste art”. Now the concept of waste art is not something new. Waste materials or objects of little use in our day to day life and which are hazardous and likely to cause pollution may be transformed into art objects that can even be installed in places of art.
When we talk about waste art, we remember artistes like Greek contemporary artist Lucas Samaras who constructed boxes of art with knives, razor, blades and other sharp objects and blended them with delicate and sensuous objects like shells and coloured glasses. We also remember the work of Italian artist Rodia in whose art we find a mixed assemblage of ideas.

Nearer home, Manipuri artist Sanajouba Tensuba is one such artist in our midst who is consciousness of the power of waste and how it can be used as an art form to generate a public and art movement. An energetic artist who has manifold contributions in the visual art scene of Manipur, Sanajouba stumbled across the idea of using waste as an art form in his search for a pictorial language to express himself better. He uses waste material of any kind – be it industrial and technical waste material or everyday household objects.

His works contain the broadest and most elaborate metaphor in the form “reconstruction”. One among the very few sensuous and devoted artists to have emerged from the Northeast, each of Sanjouba’s reconstructed art is a visual and aesthetic delight. The artist recently held a solo exhibition of his works in Shilpgram in Guwahati. He said. “I didn’t start as an intentional artist, but the process was initiated as an accidental one. As a creative artist, I see my works as arrested moments of intuitive responses to certain events – both internal and external. I am inspired by events that induce in my mind translatable reactions. And I find this medium at hand the most suitable one to record such reactions.”
He further says, “Since my reactions have an internal dynamics of varied nature, i prefer to work in the mixed media. This style of presentation allows me to translate vibrations, rhythm and gestures into something tangible. I do not see the idea of colour combination as something concrete, but as ways of arresting changes in modes and methods. Hence, I am of the view that red is not only a mere interpreter of danger, but also of beauty.

Having dribbled in various aspects of art for almost a decade before finding the actual power of waste, Sanajouba believes in taking art to the people. Maybe this is the reason behind his fixation for having exhibitions, not only in private and public art galleries, but also in public places. “As an artist, one should not be bound by any kind of chain and should be free to communicate what he wants in any pictorial language with the use of signs and symbols. I want to take my art to the midst of people and maybe in this way, waste can be made into a popular art movement.”

Having won a national scholarship from the Lalit Kala Akademi, Sanjouba’s arts have found their way in private collections in countries like France, Korea, Japan, besides Imphal, Calcutta and New Delhi. He has been honoured with the Manipur State Kala Academy award, Spring festival commendation award by NEZCC at Raj Bhavan in Kohima and the first position award in the All Manipur open painting competition. He has exhibited his art works in solo and group exhibitions all over the country, besides cultural expos and the Guwahati International Trade Fair 2009.

A heady compilation!

As an instrument, the harmonica has slowly fallen into disuse. What is more upsetting is the fact that in our own supposedly music-crazy region, very few people have managed to explore the varied possibilities of this particular instrument. Its usage has been, more or less, limited to being an add-on instrument in a few background scores, the number of which can be counted on the finger tips.

As such, it was indeed nice to get my hands upon Sonpari, a western music album that was produced recently by Kanak Music Productions. At a time when Asomiya music albums are found to be getting increasingly stereotyped, Sonpari is a welcome surprise. The album is a heady compilation of love-lorn lyrics presented in a western style of singing and which is supported by a guitar, piano, blues harp and the harmonica, of course!

Though a new concept, the album has been very judiciously executed by the team of artistes involved. The vocalists include Chitralee Goswami, Rupam Bora, Jaya Chakraboty, Max, Ronnie, Tridip Basumatory, Tuhin Sharma and Debojit. The somewhat westernised Asomiya accents of both Max and Ronnie, who are musicians from the neighbouring State of Meghalaya, help give a quaint feel to the entire album, making it more trendy and palatable for those from the new generation with an eclectic taste. The guitars were handled by our very own Annirudha Barua, Rajiv Hazarika and Endu, while Ribor was impressive as usual on the keys. However, the real credit goes to Bala Bhadra Hagjer, the man behind the entire concept. The harmonica player whose musical prowess helps elevate the album to new heights, Hagjer has also composed six out of the eight songs in the album.

The last time that the harmonica made its presence felt in our lives here was during the Virtuoso in Tour concert organized as part of the Rockarolla Music Society’s official launch in Guwahati. The concert saw a performance by Chinese harmonica virtuoso Jia-Yi He, who amazed all those present by portraying the varied possibilities of the instrument with comparative ease. But as I said, very few people have managed to exploit the immense musical possibilities associated with the mouth organ. Hagjer is one of them. Having listened to some of his earlier studio recordings and also his collaborations with flautist Dipak Sharma, I am aware of Hagjer’s mastery over the instrument of his choice. It is imperative that he takes a more proactive role in helping draw the new definitions of this instrument, which hardly finds any takers among serious musical enthusiasts nowadays. I feel a solo album of his own compositions would be an apt step in this regard.

Coming back to the album, the efforts of Kanak Music Productions towards bringing out this album is indeed appreciable. I would recommend this album to all lovers of western music here.

How can we claim ownership over our Northeastern identity?

India holds a unique position in the world in terms of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity and the Northeastern periphery of the country holds a special place in this great mosaic of culture. With its unique oral traditions, folklores, folk traditions and varied Art forms, the Northeast can easily stake claim to be one of the most mystical destinations of the world. However, are we really proud of our rich traditions, culture and Art forms? As people from the Northeast, can we legitimately claim ownership over this identity? How can we claim any ownership when we don’t even know ourselves well?

Meet Rabijita Gogoi, a young Assamese theatre worker who is trying to re-acquaint the people of the Northeast with the region through her theatrical group Jirsong Theatre. With a penchant for experimentation and perfection, Rabijita is increasingly making her presence felt as the next big thing in the theatrical world. A graduate in political science, Rabijita specialized in theatre, design and theatre techniques from the National School of Drama, Delhi.

Having studied the Japanese performing Arts and theatre techniques in Tokyo under a Japan Foundation Project in 1997, Rabijita had participated in the Asia meets Asia Theatre Festival at Tokyo in 2005 as one of the Asian artistes of improvised performance. The artists still believes in humility, evident as she says, “In theatre, the influx of cultures and ideas gives birth to a lot of experimentations and discoveries.” Rabijita has also carried out literary translations, designed theatrical productions and has attended several national and international conferences.

For Rabijita however, experimentation is all there is to theatre. “Theatre is a form of expression, just like poetry, painting and sculpture. In theatre, one can cross boundaries and it becomes possible to lend a different perspective and flavour to similar issues which differ only in its cultural settings.” And is this very temperament of experimentation that has bound together Jirsong theatre.

Jirsong Theatre was formed by a few theatre lovers in 1995 in the small town of Diphu of Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Over the past ten years, the group has been dedicatedly involved in developing interests and concepts of theatre amongst the ethnic minority groups, especially the Karbis of Asom, and thus, has performed plays in Asomiya, Hindi and Karbi (the traditional language of the Karbi ethnic community of Asom). As part of this approach, they have been staging Karbi plays like ‘Rongharpi Rongbe’ and ‘Thong Nokbe’ since 1995.

Although theatrical performances are the main functional area, Jirsong theatre is also concerned with other related areas of performing Arts, like research and documentation of rare Art forms, study on Art and culture, paintings, sculptures, technical and training programmes for theatre, etc. In this regard, a serious attempt has been made to document and portray the latest happenings in the theatrical world of the State in their website http://www.jirsongtheatre.com. The group has also published a book of selected plays, Nikhar Ragini Aru Annanya Natak. The book was released on the tenth anniversary celebrations of Jirsong theatre

Some of the major theatrical productions of Jirsong Theatre are Debi Peether Tez (script, design and direction by Rabijita Gogoi, based on a novel by Jnanpith Award winner Dr Mamoni Roisom Goswami); Karbi play Rongpharpi Rongpe (scripted by Basanta Das in 2001); Mrytyur Dath Cha (Dark Shadow of Death) — a play based on JM Synge’s ‘The Riders to the Sea’, Rabijita’s own plays, Toru Debi, Mrs Choudhury, Ma, Jammua, Gabharu and Gaatha – the 1st text in 2003, Jatra Subha Houk in 2004, Neuta Nirman in 2005, Rajai Hukum Diche in 2006, etc.

As of now, Jirsong theatre — under the able leadership of Rabijita Gogoi — is fully committed to inspire another generation of men and women to showcase the region’s assets on one hand, and bring its youths to be thinking people, soft people, and above all follow their conscience in bringing about a socially just society.

PERSONALISING PERPETUAL DIFFERENCES…

Noni Borpuzari is a name that needs no introduction in Assam. Noni is one of the finest artists born after India attained independence. He along with some others has successfully carved out a place for the Assamese artists in the Indian scenario. For over two decades, Noni has been maintaining his hard-earned reputation as a consistent printmaker producing quality works. This is no mean achievement for an artist working in Assam where worthwhile facilities for printmaking, as well as exhibiting, were almost non-existent till recently.

Noni’s primary aim is to objectify his personal response to what he sees; and that includes the art he comes across. Being an artist equally concerned with objectification of response in a variety of media by adopting methods and techniques suitable for each medium, Noni’s prints and paintings do exhibit perpetual differences. Still, these perpetual differences do not cancel out the personality identifying commonality between them. I recently caught up with the artist for a discussion. Following are excerpts.

Aiyushman: You are known for making prints. What other mediums do you work in and are comfortable with?

N.B.: When I first took up painting in a professional way, I used to do oil paintings. Then I tried sculpture and graphic printing which I continued for quite some time. Over the last few years, I have started giving more focus on oil paintings.

Aiyushman: Your paintings show that you are not interested in political issues of the present times though you have always laid emphasis on death. Can you please elaborate on your topics of choice?

N.B.: My series called Bandage was perceived by many to be highly political. You will find that there are more people in this world who are not allowed to express their feelings compared to the number of people who are unable to express themselves due to physical inabilities. And as far as death is concerned, the entire range of activities centring around death appears to be an act out of a long play. A few days of well-scripted mourning, some rituals and you are back to normal.

Aiyushman: A lot of developmental works are going on and the city has a new look. What are the changes that you have noticed over the years and your views regarding the current spate of development?

N.B.: It is true that there has been a lot of development but has there been any mental development of the people? The moot word is exploitation as everyone is trying to exploit the simple mentality of the people. Fifty percent people of the city don’t have water to drink. Do you call it development? I had to vacate my old house because of flash floods. Is that development? It is imperative for the authorities to realise that for any development to take place, there has to be mental development first.

And when I talk about mentality, the new generation has undergone a lot of changes with regards to behaviour, attitude and basic decency. Even we had fun when we were young but we always used to respect the elderly people, be it a cobbler or a sweeper. This sense has got lost somewhere and it is not a global phenomenon. Teenage angst is present everywhere. Even in The United States and Canada, I encountered this spirit of the young generation but in our city and state, it has reached an extreme level.

Aiyushman: When you started painting professionally, there were hardly any facilities. What do you have to say about the new generation of painters who have better facilities in comparison?

N.B.: The new generation of painters have benefited a lot with the latest infrastructure that we did not have at our disposal. Moreover, it is a fact that they are producing excellent work. I cannot say about the upcoming generation but over the last few years, the state has produced some excellent painters. This augurs very well for the future of the state’s art scene.

A romanticist in our midst

An artist in his attempt to paint his fascination for nature on canvas has brought a breath of fresh air into the dormant art scene of the state, which is reeling under the pre-dominant influence of abstract art. Meet Jayanta Rongpi, a banker whose chief interest is to portray on the canvas the age old connections of man with nature. His solo art exhibition was recently held at the State Artist Guild Gallery, Chandmari. The entire assemblage of the artworks is boosting energetic, self-motivated and active colour and tonal contrast.

The first thing which strikes you as soon as you enter the gallery is the brightness which emanates from his art works. Working chiefly on landscapes, Rongpi has managed to bring out the beauty of Karbi nature with his extensive use of the green and blue pastels. As such, his piece entitled, Hills Far Away 1 is markedly different for the use of dark colours. Rongpi explains, “I go to remote places as part of my job. During the monsoon season, the sky is cloudy and the colours of the landscape gets toned down. There is a beauty in the silvery hues at that time and that has affected me”.

A banker who has dabbled extensively in paint since his childhood, Rongpi could manage to take it up seriously only after he enrolled himself in Guwahati University for higher studies. Surprisingly, the artist does not just romanticise with nature through his art but is also deeply concerned about the ecology and environment. He says, “Environment and nature is not fashionable in today’s art. As artists, we have got a great role to play. Where are we heading to in the name of development? As an artist and as an individual, that is my chief concern”.

For an artist who admits that he is still weak from the technical side, his art work is marked for its spontaneity, vibrancy and his respect for the simple existence of the rural people. This is understandable for Rongpi does not have any target audience in mind. As he says, “I never aim for a particular class of people. I want my art to communicate with the laymen. I really feel that the rural people understand nature more than urban people and in a way, my works are a sort of radical attempt against the trend of urban society looking down upon the rural populace”.
Ronpi’s tryst with nature occurred when he chanced upon an environment based news magazine ‘Down to Earth’ in 1994. With a lot of spare time in his hands and nothing worthwhile to do, he read it and as he says, “It changed my way of looking at things”. Since then, the artist who used to paint abstract arts started etching his romantic rendezvous with nature on canvas. The refined artist says, “What is abstract art? It is nothing but a product of the western society. In a way, it just reflects their environment which is mental isolation. It’s not that I don’t like abstract art. I really do but if I try to get influenced by pioneering abstract artists, I will be fooling myself. We’ve got so many things to portray and it is high time we should. They (western artists) are reflecting their own society and we’ve got ours to mirror”.
The artist’s native place, Karbi Anglong is more in the news for bloodshed and ethnic cleansing than it is for nature. It is this very concept which Rongpi wants to change. “I was deeply affected by the ethnic cleansing episodes in Karbi Anglong. But then the native people are very simple and the entire carnage was the result of a few immoral individuals. Why should the indigenous people suffer for that?” The artist does not want to popularise the splendour only in Guwahati but throughout the world. In one of his art exhibitions held in Paris, the local media labelled his art works as an echo of the Other side of India.
Though his works are bound to become more matured with the passage of time, Rongpi has succeeded in what he sets out to do. If art indeed reflects the environment of the artist, then it is high time that our artists take a clue from Rongpi’s book and start the process of romanticising all over again.
– Aiyushman Dutta
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