Monthly Archives: August 2018


Upclose with Mizo boxer NT Lalbaikkima who caused a major upset in World Boxing by defeating World Champion Hasanboy Dusmatov at the Kazakhastan President’s Cup last month. NT Lalbaikkima, or Pocket Dynamite as he is properly called, is now preparing to win the Gold Medal for the Indian Boxing contingent during their tour to Indonesia.


NT Lalbaikkima after defeating Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion Hassanboy Dusmatov at the Kazakhastan President’s Cup la=t month

By Aiyushman Dutta

Northeast India is slowly yet steadily emerging as the new sports capital of India. After Assamese girl Hima Das’s recent historic feat in the track events at the IAAF World Athletics Championship where she won the Gold Medal in the Women’s 400 Metres Finals, it is now the turn of another talented youngster from Mizoram to plummet the region into international sporting prominence.

NT LalBaikkima is a name you should remember, and remember well at that. LalBaikkima created history in World Boxing last month when he managed to upset reigning Olympic Gold Medalist and World No 1 champion Hassanboy Dusmatov at the Kazakhastan President Cup Quarter Finals. He became the first Indian to beat a reigning Olympic Gold Medalist and the first Mizo boxer to create such a major upset in an international sporting event.

Only 22 years of age, LalBaikkima is already being counted as one of the future stars of Indian Boxing. Owing to his short height and rather miniscule appearance, he has already earned quite a few epitaphs – Mini Tyson and Pocket Dynamo/ Dynamite being a few of them. But as they say appearances can be deceiving for his diminutive height does not prevent the young boxer from landing power-packed punches – punches which have the intensity to upset World Champions!


I recently entered into a conversation with the young boxer to talk about his historic victory over the World Champion and about his life and boxing. Following are excerpts.

Q. First of all, please accept our congratulations for your historic feat. You hail from Siaha district of Mizoram, which is located along India’s border with Myanmar. Tell us about your growing up days and how did you grew interested in boxing?

Ans: I was born in Siaha district of Mizoram in the year 1996 to Nutlai Zomwaia and my mother Zothanpuii. Siaha is a small beautiful Mizo town located near the international border; it is the last district of Mizoram. Although my family were not well off, I had a happy childhood, living together with my parents, family and neighbours, who all were like a big family to me.

As a child, I always wanted to be a footballer. When people asked me about my aim in life, I always used to say that I wanted to become a footballer. I would take special care of my fitness and train myself day in and out. I never smoked or indulged in drinking because I knew that it would interfere with my fitness levels.

There are hardly any boxers in Siaha district and the sport does not have a huge fan following as such. I first got attracted to the sport when LPS channel (a local cable channel) organised the LPS Promotional Fight in 2009. I was around 15 years old and that was the first time I saw a boxing match being aired in our local television. That tournament influenced me a lot because it gave one the chance to become a Mizo Idol. That is how I got interested in boxing and it was during that time I decided to become a boxer. But till then, I was a typical small town Indian village boy who had never seen the city but who lived with hopes and dreams of making it big someday.

Q. What about your family?


Ans: My father and mother used to sell curries and fishes in the local market. But after 2012, my father, Nutlai Zomwaia, developed some kind of internal bleeding problems which forced him to remain at home and take rest. Since then my mother has been taking care of the household and the responsibility of bringing up me and my elder siblings – a brother and a sister – fell on her shoulders.

Q. You were always interested in sports as a child… What has been the support of your family towards your sporting endeavours?

Ans: Yes, I always loved sports and deep down I knew that it was my calling in life. I was not keen in formal education and did my schooling from Little Diamond English School, a school in our district. Since professional boxing had not yet arrived in our district, I was a keen footballer and would play football all day long and bunk classes in school after the first period. It was difficult for my parents when I behaved like that because our family condition was not very good at that moment. All that my mother earned was by selling fish in the market and she had to look after my sick father and three of us children!

Since I was not too much interested in studies, one day they told me to make a choice in life – either complete my education seriously or pursue boxing. I guess I was lucky in that way because my father knew about my interest in sports and my capabilities. So when I decided to pursue boxing and complete my higher secondary education from open schooling, my family stood behind me and supported me more than 200 percent. They have been my pillar of strength and no matter what I am today, whatever stage I have reached today, it is only because of my father and mother. I am lucky to have parents like them in life.

Q. You said that you were a keen footballer before. Did you ever take professional training in football?

Ans: No, I did not take any kind of training in football. But everyone said I was a good footballer because I use to take extra attention of my fitness. Everyone in my district knew me and used to comment about my good football playing abilities.

Q. When did you begin to think of taking up professional boxing?

Ans: Like I said, the LPS Promotional Fight was a big influencing factor in my life. That tournament opened my eyes to the world of boxing. However, I had not gone out of my village till that time. In 2009, a boxing tournament, Pykka tournament, was started in our home district. I participated in the same and won the Gold Medal. That was a huge motivating factor for me and I began to take keen interest in boxing.


Q. Did you have any coaches or formal training at that time?

Ans: No. In the beginning i.e. in 2009 and 2010, I trained on my own. There were hardly any boxers in the area and I would just go to the ring and watch the senior boxers play. I would watch them move around and would ask them for tips on how to punch. I used to practice 1-2, 1-2 all by myself, in the bathroom, at home, wherever I went.

Q, When did you take up professional training in Boxing?

Ans: I had never ventured out my home town till 2010. The first time I went to Aizawl was for the High School Sports Competition where I had participated in the marathon race event. After I returned home to Aizawl, my father told me to take up boxing seriously. So in January, 2011, I went to the city to learn boxing formally. That was a big challenge for me because I was very young at that time and we did not have any relatives in the city. I still remember my father crying because I had to leave.

In any case, I reached Aizawl and took lodgings in a hotel. I went to the Sports Authority of India playground in Aizawl and approached the boxing coach, Mr Vulthavunga and asked him if he would train me. He agreed, and I started training as an external student. Those were challenging days because I would do nothing else except train. My hotel was a bit far from the SAI complex and sometimes I did not have enough money to pay for my taxi fare; I would walk all the way up and down. But I kept on with my practice and maybe my hard work paid off because in 2011, I was selected to play in the Junior National Championships in Pune. Luckily, I won the Bronze Medal in that tournament.

Q. After Pune, which competitions did you take part in?


Ans: Winning the Bronze Medal in Pune was a big source of inspiration and I did not look back after that. The following year, in 2012, I participated in the Inter-Sports Authority of India (SAI) tournament at Haryana where I won the Gold Medal. In 2013, I won the Gold at Manipur. In 2014, I won the Gold Medal at the Northeast Games held in Arunachal Pradesh. In 2015, I won the Bronze Medal at the Senior National Games held at Nagpur. In 2017, I won the Gold Medal at the LB Chettri Invitational Championship held at Shillong. Then in 2017, I won the Silver Medal and Best Challengers Trophy at the Senior Nationals Championships held in Vizakhapatnam. And in 2018, I won the Bronze Medal at the India Open International Boxing Championships at Delhi. After that, I was selected for the Indian team training camp for the Kazakhastan’s President Cup where I defeated the World No. 1 and Olympic Gold Medalist Hassanboy Dusmatov.

Q, Your recent performance in the Kazakhastan’s President Cup Quarter Finals where you defeated World No 1 and Olympic Gold Medalist Hassanboy Dusmatov had made you a very popular name. Please share your experiences of the fight? Were you nervous while facing the Olympics Gold Medalist?

 Ans: Well, that was a very important game of my career. I hope you watched my performance in the semi-finals match too which I played after that! Coming back to your question, I was not nervous at all. I was confident of putting on a good show. I knew Dusmatov was the World Champion but I was equally confident about my high fitness levels. I studied all his previous games thoroughly before the competition and it was my plan to tire him out totally before the match ended. I used speed along with counter punches ad well-judged guard to side-line the champion boxer.


Q. Besides Mr. Vulthavunga, do you have any other coach?

 Ans: My performances in the 2015 senior nationals got the attention of the Navy coaches, upon whose recommendation I shifted to Navy Nagar in Colaba, Mumbai. In Navy Nagar, I came in contact with the Navy head coach and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Suranjoy Singh, who has since then become my coach. In fact, he is my favourite Indian boxer. Right now, I have been called for the Indian team trials which are being held at Patiala.

Q, What plans do you have for the future?

 Ans: Earlier this year, I had lost out on a ticket to the Gold Coast when I lost to Amit Panghal in the India Open semi-finals that took place in New Delhi in February. However, my victory over Dusmatov has increased my chances of acquiring a berth in the Indian boxing team for the Asian Games that takes place in Indonesia in August and September this year.

My victory over Dusmatov has also greatly increased my self-confidence. My next goal is to find a spot for myself in the Indian Olympics team and win a Gold Medal for the country in the Olympic Games.


Copyright text: Aiyushman Dutta

Photos courtesy: NT Lalbaikimma

The River Man of Assam

An Academic’s Tryst with the River Brahmaputra


Dulal Chandra Goswami

By Aiyushman Dutta

The Brahmaputra River is the pride and very lifeline of Assam. On the banks of this mighty river, a number of great civilizations flourished and these very banks gave rise to some of the world’s greatest monarchs, emperors, social reformers, artists, et al who have managed to carve a name for themselves in the chronicles of world history. From Ahom emperor Suikapha and saint Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhabdeva to our very own late Bhupen Hazarika, the river has acted as a catalyst to inspire and nurture the hidden talents in these legendary global personalities. While the mighty river has nurtured life to the fullest, it has also played the contrasting role of a mass destroyer as its mighty waves and currents, which erupts in the form of massive floods and erosion, have time and again proved nature’s, especially this particular river’s, superiority over mankind.

In this article, I would like to acquaint our readers with a unique man from Assam who has spent his entire life studying the flow and course of this river. Studying this river and its nature has taken him to various prominent positions across the entire world but wherever he has gone – be it to the farthest reaches of America or down South to South Africa, he has always taken a piece of the river along with him.

I am talking about none other than eminent environmental scientist and engineer Prof Dulal Chandra Goswami, who is nothing short of an authority on the River Brahmaputra. An erudite scholar and academician who holds significant positions in different academic and professional organizations, Dr. Goswami is widely known for his expertise on different issues related to the River Brahmaputra.

A former Colin Mackenzie Chair Professor at Anna University, Chennai in 2004, Prof Dulal Chandra Goswami retired as a head of the Department of Environmental Science at Guwahati University in 2003. He has also been associated with John Hopkins University (USA), Howard University(USA), Berne University (Switzerland), NASA Project (USA), NRSA, Department of Space, India and the founder of the Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre at Guwahati, besides holding a number of other important positions. His area of specialization is Fluvial Geomorphology, Environmental Science and Geoinformatics. His doctoral research was on Fluvial Geomorphology of the Brahmaputra River, Assam, India at Johns Hopkins University, U.S.A.

An academic with more than 150 publications to his credit, he received the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Grant for research on the Brahmaputra river by the John Hopkins University, USA; a Research Fellowship from East- West Centre Fellowship, USA, to name a few. Not just as an academic, he has also mentored a number of researchers on the dynamics of the River Brahmaputra. Under his research supervision, 25 students have received their doctorate degree while 12 others have received their degree in M. Phil.

Having travelled across the world, Prof Dulal Goswami has been based in Guwahati since 2004 and has been heading a number of government bodies and committees, including as Member, L. C. Jain Committee of the Planning Commission for Economic Development of   Assam, 1990, Member, State Wasteland Board, Member, State Wetland Board, Member, Technical Committee, State Land Use Board, Member, Flood Enquiry Committee, Govt. of Assam, 1986 and 1988, to name just a few.

I recently met the distinguished scholar at his residence on the outskirts of Guwahati to know about his family, his work with the River Brahmaputra and his journey to the States and other parts of the world. Following are excerpts.

Q. Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.

Ans: I was born and brought up in 1943 in North Lakhimpur. While I was born in Silonibari Tea Estate, where my father worked, in the interiors of Lakhimpur town, I spent most of my formative years in our ancestral house in the town. My father’s name was late Keshab Chandra Goswami. The place where I grew up was a bit remote and even though people called it part of Lakhimpur town, it was still pretty rural.

I did my initial schooling in the Lower Primary School of Silonibari TE with children of other tea garden labourers. But later on, my father enrolled my into Lakhimpur High School from where I completed the rest of my schooling. I remember the great earthquake which struck Assam in the 1950s pretty vividly. The road leading to our school had got damaged overnight and that was the first time I got introduced with the vagaries of nature.

After completing my schooling, my father sent me to Shillong to pursue my higher secondary education at St. Edmunds. The journey to Shillong from Lakhimpur proved to be my first major acquaintance with the mighty River Brahmaputra. In those days, we had to cross the river via Jorhat in order to reach the other bank. I was so immensely fascinated by the River Brahmaputra and this fascination with the river has been chartering the course of my life all these years.

Later on, I came to Guwahati to study at Guwahati University where I chose Geology as my major subject. In those days, GU had provisions for classes in Geology, Geography and Anthropology at the undergraduate level and these courses were much sought after by the students. After completing my graduation, I worked for a while as a subject teacher in a high school back home. Once my financial condition improved a bit, I went to Saugor University in Madhya Pradesh to do my M. Tech in Geology.  However, the train serves were pretty dismal in those days and I could not make it on time for my admissions. But since I had already reached the University, I did not want to come back. In that place, I met a university lecturer who had earlier visited Assam and who looked at me with sympathetic eyes. He told me to study Geography and I accordingly did my M.Sc in Geography with specialisation in Fluvial Geomorphology and Geoinformatics.

Q. You had worked as a teacher in Cotton College for a brief period of time…

Ans: Yes, after I came back from Madhya Pradesh, I started looking around for a job. Thankfully, there was an application for a post in Cotton College in those days. I applied for the same and was thankfully selected for the job. I spent around five years in Cotton College before I left to join Guwahati University.

Q. You had spent quite a lot of time doing field study of the River Brahmaputra…

Ans: Yes, while in Guwahati University, my interest in studying and knowing about rivers and river systems deepened. I had by then resolved to go abroad for higher studies but wanted to know more about our own river systems before doing so. So whenever I got the chance, I used to venture out to study about the river. During university breaks, I would go to Arunachal Pradesh and spend time in the dried-up river beds, visit government offices to study reports about floods. It was during that time that I started writing articles on the flood problem of Assam in the Assam Tribune.

I wrote letters to foreign universities and began corresponding with Professor M Gordon Wolman of JHU about my interest in the Brahmaputra river. The professor, who later became my guide and mentor, said he knew about the river and offered me a seat to study in their university. The government supported me and although the financial support was very minimum, it helped me reach the United States in 1976. Under Professor M Gordon Wolman’s suggestion, l studied Fluvial Geomorphology in the Dept. of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.

Since the government’s financial support was very less, I was finding it difficult to complete my course. At that point of time, my mentor Professor M Gordon Wolman of JHU came to my help once again. Taking due cognizance of the low fellowship amount I received from the State Government, he introduced me to the Rockefeller Foundation, USA and fixed an interview with one of their office bearers in 1977. I considered myself to be very lucky to get this godsend opportunity and accordingly, applied for the interview at Rockefeller Foundation in New York. After a long and exhaustive interview session, the foundation granted me a fellowship to help complete the remainder of my thesis. Till date, I remember the proactive role played by my mentor Professor M Gordon Wolman of Johns Hopkins University who helped me continue my Ph.D. course in the States.

This fellowship helped cover the expenses for my frequent travels back home to Assam for my field work. It was during that period that I collected a lot of data for my thesis. There were very few tools for data collection and it was a laborious exercise. For instance, there were no Xerox machines in those days and I had to write everything down by hand. I had to make a lot of trips up and down to the university during that period. Somehow, in 1982, I managed to receive my Ph.D. degree.

Q. You were also involved in a NASA Project on Himalayan Snowmelt Modeling in Washington D.C…

 Ans: Yes, after I received my Ph.D., I was approached by the NASA to conduct a project on Himalayan Snowmelt modelling. Although the project was titled Himalayan Snowmelt Modeling, it was mostly based in the Western Himalayas. That project lasted for almost a year and a half.

Q. So when did you decided to come back to India?

 Ans: I must have done seven-eight such projects in the Western Himalayas when I decided that I had enough publications to my name. By that time, our son was also born and I wanted him to grow up in India. At that point of time, I got an invitation from the Indian Space Research Organization to be part of the Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad. I did not think twice and accordingly came back. Once I reached India, I was asked to lead a project on erosion caused by the River Brahmaputra in Assam for the Remote Sensing Centre. After that project got over, I had resolved to come back to Assam. Thankfully, during that time, a readership post in Guwahati University fell vacant and I was selected for the job.

Q. You were also the founder of the Assam State Remote Sensing Centre…

 Ans: Yes, after I reached Assam, the State government approached me with an offer to start the Assam State Remote Sensing Centre as part of ASTEC. I took up the offer and led a group of young professionals to form the State Remote Sensing Centre. All these were, of course, honorary positions.

Q. As a person who has been actively involved with the dynamics of the River Brahmaputra and who is regarded as an authority on the Brahmaputra basin, do you feel that a solution to the flood and erosion problem which plagues Assam on an annual basis can be achieved in the near future?

Ans: I am very much optimistic that a solution to this grave problem will be found in the future. We have already hit rock bottom and the worst is already over. However, in order to mitigate this problem of flood and erosion, I feel that we need to take a more holistic approach to study the course of the river, right from its origins in China, before we can find a long-lasting solution to the problem.

Thank you sir, for taking out time to talk with us. It has been an enriching experience to know about your work and association with the River Brahmaputra.

(First published in melange, The Sentinel on July 8, 2018)

Paddling to Glory

In Conversation with Veteran International-level Table Tennis player Arunjyoti Barua


International-level table tennis player and former Indian TT captain Arunjyoti Barua

By Aiyushman Dutta

As sport lovers across the entire world, and also our very own north-eastern region, gear up to witness the finals of the FIFA World Cup 2018 tournament being held in Russia today, the spirit of sporting frenzy amongst soccer fans is unmistakeable. And when we also take into account young Assamese sprinter Hima Das’s recent historic feat in the Women’s 400 metres final race at the IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Finland, the entire atmosphere seems to be reverberating with the sheer power and glory of sports. For those who are still off the grid, Hima Das had created history last Thursday evening when she won the gold medal in the World Under-20 Athletics Championships at Finland.

As we go around celebrating the beauty and sheer power that sports and sporting extravaganzas have blessed upon us, this time around we would like to remind our readers about the historic feats of another son of the soil who had brought many a laurels for the country in the domain of international table tennis. We are talking about veteran International table tennis player Arunjyoti Baruah, a soft-spoken and unassuming sportsperson, who had brought numerous accolades for the country in many prestigious forums like the Commonwealth Games, South Asian Games, and the like.


With former President of India Gyani Zail Singh as a member of the Indian Table Tennis contingent

A former captain of the junior Indian Table Tennis team, Barua has many historic feats to his credit. Some of the include winning the South Asian Games Gold medal in 1991 and 1988, Silver medal in 1991 and Bronze in 1991.  A certified black belt degree holder (Six Sigma), he also won the World Youth Teams Gold & Singles Silver Medal in Turkey (1982), Asian Junior Bronze Medal Winner in Indonesia (1982) and Asian Junior Doubles Bronze Medal Winner in Bahrain (1983).

In an international career which stretched for almost a decade and a half, Barua represented the Indian team in the World Senior Championships held in Sweden (1985,) India (1987) and Japan (1991); the Asian Senior Championships in Pakistan (1984), China (1986) & Malaysia (1990); Seoul Asian Games, South Korea (1986); Commonwealth Senior Championships in India (1982); UK (1985) and Kenya (1991); SAARC (SAG) Games in India (1985 & 1988) and Sri Lanka (1991); Asian Junior Championships in Indonesia (1982) & Bahrain (1983); World Youth Championships in Turkey (1982); Belgium Open (1985); Hungary Open (1985); Czechoslovakia Open (1985) and the US Open in 1983, 1985 & 1995.

 A sportsperson who has been honoured with numerous prestigious awards like the Lachit Bota, conferred by the Government of Assam; Eklavya Award conferred by Delhi University and a Government of India Special Recognition for International Achievement, Barua’s still repents at having missed the chance to represent the country in the Olympics Games – the ultimate bastion for all sportsperson. And not surprisingly so because given his form and the dream run that he was in, he was a sure shot contender to make the country proud in the Olympics pavilion as well.

Nevertheless, Arunjyoti Barua today stands as a proud reminder of Assam being a historically rich strong-house of sporting talents, and the superiority and prowess of Assamese paddlers in the global sporting stage during the 80s and 90s of the last millennium. It would not be justified to keep Barua’s achievements limited only in the sporting arena because he has made an equally enviable transition to become a highly dynamic technocrat in OIL India Limited where he is presently employed as the General Manager Administration (Pipeline Headquarters) in Narengi.

As we get ready to cheer our favourite teams playing for the most coveted football world trophy today, we would like to reproduce excerpts from a highly absorbing discussion that I had recently entered into with the veteran paddler. Following are excerpts.

Q. At the outset, let us begin with your childhood. How do you recount your growing up days and how did your tryst with table tennis start?

Ans: I was lucky to be born in a family which supported me tremendously in my sporting endeavours. My father late Mahendra Kumar Barua was a forest official who retired as the Chief Conservator of Forests. I grew up with two other siblings; my elder sister Mallika Barua Sarma is incidentally also a veteran badminton player who represented the country in the Asian Games. Due to my father’s job postings, we grew up in the naturally rich areas of Assam and our growing days was a beautiful blend of studies and sporting activities. I remember taking up table tennis seriously during our days in Dibrugarh, where my father was posted as the DFO of that time. We had a huge hall in our house and there we made a wooden TT board to play the game.

Q. So when did you start taking formal training in the sport?

Ans: That is a good question. Everyone plays but very few manage to pursue it as a sporting activity. I used to study in Don Bosco School Dibrugarh and our principal was father TT Thomas – a man who has inspired me greatly in my journey. I don’t know whether it was my good luck or sheer co-incidence but when we had to come back to Guwahati owing to my father’s transfer, Father TT Thomas was also posted to Don Bosco Guwahati as the principal. Father Thomas knew my passion for table tennis and sporting activities and as soon as he saw me here, he started prodding me to play the game seriously.

At that point of time, we had a famous coach late Nihal Singh Thakur who used to come and train the students of Don Bosco School every morning. I was fortunate enough to meet a person like him who groomed and trained me in the initial stages. My seniors in Don Bosco School, like Curfew Roy, Gautam Hazarika, etc were also huge inspiring personalities for me. So you can say that my formal training in TT began at Don Bosco High School in 1977.


As part of the Indian Table Tennis team in an international tournament

Q. How do you look back at those days?

Ans: Those were very memorable and pretty intense days. We used to start practicing right from early morning after which we used to go to school. After our classes got over for the day, we used to get together again to practice. Our school had already produced two three good batches of table tennis players and we were constantly on the lookout to better ourselves. There was a very healthy sort of competition amongst the students and this helped me in my development.

In 1978, I made my debut at the National Sub Junior Singles Championship and created history by becoming the champion. That seems so surreal for me even now. I still remember the huge sea of people waiting to receive me at the Gauhati Railway Station. I was just overwhelmed with the love and response of the people; TT was such a popular game at that time.

I was then called to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala where I met the towering personalities of Indian Table Tennis of that time, like Manjit Dua, Indu Puri, V Chandrasekhar, et al. From the sub junior level, I was the only player at NIS at that point of time. It was a big inspiration for me to play alongside with those legends. After that, there was no looking back. I started winning sub-junior championships and then the national junior championships. I became the National Sub Junior Singles Champion in 1980. The same year, I went to Jakarta and then Bahrain. My career was progressing at a very rapid pace at that time.

Q. Who were your coaches at that times?

Ans: While at Guwahati, I trained under late Nihal Singh Thakur and SK Mishra. At the national level, there was a North Korean coach Pak Yu Hyun, who was visiting India and who helped me immensely. He was an aggressive player himself and loved my aggressive style of playing. In 1983, I managed to upset top seeds in the senior nationals in Delhi. By that time, I got my first break in the senior Indian Table Tennis Team. My career progressed very rapidly and in the next championship, I even upset India’s No 1 player V Chandrasekhar. In a period of about five years, I made it to the Indian national teams.

Q. What about your formal education?

Ans: My father supported my playing. But he always told me to maintain proper marks in my studies and I kept that in mind. I passed my matriculation from Don Bosco High School with pretty good marks. After that, I joined Modern School Barakhamba Road which was a very prestigious school in those days. In fact, there is a story behind how I landed up in Modern School. I had gone to the school to play a national-level TT match and after watching my game, the principal was so impressed that they offered me a seat in their school. At that time, I was planning to study in Cotton College but then this was a godsend opportunity and I took admission there. I stayed in the hostel of the school and my tryst with the game took another dimension there as I met a lot of stalwarts. For instance, Arjuna Awardee Indu Puri used to come to train there. I then did my B. Com (Honours) from Sri Ram College of Commerce, Under Delhi University.

Q. You had got the Best Commonwealth Games Ranking of No. 17 in the Commonwealth Games…

Ans: Yes, that was in 1991 during the Commonwealth Games held in Nairobi. I performed exceedingly well in that event. I got the silver medal in the Men’s Doubles and also the Bronze medal in the team category. I played till the quarterfinals in the Singles event. The same year, I went to Japan for the World Senior Table Tennis Championships. In that tournament, I got my career best ranking of World No 144.  Till now, I have played in three world championships, 3 Asian championships, 3 Commonwealth Games and 1 Asian Games.

Q. Do you regret missing out on the Olympics?

Ans: Yes, that is a big regret I have. I have achieved everything else apart from the Olympics. Participating in the Olympics Games adds an altogether different dimension to one’s career and life.

Q. Do you feel that the 70-80s was the Golden Era for Table Tennis in Assam?

Ans: Yes, definitely. Everyone was playing well at all the levels. While I was performing well at the sub-junior levels, I faced equally tough competition from Rahul Dutta. At the Junior level, the likes of Anupam Konwar were really playing well. For instance, during the Junior National Championship held in 1983, the Assam team won 12-13 of all the medals in the tournament. Assam was the undisputed champions of the country. Players from Assam dominated the game and that dominance was now been taken over by Bengal.

Q. Looking back, what do you attribute your success to? Talent or discipline?

Ans: I feel it was my good luck. I was playing as part of a beautiful system. I underwent rigorous training in Don Bosco, then in Modern School and then Sri Ram College of Commerce. See, if you want to be a player, you will find that most players usually come out from colleges and universities. If you get proper support at the university level, there is nothing like it. I was fortunate enough to receive that support.

Secondly, my family supported me a lot. Also, we were lucky to have stalwarts like Phani Sharma, Joynath Sharma, Bhowmik Sir and the like at the helm of sporting affairs in the State. They were huge motivating and inspiring personalities for me. Even at the national level, I was lucky to meet my coach Pak Yu Guhn.

Individual skill, talent, discipline and vision are very necessary for the emergence of a good player, but at the same time, getting the right opportunity is also equally important. I feel that we were lucky to have a beautiful system which complemented all these areas. Looking back, I was very disciplined and did well in both my game as well as my studies. I passed my B Com (Honours from Sriram College and then got a job in OIL India while I was still playing. After my graduation, I joined the National Institute of Personnel Management and then Xaviers Institute of Management in Bhubaneshwar from where I got a dual MBA degree. Because of my additional degrees, the Company recognised me and helped me reach my present position today.

Q. What do you have to say about the support of OIL India in your sporting career?

Ans: OIL India truly supports sportspersons. I have simply no words to express how much they have supported me.

(First published in melange, The Sentinel on July 15, 2018)

Golden Boots

In conversation with former Indian team footballer and legendary striker Gilbertson Sangma.



Gilbertson Sangma

By Aiyushman Dutta

The FIFA World Cup Football Tournament 2018 in Russia might have finally gotten over but the enthusiasm that has been created amongst football fans continues to soar greater heights. As we celebrate France’s victory in the World Cup and also the surprising rise of Croatia in the global football stage, we would like to go back in history and celebrate the exploits of one of our own sons of the soil.

We are talking about international-level football player and former Indian football team striker Gilbertson Sangma who has many exploits on the international football ground to his credit. The melange team recently met the star player at his residence in Guwahati to know more about his life and his journey in the world of football. Following are excerpts.

Q. The football World Cup finally got over and it seems you are a bit free from your hectic schedule over the past few days? How was the World Cup for you this year?

 Ans: This year’s World cup was more or less very much similar to the previous years for me. People had different views on who would be the winners of the cup and in the end, some other country became the winner. Many peoples supported teams based on their individual choices and wanted them to win; while for some their chosen team won, for others they had to come back disappointed. For me, it is not different than what it was in the previous years.

For me, yes, this world cup was quite hectic because a number of news channels have come up in the State now. I had to go as a panellist for all their World Cup specials shows a number of times and this took up a lot of my time.

I had also gone to Karbi Anglong at the insistence of Mr. Putul Bora who had created a German stadium there. I am sure you must have heard of the news. Even though I supported his initiative, I did offer him some words of advice while coming back. I told him that while what he did was really commendable, he would have done better if he spent Rupees 5-6 lakhs of the total money he spent in building the stadium towards the cause of Karbi Anglong players. He could have created a football team out of local players since there are so many good football players in Karbi Anglong. This would have gone a long way in the future development of football in Karbi Anglong as well as the State.

Q, You have represented the Indian team and played outside the country and been part of so many prestigious formats of the game. Do you have any feelings of sadness for not being able to be part of the World Cup in your life?

Ans: A bit of sadness will obviously be there because as sportsperson, we always want to develop along with the best in the sport. In our case, we drastically needed a good team which could qualify for the world cup and unfortunately, that did not happen.

Q. The seventies were the prime time in your sporting career. Can you recount those days a bit for us?

 Ans: I started playing Class 1 football tournaments during 1971-1972. Assam and its players were really at the top of the game during that point of time. I was also performing really well and was at the peak of my career. I got many offers from clubs like Mohan Bagan, Tata Sporting Club, Demco Club in Goa and even from Punjab and Bangkok. However, I did not take up any of those offers. I chose to remain back in Assam.

Q. Was there any specific reason why you chose not to take up those offers?

 Ans: Well, since I was playing for Assam I did not want to move outside the State and represent another club. Also in those days, opportunities were not the same as it is today. Sportspersons or footballers nowadays get a lot of opportunities which we did not get. Suppose I had even taken up one of the offers of those club, the money offered was very less. For instance, most clubs would pay just around Rd 20,000 or so for an entire season. The scenario has changed for the better now and most players get much more lucrative deals.

Q. Coming back to our previous question, you played the Santosh trophy for many years…

 Ans: It was in 1973 that I was selected in the final 11 team in the Santosh Trophy that was held in Goa. In that tournament, our first match was against Rajasthan which we won. It was really a memorable experience to be part of the team that defeated Rajasthan, which was as its peak during that time. We lost the second match against Bengal in that tournament and won the last match against Gujarat by a huge margin.

In 1974, I was selected for the Indian team which went to Tehran for the Asian Games. Accordingly, we went to Patiala, which was the hub of international-level sports training in the country, and spent around two months practicing for the tournament. However, I was placed as the 21st players of the team, which meant I was an extra. So while the team left, I had to stay back in the country.

Nonetheless, the same year, the Santosh Trophy was held at Jalandhar and we played against Kerala, who were the champions in that edition. We won our first game against Kerala and much have reached the quarterfinals stage of that trophy. Soon after that, I went to Mumbai to play in the Rover’s Cup. As to your question, I must have played in around 7-8 editions of the Santosh Trophy consecutively.

In 1975-76, I was selected to play for the Indian team and went for a tour of Indonesia and Malaysia as part of the team.

In 1976, there was a turning point in my life as I received an ankle injury. That was a turning point because the national team does not call injured players for trial matches of the team for a second time. Although I did not play for the Indian team, I still played in all the other major tournaments and league matches.

Q. Although you played a number of matches in the 80s, your ankle injury prevented you from getting another place in the Indian team. Do you have any regrets about that?

Ans: Yes, there is definitely a lot of regret. As strikers, whenever we go to play any tournament, the entire team depends on us. We are the gamemakers – we have to play and at the same time make others play as well. So for sportsmen like us, injuries are inevitable; they are bound to happen. The injury was really unlucky but I kept playing. However, nowadays I increasingly think as to why tournaments like the ISL was not held during our time? I seriously regret missing the ISL. Anyway, in 1986 I hung up my boots after playing professional football continuously for 15 years.

Q. Where were you born? How did you develop an interest in football?

Ans: I was born in Dibrugarh. My father late S Momin was an Inspector in the Assam Police. I have four other brothers and two siblings. I guess the love for football was ingrained in our beings. From my childhood, I had a deep passion for football and other sporting activities although I could never really make it in academics.

Q. You have played for Assam Police your entire life. We heard that you joined Assam Police only to play football. Can you please recount the journey for us?

Ans: As I said, I loved playing football right from my childhood. Growing up in Dibrugarh, I used to see many Assam police personnel like Kamala Nath, Anil Rai, etc who used to come and play in tournaments. I was so inspired by them and wanted to play alongside with them. But in order to that, I needed to join the Assam Police. So in 1971, I packed my bags and landed up at the Dergaon Police Train Centre. I was very young then but somehow I managed to pass all the tests and joined the 1st APBN. I enjoyed my stint in Dergaon as there was no shortage of either playgrounds or sporting equipment. In 1972, I completed my training and passed out as a constable. That very year, I represented Assam Police at the All India East Zone Football Tournament held in Bengal. That was my first professional tournament as part of Assam Police. Since then, there has been no looking back for me.

Q. We have already discussed about your sporting career. Did your professional life as a policeman affect your career in any way?

Ans: No, it did not. In fact, after I returned from training in Patiala, I was promoted to the post of Havildar. Then in 1975, when I went to Indonesia as part of the Indian football team, I was rewarded in the form of a promotion to post of Sub Inspector. In 81, I was made an Inspector after the Assam Police won the Bordoloi Trophy.

After I stopped playing professional football, I devoted my entire time and energy into my job. I got involved in all the anti-insurgency operations which was on at that time – Operation Bajrang, Operation Rhino, operations in border areas, etc. Those operations were also memorable for me because many people in interior places recognised me as the football player whom they had heard about. In 1990, I was appointed to the rank of DSP in the 10th APBN.

Q. When did you get married?

Ans: I got married while I was playing itself. I met my wife, who belongs to the Ao Naga tribe, in Dergaon. We fell in love and got married. We have two daughters.

(First published in melange, The Sentinel on June 22, 2018)

Criminally Captivating

In conversation with Shillong-based novelist Ankush Saikia

8 (2)Photo credit EMBOR SAYO.jpg

Ankush Saikia. Photo by Embor Sayo

By Aiyushman Dutta

In the field of English writing in the Northeast, a number of new voices have emerged in recent times who have managed to earn critical acclaim for their brilliant depiction of the hitherto hidden life of people living in the north-eastern periphery of India. One such powerful voice, who has earned immense popularity across the entire country within a relatively short period of time, is Shillong-based novelist Ankush Saikia who has, for the first time, successfully introduced and worked on the genre of crime and detective thrillers set in the Northeast, and elsewhere in India. Right from his first novel, Jet City Women, published by Rupa & Co in 2007, where he talks about life of north-easterners in Delhi, he has continued to write about people and places in this remote land.

From the time his first book published in 2007, he has continued to explore this new genre with a lot of success, and has over the years, published 6 critically acclaimed novels and a collection of short stories as well.

A former journalist who has travelled widely across the Northeast as well as the country, Saikia has emerged as one of the top-ranking English writers to have been produced from the region.As a writer and novelist, Saikia rose to instant fame with his 2013 novel, The Girl from Nongrim Hills – a crime thriller published by Penguin India and which is set in the locales of Shillong. Two years earlier, his collection of short stories, Spotting Veron and Other Stories, had been published by Rupa & Co. After that, he has earned a sort of fan following amongst the north-eastern youths once he wrote the detective Arjun Arora trilogy, comprising Dead Meat (Penguin India, 2015), Remember Death (Penguin India, 2016), and More Bodies Will Fall (Penguin India, 2018).

The detective Arjun Arora trilogy is a first of sorts as no one had previously worked on the genre of crime and thrillers with so much details about life in the Northeast that Ankush has put into his books. All of Saikia’s novels are either based in the Northeast or brings to life the varied colourful characters and locales of the region, which till now have not been adequately represented in popular commercial novels in the country.

A recipient of the Shanghai Writers’ Association’s international writers’ fellowship for the year 2018, Saikia was also shortlisted for the Outlook / Picador-India non-fiction writing competition in 2005. At present, he lives in Shillong where he helps out at his mother’s bakery in the Laitumukrah area of Shillong when he is not writing. Married to a lovely lady and the father of a six-year old son, Ankush Saikia is presently working on a book set in the north bank region of Assam and the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh.

I recently entered into an absorbing discussion with the writer to know more about his journey in the field of writing, how he decided to work on the genre of crime and detective thrillers set in the Northeast, and his future plans. Following are excerpts.

Q. At the outset, please tell us about your childhood, family and growing up days?

 Ans: I was born in Tezpur, Assam in 1975.After a year in Assam, we left for America, where my father was doing his PhD in mathematics (and then teaching) at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. A few years later we returned to the North East, to Shillong, where my father joined the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). So I grew up in Shillong, and Tezpur and BiswanathChariali, where I would go during the winter holidays, and which were my mother’s and father’s places respectively. This was during the 1980s. It seems recent when I think about it, but there has been such a great change in all of these places: mostly more people, cars, buildings. And why not, almost 30 years have gone by. Shillong and Tezpur and Chariali were small towns then, something you can’t say about the first two places now. Life in those pre-liberalisation days was much slower than today, people had more time, and modest ambitions.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your education and your present work profile.

 Ans: Nearly all of my education was done in Shillong—10 years at St Edmund’s School and then 5 more years at St Edmund’s College. In 1997 I moved to Delhi, where I did a couple of courses, advertising and then computers I think, while I tried to clear the CAT—which I didn’t—and neither did I get into Delhi University (in Economics, which I had as a honours subject), nor Jawaharlal Nehru University (in English). I had already written my first novel by then, which thankfully has never been published! A late collegefriend of my father’s (they were together at Ramjas College in Delhi) helped me get into a job, and that was how I managed to stay on in Delhi. In 2011 I returned to the North East. At present I help out with the bakery my mother runs in Shillong,

Q. How did you get interested in the world of literature?

 Ans:I always read a lot, since I was a child. Some of my uncles and aunts from both sides of the family read quite a bit, and I grew up seeing books in our house as well. One of the first things my parents did when they returned from America was to enrol me in the State Central Library in Shillong—over the years (I still borrow books from them) I have never seen more than a handful of people there, except if there was maybe a concert going in the auditorium or some festival being held in the library grounds. I think I was around 16 when the idea came to me that I should try writing a book. Little did I know that it would take me 15 more years just to get published!

Q. You have made quite an impact in the genre of thrillers and detective novels. Were you apprehensive of setting the regional locales in your book? 

 Ans: I set out to write novels in English, as that was my strongest language (we only had Assamese as a 2nd language in school in Shillong, though I speak it fluently), and I had never planned to write crime novels or thrillers, it just happened to work out that way, maybe something to do with an interest in the darker side of human existence. Among the authors I read in school and college were several writers of Westerns (Louis L’amour) and then people like Hemingway, Graham Greene, Naipaul and RK Narayan, and I suppose they left me with an interest in places and people more than abstract ideas, and so when I started writing I suppose it was only natural that I turned to places I knew well—Shillong and Delhi, also Assam. As for the settings elsewhere in the North East—Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur—I had to go and do some research there, as I had never visited those places (apart from the Kameng region of Arunachal) while growing up.I would be more apprehensive writing about places I didn’t know.

During the book launch of More Bodies will fall in a cafe in Shillong. Photo by Farah Nongkhlaw.jpg

During the book launch of More Bodies will fall in a cafe in Shillong. Photo by Farah Nongkhlaw

Q. You are credited for ushering in a new wave in popular English writing in the Northeast. How would you like to define your style of writing?

 Ans: It’s kind of you to mention it that way, but right from the beginning, and even now, I’ve always felt alone in the work I was doing, in the sort of books I was writing. I don’t wish to sound arrogant in any way, but I don’t think anyone has written something like Jet City Woman (students from the North East in Delhi), The Girl From Nongrim Hills (a crime thriller set in Shillong), or More Bodies Will Fall (a detective investigates the death of a girl from the North East in Delhi). And these books are extremely realistic, the only thing “invented” in them is the plot. As far as my style goes, I would say it comprises of a realistic and somewhat cynical look at the society around me.

Q. Do you feel that the unique NE locales and characters of your book have affected their commercial popularity or the way they are accepted by your reader? 

 Ans:If I had written crime novels set solely in “mainland” India, I think they might have done better than my books set in the North East or with a North East connection. But my style of writing is such that I usually need to know a place well before writing about it—so now that basically means only Delhi from “mainland” India (and even there, I’ve only made two trips since leaving the city in 2011, so I already feel like my knowledge of it is slightly dated). I would love to write about, for instance, the mining operations in tribal areas in central India, the hidden economy of the conflict in Kashmir, the history of Kolkata, to give a few examples, but that would mean time and effort and expenses—without a guaranteed payoff at the end. Maybe sometime in the future!

Q. Tell us a bit about The Girl from Nongrim Hills.


Ans:Many people assume the “girl” in question is a real-life person, with some even suggesting that the person on the cover is the girl herself! (It is a stock photo from Getty Images, shot somewhere in Europe I think). In fact, the editor and publisher found this image online and loved it, and told me they wanted to use it—the only problem was the girl had long hair in the manuscript. But once we’d agreed that it would make for a good cover, I went back to the manuscript and changed the few references to the girl’s hair. So another title could well be “The Girl who used to have Long Hair”! The book was really born out of a desire to write something set in Shillong that captured the grime and gritty locations, among others, of the city, a desire to write a noir crime story rooted in Shillong. The guitarist came first, then the standard noir ingredients: a mystery girl, money in a bag, guns. Here again, leaving the plot aside, I think I managed to recreate a very different Shillong, a truer Shillong, than what is conjured up by tourist pieces about the city.

Q. Is your character detective Arjun Arora an entirely fictitious character or has he been inspired by people you met in real life?

 Ans:He is a fictitious character, yes. In many ways he is a typical noir protagonist: a loner, fond of the bottle, with a tormented past, sensitive in his own way. Then there are a few aspects from within me as well: the insider/outsider situation that comes about for many people in our country, the nostalgia for a simpler past, a dissatisfaction with the big city (Delhi)—I took these things and then increased them in intensity for the character, so that he is wrestling with very strong personal demons even as he delves into his cases. Another thing I realised only recently, after having written 3 books with the character: he goes deep into the lives of people who have disappeared—the accountant in Dead Meat, the actress from Lucknow in Remember Death, and the girl from Nagaland in More Bodies Will Fall—and almost seems to prefer their company to that of living people.

Q. What are you presently working on?

 Ans: It’s something I’ve been researching and trying to write for the past 5 years (when I started writing the Arjun Arora series), and for which I only settled upon the writing approach just a few months ago. It’s a short book, under 250 pages, and I should finish the first draft soon, but it might change quite a bit while being revised. It is set in and around Tezpur, taking in the geographical stretch from the Brahmaputra to the foothills and up into the Kameng region of Arunachal. The backdrop is the near-total disappearance of the Chariduar reserve forest to the north-west of Tezpur, which at 460 sq km was one of the largest patches of forest in Asia, and of which only about 80 to 90 sq km remains today, while the story takes in a forest beat officer’s relationship with his son, the Bodoland movement, security operations targeting insurgents, and bits of family history and the larger history of the region. There are elements of a crime novel in it, but it is also an attempt to incorporate reportage and history into a crime story, and thus trying to rise above the plot-centric limitations of that genre.

Q. How do you find out time for writing from your professional workloads?

 Ans:I help out with the bakery my mother runs in Shillong (Moinee’s Bakes in Laitumkhrah), and am lucky to be doing something that leaves me with quite a lot of free time for my writing.

(First published in melange, The Sentinel on July 29, 2018)