Category Archives: Day-to-Day
Some of my day-to-day reports, written over the past five years, randomly uploaded.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) today felicitated Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Academi Award winner Nrityacharya Sri Jatin Goswami at a function held in its Corporate Office at Guwahati. This was informed through a press release.
MD NRL Mr. S.K Barua conferred a citation, a memento and a cash reward of Rs. 1 lakh to the cultural doyen of Assam, who has with his whole hearted dedication and efforts brought Sattriya Dance to its present state of glory and reverence in the national and global stage.
Shri Goswami in his speech expressed his gratitude for the noble gesture on the part of NRL in honouring him and the dance form which is a manifestation of Assamese culture for centuries.
The above initiative is in line with NRL’s Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) policy which amongst others focusses on promoting Art, Literature, Culture and sports. NRL has been honouring eminent personalities in the field of art, literature and culture in the past including cultural icons of the stature of Late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Late Shri Rameshwar Pathak; Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta; Dipali Borthakur and Neelpawan Barua.
By Aiyushman Dutta
In the cultural world of Assam, his is a name which hardly needs an introduction. A man who is credited with ushering in a new wave in the world of theatre through incorporation of professional and modern techniques, he can rightfully be considered as a doyen as far as Assamese theatre is concerned. One of the first artists to have taken professional training in stage, film and television abroad in London, he is hugely responsible for the development of Assamese theatre as a whole. His immense contributions can be gauged from the fact that he had spearheaded Assamese theatre into a national movement when he launched the Asom Jatiya Natyasala Andolan Samiti in the mid-sixties.
But this soft-spoken and unassuming man, who has his feet firmly set on the ground, shies away from such lofty titles and epitaphs. Although in his eighties, he continues to pursue his passion for theatre and the arts, away from all the limelight and media-crazy crowd. You have guessed it right. We are talking about none other than Kulada Kumar Bhattacharjee – a cultural institution in himself. For over five decades now, Kulada Kumar Bhattacharjee has been silently working behind the scenes, shying away from all possible limelight, for the proper and successful propagation of histrionics in this region. Not just theatre, he has also established his name as one of Assam’s most successful directors, columnists and essayists.
Kulada Kumar Bhattacharjee’s immense contributions to the world of culture have been recognised in the form of numerous awards and citations. Prominent amongst them are the Tarun Duwarah Memorial Oil India Award, Nirode Chouhury Lifetime Achievement Award, token of appreciation by Jeewan Ram Mungi Devi Goenka Public Charitable Trust, Apsara Award, besides others.
I recently met him at his residence in Guwahati for a tete-a-tete where he talked about his life and journey in the world of theatre. Following are excerpts.
- At the beginning, please tell us about your childhood and your memories of growing up in Guwahati.
Ans: My father late Kali Prassanna Bhattacharjee was a lawyer by profession while my mother was a housewife. If he had been alive today, he would have been around 122 years old. I have two elder brothers and two younger sisters.
I have fond memories of growing up in Guwahati. The Guwahati of those days was totally different from what it is today. It was a very small town with a very small population. We stayed in Jaswanta Road of Panbazar. Although now that area has become famous for book stores, in those days there was only one book store i.e. Lawyers Book Store. On the other end of the area, there was a small school where I studied upto Class 2. But after the war broke out, we moved back to our native place in Sylhet. At that time, Sylhet was part of India and it was a district of Assam.
In 1946, we came back and matriculated from Paltan Bazar Bengali Girls High School. I did my BA from Cotton College and then took admission in Gauhati Universe for the MA course with honours in history. But frankly speaking, I took admission in GU only for the sake of it. I spent most of the time performing plays. I used to do plays in GU, for the ITPA and All India Radio. After that, I joined AIR as an English announcer.
2. You are among the very few from the State to take professional training in theatre abroad. Please tell us about your decision to go to London.
Ans: I had initially gone to Leeds to pursue a course in Business Managaement, which is called MBA nowadays. At first, my father was against my decision but I was insistent and he gave his support. But once I reached Leeds, I found that the course required high levels of proficiency in Mathematics. Since I was weak in the subject, I wrote to my father about my dilemma. He wrote back to me saying that since I have already gone, I should take up training in theatre. That was like a godsend opportunity and I immediately took admission in a theatre course for a diploma in stage technique course. After completing the course, I did a three weeks intensive training course in production design at the British Drama League.
I met some really good acquaintances during the course. At the same time, I worked as a salesman in a bookstore. During the same period, I got the opportunity to assist the professional in charge of the Bengali section of BBC. I would assist him for the Friday broadcast in Bengali and that way, I did not face any shortage of money and also gained experience.
During that period, I got the news that the Indian government was about to start television and were on the lookout for announcers. I applied for the same but did not get any response. I then decided to take training in television production so that I could get a job back home in India. A German family with whom I was close suggested I go to Hamburg where their relative worked in a television centre. So in 1960, I went to Hamburg in Germany and started my training in a television centre. During that period, I learnt a lot about television production. In January, 1961, I came back to India.
3. You worked in Delhi for a short while.
Ans: Once I was back, I found that television had limited reach. I worked with an English theatre group in Delhi. One of my friends whom I had met in London introduced me to the assistant station director of All India Radio. So I got assignments there as well. I also did the Bengali recording for the Voice of America broadcasts during that period.
By that time, I had got a job in All India Radio where I had applied. So I decided to come back. My elder brother told me to stay back in Delhi since I would get more opportunities there. But I insisted saying that whatever I do back home will be my contribution to my State and my people.
4. So when did you join All India Radio, Guwahati? You brought about a revolution in radio production during your stint.
Ans: I joined AIR as Producer-in-Charge (Drama) in December, 1962. During my tenure, I developed very close rapport with three friends – Durgeswar Borthakur, late Arun Sarma and late Bhabendranath Saikia. Since I was in charge of the plays department and they would bring in plays, we became very close with each and developed a strong sense of bonding.
In fact, it was a play written by Arun Sarma, in which I had acted and produced, that revolutionised the functioning of AIR. That particular play, Parsuram, brought in a revolution in the manner in which radio plays are produced. That new trend is still continuing today. I am happy that during my tenure I was able to rope in a lot of new playwrights and start new shows in attractive formats. In addition to plays suitable for the medium, I revived a number of classic Assamese stage plays and introduced a regular forum for world classics in their stage format called the ‘Naat Chora’. I produced the translations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sudraka’s Mrichchhakatikam in their entirety for the Guwahati station of AIR.
I could not continue my contract with AIR as the work system interfered with my principles. After I left, I once again joined Arun Sarma and other friends to form the Asom Jatiya Natyasala Andolan Samiti. Lakshyadhar Choudhury was elected as the president while I was the general secretary. We would travel across the entire State garnering support for the cause of regional theatre.
5 You have created a special corner in the hearts of the people through some fantastic performances in television and films. Can you please recount the popular serials and films that you have been part of?
Ans: The films I have acted in include Shakuntala, Latighati, Chikmik Bijulee, Prabhati Pakhir Gaan, Bhagya, Ramdhenu, Surjasta, Dickchow Bonot Palas and Maj Rati Keteki. Some of the popular serials are Deuta, Jeevanar Batat, Aei Saharate, Papu Niku Sangbad, Tejal Ghora and Trikaal.
6. What are your views on the current trend of theatre and films in the State?
Ans: A lot of new directors have come up who holds a lot of promise. I find Reema Das to be very promising. I acted in her film, Village Rockstars, which is currently earning a lot of acclaim in film festivals. Then I would like to mention about Reema Borah. Her film, Bokul, is also very encouraging. So overall, I find the scenario to be very positive and promising.
(First published in melange on January 28, 2018)
A unique folk fusion album, Rajabasa, was recently released at the Guwahati Press Club. The album is a collaborative effort of Karbi folk fusion band Jambili and singer Rajlakshi Bora. The album features a beautiful fusion of Dimasa folk songs with Karbi folk tunes.
Photo courtesy: Hafiz Ahmed
Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI)-produced Assamese feature film “ishu” and Subimal Bhattacharjee-produced 2nd World War documentary “Memories of a Forgotten War”, both directed by Utpal Borpujari, continue to make Assam’s film industry proud.
“Ishu”, the debut fiction feature by National Award-winning film critic-filmkaer Borpujari, has been selected in competition sections of 11th International Children’s Film Festival Bangladesh to be held from January 27 and the 6th Toulouse Indian Film Festival, France, to be held in April.
On the other hand, “Memories of a Forgotten War” will have a special screening at the 15th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), India’s biggest festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films.
Adapted from Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s novel of the same name, “Ishu” has earned wholesome praise from viewers at Canada Kids Film Festival, 23rd Kolkata International Film Festival (where it received Best Film and Best Director nominations in the Indian Languages competition), 3rd Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY) New Delhi and 3rd Eye Asian Film Festival Mumbai. It was also screened at the 10th International Guwahati Film Festival organised by the Gauhati Cine Club.
“Memories of a Forgotten War” too has been appreciated for its in-depth research and depiction of the lesser-known events during the battles of 2nd World War in Manipur and Nagaland by viewers at the prestigious Indian Panorama sections of the 47th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) Goa, the Normandie 2nd World War Film Festival in France, the Fragrances of the North East Film Festival in Pune and the 5th Woodpecker International Film Festival in New Delhi where it won the Best Film on North East India award.
“it’s a great honour that both the films are simultaneously travellng to prestigious film festivals. As someone who strongly believes in depicting untold stories from North East India cinematically, I feel highly encouraged about it,” says Borpujari.
Noted defence analyst and cyber security expert Subimal Bhattacharjee, the producer of “Memories of a Forgotten War” too is elated at the selection of the film in MIFF. “It’s great that the two major reasons we made the film for are getting appreciated: one, it’s an important part of the history of Northeastern India that needed to be looked at from humanistic point of view before it faded away and too late, and two, that as someone hailing from the region, I feel strongly about bringing out positive narratives from Northeastern India that is often in the news for the wrong reasons,” he says.
Incidentally, “Ishu” marks the screen debut of Kapil Garo from Sonapur Baroghoria village on the outskirts of Guwahati in the title role, and also stars Bishnu Kharghoria, Tonthoingambi Leishangthem Devi, Chetana Das, Pratibha Choudhury, Monuj Borkotoky, Dipika Deka and Nibedita Bharali. Others in the cast include Mahendra Das, Rajesh Bhuyan, Naba Kumar Baruah, Monuj Gogoi, etc. Other child actors in the film include Mahendra Rabha, Srabanta Rabha and Uday Rabha.
Several actors from the Badungduppa Kala Kendra of famed theatre personality Sukracharjya Rabha have also acted in the film, including Dhananjay Rabha and Basanta Rabha. Sukracharjya Rabha has penned the dialogues along with Borpujari.
The film has been edited by A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia. The cinematographer is Sumon Dowerah, while other prominent crew members are JItendra Mishra (executive producer), Hengul Medhi (final sound mixing), Monjul Baruah (associate director), Homen Borah (production manager), Golok Saha (art director), Rani Dutta Baruah (costumes) and Achitabh (Shanku) Baruah (make up). The assistant directors of the film were Ghanshyam Kalita, Ronal Hussain and Monuj Borkotoky.
The film takes a look at the inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’ that is prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, through they eyes of an innocent child whose favourite aunt is branded as a ‘witch’ by the evil village “Bej” (quack) who conspires with another aunt to do so.
On the other hand, “Memorie of a Forgotten War” depicts the extreme valour, sacrifice and sufferings of thousands of soldiers and local people in the Northeast Indian theatre of World War II. The film brings the story alive through reminiscences of a number of war veterans from Japan, Britain and India as well as war witnesses from Manipur and Nagaland, where some of the most ferocious battles of World War II took place during 1944 climaxing with the famous Battle of Kohima.
The film was shot in Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi as well Japan and the UK by a multinational crew. Its background score is by Anurag Saikia.
“Ishu” trailer link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mf7gLpg9qc
“Memories of a Forgotten War” trailer link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw78ftewbmQ
In conversation with eminent Assamese Tokari and Dehabisar Geet exponent Umakanta Bairagi
By Aiyushman Dutta
(First published in melange, Nov 27, 2017)
Whenever we talk of Tokari Geet or Dehabisar Geet, the first name which comes to mind is none other than Umakanta Bairagi. In a career that spans around fifty long years, Umakanta Bairagi has achieved eminence as the foremost performer of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet. A man who has performed throughout the country, he has spent an entire lifetime striving to popularise this ancient oral folk tradition of Assam through his performances, books and recordings.
Umakanta Bairagi was groomed in the traditional Tokari Geet and Dehabichar Geet tradition of Assam by his father Kanakeswar Gogoi. He began presenting the art initially on religious occasions and then on public stages. An institution in himself, he has been performing on All India Radio, Dibrugarh station regularly since 1969, and has later sung from the Dibrugarh and Guwahati stations of Doordarshan.
Not just performances, Umakanta Bairagi has also taken on the responsibility of documenting this centuries-old tradition for posterity. He has to his credit a large number of audio recordings of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet besides compiling two books on the same. He has also trained a number of students over the years and has established an institution for that purpose in Guwahati, ‘Kanakeswar Gogoi Memorial Dehabichar/Tokari Geet Prashikshan Kendra’, which has been named after his father.
Shri Umakanta Bairagi has been honoured for his work by various institutions in Assam. He was bestowed the title Bairagi by All India Radio, Dibrugarh, in 1971. But the foremost honour was when he received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his contribution to the Tokari and Dehabichar Geet of Assam.
I recently met the veteran artist in his residence at Guwahati to talk about his journey with Tokari Geet/ Dehabichar Geet. Following are excerpts.
Q. Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
Ans: I was born in Chaulkhora village of Khowang subdivision in Dibrugarh district in 1954. Our house was in a deeply forested area and I was born and brought up there. My father Kanekeswar Gogoi used to do odd businesses for our livelihood. I grew up along with five other brothers and sisters.
Since we stayed in a very remote area, it was difficult for us to go to school. Somehow, with a lot of difficulty, we managed to complete our Lower Primary schooling and also two classes of MP School. That however was the end of my formal education.
Q. How did you get interested in Tokari and Dehabichar Geet?
Ans: I have always been fascinated by the Tokari as an instrument. When I was a child, my father used to play the instrument but only after we slept. So on the pretext of sleeping, I used to listen to him play the Tokari instrument and sing Dehabichar geets. Dehabichar geet is a form of spiritual discourse carried out in the form of songs and which is accompanied by the Tokari. I used to love listening to these songs and also to the sound of the Tokari. I have never had a guru in life and I am an entirely self-taught artist.
When I was very young, a local MLA had come to visit our village and my grandfather had taught me two songs to sing in front of him. That was the first time I sang in public. But after that, nothing much happened as far as my singing career was concerned.
when I got married, I decided to learn the Tokari instrument on the sly. Once when my father left for a business trip, I used to play his instrument on the sly. You can say that just like Eklavya, I learnt the Tokari by stealing. So once, during a 6 day stretch when I continuously played the Tokari, I learnt how to play the instrument.
After learning how to play the Tokari, I and my friends would roam around the villages in the evening, visiting different households and playing in front of them for some tea and til or tekeli pitha.
Q. How did your tryst with the radio start?
Ans: In the year 1968, the Dibrugarh station of All India Radio had announced an audition for Tokari artists. One of my friends had applied for the audition and I had gone along with him. When his turn came, he could not play even a single song, out of the 15 songs that were asked to him, in front of the interview panel. I felt very bad because he should have been able to play at least one song.
I approached the station director and asked him if I could participate too. He made me fill up a form and accordingly after three months, a call letter came to my house. When I went for my audition, the interviewers did not let me finish even the first song, and said that I would definitely be hearing from them.
I did hear from them and they called me to record four songs. I cannot express my happiness at that moment. The four songs were aired at 4 pm in the month of January and I felt fortunate that I was able to sing my own composed songs in front of the people of the entire State. I counted my blessings and thanked god for making me, a person who sang for pithas, capable enough to sing in the radio.
From 1971 onwards, I become a regular artist of All India Radio and I continue to perform even today.
Q. You have been performing in different stages across the country. Do you remember how many songs you have composed and performed till now?
Ans: I have lost count of the number of performances but till now, I have composed around 775 Dehabichar Geets. All the songs are spiritual in nature or based on the story of Krishna or the Ram-Leela. In some of the songs, I question our own spiritual existence – why we were born, what is the purpose of our existence, and the like. They are sort of self-introspective in nature.
Q. Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Srimanta Sankardev. Please tell us about your efforts in documenting this centuries-old oral tradition.
Ans: Like you said, Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Sankardev. It did not exist in written form and the earlier practitioners did not think about writing it down. But although an oral tradition, a lot of changes has creeped into this tradition once we entered the Xankari era. In the songs of yesteryears, there used to be no mention of God but nowadays, it is mandatory to at least mention the name of one single God out of all the different gods we have.
I have taken the initiative to document and compile around 150-200 age-old songs and their meanings in the form of two books which I wrote in 2008. I was fortunate enough to receive the support of the central government under their “documentation/ preservation of cultural and traditional heritage” scheme. The government official was very supportive in my endeavour and I was able to record many ancient songs – right from my grandfathers’ times. Now there are around 400-500 songs of the present day period which I have not been able to record till now.
Q. Please tell us about your first audio cassette recording.
Ans: In 1985, I recorded an audio cassette, ‘Brindrabon’, in Jyoti Chitrabon. The recording was made possible with the support of Suresh Phukan, who was a folklorist and professor of Assamese in Joysagar College. ‘Brindabon’ was the first audio cassette of Tokari geets to be released in Assam. After ‘Brindabon’, I released another audio casette on Tokari geet, ‘Mathura’, and that was also produced by Suresh Phukan. Later on, Rubul Bora produced two of my other audio cassettes on Tokari geet like ‘Amiya Madhuri’ and ‘Porom Guru’.
Q. How many cassettes and recordings have you made till now?
Ans: Till now, I have produced around 6 audio cassettes and one audio CD. But I still have a lot of my songs which are yet to be recorded.
Q. Nowadays a lot of artistes are using the Tokari to create fusion songs. What are your views on this issue?
Ans: Nowadays, a lot of people are doing fusion music with the Tokari and Dehabisar geet. I personally believe that they should not do such kinds of fusion. Dehabichar geet is not for entertainment, it is not some kind of Bihugeet; it is more of a spiritual discourse that is needed for the wellbeing of the mind and body.
I feel this kind of fusion should stop because if it continues, the future generations will not be able to comprehend the real or true nature of Tokari and Dehabisar Geet. Many people are approaching me to accompany them on fusion tracks. But I have been refusing them all. I will not leave the Tokari to sing or play any other instrument or song.
Q. You have performed in a lot of places outside the Sate. How do people outside receive your songs and music?
Ans: Besides Assam and the Northeast, I have performed in various parts of the country, like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kolkata, etc. I have felt that people outside really appreciate our songs and performances. I remember one show in Haryana, especially, where young women and girls broke out in dance after hearing our songs. They later came and felicitated us on stage. That was one memorable performance we did.
Q. Do you feel that the upcoming generations will continue to embrace the tradition of Tukari Geets?
Ans: From whatever I have learnt after years of teaching, I feel that the Tokari and Dehabisari tradition will continue in the days to come. I say this because nowadays I find a lot of young people interested in this tradition. In our days, only old people used to sing Dehabisar Geets but nowadays, I find even bachelors coming forward to learn and perform these songs. The Tokari and Dehabichar geets are presently being performed on stage as well as aired on the radio and television. As such, I feel that the new generation will indeed embrace Tokari geets in the days to come.
Q. You have been bestowed with one of India’s highest honours in the form of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. How do you feel at receiving such a big honour?
Ans: I received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2013. It was like a surreal feeling for me. There is an interesting story as to how I received the news of the award. When they announced my name on the TV, I was in a nursing home in Guwahati for some minor illness. The nurse was about to serve me food when the news broke out on TV. I did not know whether the news was true or not. Only later on when my family also verified the news, I realised that it was true. I feel thankful for receiving such a big honour and it has given me the much-needed impetus to carry on with my work.
In conversation with veteran photographer and eminent design engineer Dr. Vikramjit Kakati
By Aiyushman Dutta
(Published in melange, Dec 10, 2018)
Many of us would know immediately recognise him as being one of the most brilliant photographers of the region. A doctorate degree holder in engineering design from the prestigious IIT-Guwahati, a PADI-certified Scuba Diver, Chartered Engineer besides being a photojournalist of repute, Vikramjit Kakati is a name which hardly needs an introduction in our regional circles. And although he has his made his mark amply in diverse fields such as engineering design, chartered accountancy as well as photography, he is more content and happy to be identified as the father of google.
While many would be curious to know about his relationship with the internet giant – google, here’s another surprise for you. For this multifaceted personality, Google is none other than his son, Google Kakati, whom he dotes upon, and not the internet software giant.
This decision to nomenclature his son as ‘google’ is just one of the many surprising facets which describe Vikramjit Kakati – a highly creative individual who is always on the lookout to present a different view of things. He is a man who is in a perpetual search for drama in his photographs as well as other facets of his life. A celebrated photographer and an eminent design engineer, Vikramjit Kakati is truly a man of many surprises.
I recently caught up with the ace photographer and design engineer to know more about his life and journey in the world of photography. Following are excerpts.
Q. At the beginning, let us talk about your family and childhood. Please share your childhood memories with us.
Ans: I come from a very old family of Guwahati which served as accountants (Kakati) to the Barphukans (Ahom Generals). In the earlier days, we lived in the area where the present day Old DC Bungalow is located at Panbazar. In those days, that area used to house the quarters of the Barphukans. Later on, we shifted to our own place in Tokobari and thereafter to Bhangarh where I live now. My father worked as a magistrate. As informed by my father, I was born in 1971 in Goalpara where my father was posted.
While I did my initial schooling in Lakhinath Bezbaruah Sishu Bhawan, Sibsagar, I passed my matriculation examination from Don Bosco High School, Guwahati in 1987. After that, I joined B Barooah College and then joined the Jorhat Engineering College to become a mechanical engineer. I passed out from JEC in 1995 and after a year or so, I worked in the Indian Railways where I worked till 2007. After that, I worked for a short while in the Indian Oil Tanking. During the time I was in IOT, I gave the Ph.D entrance examination for IIT. I was selected for the Ph.D. course in IIT which I completed recently. I am now working as an Associate Professor and Administrative Officer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, School of Technology at Assam Don Bosco University.
Q. How did you get involved into the world of designs?
Ans: I have always been interested in the world of art. From childhood, I realised that it was important to be different from the rest, to do the same normal things but from a different perspective. From JEC, I had a junior Dr. Buljit Buragohain who also did his P.hD from IIT. He introduced me to the design department of IIT. Before that, I was not aware of its existence.
I went to IIT-Guwahati’s design department and found its philosophy to be quite different. This department is one of the best in the world and students from all across Europe, Middle East and elsewhere come here for further studies. I have qualified in the IIT selection process and joined the design department.
I had based my P.hD subject on a social media topic but my pathfinder cum Ph.D. supervisor, Prof Amarendra Kumar Das, a veteran scientist and who is the inventor of Dip Bahan rickshaws, then head of department of Design, IIT instead asked me to work on the socio-economic aspects of design. Prof. Das has suggested me to design and innovate a machine which would help reduce losses in tea gardens of Assam due to non-availability of physical resources. So under the guidance of Prof. Das, I developed such a model. I am also working in the field of rapid prototyping and mechatronics, which are fast developing fields.
Q. You are a respected photographer. How did you get interested in photography?
Ans: My father played the key role in developing my interest in photography. I remember taking my first photo when I was just around 6-7 years old. The photo was that of the gate of the Assam State Zoo. My father had brought a AGFA CLICK 3 camera which was a legendary camera during those days. He insisted that I shoot photos with it and looking back, he was the first person who influenced me to study photography.
Then in Engineering College, I was lucky to meet a few individuals who helped hone and nurture my photography skills. I met Prasad Chakraborty, who was in Assam Agriculture University, and who taught me the nuances of SLR cameras. DSLR cameras had not come up at that time. Then we had a teacher, Gautam Hazarika, who owned a Russian-model SLR camera. He used to give me the camera to practice and take photos.
The seeds of photojournalism were sown deep in mind right from a very early age. I am one of the very few photojournalists who still have a photograph of Prafulla Mahanta’s signature while accepting the Chief Ministership post in 1885.
Then again, when it comes to non-news photography, the concepts of creativity and innovation have also been deeply instilled in my mind. As I said, right from my childhood days, I wanted to do things in a different way. The same desire to things differently also reflected in my photography as well. For instance, probably I am the first photographer to have shot the light trail of GS Road. After that, many photographers have taken the same photo. I will always remain thankful to Mr. Utpal Baruah of UB Photos for providing me a launching platform.
Q. Your photographs have a lot of drama. How important is drama in photography for you?
Ans: I feel drama is the soul of photojournalism. A photographs needs to have drama to make even a normal thing look outstanding. Many photographers talk about right framing, composition, etc being the pre-requisites for a good photograph. However, I feel that for a photographer it is very important to have a good Point of View (POV). POV is very important if we want to create drama in a photograph. Mr Manash Jyoti Dutta of Sivsagar & a correspondent of UB Photos taught me about importance of point of view (POV) in News Photography.
Q. How do you manage to find out time for photography amidst your hectic work schedule and all your diverse roles?
Ans: Every people has time to do what he or she wants if he knows how to manage time properly. Those who complain about not having time are the ones who are superficial and those wanting to do a sloppy job. These are the same people who take up 10 jobs but cannot complete even one of them properly.
In any case, suppose I work for 10 hours in my office and sleep for another 6 hours. I still have 8 hours left for photography. And if I can visualise my subject well, even a single hour is sufficient for photography.
Q. Please tell us about the present scenario of photography in Assam.
Ans: At present, there are a lot of photographers in Assam. But I find very few innovative photographers among them all. Every day we get to see thousands of photos being shared on Facebook, Instagram and other social networking sites, but we come across very few memorable photos, pictures that remain with us long after we have seen them.
I feel that our photographers are getting stereo-typed. Nowadays, there is a trend of wedding photography and one will find a lot of photographers working in this field. But I feel that the saturation point has been reached.
Another thing that I would like to point out is the importance of contributing to stock photography. It is very important to contribute to stock photography platforms if one wants to generate revenue from their photographs. Our photographers do not contribute to stock photography platforms. To them, I would like to say that just sharing on Facebook is not enough; you have to think about how to generate revenue from the same.
Overall, I feel that a lot of maturity and entrepreneurship skills are needed for the present generation of photographers if they want to develop and progress in their field.
Q. What do you feel is more important to become a successful photographer – creativity or technical equipment?
Ans: You will need both. If your equipment is not proper, a lot of problems come up. Along with a good point of view, you also need good gear. For instance, I use a wide lens (10-22 mm) most of the time when I want to create drama in a photo. The drama which this lens can create cannot be achieved by a normal 18-55 lens. Just like you cannot win the Formula 1 race with a broken down 800cc car, you cannot achieve quality photographs without good equipment. Sometimes one may get good photographs though mobile phone cameras. But that is accidental and happens only once in hundred times.
You have to spend money. Only talent is not enough. You need some gear to showcase your talent.
Q. What is your advice to upcoming photographers?
Ans: My first advice to upcoming photographers would be to drop your egos. Ego is of no use and nobody has ever been able to rise with ego.
Secondly, photographers have to search for stock photography. We have so many varieties of plants and insects. If these can be given to stock photography, monthly one can earn a good amount as revenue. Nowadays with the help of internet, you can sell your photos to customers in any place of the world. I sincerely believe that one has to take advantage of the internet instead of wasting time chatting on Facebook.
Third, think from the other side. It is always important to think from a different POV if you want to achieve good results in photography. There is no point in having a normal POV. If one wants to be memorable, he or she needs to have a different perspective.
Q. What are your views on photojournalism as a profession?
Ans: I feel that photojournalism is very challenging as a profession. But if you are in Assam, it is better not to become a photojournalist as you will not be able to earn much from it. Unless you work for an international photo agency and you are based in Assam, photojournalism is not exactly a rewarding job profession as such in context to Assam.