English theatre lovers of Guwahati city were in for a treat last week when Ruby Visions and the Bob Barua Benefaction staged an absorbing play, True & False, at the Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts in Machkhowa on December 21 and 22 last.
‘True & False’ is a brand new adaptation of Rob Drummond’s work and the play portrays a world of reality game shows and explores notions of truth and falsehood. The cast of the play featured well known names from the Assamese film and theatre industry, namely Jit Chaliha, Ranjeev Lal Barua, Neetali Das, Lima Das and Pratyush Barua. The BOB Barua Benefaction is a trust that carries forward the philanthropic legacy of Souvik Barua, the late husband of Pallavi Chumki Barua, focusing on the uplift of the needy
With many people questioning the fast depleting audience base of English plays in the region, ‘True & False’ provided a break from this conventional notion. Although the tickets were priced a bit on the higher side, the first day of the play featured a packed audience with an equally encouraging response on the second day.
The play enthralled the audience with a live quiz show with a suspenseful, hyper real time-space alternation brought on by memory. It also led the audience to identify with the many contemporary social and topical issues of everyday life that it throws up. The spectator enters into a hair raising ‘live’ arena where a quizmaster hustles neurotic participants, camera-ready faces, paste-on smiles and concocted realities. The extremely talented Jit Chaliha plays the 60 year old Quiz Master, Brian O’Neill; Ranjeev Lal Barua enacts the role of Irfan Ahmed, a psychiatrist/participant in the show; Neetali Das in the character of Meera Singhania portrays a former quiz show champion and repeat participant; Lima Das plays the lead character of Sandra Braganza, a housewife/participant; and the show’s Production Manager Pratiek Duggal is played by Pratyush Barua.
In a nutshell, the play tries to address the issue of child abuse through the realm of a reality television show. The attempt of the director to address a burning issue deserves accolades and he is lucky to be supported by a bunch of extremely talented actors. Jit Chaliha, who plays the role of the 60 year-old Brian O’ Neill shines throughout the play. His performance is equally matched by Ranjeev Lal Barua (who plays the role of Irfan Ahmed) and Lima Das (who plays the lead character).
Known for his role in ‘A Plot for Murder’ and directorial ventures such as ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ and ‘The Murder Game’, Director Rohan Kr Das shared his experience with this play and the cast, saying, “It was overwhelming to direct this play with a cast where everyone has their own set of benchmarks. The audience’s reaction and appreciation today has encouraged us to come up with more such work in the future”.
Having watched the play, we can only commend the team for raising awareness on such an important issue in a highly creative manner. However, the play could have been much better if they had focused a bit more on the treatment of the subject as the inter-play of characters and incidents over different spans of time did tend to create a bit of confusion among a section of the audience.
The play ‘True and False’ was made possible with the support of Tata Motors, Apollo Hospitals and Young Indians. Despite the occasional and few glitches, the play has indeed opened new horizons for English theatre loving people of the region.
For people residing in #NortheastIndia, #Bhutan, one of India’s immediate neighboring countries, has always been near yet so far. One of the smallest countries in the world, Bhutan is often termed as a paradise of its own. Nestled on the foothills of the Himalayan range, Bhutan’s natural beauty has wowed over tourists from across the entire world. But it’s not just natural beauty or scenery that Bhutan is famous for. This tiny kingdom also holds the distinction of being the last monarchy in the world, and also for bringing to the world the concept of #Gross National Happiness – a unique concept in which the development of a country is based not on its economic parameters but rather on the overall happiness quotient of the people residing there.
As a child growing up in Guwahati and the lower part of Assam, we were often enamored by the sight of Bhutanese traders (or Bhutias as they are called in local parlance) who used to come across the border alongside Tamulpur in Rangia district to trade and make barter deals. However, the highly volatile law-and-order situation in that area (present day Bodoland Territorial Council), along the Assam-Bhutan border, always prevented people from exploring the rich natural beauty of this beautiful country which is just a stone’s throw away.
My first visit to Bhutan happened rather unexpectedly. In 2010-11, I had taken a break from my work in the media to work on a couple of research projects in the interiors of the Northeast. One fine day in October, 2011, the founder of The Sentinel group of newspapers, Mr Shankar Rajkhewa, called me to his office and asked me if I would be interested to go for a short trip to Bhutan. I didn’t ask for much details and immediately nodded my assent. It was only later that I realized I would be embarking on a momentous and most enriching experiences of my life i.e. cover the wedding of His Highness King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk with Ashi Jetsun Pema.
Covering a royal wedding in the last monarchy of the Himalayas was a memorable experience in its own. But what made it all the more special was the fact that it marked the advent of a young and dynamic ruler who was all set to give a new change to the overall developmental index of Bhutan. So in October of 2011, me and my colleague Rajib Bhattarjee from The Sentinel boarded a train to Alipur Duar from we entered Bhutan via Phuntshilling. The entire world media has descended at the Royal Kingdom and I was simply left spellbound to witness the elaborate wedding rituals in the historic Punakha fortress and the roadside celebrations in the capital city of Thimpu. We were lucky to have with us the company of Sonam Chokie and Damchen Zangmo of the Government of Bhutan who acquainted us with the simplicity of the people and their laidback and highly courteous attitude to life.
A couple of years later on, I came into close acquaintance with a group of dynamic leaders in the Chowki area of Bodoland. Thanks to a school friend of mine, Amarjit Lahkar, an agriculturist who was working for a tiger conservation project in the area, I came across a few former insurgent leaders who had given up arms to work for the conservation of the rich wildlife and ecological diversity along the Eastern Manas range. The #ChowkiEco-TourismSociety, which was formed by Satan Ramchiary (a former elected representative) and others, has now become a vibrant picnic spot and a model village of sorts.
Chowki soon became a regular destination for us and we would bathe in the rich natural beauty of the place, alongside the Kolsi River, taking delight in the sights and sounds of the raw and verdant natural beauty, and also the rich treasure trove as far as wildlife was concerned. We would often cross the river in Satan’s jeep and cross the officially demarcated Indo-Bhutan border to Sangdrup Jongkhar and gorge on Bhutia delicacies like #EmaDatshi (Bhutan’s national dish which is a delicious chilli cheese stew) and of course, the amiable hospitality of the people.
Over the last couple of years, with the law-and-order situation in Bodoland improving to a great extent and thanks to better road connectivity, many people from Northeast India, especially Guwahati, would often visit Bhutan’s nearest district Sangdrup Jongkhar. The low excise duties on liquor and fuel proved to be an added stimulus to make Sangdrup Jongkhar feasible for a day-long outing. A bottle of #K5, a fine blend of premium scotch distilled and produced in Bhutan itself, had already become a hit amongst north-easterners by this time!
A couple of days back, a friend, Monmi Das, who is a foodie-turned-food entrepreneur, asked me if I would be interested in joining her for a trip to Sangdrup Jongkhar to witness the #Tshetsu or Mask festival of Bhutan. With Monmi being a celebrated chef who loves to explore and experiment with various cuisines, I immediately took up the offer (more for the opportunity to indulge in some traditional Bhutanese delicacies, rather than anything else) and early in the morning the next day, we set out for the much loved traveller’s haunt. However, the last trip introduced me to another new aspect of Bhutan which I had really learnt to appreciate till now.
The Tshetsu festival is an annual festival organized by all the district departments of Bhutan. The festival, which is a highly sacred and solemn affair, is observed with much fanfare and in the typical relaxed, disciple and amiable nature of the Bhutanese people. Although I was not initially allowed to enter the hallowed sanctum of the monastery as I was dressed in a not-so-formal attire, our friend Jigmee Dee managed to take us to watch the festival from afar.
During the #Tshetsufestival, mask dances to commemorate the deeds of the great saint Guru Rinpoche are performed. The dances invoke the deities of the tantric teachings – who through their powers and blessings remove misfortunes by suppressing all evil spirits. While the locals attend the colorful festival to gain merit, visitors travel from far and near to witness the spectacular display of color, age-old traditions, and tantric Buddhist rituals. The festival traditionally commences with Buddhist monks performing the Shingje Yab Yum – the dance of the lord of death (Shingje) and his consort. This is followed by Durdag – the dance of the lords of the cremation grounds, after which, the dance of the black hats, Shanag, and the dance of the drums from Drametse (Drametse Ngacham) are performed.
As we returned from the festival, we stopped at Jigmee’s restaurant in the town which he runs along with his mother and his wife. The town itself has not changed much since my first visit although the footfalls from Guwahati have markedly increased over the last few years, a fact which Jigmee vouched for. With the Indian government opening up its doors to its immediate neighbours in the East, the small town of #SangrupJongkhar also seems to be readying up to accommodate the increasing footfalls. A beautiful garden depicting Bhutanese traditions and cultures had already been opened in the city within a span of a few months since I last visited the town. A young entrepreneur himself, Jigmee too is getting prepared to welcome tourists, Indians especially, as Indian tourists don’t require a visa to enter Bhutan.
The Assam Government too seems to have woken up to the immense tourism potentials of the area and very recently, Assam’s Tourism Minister Chandan Brahma had also unveiled the launch of #DwijingFestival, a festival celebrated near Hagrama Bridge, on the banks of the River Aai, as a calendar event of the State tourism department.
While the onus of developing people-to-people connectivity amongst the people of both countries lies on the government, my own tryst with Bhutan has been an enriching one so far. And I sincerely believe that this love story has many more pages left which are yet to be opened.
Classical music aficionados of Guwahati were in for a treat last week. The reason was the 2nd Guwahati International Guitar Festival which was held at the Directorate of Museum, Government of Assam in Ambari on December 20th last.
The Guitar Festival was initiated by the Indian Guitar Federation and city-based Mineral Water led by Lueit Hazarika. Into its second edition this year, the guitar festival featured a few master classical guitarists and others nylon instrument and who kept the entire audience mesmerized till the very end.
The performing artists in this year’s edition included Johannes Moller from Sweden, Thu Le and Lorenzo Bernandi from Italy and Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Before the concert in the evening, a classical guitar workshop was held in the lawns of the State Musuem in which around 65 students and music enthusiasts participated. Talking about the workshop, Lueit said, “Like last year, the workshop was open for all students and youngsters who have the basic guitar playing skills. We had around 65 participants this year for the workshop which were held on the lawns of the museum.”
The evening concert featured performances by the invited artists and the small auditorium of the State Musuem was packed to the brim with many people sitting on the stands to watch the eclectic performances. The evening began with a performance by Swedish composer Johannes Moller. An ambassador of the ZhenGan guitar of China, Johannes Moller had won the Concert Artist Competition Guitar Federation of America (GFA) in 2010 and performs close to 100 concerts across the globe every year. He started the evening with some of his own compositions and finished off with a unique fusion of Western Classical notes based on Indian Classical music.
The second performer, Thu Lee is an international award winning performer. Originally born in Hanoi, the guitarist who now lives in Bahrain. An influential classical music guitarist, she has earlier performed in countries like Italy, England, France, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, USA, Nepal, Turkey, etc.
The final act of the evening saw master guitarists Ricardo J Martins and Fernando Ponte from Portugal. Both of them are ambassadors of the Portugese Guitar which is the main accompanying instrument for the Fado music of Portugal. Fado is the traditional folk music from Portugal described by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. It is usually characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.
After the concert in an exclusive conversation with the writer, Ricardo spoke about the influences of Potugese music, especially Fado, in other parts of the world, especially in Goa of India where they are scheduled to perform before the end of this year. Lueit too spoke about the similarities of the music of a few communities of India and those of Portugal
Veda Aggarwal, Director General of the Indian Guitar Federation, said that the concert was an attempt of the federation to give people in the Northeast a chance to experience the best classical musicians of the world. The concert had earlier travelled to Calcutta and Imphal before coming to Guwahati.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
In the world of Assamese celluloid, his is a name which needs no introduction. His is not just a name; in fact, his name represents one of the most glorious eras of Assamese cinema. The first formally trained actor of the Assamese cine industry, he is credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films, serials, stage shows, television serials, et al in a career which has spanned more than 50 years. A man who reigned the hearts of thousands of people during the glorious era of Assamese cinema is still standing strong, continuously re-inventing himself to cater to the needs of the modern day cinema. Yes, we are talking about none other than Nipon Goswami – one of the flagbearers of Assamese cinema in today’s world.
Much has been written about Nipon Goswami and his contributions to Assamese theatre and cinema. The recipient of a number of epitaphs and awards like the Prag cine Award, Natya Surya Phani Sharma Award, his journey in the world of cinema can be said to be as vast and remarkable as our cinema itself. A true son of the soil, he has proved his versatility as an actor in numerous platforms and has been an indispensable part in the growth of modern Assamese cinema.
An actor who has carved a special place for himself in the hearts of every Assamese as an evergreen hero and versatile actor, he has acted in hundreds of Assamese and Bengali movies. Some of his popular Assamese movies include ‘Dr. Bezbaruah’, ‘Mukuta’, ‘Manab aru Danab’, ‘Morisika’, ‘Abhijaan’, ‘Santaan’, ‘Aashray’, ‘Meghamukti’, ‘Ajoli Nobou’, ‘Man aru Maram’, Aparupa’, ‘Ghar Sansar’, Kakadeuta, Naati aru Hati’, Nayanmani, ‘Jiban Surabhi’, ‘Arati’, ‘Pratidan’, ‘Siraaj’, ‘Deutar Biya’, ‘Jon Jole Kopalat’, and many more. One of the first actors from Assam to work in Bollywood, he has worked in seven Hindi films as a character artist and was also part of the blockbuster hit, Do Anjane, in which the legendary Amitabh Bacchan and Rekha essayed the lead roles.
Nipon Goswami was born in September, 1957 at Kolibari in Tezpur. Born to a family with deep-rooted interest in the arts, his father Chandradhar Goswami was a famous actor of his times while his mother, Nirupama Goswami, was a versatile singer. He did his schooling from Kolibari Lower Primary School and Tezpur Government High School. After completing his graduation, he went to the Film Institute of Pune (now known as FTII) in 1965 and graduated to become the first professionally trained Assamese actor to work in Assamese films. An ardent mobile theatre artist who has spent a number of his childhood and growing up years working in the mobile theatre industry, he got his first break in the Assamese movie Sangram (1968) while he was still a student. His second film, Dr. Bezbaruah, which was a landmark film in Assamese celluloid established Nipon Goswami in the cine world of the State. Since then, it has been a rollercoaster journey for this humble and down-to-earth artist who has regaled multiple generations through his performances on the big screen, stage as well as television and radio.
Following are excerpts from a recent interview:
- From Sangram in 1968, you recently completed 50 years in the world of Assamese cinema. You are credited with acting in the highest number of Assamese films. How do you look back at your journey in retrospect?
Ans: Yes, it has been a memorable journey fill of ups and downs. Coming to your point, I don’t think there is any other actor who has acted in more Assamese films than I have done, and I continue to act in movies and the small screen even today. I must have worked in over hundred films till date.
In retrospect, I saw the camera for the first time in 1957 on the sets of Piyali Phukan, directed by late Phani Sharma. My father had played a part in the movie and I had a small role as a child artist. That was the first time I got to know what cinema is; I got to see the cameras, lights, reflectors and how films are made. After that, I got busy in my studies and cinema took a back seat although I was always involved in theatre and stage performances. After completing my graduation, I went to the Pune Film and Television Institute (now known as the Film and Television Institute of India – FTII) for a diploma course in acting. While in the final year at Pune FTI, I received a letter from late Amar Pathak with an offer to play the lead role in his film, Sangram, which was based on one of his novels. I came to Kolkata for the shoot and that marked the beginning of my cinematic journey.
After Sangram, I worked in Dr. Bezbaruah by Brajen Baruah, which was a record-creating movie. That movie was the turning point in my career and there has been no looking back since then.
- Have you encountered any major changes in the way films were made back in the 60s and in today’s date?
Ans: The changes have been drastic. Technology has improved tremendously. When I first acted in Piyali Phukan and a few films after that, we were totally dependent on the film industry of Kolkata. We did not have our own camera nor did we have any professionals in our midst. We had to take the help of technicians and even make-up artists of Kolkata. Late Brajen Baruah changed that scenario when he made Dr. Bezbaruah. Using local technicians and cameramen, he showed how an Assamese film can be made without being dependent on professionals of Kolkata. And the more amazing part was that he showed how a film can be shot inside a living room setting and not just outdoors. Dr. Bezbaruah was shot mostly indoors. It was truly a path-breaking movie and paved the way for the emergence of Assamese cameramen, technicians, make-up artists, et al. It heralded the growth of a movie industry in the State.
Today we are not dependent on others and a lot of youngsters are experimenting with a lot of new themes and subjects. But I somehow miss the feeling of bonhomie and brotherhood that we enjoyed during the shooting of films in the 60s and 70s.
- As you said that a lot of changes have come about in the Assamese film industry. Do you feel that we have developed into a professional film industry?
Ans: We are all professional artists. Professional in the sense that we all earn money for our services. However, I do not think that professionalism has developed to its fullest in our industry. Just earning money does not make anyone a professional. I feel we still have to imbibe a lot of other qualities, like maintaining the time schedule, preparing and studying scripts, studying about cinema and various characters, and the like, before we can really call ourselves to be professionals.
- You were one of the first Assamese actors to have passed out from the Film Institute of Pune (present day FTII)…
Ans: I was not the first. Dulal Saikia was there before me and there were one or two more people who had completed courses in editing. But yes, I was the first Assamese to get a diploma in the acting stream from the Film Institute of Pune.
- Tell us about the period after Dr. Bezbaruah. You have been an integral part of Assamese cinema when it was as its peak…
Ans: The period after Dr. Bezbaruah was really a very sweet period for me and I have fond memories of that era. The people showered their love and affection on me in abundance. No other heroes had come up at that time and I continued to do one film after the other. Then late Biju Phukan entered the industry. We both became very close and did a number of films together. Biju and I used to share our joys and sorrows together. I know that we all have to leave this world but he left us rather early. I really miss those days with him and that period in general.
- Out of all the films that you have done, which is the most memorable one for you?
Ans: It is very difficult to answer that question because every film is memorable. I try to be fully involvement in every film otherwise it does not come out well. From that viewpoint, since I have given my best to every film, each one of them is memorable. However, I have fond memories of working in late Jones Mahaliya’s Dooranir Rang (1979). I loved the character and the film was very sound technically.
- Do you feel that acting can be a career option for today’s youth?
Ans: This is a question I have been asked many times. When we started, there was hardly any infrastructure for films in Assam. My father agreed to send me to Pune to study films because he wanted me to learn about new trends in filmmaking. But at the same time, he wanted me to become a lawyer. So in the early days, it was very difficult to earn a livelihood through acting alone. But nowadays, a lot of new opportunities and avenues have come up through television serials and other formats. A lot of new films are being made. The mobile theatre is very vibrant today. So I feel that acting can be a viable career option for today’s youth.
- Your father was also a noted actor of his times. How was the environment in your family?
Ans: My family was deeply interested in the arts. My father was a prominent actor of his times; he even received the title of ‘Macha Konwar’. My mother was also a versatile singer. In fact, I developed an interest in acting while watching my father do rehearsals at home. My father’s friends late Phani Sharma and late Bishnu Rabha used to have animated discourses at our residence and their talks motivated me immensely. I used to mimic their antics and rehearsals and that is how I developed an interest towards acting. Later on, I performed in school and college plays and that passion remained intact.
- You have also performed in mobile theatres….
Ans: Yes, I spent almost five seasons in the mobile theatres. I grew up watching performances of the Ban Theatre near our house and somehow that interest made me perform in plays myself. I have performed in several mobile theatres like Kohinoor, Abahan, Hengul and Abahan and feel that they have helped me develop as an actor.
- Please tell us about a bit about your family.
Ans: My wife Ranjita Goswami passed away around one and half years back. She was the pillar of strength and support for me. She helped me become what I am today and it is because of her that I am still here today.
My son Siddhartha Goswami is a software engineer by profession and lives in Mumbai. But he is deeply interested in films and might soon take up a few film offers. He performed reasonably well in Mission China and has kept the family’s legacy in acting alive. His wife, Kinkini, is also an artist and is into acting.
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.
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.
An Academic’s Tryst with the River Brahmaputra
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)
In Conversation with Veteran International-level Table Tennis player 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.
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.
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)
In conversation with former Indian team footballer and legendary striker 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)