Monthly Archives: December 2018

‘True & False’ staged in Guwahati

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English theatre lovers of Guwahati city were in for a treat last week when Ruby Visions and the Bob Barua Benefaction staged an absorbing play, True & False, at the Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts in Machkhowa on December 21 and 22 last.

‘True & False’ is a brand new adaptation of Rob Drummond’s work and the play portrays a world of reality game shows and explores notions of truth and falsehood. The cast of the play featured well known names from the Assamese film and theatre industry, namely Jit Chaliha, Ranjeev Lal Barua, Neetali Das, Lima Das and Pratyush Barua. The BOB Barua Benefaction is a trust that carries forward the philanthropic legacy of Souvik Barua, the late husband of Pallavi Chumki Barua, focusing on the uplift of the needy

With many people questioning the fast depleting audience base of English plays in the region, ‘True & False’ provided a break from this conventional notion. Although the tickets were priced a bit on the higher side, the first day of the play featured a packed audience with an equally encouraging response on the second day.

The play enthralled the audience with a live quiz show with a suspenseful, hyper real time-space alternation brought on by memory. It also led the audience to identify with the many contemporary social and topical issues of everyday life that it throws up. The spectator enters into a hair raising ‘live’ arena where a quizmaster hustles neurotic participants, camera-ready faces, paste-on smiles and concocted realities. The extremely talented Jit Chaliha plays the 60 year old Quiz Master, Brian O’Neill; Ranjeev Lal Barua enacts the role of Irfan Ahmed, a psychiatrist/participant in the show; Neetali Das in the character of Meera Singhania portrays a former quiz show champion and repeat participant; Lima Das plays the lead character of Sandra Braganza, a housewife/participant; and the show’s Production Manager Pratiek Duggal is played by Pratyush Barua.

In a nutshell, the play tries to address the issue of child abuse through the realm of a reality television show. The attempt of the director to address a burning issue deserves accolades and he is lucky to be supported by a bunch of extremely talented actors. Jit Chaliha, who plays the role of the 60 year-old Brian O’ Neill shines throughout the play. His performance is equally matched by Ranjeev Lal Barua (who plays the role of Irfan Ahmed) and Lima Das (who plays the lead character).

Known for his role in ‘A Plot for Murder’ and directorial ventures such as ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ and ‘The Murder Game’, Director Rohan Kr Das shared his experience with this play and the cast, saying, “It was overwhelming to direct this play with a cast where everyone has their own set of benchmarks. The audience’s reaction and appreciation today has encouraged us to come up with more such work in the future”.

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Having watched the play, we can only commend the team for raising awareness on such an important issue in a highly creative manner. However, the play could have been much better if they had focused a bit more on the treatment of the subject as the inter-play of characters and incidents over different spans of time did tend to create a bit of confusion among a section of the audience.

The play ‘True and False’ was made possible with the support of Tata Motors, Apollo Hospitals and Young Indians. Despite the occasional and few glitches, the play has indeed opened new horizons for English theatre loving people of the region.

Pages from an Unfinished Love Story

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Royal Wedding Celebrations in Thimpu, Bhutan

For people residing in #NortheastIndia, #Bhutan, one of India’s immediate neighboring countries, has always been near yet so far. One of the smallest countries in the world, Bhutan is often termed as a paradise of its own. Nestled on the foothills of the Himalayan range, Bhutan’s natural beauty has wowed over tourists from across the entire world. But it’s not just natural beauty or scenery that Bhutan is famous for. This tiny kingdom also holds the distinction of being the last monarchy in the world, and also for bringing to the world the concept of #Gross National Happiness – a unique concept in which the development of a country is based not on its economic parameters but rather on the overall happiness quotient of the people residing there.

As a child growing up in Guwahati and the lower part of Assam, we were often enamored by the sight of Bhutanese traders (or Bhutias as they are called in local parlance) who used to come across the border alongside Tamulpur in Rangia district to trade and make barter deals. However, the highly volatile law-and-order situation in that area (present day Bodoland Territorial Council), along the Assam-Bhutan border, always prevented people from exploring the rich natural beauty of this beautiful country which is just a stone’s throw away.

My first visit to Bhutan happened rather unexpectedly. In 2010-11, I had taken a break from my work in the media to work on a couple of research projects in the interiors of the Northeast. One fine day in October, 2011, the founder of The Sentinel group of newspapers, Mr Shankar Rajkhewa, called me to his office and asked me if I would be interested to go for a short trip to Bhutan. I didn’t ask for much details and immediately nodded my assent. It was only later that I realized I would be embarking on a momentous and most enriching experiences of my life i.e. cover the wedding of His Highness King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk with Ashi Jetsun Pema.

Covering a royal wedding in the last monarchy of the Himalayas was a memorable experience in its own. But what made it all the more special was the fact that it marked the advent of a young and dynamic ruler who was all set to give a new change to the overall developmental index of Bhutan. So in October of 2011, me and my colleague Rajib Bhattarjee from The Sentinel boarded a train to Alipur Duar from we entered Bhutan via Phuntshilling. The entire world media has descended at the Royal Kingdom and I was simply left spellbound to witness the elaborate wedding rituals in the historic Punakha fortress and the roadside celebrations in the capital city of Thimpu. We were lucky to have with us the company of Sonam Chokie and Damchen Zangmo of the Government of Bhutan who acquainted us with the simplicity of the people and their laidback and highly courteous attitude to life.

A couple of years later on, I came into close acquaintance with a group of dynamic leaders in the Chowki area of Bodoland. Thanks to a school friend of mine, Amarjit Lahkar, an agriculturist who was working for a tiger conservation project in the area, I came across a few former insurgent leaders who had given up arms to work for the conservation of the rich wildlife and ecological diversity along the Eastern Manas range. The #ChowkiEco-TourismSociety, which was formed by Satan Ramchiary (a former elected representative) and others, has now become a vibrant picnic spot and a model village of sorts.

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With Satan Ramchiary and Amarjit Lahkar at Chowki

Chowki soon became a regular destination for us and we would bathe in the rich natural beauty of the place, alongside the Kolsi River, taking delight in the sights and sounds of the raw and verdant natural beauty, and also the rich treasure trove as far as wildlife was concerned. We would often cross the river in Satan’s jeep and cross the officially demarcated Indo-Bhutan border to Sangdrup Jongkhar and gorge on Bhutia delicacies like #EmaDatshi (Bhutan’s national dish which is a delicious chilli cheese stew) and of course, the amiable hospitality of the people.

Over the last couple of years, with the law-and-order situation in Bodoland improving to a great extent and thanks to better road connectivity, many people from Northeast India, especially Guwahati, would often visit Bhutan’s nearest district Sangdrup Jongkhar. The low excise duties on liquor and fuel proved to be an added stimulus to make Sangdrup Jongkhar feasible for a day-long outing. A bottle of #K5, a fine blend of premium scotch distilled and produced in Bhutan itself, had already become a hit amongst north-easterners by this time!

A couple of days back, a friend, Monmi Das, who is a foodie-turned-food entrepreneur, asked me if I would be interested in joining her for a trip to Sangdrup Jongkhar to witness the #Tshetsu or Mask festival of Bhutan. With Monmi being a celebrated chef who loves to explore and experiment with various cuisines, I immediately took up the offer (more for the opportunity to indulge in some traditional Bhutanese delicacies, rather than anything else) and early in the morning the next day, we set out for the much loved traveller’s haunt. However, the last trip introduced me to another new aspect of Bhutan which I had really learnt to appreciate till now.

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Jigmee Dee and Monmi Das

The Tshetsu festival is an annual festival organized by all the district departments of Bhutan. The festival, which is a highly sacred and solemn affair, is observed with much fanfare and in the typical relaxed, disciple and amiable nature of the Bhutanese people. Although I was not initially allowed to enter the hallowed sanctum of the monastery as I was dressed in a not-so-formal attire, our friend Jigmee Dee managed to take us to watch the festival from afar.

During the #Tshetsufestival, mask dances to commemorate the deeds of the great saint Guru Rinpoche are performed. The dances invoke the deities of the tantric teachings – who through their powers and blessings remove misfortunes by suppressing all evil spirits. While the locals attend the colorful festival to gain merit, visitors travel from far and near to witness the spectacular display of color, age-old traditions, and tantric Buddhist rituals. The festival traditionally commences with Buddhist monks performing the Shingje Yab Yum – the dance of the lord of death (Shingje) and his consort. This is followed by Durdag – the dance of the lords of the cremation grounds, after which, the dance of the black hats, Shanag, and the dance of the drums from Drametse (Drametse Ngacham) are performed.

As we returned from the festival, we stopped at Jigmee’s restaurant in the town which he runs along with his mother and his wife. The town itself has not changed much since my first visit although the footfalls from Guwahati have markedly increased over the last few years, a fact which Jigmee vouched for. With the Indian government opening up its doors to its immediate neighbours in the East, the small town of #SangrupJongkhar also seems to be readying up to accommodate the increasing footfalls. A beautiful garden depicting Bhutanese traditions and cultures had already been opened in the city within a span of a few months since I last visited the town. A young entrepreneur himself, Jigmee too is getting prepared to welcome tourists, Indians especially, as Indian tourists don’t require a visa to enter Bhutan.

The Assam Government too seems to have woken up to the immense tourism potentials of the area and very recently, Assam’s Tourism Minister Chandan Brahma had also unveiled the launch of #DwijingFestival, a festival celebrated near Hagrama Bridge, on the banks of the River Aai, as a calendar event of the State tourism department.

While the onus of developing people-to-people connectivity amongst the people of both countries lies on the government, my own tryst with Bhutan has been an enriching one so far. And I sincerely believe that this love story has many more pages left which are yet to be opened.

Classical Guitar Festival leaves Guwahati enthralled

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Classical music aficionados of Guwahati were in for a treat last week. The reason was the 2nd Guwahati International Guitar Festival which was held at the Directorate of Museum, Government of Assam in Ambari on December 20th last.

The Guitar Festival was initiated by the Indian Guitar Federation and city-based Mineral Water led by Lueit Hazarika. Into its second edition this year, the guitar festival featured a few master classical guitarists and others nylon instrument and who kept the entire audience mesmerized till the very end.

The performing artists in this year’s edition included Johannes Moller from Sweden, Thu Le and Lorenzo Bernandi from Italy and Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Before the concert in the evening, a classical guitar workshop was held in the lawns of the State Musuem in which around 65 students and music enthusiasts participated. Talking about the workshop, Lueit said, “Like last year, the workshop was open for all students and youngsters who have the basic guitar playing skills. We had around 65 participants this year for the workshop which were held on the lawns of the museum.”

The evening concert featured performances by the invited artists and the small auditorium of the State Musuem was packed to the brim with many people sitting on the stands to watch the eclectic performances. The evening began with a performance by Swedish composer Johannes Moller. An ambassador of the ZhenGan guitar of China, Johannes Moller had won the Concert Artist Competition Guitar Federation of America (GFA) in 2010 and performs close to 100 concerts across the globe every year. He started the evening with some of his own compositions and finished off with a unique fusion of Western Classical notes based on Indian Classical music.

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The second performer, Thu Lee is an international award winning performer. Originally born in Hanoi, the guitarist who now lives in Bahrain. An influential classical music guitarist, she has earlier performed in countries like Italy, England, France, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, USA, Nepal, Turkey, etc.

The final act of the evening saw master guitarists Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Both of them are ambassadors of the Portugese Guitar which is the main accompanying instrument for the Fado music of Portugal. Fado is the traditional folk music from Portugal described by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. It is usually characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.

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After the concert in an exclusive conversation with the writer, Ricardo spoke about the influences of Potugese music, especially Fado, in other parts of the world, especially in Goa of India where they are scheduled to perform before the end of this year. Lueit too spoke about the similarities of the music of a few communities of India and those of Portugal

Veda Aggarwal, Director General of the Indian Guitar Federation, said that the concert was an attempt of the federation to give people in the Northeast a chance to experience the best classical musicians of the world. The concert had earlier travelled to Calcutta and Imphal before coming to Guwahati.

Sananta Tanty: The ‘Aangbang’ poet from Assam

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Sananta Tanty. Photo by Kushal Dutta.

In Conversation with Legendary Assamese Poet and Sahitya Akademi winner for 2018 Sananta Tanty who is fighting a tough battle with Cancer

“I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.” – Sananta Tanty

One of the most distinctive voices which appeared in the Assamese firmament in the 60s and 70s, and which continues to be heard with the same zeal and rebelliousness, is none other than that of Sananta Tanty. A legend in his own right, his poetry, in the words of noted critic and translator Pradip Acharya, gives us a feel of alien realities. Dealing with themes like corruption in public life, unemployment, poverty and hunger, Tanty’ voice is raw, unadulterated and compels the readers to listen to him with full attention. Tracing his origins to the exploited tea garden workers of Assam, Tanty was among the few poets who heralded the emergence of a new breed of poets from different ethnic grounds in the 1990s.

A rebel who chooses to voice his dissent through the words of poetry, Tanty is considered to be one of the most popular and radical poet of his times – a position he strives to maintain even to date with his unique style of writing, thoughts and observations. The recipient of numerous awards and citations, his poems have been translated into different national and international languages, and have been published all over the world, including the much revered ‘Asymptote Journal’. He also served as members of various literary committees, including the Assamese Language Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi, Children’s Literary Trust Assam, All India Radio, etc. Besides being a poet of repute, Sananta Tanty served as a responsible gazetted officer and retired from service in 2012 from Assam Tea Employees’ PF Organisation

Sananta Tanty was born in 1952 in Kalinagar TE of Karimganj district in Assam. Hailing from an Oriya-speaking poor Tea Garden Labourer family, he was brought up in a semi-urban environment of Ramkrishna Nagar. During his childhood and adolescence, he was exposed to Bengali literature at the hands of his elder brother and it was love for him at first instance. Through the Bengali language, he first learnt and fell in love with literature and also wrote his first poem, a love lyric, in the language.

His early college life in Shillong made him a person of great sensibility but his stay in Jorhat at the threshold of his youth, and the lucidity and life of the Assamese language forced him to write in Assamese. His left radicalism and sensitivity during the time of the great political unrest in Assam in the eighties made him a voice to be reckoned with. A poet who is originally an Oriya, educated in Bengali but who writes in Assamese is definitely not an easy task. But that is Sananta Tanty for you – a man who had to face battles after battles throughout his life but who, as a valiant warrior, gears up for every new encounter with an upright chest. Tanty, who was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2010, has been battling the dreaded disease with a strength and determination that only a true warrior and eternal rebel can possess.

I had met him at his residence in Guwahati in the month of May, 2018 to talk about his journey in the world of poetry. Following are excerpts.

Q. Can you please tell us a bit about your childhood. Where did you complete your education and how did you get interested in the world of poetry?

 Ans: I was born as the youngest of five siblings to Loknath Tanti and Baitarani Tanti in Kalinagar Tea Estate of Karimganz. My father was a tea garden labourer and we remember growing up in abject poverty. Out of my five brothers and sisters, only me and my second eldest brother received formal educated. I did my initial schooling in Kalinagar Tea Estate Primary School and did my higher secondary from Ramkrishna Vidyapith in Ramkrishna Nagar, which was near our tea estate. My eldest brother, Basanta Kumar Tanti, did not receive any formal education but was a voracious reader. He used to read all the magazines and books collected by the wife of our tea garden manager. I got interested in reading after watching him and by the time I was in Class 4 or 5, I had already started reading the works of writers like Somoresh Basu and Mahasweta Devi. I wrote my first poem in High School but that was in Bengali as we studied in Bengali medium and grew up in a Bengali-dominated environment. After that, I went to Shillong to study in St. Anthony’s but could not complete my education due to lack of finances.

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Receiving the Bharat Dalit Sahitya Akademi Award. Photo courtesy by poet.

While in Shillong, I stayed in the tea garden hostel called Prime Rose Villa where I met a lot of fellow acquaintances from the tea garden community. I was exposed to the culture of little magazines in Shillong and my first poem was published in a little magazine. Therein I joined the students wing of a political body and met a professor Udayan Ghosh who encouraged me to read poetry. That is how my interest in poetry developed further. However, since I could not pursue my studies, I had to leave Shillong to search for a job.

I accordingly landed up in Jorhat where I worked as a clerk in a tea plantation company. While in Jorhat, I attended night college and completed my graduation from night college. It was in Jorhat that I was exposed to the world of Assamese literature and I would read the poems of stalwarts like Nilomoni Phukan, Hiren Bhattacharya, Dr. Nagen Saikia, and others. Living in Jorhat and being exposed to such rich Assamese literature made me start writing poems in Assamese.

Q. You have around 14 collections of poetry to your credit and all are highly acclaimed by your readers as well as critics. Can you please tell us about the journey from your first collection?

Ans: My first first collection of poetry, ‘Ujjwal Nakhatrar Sondhanot’ was published in 1981, followed by ‘Moi Manuhor Amal Utsav’ in 1985, ‘Nizor Biruddhey Sesh Prastab’ in 1990, ‘Sabdat Othoba Sabdahinotat’ in 1993, ‘Mrityur Agar Stoppageot’ in 1996, ‘Toponito Ketiaba Barisha Ahey’ in 1997 and ‘Dhuan Sair Sopun’ in 1999. After a gap of three years, my collection ‘Dirno Bosontor Saurav’ was published in 2002, which was followed by ‘Apuni Apunar Hotey Yudhha Koribo Paribone’ in 2004, ‘Moi’ in 2008, ‘Mur Nirabhoron Atmar Sokaboho Sobdobur’ in 2010, ‘Kailoir Dinto Amar Hobo’ in 2013 and ‘Mur Priyo Sopunor Osore Panzore’ in 2017. Besides these copies, a bulk of my poems have been translated and collected in the book ‘Selected Poems Sananta Tanty’ by Dibyajyoti Sarma in 2017.

Q. You have received a number of awards. Can you please tell us about the awards that you have won? Growing up in a tea garden family of Karimganz, did you ever think that you will earn so much popularity as a poet?

Ans: As a child, I never thought that I would become a poet, and that in Assamese language. But destiny has played its part. However, even as a child I was very strong-willed and full of determination to success. Despite being surrounded by poverty around me, I knew deep inside me that I would make a mark in something or the other.

Coming to your first question, awards and recognitions do help a person to improve himself but I have never wrote any poetry with the hope of winning an award. Nor have I lobbied for any award, which is usually seen in this type of domain. My first public recognition was the Mrinalini Devi Goswami Award which was conferred by Asom Kavi Samaj in 1992. After that, I received the Beer Birsha Munda Award by Dalit Sahitya Akademi in 2002, Osman Ali Sodagar Samannya Award by Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad in 2011, Krantikaal Samman in 2014, Nizora Kavi Sailadhar Rajkhowa Award by Asom Sahitya Sabha in 2015, SIRISH-OIL Literary Award by APPL Foundation in 2016 and Pandit Padmanath. Bidyabinod Smriti Sahitya Puraskar in 2016 by Ramanath Bhattacharya Foundation.

Q. The Assam Valley Literary Award 2017 by Magor Education Trust, Assam was conferred on you recently. Can you please tell us what inspires you to write poems, something which you had so beautifully described in the award acceptance speech?

Ans: I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. My IQ is so low that I sometimes think over these words, not twice or thrice but hundreds of times. However, at the end, I feel like a zero. And as such, I avoid participating in discussions relating to life, politics, literature and criticising others.

I am a small person with big dreams. I am a dreamer, a big dreamer. I sometimes dream so big that I cannot control myself from taking the measurement of time, look closely at my surroundings and my position as a human being. I begin to express myself through the window of my heart. My readers say that these expressions of my heart are poetry and they call me a poet. Of course, I am obviously proud of being called a poet.

As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.

Sananta Tanty with Poets Jivan Narah,Hiren Bhattacharjya,Devabrata Das in a SahityaAkademi Programme

With poets Jiban Narah, Hiren Bhattacharya. Photo courtesy Sananta Tanty.

Q. Your optimism towards life is truly exemplary. On a personal note, you have been suffering from Cancer for quite some time now and have had to face a lot of hardships to fight the dreaded disease? When were you diagnosed with the disease and don’t you feel discouraged at times?

Ans: I was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2009 or 2010 and since then, I have been taking treatment to fight this disease. I guess I am in what they call the third or fourth stage now but I have still not given up hope. And as far as disappointment is concerned, I do not let these feelings come into my mind. It has been a very tiring journey for me and my wife, Minoti Tanti, and our two sons, without whose support it might not have been possible to come so far. But the hope and zeal for life pushes us to carry on, despite all the odds that are facing us.

Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar: A Torchbearer of Sattriya dance

 

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In the field of Sattriya dance, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A renowned choreographer and educator of Sattriya and Kathak dance, he is the first formal graduate degree holder in Satriya dance and music in the State. Besides being a renowned choreographer and teacher of Sattriya and Kathak dance, Ram Krishna Talukdar has been showcasing Assam’s famed Sattriya dance in various stages across the entire world for more than 40 years now. It can be said without an iota of doubt that his efforts towards the scientific study of this dance form paved the way for the official recognition of Sattriya dance as a classical dance form by the Indian government in 2000.

Trained under the Guru Shishya Parampara, he has spent an entire lifetime learning, as well as teaching the intricacies of Satriya dance to members of the new generation and has conducted several lecture-demonstrations/ workshops/ seminars in Sattriya dance – both in India as well as abroad. The first “A” Grade Artist in Satriya dance of Doordarshan, New Delhi, RamKrishna Talukdar was one of the first and very few Satriya exponents to undertake a scientific approach towards the study of this ancient dance form. Besides completing the five year B. Music degree from Guwahati University, he has also pursued a four year course in Nritya Visharad from B.S.V. Luknow, a two-year M. Music, Nrityalankar Diploma course from ABGMV Mandal, Mumbai and then a two-year Master’s Degree from IKS University, Madhya Pradesh.

Ramkrishna Talukdar was born at Bamakhata in the district of Barpeta in 1963 to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar. He spent more than 25 years learning the intricacies of Sattriya dance under the Guru Sishya Parampara from doyens like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan. Ramkrishna Talukdar has groomed several students in the art form through his institute, Nartan Kala Niketan, and his list of students includes dancers from other countries like Belarus, Japan, Kazakhastan, USA and France. In an illustrious career, both as an educationist and as a performer, he has produced more than 12 dance dramas and composed and choreographed around 30 dance numbers.

As an educationist, Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar has also authored the book, ‘Nrity Kala Darpan’, which is the prescribed course book for 10th standard students studying under the Secondary Education Board of Assam. He is also a member of the Srimanta Sankaradeva Studies department of Guwahati University, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations – Northeast region, under Ministry of Culture, and a member of the Expert Committee for Sattriya dance, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Recognising his immense contributions in the field of Sattriya dance, he has been felicitated and honoured by a host of organizations, like the Asom Sahitya Sabha, Asom Sattra Mahasabha and the like. He has been conferred with various titles by different socio-cultural organizations like “Asom Gaurav”, “Sangeet Jyoti Award”, “Nritya Ratna”, “Kala Gaurav”, “Nrityanjali Award”, etc. Earlier this year, his name was announced for the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award to be conferred later this year.

I met the illustrious dancer and educationist at his residence in Guwahati to know more about his life and journey in the world of Sattriya dance. Following are excerpts.

  1. At the outset, please accept our congratulations for being named for this year’s Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. What were your immediate feelings when your name was announced for the award? Do you feel that the award should have come your way much before?

 Ans: I am definitely thrilled at receiving the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Any recognitions or awards for that matter go a long way in encouraging performing artists like us to pursue with our passion. I have spent my entire life in the pursuit of Sattriya dance; in fact, I know nothing else apart from this dance. Growing up in Assam and being the first student to take formal training in Sattriya dance from Guwahati University, I have had to face a lot of humiliation on my decision to pursue dance as a career. Many people rubbed me off saying that I had lost my mind because of my decision to pursue dance. However, I am glad that I have been able to survive and establish myself in this chosen field.

Coming to your second question, I do not feel that the award has been late. In fact, I feel that the award came a bit too soon because now my responsibilities have increased manifold.

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2. You were born in Bamakhata of Barpeta district. Please share memories of your growing up days and how you got interested in the field of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: I was born to late Gajendra Nath Talukdar and Dhaneswari Talukdar in Bamakhata of Barpeta district September 4, 1963. Our house was located right opposite the Bamakhata Sattra and my entire family is involved with the Sattra. In fact, I belong to the third generation of the family involved with the Bamakhata Sattra. I was the fourth son among six brother and sisters.

My father was a renowkned folk artist of Kamrupiya and Goalpariya folk songs. Although he was not formally educated, he was an institution in his own right and possessed a lot of knowledge of the folk songs of that era. My mother, late Dhaneswari Talukdar, was a teacher in Bamakhata Sattra. My entire family members are involved in the Sattra in some way or the other.

3. Please tell us about your education.

 Ans: I passed my matriculation from Soukhuti High School and completed my higher secondary education from Bajali HS. During that time, the Assam Government decided to establish the first State Music College at Rabindra Bhavan. The Guwahati University prescribed the course for the same and in 1982, I joined the B.Music Course of the State Music College as its first student. That was the sole music college in Assam at that time. Of course, in 1982, Sattriya dance has not received the classical status that it enjoys today and it was taught as a folk tradition. Eminent scholar late Dr. Maheswar Neog was instrumental in setting up the college. He was of the opinion that Sattriya dance needed to be taken out from the Sattras and brought in the ambit of formal education so that this glorious tradition could be passed amongst the new generations. I paased out in first class as the first graduate in Sattriya dance.

The Directorate of Cultural Affairs then sent me outside to study classical dance so that I could find out why Sattriya was not being accorded Classical dance. I learnt Kathak in Luknow under my guru Sri Surendranath Saikia. After coming back, I was offered a job at the State Music College in 1992.

After that, I went to the Madhya Pradesh to study at the Indira Kala Vishavidyalaya, was the sole Music and Fine Arts University of India during those days. Students from all over the world used to come and study Hindustani music there but very few people in our State knew about its existence. I completed my Master’s degree from that university in 1997.

4. You were the first Sattiya exponent to study the dance in a scientific way. Please tell us about those days.

 Ans: As I mentioned, I was sent by the State Cultural Affairs department to learn Kathak dance in Luknow. My primary aim was to find out why our Sattriya dance was not able to receive the recognition of a classical dance form. While in Luknow, I realised that our Sattriya dance was not being taught in a scientific way. I found that compared to other classical dance forms, there was a difference in the theory and practical presentation of Sattriya dance. Experts like Dr. Maheshwar Neog were indeed presenting papers on the theoretical aspects of Sattriya dance but there was no dance expert who could practically explain those aspects through the medium of dance. I, through the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, tried to incorporate those aspects in modern stage presentations of Sattriya dance. I was lucky to be associated with luminaries like Ananda Mohan Bhagabati, SNA awardee late Rosewar Saikia Barbayan, Padmashree Jatin Goswami and Padmashri Ghana Kanta Borbayan, who first took the initiative to study Sattriya dance in a scientific manner.

We had to meet with a lot of controversy once we started teaching Sattriya dance in a scientific manner. Although my colleagues and office bearers of the cultural affairs department were confident of my capabilities, people outside, especially in the Sattras were hesitant to incorporate the new changes because they did not want to tamper with the originality of our dance form. But once Dr. Bhupen Hazarika became chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademic, it became easier for Sattriya dance to achieve classical status.

5. You have also authored a book…

 Ans: In 2004, I studied six classical dance forms. I underlined the reasons why our dance was not accorded the classical dance status despite it being a classical dance form. That book is now the prescribed course book for 10th standard students of SEBA.

6. What were the main steps you took towards the scientific study of Sattiya? Please tell us about your steps towards the popularisation of Sattriya dance.

 Ans: Having studied other classical dance forms and being a teacher of Sattriya dance, I realised that practice was crucial for Sattriya to be recognised as a classical dance form. While dancers practicing other dance forms would practice more than 8 hours a day, we could hardly find a Sattriya dancer who would practice for even an hour. I started the trend myself because I had to show the way to others. I began practicing the dance for more than 14-15 hours a day.

Besides I was the first A grade artist in Sattriya dance for Doordarshan. Then I took the initiative to produce video CDs on Sattriya dance for mass dissemination. Then we also created a website where people from all parts of the world could know about Sattriya dance.

7. Please tell us about your family.

 Ans: My wife and daughters are all involved with Sattriya dance. My wife Rumi Talukdar is an empanelled Sattriya artist with ICCR and has performed all across the world. My daughters have both received national-level scholarships from CCRT, under Ministry of Culture, Government of Assam, to study Sattriya dance.

Nipon Goswami: Superstar Diaries

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In the world of Assamese celluloid, his is a name which needs no introduction. His is not just a name; in fact, his name represents one of the most glorious eras of Assamese cinema. The first formally trained actor of the Assamese cine industry, he is credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films, serials, stage shows, television serials, et al in a career which has spanned more than 50 years. A man who reigned the hearts of thousands of people during the glorious era of Assamese cinema is still standing strong, continuously re-inventing himself to cater to the needs of the modern day cinema. Yes, we are talking about none other than Nipon Goswami – one of the flagbearers of Assamese cinema in today’s world.

Much has been written about Nipon Goswami and his contributions to Assamese theatre and cinema. The recipient of a number of epitaphs and awards like the Prag cine Award, Natya Surya Phani Sharma Award, his journey in the world of cinema can be said to be as vast and remarkable as our cinema itself. A true son of the soil, he has proved his versatility as an actor in numerous platforms and has been an indispensable part in the growth of modern Assamese cinema.

An actor who has carved a special place for himself in the hearts of every Assamese as an evergreen hero and versatile actor, he has acted in hundreds of Assamese and Bengali movies. Some of his popular Assamese movies include ‘Dr. Bezbaruah’, ‘Mukuta’, ‘Manab aru Danab’, ‘Morisika’, ‘Abhijaan’, ‘Santaan’, ‘Aashray’, ‘Meghamukti’, ‘Ajoli Nobou’, ‘Man aru Maram’, Aparupa’, ‘Ghar Sansar’, Kakadeuta, Naati aru Hati’, Nayanmani, ‘Jiban Surabhi’, ‘Arati’, ‘Pratidan’, ‘Siraaj’, ‘Deutar Biya’, ‘Jon Jole Kopalat’, and many more. One of the first actors from Assam to work in Bollywood, he has worked in seven Hindi films as a character artist and was also part of the blockbuster hit, Do Anjane, in which the legendary Amitabh Bacchan and Rekha essayed the lead roles.

Nipon Goswami was born in September, 1957 at Kolibari in Tezpur. Born to a family with deep-rooted interest in the arts, his father Chandradhar Goswami was a famous actor of his times while his mother, Nirupama Goswami, was a versatile singer. He did his schooling from Kolibari Lower Primary School and Tezpur Government High School. After completing his graduation, he went to the Film Institute of Pune (now known as FTII) in 1965 and graduated to become the first professionally trained Assamese actor to work in Assamese films.  An ardent mobile theatre artist who has spent a number of his childhood and growing up years working in the mobile theatre industry, he got his first break in the Assamese movie Sangram (1968) while he was still a student. His second film, Dr. Bezbaruah, which was a landmark film in Assamese celluloid established Nipon Goswami in the cine world of the State. Since then, it has been a rollercoaster journey for this humble and down-to-earth artist who has regaled multiple generations through his performances on the big screen, stage as well as television and radio.

Following are excerpts from a recent interview:

  1. From Sangram in 1968, you recently completed 50 years in the world of Assamese cinema. You are credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films. How do you look back at your journey in retrospect?

Ans: Yes, it has been a memorable journey fill of ups and downs. Coming to your point, I don’t think there is any other actor who has acted in more Assamese films than I have done, and I continue to act in movies and the small screen even today. I must have worked in over hundred films till date.

In retrospect, I saw the camera for the first time in 1957 on the sets of Piyali Phukan, directed by late Phani Sharma. My father had played a part in the movie and I had a small role as a child artist. That was the first time I got to know what cinema is; I got to see the cameras, lights, reflectors and how films are made. After that, I got busy in my studies and cinema took a back seat although I was always involved in theatre and stage performances. After completing my graduation, I went to the Pune Film and Television Institute (now known as the Film and Television Institute of India – FTII) for a diploma course in acting. While in the final year at Pune FTI, I received a letter from late Amar Pathak with an offer to play the lead role in his film, Sangram, which was based on one of his novels. I came to Kolkata for the shoot and that marked the beginning of my cinematic journey.

After Sangram, I worked in Dr. Bezbaruah by Brajen Baruah, which was a record-creating movie. That movie was the turning point in my career and there has been no looking back since then.

  1. Have you encountered any major changes in the way films were made back in the 60s and in today’s date?

Ans: The changes have been drastic. Technology has improved tremendously. When I first acted in Piyali Phukan and a few films after that, we were totally dependent on the film industry of Kolkata. We did not have our own camera nor did we have any professionals in our midst. We had to take the help of technicians and even make-up artists of Kolkata. Late Brajen Baruah changed that scenario when he made Dr. Bezbaruah. Using local technicians and cameramen, he showed how an Assamese film can be made without being dependent on professionals of Kolkata. And the more amazing part was that he showed how a film can be shot inside a living room setting and not just outdoors. Dr. Bezbaruah was shot mostly indoors. It was truly a path-breaking movie and paved the way for the emergence of Assamese cameramen, technicians, make-up artists, et al. It heralded the growth of a movie industry in the State.

Today we are not dependent on others and a lot of youngsters are experimenting with a lot of new themes and subjects. But I somehow miss the feeling of bonhomie and brotherhood that we enjoyed during the shooting of films in the 60s and 70s.

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During the demand for setting up Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio in Guwahati

  1. As you said that a lot of changes have come about in the Assamese film industry. Do you feel that we have developed into a professional film industry?

Ans: We are all professional artists. Professional in the sense that we all earn money for our services. However, I do not think that professionalism has developed to its fullest in our industry. Just earning money does not make anyone a professional. I feel we still have to imbibe a lot of other qualities, like maintaining the time schedule, preparing and studying scripts, studying about cinema and various characters, and the like, before we can really call ourselves to be professionals.

  1. You were one of the first Assamese actors to have passed out from the Film Institute of Pune (present day FTII)…

Ans: I was not the first. Dulal Saikia was there before me and there were one or two more people who had completed courses in editing. But yes, I was the first Assamese to get a diploma in the acting stream from the Film Institute of Pune.

  1. Tell us about the period after Dr. Bezbaruah. You have been an integral part of Assamese cinema when it was as its peak…

Ans: The period after Dr. Bezbaruah was really a very sweet period for me and I have fond memories of that era. The people showered their love and affection on me in abundance. No other heroes had come up at that time and I continued to do one film after the other. Then late Biju Phukan entered the industry. We both became very close and did a number of films together. Biju and I used to share our joys and sorrows together. I know that we all have to leave this world but he left us rather early. I really miss those days with him and that period in general.

  1. Out of all the films that you have done, which is the most memorable one for you?

Ans: It is very difficult to answer that question because every film is memorable. I try to be fully involvement in every film otherwise it does not come out well. From that viewpoint, since I have given my best to every film, each one of them is memorable. However, I have fond memories of working in late Jones Mahaliya’s Dooranir Rang (1979). I loved the character and the film was very sound technically.

  1. Do you feel that acting can be a career option for today’s youth?

Ans: This is a question I have been asked many times. When we started, there was hardly any infrastructure for films in Assam. My father agreed to send me to Pune to study films because he wanted me to learn about new trends in filmmaking. But at the same time, he wanted me to become a lawyer. So in the early days, it was very difficult to earn a livelihood through acting alone. But nowadays, a lot of new opportunities and avenues have come up through television serials and other formats. A lot of new films are being made. The mobile theatre is very vibrant today. So I feel that acting can be a viable career option for today’s youth.

  1. Your father was also a noted actor of his times. How was the environment in your family?

Ans: My family was deeply interested in the arts. My father was a prominent actor of his times; he even received the title of ‘Macha Konwar’. My mother was also a versatile singer. In fact, I developed an interest in acting while watching my father do rehearsals at home. My father’s friends late Phani Sharma and late Bishnu Rabha used to have animated discourses at our residence and their talks motivated me immensely. I used to mimic their antics and rehearsals and that is how I developed an interest towards acting. Later on, I performed in school and college plays and that passion remained intact.

  1. You have also performed in mobile theatres….

Ans: Yes, I spent almost five seasons in the mobile theatres. I grew up watching performances of the Ban Theatre near our house and somehow that interest made me perform in plays myself. I have performed in several mobile theatres like Kohinoor, Abahan, Hengul and Abahan and feel that they have helped me develop as an actor.

  1. Please tell us about a bit about your family.

Ans: My wife Ranjita Goswami passed away around one and half years back. She was the pillar of strength and support for me. She helped me become what I am today and it is because of her that I am still here today.

My son Siddhartha Goswami is a software engineer by profession and lives in Mumbai. But he is deeply interested in films and might soon take up a few film offers. He performed reasonably well in Mission China and has kept the family’s legacy in acting alive. His wife, Kinkini, is also an artist and is into acting.

 

Minoti Khaund: Creating a Legacy of Music

Recording with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

Minoti Khaund with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

A musical career spanning 50 years.. a single-minded devotion to Hindustani Classical music and its science and art… an instrument called the violin… one of the most difficult instruments to master… and weaving with the bow and strings a magical power to induce both happiness and tears with the same notes. That is the virtuosity of Minoti Khaund, the veteran violinist from Assam who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of Hindustani classic music and its promotion in the region.

A musician who has established her mettle as a specialist amongst her craft globally, she has been a staunch guide and supporter to hundreds of musicians who have come under her tutelage and who have carved a name of themselves in their own right. But she perhaps takes pride in the fact that she has managed to groom and lay a strong foundation for her own daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, who is presently earning critical acclaim across the globe through her mastery with the bow and fiddle.

Born in 1940, Minoti started playing the violin at the tender age of 10 years. Born to a musically enriched family in the music loving town of Jorhat in Upper Assam, she first expressed her desire to play with the fiddle to her maternal grandfather, Mr. Biswa Sarma, a noted connoisseur of the fine arts himself. Her grandfather could sense the passion in the girl child’s eyes and bought her a violin. This is when Minoti’s ethereal journey started with the violin and classical music began to encompass a rich musical career which has spanned more than 50 years now.

Initial Days

Reminiscing about those early days, she recounts, “My grandfather was the President of All Assam Music Conference – Jorhat chapter. Everyone in my family had a huge inclination towards music. We were exposed to a lot of music shows where maestros used to come and perform. That atmosphere helped me a lot in my career. I must have been eight or nine years old when I started my career in music. There was a music school in Jorhat run by Late Lokanath Sarma where children from well-established families used to come to learn music. We learned under the guidance of Indreswar Sarma.”

Her family’s deep rooted interest in music also helped her develop as a musician. As she says, “My mother wasn’t a musician, though, but she stood by me through thick and thin, to become my source of inspiration to pursue music. At that time, learning music wasn’t easy as teachers were not available and there weren’t many institutions as well. But my sister, Pronoti Khaund is a singer. My brother (who is no more) used to play tabla, flawlessly. The All Assam Music conference played a pivotal role in our lives for giving us abundant opportunities of performing in different platforms, and at the same time meeting the experts and learning from them. I can recall many instances when in the December month’s chilly nights, people used to sit all night long clad with their blankets to listen to music, until 6 am in the morning, with a lot of patience. It was highly motivational for us. I was already performing before marriage, for I was the only lady violinist in the town, perhaps in the whole of Assam. I got married at the age of eighteen.”

The turning point in her life came when she was performing at the All Assam Music Conference in 1972 and violin maestro Pt. V.G.Jog heard her on stage and offered to impart his art to Minoti.

Minoti, already a mother of two and the daughter-in-law of then Deputy Commissioner Rabindra Ram Khaund, agreed to this god sent opportunity and started her apprenticeship under Pt. Jog. Her husband Kabindra Ram Khaund and her family supported her completely in her journey seeing her thirst for music and devotion towards the violin.

Fifty Glorious Years in Music

Thereafter started the traditional Gururshisya Parampara between Minoti and Padma Vibhusahan Pt Jog. Minoti bloomed as a musician under Jog’s able guidance and the exposure of performing on live shows besides him. For Indian Classical Music this is the best way that a student of music can imbibe the nuances and intricacies of the science and the art of classical music, accompanying the guru and simultaneously building a rapport with the audience.

Acknowledging the huge role of her guruji in her life, Minoti says, “Getting opportunities of seeing the performances of noted violinists, and also performing with them, has played an integral role in my learning. When I used to go to Calcutta to learn under my guruji, he used to take me to various music conferences, and to meet various other gurus, to see and learn from them. I met A T Kana, vocalist (a maestro). We played vocal music, not in words, but with our fingers. Pt. Budhadeb Dasgupta, another noted musician, also shared his knowledge, and I could learn a lot from him and his gharaana. He was a very liberal person. And, he is the one who inspired me to learn from everything. He said that I should grab a piece of learning from everyone and everywhere, wherever there is something good to learn.”

The Rising Talent Conference at Kalamandir Calcutta in 1978 introduced Minoti as a talented artiste in front of the knowledgeable gurus and music hungry audience of Kolkata. There has been no looking back since then. The Amir Khan Music Conference at Rabindra Sadan Calcutta, Benaras, Burdwan, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Tatanagar, Rabindra Natya Mandir Mumbai, India International Center Delhi, Mehta Memorial Hall Allahabad, IIT Festival, Shankardev Kalakshetra Guwahati, National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai, India Habitat Centre Delhi, Women’s International Forum Goa, Kala Ghoda Fest, Mumbai, Nehru Centre London, Glasgow, Nehru Centre Mumbai, Madhusudhan Manch Kolkatta, Kameshwari festival, SAWF Sri Lanka, Ganga Mahotsav Varanasi, Sangeet Natak Academi, ITC SRA series, etc were some of the platforms that Minoti performed in and enthralled the audience and press alike. She became the foremost violinist of Assam and did her motherland proud, earning accolades by blending the tantrakari style of Pt Jog with her own inherent melody.

Innovations and Awards Galore

Minoti continued her parallel studies in the field of music and attained Sangeet Nipune from Prayag Sangeet Samitti, Allahabad, in 1986, bagging a gold medal for her Sangeet Visharad. During this period, she also got associated with vocalist Pt. A.T, Kanan of the Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkatta and imbibed the “gayaki ang” in her style. She also underwent music studies in the field of raga improvisations and rhythmic patterns of “tala” from sarod maestro and musicologist Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta. She became an empaneled Artist of ICCR, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in 1990.

Minoti’s new composition on Durga Shakti with her daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, “Invocation of Ma” has taken the mother daughter duo across the country and abroad. She was conferred the title of Sangeet Jyoti and was recently conferred the Shilpi Award by the Assam government for having completed 50 years as a violinist and music teacher. She also received the Lifetime Achievement in Music recently by the Paschim Guwahati Durga Mandir Trust recently. Besides, she brought glory to Assam when she received the Exceptional woman: Creating a Better World Award at the Women’s Economic Forum in 2018 and the R. G. Baruah Award for Excellence in her Craft in 2017.

Contribution to the Field of Music

All through her musical career, Minoti has been contributing towards society by propagating Classical Music amongst the youth and teaching the violin to the young and old alike. Her vast experience in the performing art and musical studies gives her the edge to impart music lessons on the violin with technically accurate systems and methods.

Pt Jog was so impressed with the way Minoti had groomed Sunita into the intricacies of the instrument that he also offered to train Sunita under him and thus carried on the “guru shisya parampara” across two generations of violinists. The mother and daughter have been currently performing jugalbandis together

Minoti currently is the visiting faculty of a reputed music college of Guwahati and is a panel examiner for music courses at the State College of Music and Art. She is currently focused on spreading the knowledge of music as a sublime recreation and frequently speaks in music forums and conducts workshops and seminars. She has also retained her penchant for writing and is a prolific writer of music columns and articles in journals and newspapers. Her endeavor has been to propagate music among today’s generation and make music a medium of achieving inner peace and harmony and thus spreading positive energy and harmony throughout the society.

When asked if she felt that her achievements in the field of music have not been acknowledged at par, Minoti Khaund, as a true musician, says that her inner satisfaction is paramount and that “no external titles” can deter her from her passion. “I have spent an entire lifetime in pursuit of music which has brought happiness to me from within. I am well aware of my own capabilities and I have crossed the stage when I have to look to others for approval.”

Encouraging Fusion, But a Purist at Heart

A purist at heart, Minoti Khaund has strived to keep the flag of classical music flying high. But she is also aware of the need for cultural evolution. She encourages today’s youth to experiment with different kinds of music as she believes that all melodies in the world centers around the 7 notes of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. However, she maintains that mastery in any kind of music can be attained only through the pursuit of classical music. This has been the content of many of her speeches and columns, which has inspired a large number of young people to learn classical music.

As she says, “We all have to evolve with the changing times. During my jugalbandi performances along with my daughter, while I encourage her daughter to go ahead and experiment with other genres, I myself stop after a certain point,” she says.