Category Archives: Personalities/ Interviews

Sananta Tanty: The ‘Aangbang’ poet from Assam

1Sananta Tanty_Photo_Kushal Dutta

Sananta Tanty. Photo by Kushal Dutta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guru Ramkrishna Talukdar: A Torchbearer of Sattriya dance



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

3. Please tell us about your education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. You have also authored a book…

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

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

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

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

7. Please tell us about your family.

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

Minoti Khaund: Creating a Legacy of Music

Recording with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

Minoti Khaund with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

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

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

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

Initial Days

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

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

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

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

Fifty Glorious Years in Music

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

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

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

Innovations and Awards Galore

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

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

Contribution to the Field of Music

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

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

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

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

Encouraging Fusion, But a Purist at Heart

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

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



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


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

By Aiyushman Dutta

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Q. What about your family?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Q, What plans do you have for the future?

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

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


Copyright text: Aiyushman Dutta

Photos courtesy: NT Lalbaikimma

The River Man of Assam

An Academic’s Tryst with the River Brahmaputra


Dulal Chandra Goswami

By Aiyushman Dutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddling to Glory

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


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

By Aiyushman Dutta

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Q. How do you look back at those days?

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

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

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

Q. Who were your coaches at that times?

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

Q. What about your formal education?

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

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

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

Q. Do you regret missing out on the Olympics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Boots

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



Gilbertson Sangma

By Aiyushman Dutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. When did you get married?

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

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

Criminally Captivating

In conversation with Shillong-based novelist Ankush Saikia

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Ankush Saikia. Photo by Embor Sayo

By Aiyushman Dutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Q. What are you presently working on?

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

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

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

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


The Doyen of Theatre in Assam

By Aiyushman Dutta


Kulada Kumar Bhattacharjee

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.

  1. 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.


Receiving the Nirode Choudhury Lifetime Achievement Award from late Biju Phukan

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.

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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)

“Ishu” going to Bangladesh and France, “Memories of a Forgotten War” to MIFF

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:

“Memories of a Forgotten War” trailer link: