Category Archives: Day-to-Day
Some of my day-to-day reports, written over the past five years, randomly uploaded.
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
Interview by Aiyshman Dutta
First published in melange, The Sentinel (www.sentinelassam,com) on January 21, 2018
Is it luck that shapes a person’s destiny or is it hard work, dedication and perseverance that ultimately count? While luck and divine grace all have their roles to play, the fact remains that success comes to only those who believe in themselves and their dreams. And who proves this better than eminent Assamese engineer Arvind Phukan? An unassuming visionary person, he has travelled across the seven seas to today be counted as an authority in frozen ground engineering.
Arvind Phukan is an author and co-author of five Engineering books in the field of Geotechnical Engineering in Cold Regions, including the first text book of its kind, ‘Frozen Ground Engineering’, published by Prentice Hall Inc. in 1985. He had published 60+ technical publications and 100+ presentations at International and National Engineering Society’s meetings. He was consultant to many countries including USA, Canada, Norway, Japan, Russia, Lithuania and India.
Phukan was one of the main design engineers hired by Woodward Clyde Consultant, California (USA) to design the Alyeska 800 miles-long Oil pipe line in Alaska, which was the largest privately owned project (7 Billion Dollars) in the world. A legend in the field of frozen engineering, Phukan has also developed a portable machine for soil drilling and sampling that helps engineers create cost effective specific design for arctic foundations and water and sewer system etc.
The recipient of many awards and recognitions, Phukan was a member of the US Delegation to Leningrad, USSR for the joint USA/USSR seminar, “Building under Cold Climate” (1979)”, Scientific Fellow Scholarship, Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (1981), Fulbright Scholarship to India (1988-89), amongst others. He received the title of Doctor of Science and Technology, D.Sc (Honorary) by Down Town University, Guwahati in September, 2015. A dedicated Rotarian, he received its highest honour, the Service Above Self Award, in 2015.
Receiving the title of Doctor of Science and Technology, D.Sc (Honorary) by Down Town University, Guwahati in September, 2015 from the Governor of Assam
I recently entered into a conversation with him. Following are excerpts.
Q. Please tell us about your childhood and education.
Ans: I was born in Gauhati but after one year of my birth, my father late Hari Prasanna Tamuly Phukan was transferred to Jorhat where we lived for two years. He was well known educationist at that time, having authored nine books on different subjects. After Jorhat, we moved to Dhubri where I went to both elementary and high schools (up to 7th grade) as we lived there for five years. We moved to Tezpur City when I was in eighth grade in the Dhubri High School. As dad was promoted as Inspector of Schools, Upper Assam, we moved to Jorhat after a year stay at Tezpur. So, I did my ninth and tenth grades at Jorhat high school.
All my classmates and teachers expected that I would achieve a high position, “Rank” (Top Ten), at the matriculation examination in 1954. The most disappointing result came as I didn’t get the expected position. I got the first division with letters and missed the rank by a few marks. My father was not happy with my result and he allowed me to study further in Cotton College only on the condition that I give up playing both cricket and football games.
I was admitted to the Cotton College and second Mess hostel in 1954. I completed my college life from Cotton College in 1956 and passed the I.Sc. with distinctions which helped me to get the admission for the Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree at Banaras Engineering College (BENCO), Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Banaras (UP).
Q. Do you remember your life at BENCO?
Ans: Life in BENCO was very busy from the beginning, as I had to study hard for the freshman year to get acquainted with various subjects. I was told that most of the past Assamese students (90%) failed in the freshman year. After a successful freshman year, I took “table tennis” and tennis as my prime sports for the second year. I played for the BENCO tennis team and did participate in tournaments with various colleges. In April, 1960, I successfully completed the Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) in Civil Engineering at BENCO.
Q. You are a legend when it comes to engineering. How did you get interested in frozen or geotechnical engineering given the fact that you hail from Assam where there is no snowfall?
Ans: After graduation, I joined the Assam State Electricity Board (ASEB), Shillong as Assistant Engineer position to work on the Dam Construction project located in Barapani, about 30 miles from Shillong). I did the feasibility study to build a concrete gravity dam in three different sites with topographic survey as well as drilling and sampling of soils and rocks. Based on this study, the most suitable site was selected and a preliminary design was produced which was approved by the Central Water Power Commission. In January, 1962, I was selected by the Chief Engineer of ASEB to join a team of 22 experienced Engineers selected from other States for the training in Bhakra Dam, Punjab and Nagarjunsagar Dam, Hyderabad for two months. This training and knowledge helped me to place consolidation grouting of the Barapani dam foundation through a contractor. The dam was completed on time in January 1964.
I got interested in the foundation engineering or Geotechnical Engineering after my design and construction experience on the Barapani dam for about 4 years. After the dam was completed, I was selected by the Chief Engineer, ASEB to do my Post-graduate study in Hydro-Power and River Structure in U.K with one-year scholarship (Full pay as SDO). I applied to the Imperial College of Science and Technology after I was selected for the scholarship in August, 1964.
Q. When did you go to London?
Ans: I traveled to London in September, 1964 to study the Hydro-power and River Structure course to obtain a Diploma of Imperial College (D.I.C), Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London, U.K. After six months of classes, I was part of a group of 20 post-graduate students sent to Scotland under Prof. Charles Jaeger to study various low head hydro-electric projects. We had three months to submit our report/thesis on the project site’s visit to get our D,I.C Degree. Prof. Charles Jaeger reviewed all our theses after one month of our submission and called me to say that I wrote the best theses. Then, he offered me an Imperial College scholarship for three years to go for Ph.D in Rock Mechanics. That was a major turning point in my life.
After a long discussion regarding my research works related to the behavior of rock under stress (Rock Mechanics/Geotechnical Engineering which was a new field of Civil Engineering at that time) with Prof. Jaeger, I started my laboratory testing of rock samples received from the Kapilly Project, ASEB and the London consulting firm for a period of six months. Suddenly, I had to stop my laboratory work as Prof. Jaeger became very sick and he died of heart attack. That was one of my greatest sadness in my life. Immediately, the Head of the Civil Engineering Department of Imperial College appointed Prof. Norman Morgenstern to replace Prof. Jaeger as my supervisor.
After a long meeting, Prof Morgenstern changed my research program to numerical analysis in place of laboratory study so that I could complete the Degree within three years period of my scholarship. On June 5, 1967, he asked me to prepare the thesis and we decided the title of my thesis would be “Non-linear Deformation of Rocks”. After two drafts reviewed by Prof. Morgenstern, I submitted my thesis on Dec. 15, 1967. Then, I successfully defended my thesis to receive approval from the external examiner as well as the internal examiner on December 22, 1967.
I was fortunate to receive an offer for the Post-Doctorate fellowship from the School of Engineering, Laval University Quebec (Canada) through my Professor. That was another big decision for me. I moved to Quebec City on January 3, 1968 to work on the Post-doctorate research for one year which was further extension of my Ph.D work on the application of the numerical analysis on the study of slope stability of natural slopes for various soil conditions. After completion of the post-doctorate research, I had published two papers at the Geotechnical Conferences held in Berkly, CA (USA) and Montreal, Canada in 1969.
I met Dr. Golder, Owner and Principal of Golder & Associates, Toronto at the Montreal conference in January1969 and he was very pleased with my presentation. He verbally offered me a Consulting Engineering position with his Company in Toronto. I replied that I could accept his offer provided he allows me to join them in the month of February after my visit to Assam to see my parents. He agreed and I end up working directly with Dr. Golder on various projects involving design of foundations of structures, slope Stability analysis, water and sewer pipeline etc. on unfrozen and frozen soils (Permafrost) conditions. Prof. Morgenstern also moved back to Canada as Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Edingburg, Alberta. We formed a team of experts with Dr.Golder, Prof. Morgenstern and myself in the field of Geotechnical Engineering on cold regions and Permafrost Engineering and we worked together on various projects located in the northern regions of Canada. This Canadian experience (for about six years) made me an expert in the field of Permafrost Engineering (Frozen) as well as unfrozen sub-soil conditions. I never thought that a guy coming from Assam where there is no frozen soils and snow fall will become an expert in the field of Cold Regions Engineering,
Q. What do you feel is needed for the development of scientific temperament amongst the young people of Assam?
Ans: We have a major problem in terms of “Theory to Practice” in the field of science and Engineering educational system in Assam. All educational Institutions are geared for mainly “teaching” for teaching sake. There are hardly any practical research initiated by the Professors or the Colleges which will bring new dimensions in the student’s mind for new innovations in their field of learning or better design and construction of infrastructures. In addition, all young people need to concentrate on their “strength” on a particular knowledge or field and they should not waste time with their weakness.
Q: As an engineer, do you feel that the erosion problem of Majuli can be solved?
Ans: Being a civil engineer with 50+ years of experience, I strongly feel that the erosion problem of Majuli can be solved with the design and construction of appropriate sustainable measures that include best technology.
Q. As a Rotarian, you have showed the importance of serving others. Please tell us about your journey through Rotary:
Ans: My journey with Rotary started in January, 1981 when I became a Rotarian at the Rotary Club of University of Alaska, Fairbanks. But I failed to keep my membership in the club as we went to Oslo. In August, 1982, we moved back to Anchorage when I joined as a Full Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Alaska, Anchorage. Due to new position and very teaching loads, I could not join any Rotary club in Anchorage. All clubs in Anchorage met during Breakfast and lunch time. To make it more convenient, we (20 of us with different professional jobs) started a new evening Rotary Club, named Anchorage Mid-Town Rotary Club in August, 1986. Initially, I was the Director of International services and Foundation chair. Then, I became President of the Club in 2093-94. Though our club was small (30 members), we were very active in various projects including construction of rams for the poor disable people and adopted a road to maintain clean etc.
In 2002, I became the District 5010 Governor. Our District included Alaska, USA; Yukon Territory, Canada and Siberia and far East, Russia with eleven time Zones. It was largest District in the Rotary World. It took me six months to visit all 73 clubs included in the District. I was very active in raising funds from each Rotary club and encouraging each club to do community as well as international project. During my term as a District Governor, I did a check dam project to supply water to 30,000 people in Jowai, Meghalaya State and an eye operation theater project at Gauhati Medical College. I was recognized for surpassing annual fundraising goals from the Rotary Foundation.
After completion of my term as District Governor (DG), I became Past District Governor (PDG) in 2003 and I was appointed by the President of Rotary International as Zone 22 water Resources Coordinator 2004-05. I helped various Rotary clubs to do water and sanitation projects in the rural poor communities in India, Thailand and Africa. I received the District award in 2004-05 for my services.
After retirement in 2007, we moved to Tacoma, Washington State and I joined the Rotary Club of Tacoma. I also became a chartered member of Water and Sanitation, Rotary action Group (Wasrag) in 2008 and I was elected from North America as Director for two terms from 2008 to 2014. I was instrumental in helping many Rotary clubs to do water and sanitation projects in schools in Africa and India, including Nalbari, Assam where arsenic free clean and safe water was supplied to 17 schools with a population of 17,000 students. I received many awards from various Districts and clubs including “Rotarian of the Year” in our Tacoma Club. In 2015, I received the “Service Above Self” award from the Rotary International Board of Directors.
Q. Do you feel that the present generation of Assamese is at par with their counterparts in other parts of the world?
Ans: The present generation of Assamese is slowly coming at par with their counterparts in other parts of the world in the field of Internet technology. As there are no major industries in Assam, the younger educated generation are living outside the State. So Assam has a brain drain of educated young generation. The only way you can stop the migration of the younger generation is improvements in the economic condition of Assam – be it through industry, foreign investment and opportunity to create business, etc. The Government of Assam does not have a blue print as to how they can generate sufficient electricity for major industries in Assam. Even chronic flood and erosion of the Brahmaputra are causing major disaster in the agricultural land and rural communities. The Government has to produce comprehensive plans phase-wise so that the young generation of Assam will not migrate to other place outside of Assam.
Q. What are you presently working on?
Ans: I am writing my autobiography which will be completed by July, 2018.
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.
By Aiyushman Dutta
The Singphos, one of the most ancient tribes of this region which boasts of a glorious heritage and tradition, are found scattered across the hills of Arunachal Pradesh and plans of Assam. A hilly tribe of Mongoloid origin which traces their ancestry of the Kachin State of Myanmar, the Singphos have a glorious story to tell about their deep-rooted association with greater Assamese society in all aspects – be it economical, social or cultural.
As noted by eminent writer Dr. Anima Guha in her article, ‘An Encounter with Singpho King Bisa Nong Singpho, “The Singphos have originated from the slopes of the southern hilly region of Patkai mountain extending up to Hukong Valley of Myanmar. Presently, they live on both sides of the boundary between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam as well as in the Yunnan province of Southern China. The Singphos are divided into twelve sub-groups.”
A community which has no written history of its own, their history more or less depends upon legends. And in today’s age of globalisation where orally passed down traditions and cultures are dying a slow death, many facets of Singpho culture and heritage and dying a slow death or at the threshold of being forgotten. It is in this sort of dreary and gloomy background that we tend to appreciate the works and efforts of artists like Debananda Ulup.
A worthy scion of the Ulup family of Margherita in Tinsukia district, Debananda Ulup has converged the art and culture, lifestyle and folklore of the Singpho tribe on canvas. Ulup’s brilliant depiction of the life and art and culture of the Singphos, as well as their folklores and legends, on canvas has met with a lot of critical acclaim throughout the globe. Besides, it also acts as a catalyst for the growth of renewed interest in Singpho art and culture amongst the new generation.
Born in 1964 at Margherita, Debananda Ulup is a widely travelled artist, having participated in many national and international art exhibitions and workshops. The recipient of many prestigious awards like the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust Award, New Delhi, Award for Painting at the 11th All India Art Exhibition organized by SCZCC in Nagpur, amongst others, his art works are part of many art collections in India and abroad.
I recently met the veteran artist to know more about his journey in the world of art and his tryst with Singpho art and culture. Following are excerpts.
Q. At the very outset, please tell us about your collections like ‘My Valley’ in which you have strived to depict Singpho life.
Ans: My creations are deeply based on the Singpho way of life and their art and culture, their folklore, myths and legends. My paintings also depict my long and most cherished association with Singpho culture. My art works are like a visual language that talks about lost cultural fragments like myths, folk narratives and textiles, architecture of the community house, livelihood sources and the socio-political scenario. For me, The My Valley series is an aesthetic rapture of Singpho culture and society.
Q. After spending so many years practicing different forms of art, what made you depict Singpho culture in your paintings?
Ans: I have crossed many phases in life and the same can be said about my art – it has crossed many phases. My collection on Singpho culture probably stems from a deep-rooted nostalgia for my home-town. Just like a person staying on foreign shores remembers his native place, I too remember with fondness my growing-up days in Margherita. My childhood follows me wherever I go. It is as if my mind wants to go back to my hometown. The Singpho collection is a reflection of all these thoughts and emotions.
Q. Through your art and with the help of the internet, you have taken Singpho culture to the international arena. Do you feel that your work has led to more interest amongst the new generation to know about the Singphos and their culture?
Ans: Yes, after seeing my pictures, a lot of people do contact me, wishing to know more about Singpho art and culture, and their traditions. They want to know more about our traditions. However, I am afraid of what I am doing because if I want to be really successful in what I am doing, I have to devote more time and effort to it. At present, I am doing just in bits, not as a whole.
Q. What do you feel is the present situation of the Singpho tribe?
Ans: The present situation of the Singpho people is not very good. Being a very small tribe, we do not have even the capacity to elect our own MLA. But I feel that in the days to come, the Singphos will play a major role in shaping Assam’s economic progress. I say this because 80 per cent of the Singphos are engaged in organic tea cultivation, which is soon becoming one of the biggest industries of the State.
Q. Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.
Ans: I was born in Ulup Village, 12 kms away from Margherita, in 1961. My forefathers had established the village where I was born, hence the title ‘Ulup’. While I am not aware of my ancestor’s migration accounts, according to our historical records, it is noted that the Singphos of Assam migrated from the Hukong Valley in the Kachin State of Myanmar.
Both my parents were farmers and I grew up in my village itself, amidst much poverty. I stayed in the village itself till I was around Class 8 or 9. But by then, our family’s economic condition had worsened and the schools were also closed due to the Assam Agitation. Due to both these factors, I came out of my village to find a better calling in life.
Since I did not have any purpose in life, I wandered around meaninglessly in the beginning. In the initial days, I stayed for some time in Malow Ali of Jorhat. After that, by sheer luck, I earned the love of a respectable family. It was the house of renowned economist Dr. Jayanta Madhab Sarma and seeing my plight, they gave me shelter in their own house. I spend a considerable part of my growing up days in their house near Nehru Park.
Q. You are mostly a self-taught artist. When and how did you develop an interest in art?
Ans: I have always been interested in art. But I guess it was sister Bonn (Sakuntola Devi, sister of Jayanta Madhab Sarma) who helped nurture and develop it. One day when she saw my work, she became immensely happy and got me admitted in the fine art school of Jorhat Fine Art Society.
In Jorhat Fine Arts Society, I had my first real encounter with art. There, I met other geniuses like late Madhab Baidhya, Bhrigupati Hazarika and the like. I attended Sunday classes in art for around six months there. At that point of time, I felt a certain kind of restlessness growing inside me for I had failed to understand my purpose in life.
In that later part of 1979, I came to Guwahati and took up a job in a book store. While working in the book store as an apprentice, I used to meet many students and artists who used to come to buy paints. In that way through my meetings with these artists, my interest in the world of art got a new lease of life. One fine day, I went ahead and took admission in the Gauhati Artists Guild. But unfortunately, I could not continue my classes in the guild for long as my pressures in the job increased.
Q. Did you ever think that you will become a professional painter?
Ans: I myself do not know how I became a professional artist. I started painting professionally only from 1996. Before that, I never thought I will become an artist. Maybe it became a profession through my constant practice.
Q. You have won the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust Award, New Delhi and also the Award for Painting at the 11th All India Art Exhibition organized by SCZCC in Nagpur. How do you feel with these recognitions?
Ans: The prizes that you have mentioned are recognitions of work in my early phase of life. Since the time I got interested in creating through art, I do not have any craze left for prizes and recognitions anymore. Nowadays, I draw only for myself. When I paint, I feel a kind of bliss, a feeling of indescribable happiness. That happiness, and the comments of those who appreciate my paintings, are the biggest award or source of recognition for me.meme.
Guwahati / Mumbai, Aug 3: Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI)’s newest production “Ishu” is a feature film that will instantly take the viewer to a world of a kid whose innocent and happy-go-lucky world turns topsy turvy thanks to the superstitious society of adults around him.
Set in a remote tribal Rabha village in Lower Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, this Assamese feature film is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel “Ishu”, and marks the feature film debut of National Award-winning film critic and acclaimed documentary director Utpal Borpujari.
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.
Treated like a fairy tale albeit set in today’s times, “Ishu” is a sensitive take on how such incidents impact a child psychologically, with the narrative taking the viewer along protagonist Ishu’s quest to find his aunt who goes missing after being assaulted by the villagers at the instigation of the villainous quack.
The social evil of ‘witch hunting’ has been a recurring problem in Assam, so much so that the state Assembly unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, following years of sustained campaign by civil society organisations and an intervention by the Gauhati High Court. The Bill, however, is still awaiting the President’s assent to become a law.
Several incidents of witch hunting has been reported in Assam during this year too, while according to data placed in the state Assembly, 93 cases of witch-hunting were reported and 77 persons, including 35 women, were killed during 2010 to 2015.
“However, despite its sensitive and serious backdrop, my film treats to subject in a way that it is suitable for viewing by children. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given it a U certification without any cuts,” says Borpujari, who believes that children’s films can affectively take up social issues if handled sensitively.
CFSI Chairman MukeshKhanna said this movie will give a clear message to the people that social evils are bad and must be eradicated from the society. “Children are the future of our country and should always be motivated. By practicing social evils like ‘witch hunting’, we are making circumstances worse for children and disturb their psychology. This will have an adverse effect on the children and will not help them in their career and overall development.”
“Movies like ‘Ishu’ bring awakening in the society about the ill-effects of social evils and educate people about their harmful aspects on the society. CFSI will continue to make and promote such films whose themes are aimed at bringing about transformation in the society for the benefit of mankind, particularly children,” he says.
According to Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO of CFSI, “This is a highly sensitive film in which exploitation of people due to social evils such as ‘witch hunting’ is highlighted. The movie is informative, educative and throws light on the harmful effects of social evils practiced by people in the society. The movie tells the audience that such evils harm children and have an adverse effect on their psychology. Our attempt at CFSI has always been to focus on issues concerning children and their welfare.”
“I am happy to note that in Assam, a Bill to prevent social evils like “witch hunting” has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly, and is awaiting President’s assent. Let us hope that it would become a law soon.”
“This is the first feature film made by well-known film critic and documentary film maker Utpal Borpujari and we hope that children as well as elders will like it,” he says.
Incidentally, the script of “Ishu” was chosen as the only Asian entry into the 2012 Junior Co-Production Market of Cinekid International Film Festival, Amsterdam.
In the film, the lead role is played by 10-year-old Kapil Garo, who hails from Sonapur area near Guwahati. Kapil, who has given a performance with a maturity much beyond his tender age, was selected for the role after the director and his team interacted with nearly 300 kids across Assam. “Kapil has the required innocence and charm that I had visualized in Ishu, and being from a village himself, he blended naturally with the character,” says Borpujari.
The film also stars two-time National Award (Special Jury Mention)-winning actor Bishnu Kharghoria and National Award-winning Manipuri actress TonthoingambiLeishangthem Devi, along with veterans like Chetana Das and Pratibha Choudhury and talented younger actors like MonujBorkotoky, DipikaDeka and NibeditaBharali. Others in the cast include Mahendra Das, Rajesh Bhuyan, Naba Kumar Baruah, MonujGogoi, etc.
Along with KapilGaro, other child actors in the film include MahendraRabha, SrabantaRabha and UdayRabha.
The film’s dialogue, with emphasis on how the Rabha people living near Goalpara area speak Assamese with a particular accent, has been written by Borpujari in collaboration with award-winning theatre director SukracharjyaRabha of the famed Badungduppa Kala Kendra of Rampur, Agia.
Several actors from the Badungduppagroup, including Dhananjay Rabha and Basanta Rabha, have acted in pivotal roles in the film, which has been shot in pristine locations of several Rabha tribal vilages near Agia in Goalpara, located on the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra.
It may be mentioned that NSD graduate and actress Pranami Bora conducted an 8-day workshop for the actors of the film at Badungduppa Kala Kendra premises, and MadanRabha and BasantaRabha were in charge of imparting accent training for the actors so that all of them could deliver their dialogues in the local accent.
The film has been edited by the legendary A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia, all National Award winners. The cinematographer is Sumon Dowerah, a veteran of many award-winning and mainstream films in Assamese, 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 GhanshyamKalita, Ronal Hussain and MonujBorkotoky.
An M.Tech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee, Utpal Borpujari won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India in 2003. As a professional journalist, apart from cinema, he has written extensively on politics, society, culture, literature, etc., while working with some of India’s top media houses. Since 2010, when he decided to turn a filmmaker, he has made several acclaimed documentary films that have been screened across the world in various film festivals. Among them are “Mayong: Myth/Reality” (2012), “Songs of the Blue Hills” (2013), “Soccer Queens of Rani” (2014) and “Memories of a Forgotten War” (2016). Borpujari has also served in international film juries as an erstwhile member of the International Federation of Film Critics, apart from having served on juries for National Film Awards and Indian Panorama. He has also curated films as well as served as a consultant for the Northeastern sections in the International Film Festival of India as well as various other film festivals. “Ishu” is his debut fiction feature. He is currently developing scripts for a Hindi and an Assamese film.