Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Songs and Nostalgia


Imagine a life without music?

Can you?

No, it’s quite difficult.

A few days ago I was watching a short video clip of one of Charlie Chaplin’s silent films. And then, it hit my mind. What if, there were no songs and music in our life? How dull it would have been.

I then realized how powerful songs are in evoking the various thought centres of our brain. I am sure many of you associate certain songs with certain events or happenings in your life.

I started thinking about some of such songs and found that I can almost relive my entire growing up years through certain songs.

While ‘Rangoli’ and ‘Chitrahaar’ gave us the first taste of bollywood songs, it was the songs of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ that made the first indelible mark on my mind. The film had released around the time when I was in love for the first time, and the song ‘Tum Paas Aye’ was the reason for many a sleepless nights.

Over the years, as my love for her had increased, the voices of Kumar Sanu and Zubeen Garg kept me awake many a night. Starting from ‘Aashiqui’ to ‘Hiya Diya Nia’, those songs still find a place in my playlist.

And it was another musical night when I had proposed her. And for that reason the film ‘Pyaar, Ishq Aur Mohabbat’ and especially its song, ‘Jab Tujhe Maine Dekha Nahin Tha’, will always be embedded in my psyche. That song was playing in the background, while she had acknowledged that she too loves me!

There are also a few songs which I always associate with my Tezpur University days. There is a song by Zubeen Garg titled ‘Mon Heruwai’ from his album ‘Sabda’, which me and my roommate used to hear often. We were in the first semester and it was the onset of winter when we first heard the song. We feel in love with the song and used to listen to it every night. Whenever I listen to that song, my mind goes back to that wonderful ‘Winter of 2007’.

Another song that has always stayed with me is the evergreen classic by Kishore Kumar - ‘Mere Naina Sawaan Bhado’. At the hostel, I used to request my roommate to sing a song before going to sleep and this song was my most requested song. Even now, I sometimes call him up late in the night and request him to sing it for me.

With numerous songs being released almost every week nowadays, I have found that I have not been love with a new song for many years. I still listen to songs which I can associate with the early years of my life; maybe because I can relive those moments through these songs.

It seems Music can create Nostalgia at its best!



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fragile Relationships



A few days ago, I was talking with one of my childhood friends over the telephone. We had spent our childhood together in one of the largest tea estates in eastern Assam. While me and my family do not stay there any more, he is now an employee of that tea estate. While I was talking with him, he shared with me the present whereabouts of some of the boys I grew up playing cricket with. I also asked him about a few other persons, who were once our neighbours. At that moment, I realized how relationships change with time. There was a time when our lives revolved around these people and now I do not even know where and how these people are.

After finishing the call, I started thinking about all the people that have been a part of the journey of my life. I recalled the moments spent with people in various walks of life. And, although I still have regular contact with many of my friends, cousins, old neighbours, extended family members, I realized that there are many persons with whom I have totally lost contact. 

I then remembered another incident. A few years back, while attending the marriage of my aforementioned friend, a boy came up to me and asked whether I recognized him or not. I looked at him but couldn’t recognize him. Only when he told his name, I remembered that we used to play cricket together. I also remembered that his brother too used to play with us and asked him about his whereabouts. He said that he died of an illness a few years ago. I was shocked to hear that. That ever-smiling boy, who used to hit the stumps with his accurate throws, was dead! I had felt quite sad at that news. 

In today’s frantic pace of life, we are slowly drifting away from the people who were once the very fulcrum of our lives. Our worlds are shrinking and getting limited to our parents, spouses, children and a few other select persons. The relationships are slowly turning fragile.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Men Cry – An Ode to BCN Boys


It was the Summer of 2007, when a batch of about 50 students entered a Hostel – a place which was to become their homes for their duration of study in Tezpur University. I was one among those fifty. The Hostel was Brahmaputra Chatra Niwas – BCN Boys for most of us. Though the nomenclature was changed the next year to Brahmaputra Men’s Hostel, it will always be BCN Boys for us.

 

The first thing that was on the minds of each new student was Ragging. What are we going to face in the initial days of stay at the Hostel? Would there be any physical violence? How are the Seniors and how will be our nature of relationship with them? These were some of the questions on the mind of most of the new students. However, we were lucky that we got some of the best seniors that any junior can ask for. Except for a minor incident, which was blown out of proportion by the university authorities, there wasn’t any unfavourable episode during those initial days. Once the University Freshers was over, we all shed our inhibitions and became our usual self. BCN Boys became our home. 

I stayed at BCN Boys for two years and have been part and witness of numerous incidents occurring in the Hostel. However, in this write up, I would not mention any such incident. Rather I would write about those days when we left the hostel after completing our studies. These last days were a testimony of  how dearly we - the boarders of BCN Boys – loved this hostel; and how this hostel has forged a strong sense of companionship amongst us.


 



Even before our last term examinations were around the corner, the feeling that we would be leaving the hostel and university were starting to haunt us. One day, while our end term examinations were going on, I went to one of my friend’s room. Upon entering his room, I could see that he was packing his bags. On seeing me enter he stopped packing. I silently went and sat on his bed. He too took a seat in his chair. After a few seconds of silence, we both started crying. Those were the first drop of tears that fell from our eyes during those last days – many more were still to follow. 

After our exams were over, one by one the students started to leave the hostel, leaving behind the innumerable memories that he shared with his fellow mates. Those were indeed very hard days. The eyes remained moist most of the times. After spending most of the time together for two years, the wound of separation was too much to bear. The day I myself left the hostel was one of the most difficult days of my life – with my mind refusing to leave. I had left my room and hostel after shedding gallons of tears, shared between me and my roommate.

Men usually don’t cry. Although science insists that crying is natural, still it is expected that men would not shed tears easily. So unless there is indeed a deep grief, a man hardly sheds tears. So when I saw numerous men (boys) shedding their tears while leaving the hostel and the university, it shows how deep a grief it had been - a grief about leaving your home, leaving your loved ones. It shows how integral BCN Boys were to their lives. 

On my part, I would like to state here that I have been indeed lucky to be a part of the BCN Boys Hostel – a hostel which held true to its ideals of wisdom and camaraderie.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Death is not an Art



Celebrated Assamese poet, Hiren Bhattacharyya (popularly known as Hiru da) had written ‘Mrityu Eti Silpo’, meaning ‘Death is an Art’. He had written it during a time when Assam was still a peaceful state with very few incidents of violence. But time changed. Violent insurgency took over this beautiful region and violence became a way of life. At this juncture, popular Assamese singer Zubeen Garg sang ‘Mrityu Jodi Eti Silpo Hoi, Mrityu Kidore Sahaj?’, meaning ‘If Death is an Art, how could it be so commonplace?’. It was a valid question. Artistic ability is a rare gift and it is not bestowed upon all. Artistic talent is not commonplace, and as such, death cannot be said to be an Art. That song by Zubeen brought home the truth about those violent days in Assam, when death had become commonplace.

The situation is still same now. Death is everywhere; whether it is in Paris or in Beirut or in Kenya or in Assam. It has become commonplace. Death is now just a number - 129 dead in Paris, 90 dead in Kokrajhar, 100 dead in Nigeria. It has all come down to statistics. The gravity of the situation is now determined on the basis of number of deaths. Deaths - which have cut short many promising lives – some of whom might have someday become an Einstein or a Picasso or a Mozart. Though there is grief at every death but people have now, more or less, got accustomed with violence and death. Death no longer is an Art.

Also, there is a bit of criticism in the social media nowadays that people only care about deaths in places like Paris but there is no media attention to deaths in places like Beirut or Kenya. But, here we need to understand the human psychology. People usually connect events to places they know and hear about and are familiar with. As such the outpouring of emotion is more when people are killed in Paris, a place which is world famous and a tourism hotspot. People cannot connect themselves much with a place in Africa or the Middle East. Same is true here also, where deaths in Mumbai would surely invoke greater emotions nationwide than deaths in a remote district in Northeast India. But that does not mean that people ate insensitive to deaths in those places. Death of innocents always hurts a fellow human. It is just that outpouring of emotion is not shown in all occasions.

The terror groups like Islamic State are carrying out their own selfish agenda in the name of religion. They are brainwashing poor kids from under developed regions. But it is a certainty that such organizations cannot last long. Those organizations would surely get destroyed and the people leading those groups would face justice. Humanity has endured such barbarism before and can endure this too. But at the end, I am sure peace and harmony would surely prevail in this world.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Fragrance of Durga Puja



There is a Tahitian proverb which says that “When the dew-laden breeze of the uplands creeps swiftly down, it brings with it the fragrance of the gardenia." Well, in my cases, I want to rephrase it as “when the dew-laden breeze brings in the scent of Sewali, it brings in the fragrance of Durga Puja.” 

Since my childhood, my mind has associated the scent of sewali flower (Night-flowering Jasmine) with the occasion of Durga Puja. I had spent my childhood in a tea garden in Upper Assam. While we were children, me and my sister used to collect dew-soaked sewali flowers from our garden during the Durga puja. I do not even remember collecting the flowers on any other occasion. That’s why whenever I sense the smell of sewali, my mind immediately links it with Durga puja. 



 Sewali

Nowadays it is very rare to get the smell of sewali in the city. So, yesterday evening when I whiffed the scent of the flower, my mind automatically indicated that Durga puja is about to arrive. And along with it, the fragrance brought back numerous memories associated with Durga puja.

During our childhood, the best thing we liked about Durga puja was that we were able to stay outside even at night. We were allowed outside at least till 9 pm, which was a big deal for us at that time. We spent most of the time in the tea garden puja pandal premises with out toy guns, playing some bizarre shooting games amongst ourselves or a shooting competition with the boys from another tea garden colony. The balloons were the added attraction and I remember that we used to play volleyball with bigger balloons in the field near the puja pandal at nights. Though we were mostly a gang of boys but when the girls also joined us, we would play antakshari with them, sometimes almost in the middle of the road!

 How I wish if I could play with this again......

There was, however, one aspect of the puja that deeply disturbed me. In our tea garden puja celebrations, animal sacrifice used to take place every year. Goat, pigeon and duck were sacrificed there. It was the only puja in that area where animal sacrifice used to take place and that day witnessed the highest footfall as people from all the surrounding areas came either to witness the sacrifice or to themselves offer an animal in sacrifice.

The first time we watched the animal sacrifice was when we were may be around thirteen years old. I still vividly remember how the legs of the duck were flapping after it was sacrificed and thrown to the side. On that day, me and my friends had decided that when we would be adults and will be members of the puja committee, we would stop the practise of animal sacrifice at our puja premises. Well, I certainly didn’t get to be part of the puja committee as we left the tea garden after a few years. Now, I do not even know whether the practise is still carried on or not.

Also, durga puja was incomplete without pandal hopping with family. Two-three families of our tea garden used to go together and visit pandals in the nearby areas. I remember on one such occasion after we came back from a long pandal hopping session, I opened my shoe and found a dead frog inside my shoe, crushed to its death under my feet. I had kept the shoe outside the house in the afternoon and it must have gone inside. In the evening when we went out, I had put on the shoe without checking. I was deeply hurt seeing the frog dead. Till today, I feel sorry for that frog and blame myself for its death!!

Another special thing that happened to me during Durga puja was that I proposed the girl I loved. She was a girl from my neighbourhood. After falling in love for the first time in the age of thirteen, I proposed to her three years later during Durga puja. And I was fortunate enough that she accepted my proposal. That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. And this made Durga puja more special for me.

After we left the tea garden, I gradually lost my interest in Durga puja. I never feel that charm of Durga puja anymore. The puja celebrations at the Tea garden remain the best memories for me. Nowadays, it is just a routine celebration for me where I meet my friends and go for a stroll around the various puja pandals. And since now I stay outside my home town, it is one of the best opportunities where I get to spend some time with my family.

But, every year, around this time of the year, I think about the old times and look back towards those golden days – the days which were much simpler, pure and beautiful. Alas! I can’t get back those days.






Thursday, August 13, 2015

Islamic Fundamentalism Can Never Manage a Foothold in Assam


As the Islamic State (IS) or ISIS is spreading its empire in Iraq and Syria and making inroads into several other nations, there is an increasing fear over here in India that it can influence the Muslim population in India too. Such fears are being expressed in Northeast India also, especially in the state of Assam. There are already reports of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist fundamentalist groups eyeing this region for recruiting cadres and setting up sleeper cells. While it cannot be denied that such things are not happening, this can be said with surety that Islamic fundamentalism would never be able to set a foothold in Assam.

Muslims in Assam have been living peacefully with the other communities of the state for years. They are enriching Assam’s economy, language, literature and culture. Spiritual leaders like Srimanta Sankardeva and Azan Pir have had great roles in building up harmony between the Muslims and non-Muslims in Assam. The Muslims are an integral part of the social and cultural life of the state. Such an instance of co-existence and harmony is hard to find in any other part of the country.

However, the unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh has created a situation where even the indigenous Muslim population is also now being looked with suspicion. The line is specially getting blurred in those districts which share international boundary with Bangladesh, like Dhubri and Karimganj. These districts have a sizeable Muslim population and majority of them are indigenous Muslims. But illegal migration is so rampant through these districts that now any Muslim from these districts is looked with suspicion.

There were also reports that Muslim youths from different districts, including Barpeta, Dhubri and the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), have been joining Islamist terror outfits, particularly after the clashes between the Bodos and the Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers in BTAD. After the Burdwan blasts in October 2014, 6 persons were arrested from Barpeta district of Assam for their alleged involvement in the blast. Investigations revealed that they were part of a module operating under the patronization of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

Though this shows that Islamic fundamentalist groups have been able to influence some people from the state, but this is also true that they have not been able to have an impact on the masses. One small incident may be mentioned here. Sahanur Alom, one of the arrested JMB operatives from Assam, had tried to organize a Namaz one day ahead of the scheduled Eid Namaz in his village in 2014. But the local Muslim population had not given any indulgence to him and had, in fact, chased him away and informed the police.

The Muslims in Assam practice moderate Islam. This has been a catalyst for the inclusive nature of Assamese identity. So even if fundamentalist organizations try to spread their ideology among the Muslim population in Assam, they are going to find very few takers. The security agencies too are on their full alert and already a series of arrests have been made. Interrogations of these arrested persons have given vital information and have broken the network of such groups in this region.

However, under development and lack of access to proper education and healthcare services in various parts of the state, especially in the Muslim-dominated Char areas, pose as a factor that can be used by fundamentalists to lure the people towards their fold. Along with security measures, therefore, it is imperative that the government also take steps for developing the poorly developed interior areas of the state. A dedicated development plan along with tough security measures would surely be able to curb the menace of Islamist fundamentalism at its bud in this region.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

What’s in a Name – Well, it’s in the NRC!!!!


Juliet:  "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
             By any other name would smell as sweet."
   
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Well, indeed what’s in a name? But, the recent NRC updating process in Assam surely has brought up this question. With thousands of people scampering to find the names of their ancestors in the NRC 1951 and Voter List prior to March 25, 1971, the power and beauty of names has come to the forefront.

Few weeks ago, I collected the Legacy Data of my grandfather online from the NRC Assam website (www.nrcassam.nic.in). The legacy data is part of the requirement for filling up the forms for the NRC updating process. My grandfather’s data was taken from the Voter List of 1971. At that time, he was a resident of Hoogrijan Tea Estate in Upper Assam. Just out of curiosity, I also made a search for the names of the residents living at that place during that time. While going through the list, I found out a bevy of ‘interesting’ names. I call them interesting because we don’t get to hear these names anymore. Some such names in the list were Ghasi, Dhonga, Fatu, Longa, Konde and so on. These names belonged to the Tea Tribe community. I too have grown up in a Tea Estate but these names were no longer in circulation in our times. But then I found some names in the list, the namesakes of which grew up alongside me in the tea garden. Such names were Etwa, Sukurmoni, Budhu and many more.

The list of names came to my mind again today after reading an interesting article in the Telegraph newspaper. The article, titled “Names apart, 'fast' track way to NRC - And Gerela comes home, safe & dry” (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150716/jsp/northeast/story_31813.jsp#.VaebobVBkj4), also speaks about names found in the NRC. The article speaks about the abundance of the name ‘Gerela’ in the NRC in villages in Jorhat, Golaghat, Sivasagar, Morigaon, Nagaon and many more. It speaks about Assamese names which have slowly gone ‘out of fashion’; names like Golapi, Podumi, which are no longer being given to the children.

Another paragraph of the article talks about some more fascinating names. It states, “…..there are also the registered Jolokias (chillies), Jaluk (pepper), Bogori (the berry), Paikari (wholesale), even Pokor (the fundament of the human anatomy), Kukurekhoa (one bitten by a dog) and Kekora (the crab), one belief then, it is said, being that in the days when cholera was an epidemic, a name that could test the limits of human nomenclature could ward off the evil eye…”



Names are indeed mystical. You may hear your name being called many times a day by various people, but hearing your name from the lips of the person you love is altogether a different experience. Also, you may hear numerous names in a day but hearing the name of some ‘special’ person, your mind may drift away for some time.

Also, there are certain names which get etched in your memory. Even if you have no connection with persons with them presently, you tend to still remember them just for their names. In my case, I still remember two boys from the tea garden, who used to play Cricket with us when we were children. These two were brothers, the elder’s name was Laal (meaning red colour), while the younger’s name was Boga (meaning white colour). There were many other boys who played intermittently with us during those times, but after all these years I only remember these two boys, mainly because of the uniqueness of their names. 


This NRC updating process has indeed taken the people here into looking for names long forgotten.