Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Indirect Art of Making Your Presence Felt..............!!

This post is not about 'personality development' or for that matter enhancing your 'social skills'! Rather, it is about how certain 'elements' make use of national celebrations (in this case the Indian Independence Day celebrations) to announce to the public that they are still alive and kicking.   

Yes, I am referring to various militant groups of the north east of India and their modus operandi. 

Let's talk about Assam, my parent state. Well the usual method adopted so far has been to call a 'general' boycott (led by the ULFA) of the flag hoisting and all other functions that follow. This has been going on for more than three decades now. Yes, I must admit, the initial years when the organisation was much younger, more vibrant and had a lot of muscle, the effect was paralysing. Barring government offices where the national tri-colour was hoisted with a sparse gathering, the people in general preferred to remain indoors. Vehicular traffic was at the minimum, shops and business establishments downed their shutters and the whole state more or less wore a deserted look. Such was the clout that the organisation wielded.  

But those glory days of the organisation are over. Most of the mainstream leaders are either no more or have come over-ground. Some of them are housed in designated camps while others are out on bail. The outfit now has two factions, namely, the anti-talk and the pro-talk factions. Both vying with each other to gain an upper hand!  

So, when an opportunity presents itself, like the upcoming Independence Day celebrations on the 15th of August, the outfit (anti-talk faction) makes a feeble attempt at raising its ugly head by calling for a boycott of the celebrations. But it doesn't work nowadays. Most of the people of the state, especially the younger generation are not concerned or bothered with such antics. It is a national celebration which is to be witnessed and enjoyed by one and all of this great nation. So this boycott call by these outfits holds no water at the present times!    

Funny it may seem, but till date no such call has been given by these outfits. Maybe they are waiting for the last moment to do so, who knows. But what is striking and harassing at the moment is the security-checks that have been put in place. You have these gun-wielding commandos and paramilitary personnel stationed at strategic entry points into every city and town of the state and also at vulnerable points of cities and towns to check and frisk all and sundry (ladies are spared, of course!). And believe me when I tell you, they can be real harassing for the innocent! Whether you are travelling by a two-wheeler, three-wheeler or a four-wheeler, whenever you come up against such a check post, you need to bare yourself (I don't mean literally!)for their scrutiny. From your vehicle documents to the luggage compartment, nothing escapes their prying hands and by the way the whole process is carried out in the most uncouth, gruff and foul manner that, it leaves you cursing the people for whom all this security fanfare is being carried out! Anyways, we have weathered this abuse of our privacy for than three decades now, always before the run up to any national celebration, guess we can manage for another few more days!

But wait a minute, let's analyse the whole scenario! Why this big fiasco of throwing an elaborate security blanket across the state in the run up to the Independence Day celebrations? Why this threat perception by the state machinery? None of the militant outfits practising their trade in Assam have given any inclination of a boycott call or otherwise till date, so why?

You may call it a high level of preparedness to tackle any unforeseen events, being proactive or just a show of muscle, okay, but the end result? The 'big fish' will never be caught, they are not here, some low rung straggler who still believes in the militant doctrines may be caught in the drag net, just may be, nothing definite.

So at the end of it all, hasn't the militants, especially the ULFA, made its presence felt, indirectly?

I hope this gives you an insight into the going ons in this part of the world. Do share the information, so that people are aware of the realities of this region and are not misled with all the incorrect pictures painted by the media!


Friday, 25 July 2014

7 States and 14 Militant Groups in the North East! Mind Boggling, isn't it?

The 14 militant groups or lets call them 'The G-14', are the 'big-wigs' of the region, in terms of experience, manpower, arms and expertise in subversive activities. Besides The G-14, there are other smaller, splinter groups that usually sprout because of some difference or the other with their leadership; these are a 'dime a dozen'! Not so much a threat, but generally an irritant to the security forces.

Let's take a closer look at the state-wise breakup of 'The G-14'.

  • Assam: Leading the pack is the ULFA or the United Liberation Front of Asom. Followed by the NDFB or the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. Then there is the KLNLF or Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front, and finally the UPDS or United Peoples' Democratic Solidarity.
  • Manipur: The major militant outfits of this state are the PLA or Peoples Liberation Army and the PREPAK or People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak.
  • Meghalaya: The 'abode of the clouds' has a dubious distinction of rearing three militant outfits, namely the ANVC or Achik National Volunteer Council, HNLC or Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council and GNLA or the Garo National Liberation Army.
  • Mizoram: More or less a peaceful state barring one outfit, the HPC (D) or the Hmar People's Convention (Democratic).
  • Nagaland: Perhaps the oldest of all the militant groups in the region is from this state. Earlier known as the NSCN or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland  since been split into the NSCN (I-M) or NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and NSCN (K) or NSCN (Khaplang).
  • Tripura: The militant outfits active in this state are the NLFT National Liberation Front of Tripura and the ATTF or the All Tripura Tiger Force.
  • Arunachal Pradesh: The youngest among the 'Seven Sisters', Arunachal still has not opened its account with militancy per se. But it is still guilty of aiding and abetting militancy by way of opening its lush green jungles to all the other militant outfits as a safe haven for setting up training camps and hide-outs! 

So, there you have it, 14 militant outfits spread across the seven states of the northeast of the Indian subcontinent!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

3 Reasons for Bangladeshi influx into Assam

Okay folks, there has been a lot of debates, panel discussions, write- ups and even agitations (The Assam Agitations), not to mention my own posts on the influx of Bangladeshi into my parent state of Assam. Well, the problem is there and a very real one at that, there are no two ways about it. But when I take a step back, and look at the whole issue from a very unbiased point of view, the following stand out as the possible reasons for the present scenario:-

  • Work Culture: We, as a people lack this essential ingredient of development and progress. We love to laze around, doing the bare minimum to survive and for everything else, expect someone else to do our dirty work. And that is precisely what has happened. This was the window of opportunity that has allowed the illegal immigrant to take full advantage of, and with the passage of time, slowly but surely, allowed him to settle down in this part of the world. But it is was not the 'blue-collared' job that he was after. He understood, that was far out of his reach, instead he made the menial jobs his niche. By toiling relentlessly under the hot and humid weather conditions as a daily wage earner, a hand-cart puller or pulling a cycle-rickshaw, he became an indispensable part of the Assamese society. And we loved it. It gave us a feeling of 'master and slave'! Little did we realise the ramifications this would have on our society in the days to come. We continued to encourage and patronise these illegal immigrants. Why? We were too lazy to get our house in order by dirtying our own hands!
  • Government Policies: The government at the centre really did not have have any clear cut policies to tackle this problem faced by Assam. In fact, it still does not. They talk about erecting border fences along the entire border. I have not heard of a more absurd solution to a problem than this. Imagine for a moment fencing a terrain that includes rugged hills, dense forests, rivers and the works! To me, its all just 'lip-service' to quell voices of dissensions. The political will to solve the problem of illegal immigration into Assam is just not evident in the policies formulated by the powers that be. I have seen this happen down the years.
  • Vote Bank Politics: No illegal immigration is possible without the 'blessings' of the powers that be. And I am afraid Assam is that 'blessed' state of India, where the illegal immigrant from Bangladesh is treated with utter reverence by the political parties! Well he ought to be, simply because he can either make or break a political party with the power of his vote! Surprising isn't' it? Wondering how an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh have the right to vote? Well, it has happened, it is happening and I hope for the sake of my parent state, it doesn't happen in the future! I wouldn't like to go into the nitty-gritty of it all, but suffice it to say, the magnitude of the problem is huge.

So, when you have three forces acting in tandem in favour of the illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, there is little that a lay man can do to upset that rhythm.

But then all is not lost! I see a very positive change in the younger lot of my state. They are more aware about progress and development and many have embodied the spirit of entrepreneurship by setting up various units across a array of disciplines. This is extremely beneficial for the state as a whole. Besides providing livelihood opportunities to the indigenous people, it is the shift in the mindset which is more noteworthy! At Least, with this effort, work ethics is being instilled in the youth, which should in the long run, be able to nullify the primary reason for the illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, to set foot in Assam. 

The other two reasons? Well its pretty difficult to change a politician, isn't' it?    

Monday, 14 July 2014

Will a Separate Time Zone for the North East be Beneficial?

I was a bit amused by reading the Sunday supplement of the  "Assam Tribune", a leading newspaper of Assam and the region as a whole. In one of the articles, the author, enumerates several factors that plague the northeastern region of India thus stunting its growth and advocates, guess what, a separate time zone as an answer to all the vexing problems!

So, I did a quick research and found that the region is about 2,55, 500 sq. km. (approx.) in area, which is about 7 per cent of India's total landmass and with an approximate population of 45 million (4%). Mind you this is spread across the "Seven Sisters"!

Now, with this backdrop of the region, will a separate time zone for the region be feasible?  I personally feel this is not the answer to the development of the region. Although the author opines that, by being ahead of the rest of the country by 1 to 1.5 hours, we in the northeastern part of the country lose 'daylight' and as such there is a dip in our productivity due to this geographical phenomena and goes on to give several other reasons that are counter productive. 

One that seems rather absurd is the rise in the consumption of alcohol. Come on man, this is rather far fetched! A person hooked to the bottle will take to the bottle immaterial of whether his time zone is changed or remains the same.

But what caught my attention was the mention about Bangladesh enjoying a steady economic growth because of being 30 minutes ahead of us in the northeastern part of India. Well that's good isn't it, but then if that be the case, then why is there unabated influx across the border? Why can't Bangladesh provide employment to its own citizens? Why then should these illegal immigrants continue to cross over to these parts, especially Assam, set up base and procreate like nobodies business and create an imbalance in the demography that's been the bane for so much of turmoil in the state of Assam? 

Yes, I do agree the North East of India has a long way to go in terms of economic development and growth, but setting up a separate time zone for the region is certainly not the answer. It is no magic wand! Just by setting the clock back and saying "OK we are now at par with the rest of the country, so lets get our act together and grow". It doesn't happen that way, there is more, much more that each of us in this region needs to do for it to happen. The effort is more "inward" rather than "outward"!

You can read the full write up at A Matter of Time

Take a moment to read up on the above link and let me know of your opinions.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

7 Sisters of the Northeast of India

Popularly known as the "Seven Sisters", this nomenclature in reality denotes the seven states that comprise the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent.

I am sometimes surprised when people from my own country, including the powers that be, refer to the seven states of the northeast of India as the 'Northeast'! I mean, come on people, this region comprises of seven states, namely, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Each of these states have very distinct characteristics that are unique to each on its own. So clubbing them as one entity, does not do justice to the vibrancy that each state exudes!

Generalizing the region as the 'Northeast', I guess is fine, but to understand and experience the uniqueness of each of the constituents of the "Seven Sisters", one has to come and enjoy first hand what each one of these states has to offer. And I can assure you, that would be a handful. The warmth, natural beauty, simplicity and the colourful people will make you come back for more.

It is in no way my intention to make my posts a writ-up for promoting tourism of this region, in fact the truth couldn't farther. Thats the work of the respective state tourism departments, where everything is spruced and showcased for all and sundry. What my intentions are, is to give you a first hand information, with no holds barred, that would help you to understand this 'region' as a whole. 

I have started this journey with posts regarding my parent state of Assam, there's still so much more I need to share with you. I sometimes sit and wonder when will I get around to the other "Sisters" of the northeast of India?

But I guess, patience and perseverance and a good dose of viewership support from you guys out there, should get me there!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Of Bangladeshis' and the northeast of India!

Where or when does one say, "Okay, that's enough, this must stop!"

I am referring to the influx of illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. The very exodus of people moving freely across the border into the fertile soils of India, in particular, that of Assam, had led to the famous/infamous (you be the judge of that!) Assam Agitation of the late nineteen hundreds. An accord was signed and one of the clauses of that accord was the Detection, Deletion and Deportation of these illegal immigrants. But sadly I must confess, more than three decades down the line, nothing concrete has materialised in this regard.

The irony I must add was that, a government was formed on the backdrop of this agitation, there was a lot of expectation from those elected to power, as these were the same persons who spearheaded the agitation. But even the span of ten years in power could not yield any tangible results with regards to the influx! Well I wouldn't like to go in details about the successive governments, both in the state as well as the centre, and their efforts to check this cancerous growth, called "Bangladeshi influx". But suffice it to say that, it was more of a blessing in disguise for the politicians. 

Now what does the central leadership have to say, after our country has been 'Modi-fied'? I clearly recall a statement where our Prime Minister had earmarked the 16th of May 2014, when the illegal immigrants had to pack their bags and leave and I thought to myself, well here's a guy who talks tough but can he 'walk the talk'? Anyways, I didn't really believe him. And I was proved correct!

A few weeks back, our foreign minister lands up in Dhaka on a good-will mission to try and improve bilateral relations and it was hoped that she would also discuss the burning issue of influx. But what a let down! The issue was never brought up leave alone discussing it. And to rub salt into the wounds, she goes ahead and announces that those under the age of thirteen and above sixty-five, don't require legal documents to enter our country. Oh! Had I been in such a situation, I would have thoroughly welcomed it! And I guess those in Bangladesh are certainly licking and smacking their lips at this opportunity. Imagine the joy of waltzing into another country on the veracity of one's birth certificate, which by the way, can easily be duplicated and tampered with in our side of the world by greasing the palms of some officials in the health department. And to top it all off, the foreign minister goes and announces a bus service from Guwahati (capital of Assam, in case you didn't know) to Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh!

Well done Madam Foreign Minister, this was the 'icing on the cake' we were so eagerly waiting for! I mean let us all welcome them with open arms in a legal way. This would cut down on the wastage of money, time and manpower in trying to put up defunct border fences, that would never materialise. Look, I have no qualms nor am I in any way against having good neighbourly relations, I fully understand that no one can survive in isolation, but there has to be proper check and balances in place to ensure that the indigenous populace is not harmed in any manner. 

But can this be actually expected from our leaders? I have my doubts. Their whole game is one of one upmanship and as long as this attitude pervades, logical thinking will never surface. 

And what of our student leaders who are still crying sore about the whole affair? Well, I guess they will just have to live to fight another day!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

'General Elections' and the North East!

This is election year in India.

When we as citizens of this great country of ours, exercise our constitutional rights and elect our parliamentarians, to govern the country for another fresh term. And like the rest of the country, the northeast, has also exercised her rights, barring a few districts of lower Assam, which go to polls on the 24th of April.

It was rather funny reading about and watching TV coverage of the campaigning efforts of the two major political parties of India. It was like, you know, "monkey see - monkey do" syndrome! No sooner a star campaigner of one party leaves a place, after belittling and degrading the other on all fronts; up surfaces the other star campaigner of another political party, in yet another place, to get back at his adversary with his brand of verbal tirade of all the wrongs, misdeeds, vices, and what nots, just to score a few political points. And this pattern went on throughout the campaigning phase, till the polling dates. With the last phase of polling slated later this week in the districts of lower Assam, the stronghold of vote bank politics, as well as the capital city of the state, all these jokers and their troupes are congregated there, biding their time, sharpening their 'tongues', plotting and planning and devising strategies to woo the voters with their tall manifestos and hollow promises!  

But this is of little consequence to the general populace of the region. What with only 24 MPs returning from the north east to the hallowed corridors of parliament, we are, for all practical purposes, clearly outnumbered. In the house of 545 vociferous, loud mouthed, desk thumping, obnoxious narrators, our poor reps are reduced to mere spectators, reclining in the back rows, to witness the ever changing drama that unfolds in parliament.

This region needs good, strong, assertive representation, but that is not forthcoming from the lot that we elect. So it is of no use crying foul at our state of affairs. It reminds me of a line
from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - 'the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings...' 

So, when all is said and done, the government formed, and the members take to parliament with renewed gusto, including the two dozen from the north east, what transpires in the days and years to come is anybody's guess.

All we can do as underlings, is hope for the best, for our country, and in particular the north eastern region as a whole!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

When Self realisation speaks!

The north east and Assam in particular, of late, has been experiencing protests over the creation of separate states. Not that this sort of protests and agitation is anything new to Assam, because the state as a whole, has been there and witnessed that, in the 80's, during the famous "Assam Agitation". What is rather frustrating now, is that these protests and agitations are not a mass movement, but rather localised to certain pockets. 

To understand this better the following facts should help.

After India gained independence in 1947, the north east comprised of only three states, namely, Manipur and Tripura, which were princely states and a larger Assam, which was till independence, under the British rule. The years that followed after independence, saw the reorganisation of four new states carved out of the original territory of Assam. This was in line with the Indian governments' policy of creating newer states along ethnic and linguistic lines. Thus, Nagaland gained statehood in 1963, followed by Meghalaya in 1972 and Mizoram a Union Territory in the same year. Finally in 1987, both Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh gained statehood. A closer look at these stats, shows the northeastern region, barring Assam, to be a very young region, still coming to grips with governance and self-preservation. But not Assam.

While the six other states are more or less homogeneous in their ethnicity, the same cannot be said about Assam. Right across its length and breadth, this state is a myriad of cross cultural, ethnic and linguistic inhabitants. From the Ahoms, Adivasis, Bodos, Chutias, Morans and Muttocks to the Koch-Rajbonshis, each of these ethnic groups are striving to have their voices of heard through whatever means available. This is the crux of the matter, which is unique to the state of Assam.

The situation becomes even more acute when, in the name of a separate identity, these ethnic groups resort to protests and agitations that almost holds the rest of the state to ransom. This is typical to the Koch-Rajbonshis and the Bodos. Concentrated only in areas that fall in the entry point to Assam and the north east as a whole, the agitations carried on by these groups disrupts the normal rail and road communications. The modus operandi? Thousands of agitators congregating and squatting on the rail tracks or blocking highways, completely throwing rail and road communications out of gear! These protests are not short, impromptu bursts of enthusiasm but rather well thought out programmes, running into hours. Little do these agitators realise the fall-out their protests would have, not only on their own everyday life but the region as a whole. To garner the support and sympathy across all strata of society, any mass movement must not alienate others who are not directly related to the struggle. But the opposite seems to be happening in the case of the Bodos and the Koch-Rajbonshis.  

This is not to suggest that, what these two ethnic groups are doing is wrong. On the contrary, they are absolutely within their constitutional rights to fight for their self-preservation and self-realisation. But not at the cost of putting a much larger populace in a mental frame of uncertainty and harassment. 

The leaders of these groups should go back to their drawing boards, re-think their strategies and come out with a workable and acceptable formula to achieve their ends. The present style of road and rail blockade is most undesirable!

Self realisation is not selfish or is it?

Monday, 24 February 2014

SUALKUCHI - "The Manchester of the East"!

What an apt moniker for this sleepy and charming town! Situated at a distance of 35 km from Guwahati on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, this town exudes a warmth like no other. 

In my last post, I had talked about the indigenous varieties of silk that is endemic to Assam, and today, I would like to take you on a journey to the nerve centre of where it all takes place!

The birth of this internationally acclaimed 'weaving village' can be historically traced to the 11th century when, Dharma Pal of the Pala dynasty, sponsored the craft of weaving and brought in 26 weaving families from Tantikuchi to Sualkuchi. These families were encouraged to give wing to their imagination and transfer their artistic talents to the looms and finally to the fabric! The fledgling industry was further boosted during the early part of the 20th century, when eminent Gandhians across the country, in answer to Gandhijis' swadeshi slogan of "back to the villages", supported the industry with financial aid. This acted as a big support for the production of Eri silk or the 'poor' man's silk, which was a favourite with the Gandhians due to its low cost. But the road to development and success was not an easy one for these weaving families, especially during the Indian independence struggle. But amidst many a strife and turmoil during the pre and post years of Indian independence struggle, the handful of skilled weavers of Sualkuchi, held on fast to their inherent artistic talents, to emerge victorious and stand tall, at the end of it all.

Today, Sualkuchi has about 17000 silk looms that are working tirelessly to give birth to a maze of intricate patterns woven on Muga and Pat silk. Accounting for more than 25000 direct and indirect employment under this industry. And as you casually walk down the streets of this town, you can hear the unmistakable click-clacking of the looms coming from the karkhanas ( workshops) attached to every house. Walk into any karkhana, and you will be welcomed in the traditional warm Assamese way and given a guided tour of what is going on! There is no interruption here, in fact, the owners are honoured to have guests witness their  art of silk weaving. Besides being privy to the manufacture of the world famous Muga and Pat Mekhela Chadar (traditional Assamese attire for women), you can also see the creation of silk sarees and skirts as well as kurtas and shirts for men, which have been done keeping in tune with the changing demands of the markets.

But all is not rosy for Sualkuchi and her 'silk weavers'. Unscrupulous businessmen and spurious brands, claiming to be the real 'Assam' silk, have in recent times, flooded the markets in the towns and cities with their cheap imitation products. This has caused a lot of problems for the genuine weavers and their authentic products. 

So how can you avoid being duped? Simple. Take a ride down to Sualkuchi, leisurely stroll along the streets, visit the many shops, and take what attracts you! Genuineness is guaranteed. You get what you pay for!

Till next time!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Stunning Assam Silk!

Muga silkworm
 Assam is blessed with three indigenous varieties of silk. The golden Muga, white Pat and warm Eri.

The world famous Muga silk of Assam, starts its journey from the Antheraea assamensis variety of silkworm. This variety of silkworm is endemic to Assam. The silk produced from this silkworm has a beautiful glossy golden hue and its lustre improves with age and washing. It is said that this silk, very often, outlives its owner! 

Reserved for the royal families of Assam during the yester years, Muga silk is now woven into beautiful, intricately designed, mekhela chadar (traditional Assamese wear for ladies).

Muga mekhela chadar
This traditional ladies wear is treasured by both the old and the young and worn only during special occasions! Though the cost of this apparel is extremely high, but that is not a prohibitive factor for owning one. It is a must have for an Assamese lady!

The next variety of Assam silk is the Pat silk. This silk is produced from Bombyx textor silkworms that are grown on mulberry trees and is sometimes also known as 'mulberry silk'.

Pat silk sarees
Although Pat silk is light weight and delicate in texture, it is in fact very durable! This variety of silk is woven into sarees in vibrant bright colours, but the favourite are those in white, which stand for purity. With traditional motifs, which include flowers, human figures, animals etc, woven around the border, the Pat silk sarees perfectly compliments the Assamese bride!

Eri silk fabric
The third variety of Assam silk is the Eri silk. This is produced from the Samia cynthia ricini silkworm. The Eri silk is darker and heavier than the other silks and due to its thermal properties, makes a warm, comfortable cosy shawl during winter months. Due to its low cost, it is often known as the 'poor' man's silk and is widely used in the region. Eri silk products are a favourite among "Gandhians" and those that propagate the culture of 'non-violance', as the silk is extracted without killing the silkworm! Besides shawls, this variety of silk is also made into jackets, blankets, bedspreads, curtains, cushion covers etc. 

Although the silk industry of Assam dates back to the early 20th century, the method of production is still loom based and is concentrated in a small town called "Sualkuchi"!

But more about that in my next post!

Monday, 17 February 2014

The 3rd Element of Assamese Symbolism

Areca nut (Tamul)
 The humble areca nut or "Tamul", is a widely grown nut in almost all typical Assamese households. It is as if, without this nut tree, an Assamese household is not complete! Extensively chewed by both young and old, it is a part of the Assamese way of life.

Betel leaf
The betel leaf  or "Paan", compliments the "Tamul", and together with a dash of lime, spread on the betel leaf, make up what is called "Tamul Paan".

Saplings of this leaf are planted methodically or allowed to grow on the "Tamul" tree, as a creeper or vine and in some instances, this leaf grows wild.

There is nothing fancy or exotic about the "Tamul or Paan", in its normal state of usage. Consumed as a combination by many, it is just another habit forming practise, without any significance attached to it. It is so commonly used by people, that, to understand its symbolic importance in the Assamese culture, becomes quite confusing.

But this lowly nut and simple leaf, takes on a whole new grandeur during certain occasions of the Assamese people.  

The whole "Tamul" and "Paan" when offered on a "Xorai" draped with a "Gamocha", exudes an aura of sombreness, reverence, respect and a feeling of welcomeness. The simplicity of the nut and leaf are transformed. They become symbols of reverence and respect to those being offered. And it is expected that, to those who are being offered, receive it with utmost humility and respect also.

This transformation of the betel nut and betel leaf, is even more pronounced during festivals and religious ceremonies. Devotees dressed in their traditional Assamese attire, offer the "Tamul" and "Paan" on a sparkling "Xorai" draped with a "Gamocha" as obeisance to the deities on bended knees and bowed heads.

Wedding invitations in the typical Assamese culture, mandates that it be done with whole "Tamul" and "Paan". There is no fancy wedding invitation cards sent out to the invitees, but rather, people are personally invited by offering of this nut and leaf.

Guests are welcomed with this traditional symbol and offered pieces of the nut and leaf after a meal.

Symbolism is an integral part of Assamese culture. And the three elements, namely, the "Gamocha", "Xorai" and "Tamul Paan" are inter-woven with the Assamese way of life! 

Monday, 10 February 2014

XORAI - the traditional symbol of Assam

'Xorai' is a traditional symbol of Assam.

In very simplistic terms, the Xorai is an offering tray, with a stand, which may or may not have a cover. But to the Assamese people, it is more than its physical structure!

Symbolism is an important aspect in the Assamese culture. Though handed down over the centuries, this ancient cultural practise is still very much in vogue even today. Various elements are used to represent beliefs, feelings, pride, identity etc. And the 'Xorai' is one of these elements!

It is made out of bell-metal, having a rounded tray for offerings with a stand. The cover is dome shaped with a pointed apex that can be removed.

The 'Xorai' is an element of great respect. It is used as an offering tray for betel nuts and leaves to guests as a sign of welcome and thanks. For offering food and other items to the Gods in the Namghars (place of worship). During cultural functions, the 'Xorai' occupies a prominent place on stage, as a symbol of respect and reverence for the culture. And it is, on many occasions, given as a gift to honour prominent personalities.

The Assamese 'Xorai' does not exude any tangible extravaganza as an object, but the intangible symbolic representations are immense to the people of its land.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Stunning GAMOCHA: symbol of Assamese identity!

The intricate motifs of the 'Gamocha'
The word "Gamocha" or "Gamosa" means, 'Ga' - body and 'Mocha' or 'Mosa' - to wipe. So when put together, it literally means 'to wipe ones body'. The Assamese equivalent of the towel!

This piece of woven cloth is unique to the Assamese people. It is a symbol and identity of their culture, which occupies a status of immense respect and reverence.

History does not offer too much about the origin of this piece of Assamese attire. Although, traces of something similar to this are found in some south-east Asian countries, but this piece of cloth is absolutely unique to Assam and its people. 

It is rectangular in shape, with a diameter of 2 feet by 4 feet. The base material is cotton. It has intricate motifs on three sides, usually woven with red thread. A very simple piece of workmanship but the designs on three sides speaks volumes of the artistic qualities of the weavers.

The usage of the "Gamocha", in fact, is very versatile in nature! From being used to wiping ones body after a bath to the sweat off ones brow, the use of the "Gamocha" takes on another facet during religious functions and celebrations. It is used with immense respect and reverence during such occasions. Folded neatly along its four feet length, it is draped over the neck of those to be honoured! During Bihu, it is gifted with love and affection and is called a 'Bihuwaan' and forms a part of the attire of the Bihu dancers, who tie it around their heads.

The Assamese society cannot be imagined without the simple "Gamocha"! The only constant in the ever changing social dynamics. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Me-Dam-Me-Phi - the festival of the Ahoms!

The festival rituals.
One of the most important festivals of the Ahoms, the name itself is made up three references to different entities!

Me- means offerings, Dam- means ancestors and Phi-means Gods, when put together, it literally means, paying homage to the departed and to the gods.

This festival is celebrated every year on the 31st of January by the Ahoms of the Tai-Shan stock. It is a way of paying respects to their fore-fathers and acknowledge the contribution to the society. 

The Ahom faith and tenets as chronicled, suggests that when Lengdon, the God of Heaven sent two of his grandsons, Khunlung and Khunlai to earth by a golden thread; Gasingpha, the God of knowledge advised them (the grandsons) to perform certain rites and rituals during different months of the year and on different occasions. Thus the Ahoms have Umpha, Phuralong, Me-Dam-Me-Phi and Rikhan as festivals that are celebrated on different occasions and during different months of the year.

Deeply entrenched in their customs, Me-Dam-Me-Phi, according to the Ahoms, assumes the most significance, as they believe that a man after his death remains as Dam (ancestor) only for a few days and soon becomes Phi (God). They also believe that the soul of a man, which is immortal unites with the supreme soul that possess the qualities of a spiritual being, and always blesses the family.

So in order to worship the dead, every Ahom family on this day, erects a pillar, called the Damkhuta, on the opposite side of the family kitchen or Borghar, where various offerings are made, like home made wine, ma-prasad, rice and different types of fish and meat preparations. The meat of choice being pork.

Me-Dam-Me-Phi not only reflects the manners an customs of the Ahoms, but also creates an atmosphere of brotherhood and understanding among the new generation.

 My earlier post on the Rise and Fall of the Ahom Kingdom - in a nutshell of 10th December 2013, gives a brief account of the genesis and end of the Ahom kingdom, which will give a better understanding of this post!

Till next time!!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Are You Cheating God?

Well, thats the title of my third ebook!

Just published it a while ago on smashwords dot com and its up for online reading, sample download and of course out right purchase.

The book makes an attempt to look at a very important and challenging Christian principle about 'tithing'

Check it out at or read my author profile at

Please take some time out to review my book and drop me a line.


Friday, 24 January 2014

The Northeast and National Celebrations

The time has come around again for this great country of ours to celebrate its 64th 'Republic Day'. What a feeling of pride and joy for every Indian!

We owe it to founding fathers, who more than six decades ago, declared this country of ours a sovereign, democratic republic on the 26th of January 1950. But little did they know, that years down the line, this feeling of elation and achievement would not be shared by all, especially among the states of the north east of India.

It is a daunting task to pin point the exact reason for this anti-mainland India feeling, so common among the north easterners in general. Every year, the celebrations of our Independence Day and the Republic Day is marked with bandhs or boycotts called by the numerous so called freedom fighting groups of all the seven-sister states of the north east. But the scope of this post is not to do a in-depth analysis of the pro and cons of this phenomenon, but rather to look at the whole issue from a 'common mans' perspective.

The situation is akin to being caught between 'the devil and the deep sea'. And it is further aggravated by the media, both print and electronic, flashing news bulletins and glaring headlines about the 'call' to boycott all celebrations. This does play tricks with ones psyche! So what does one do when faced with such a situation?

It has taken a few years, but the common masses have realised that it is not as bad as it is made out to be. There are no gun-toting goons lining the venues, or vigilantes at every street corner, trying to prevent people from going to the celebrations. Things have much changed over the past couple of decades. The common man has realised that, this call to boycott the celebrations of these two significant days of our country, is nothing but an face-saving effort by these outfits. It is just not possible for any outfit to flex their muscles during these two days. The security blankets thrown around the towns and venues makes it next to impossible to disrupt the celebrations! Yes, to anyone who is not from this region, the situation would seem foreboding, what with all the media reports and all. But it is a far cry from reality!

People come out in large numbers to be a part of the celebrations. The unfurling of the Tri-colour, march pasts by different groups, school children doing their stint, various cultural dances and exhibitions. The north east celebrates just as well as any other state of the Indian sub-continent. 

The cloak of inhibition to celebrate the two most important days of our great country has been shed by the north easterner. Realisation has dawned on him that, he is also a vital part in the scheme of things concerning this country of ours. Gone are the days of timidness and submissiveness to the demands of the so called modern day 'freedom fighters'. Dynamics have shifted with the realisation that the only thing constant is 'change'

Change and adapt to different situations or be left behind. And no one likes to be left behind!

Till next time!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Bhogali or Magh Bihu - that was!

Its all over and done with! 

The celebrations of 'Bhogali Bihu' or 'Magh Bihu' is over and life in the state is beginning to limp back to normal. People are still trying to shake off the stupor of the past couple of days of merrymaking and gorging themselves on food!

But that's how Bihu is celebrated in Assam. Everything is put on hold. All that matters is how the celebrations are going to be carried out. Discussions are centred around the site of the Bhelaghar, its design, mind you, there are a lot of creative guys around, this year there were a few eye openers! Like the crude replica of the 'Titanic', all made out of hay and bamboo and then there was this one show casing the 'Rang Ghar', the Ahom amphitheatre. 

Another important aspect of this Bihu, which attracts alot of discussions, is the height of the 'mezi', the stacking of fire-wood. One group competing with another to arrange the highest stack of fire-wood! All done with a feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood.

And the fun at level of the village? Mind boggling! Imagine a horde of people descending into a pond and fishing? This has to be seen to be believed. There are no prizes for catching the biggest fish, but a subtle recognition of the persons' skill. This is community fishing during 'Rongali Bihu' or 'Magh Bihu'. Everyone joins in. The young and old, men and women. Its fun time!

Then there is the 'buffalo fights'. Just for a moment, imagine two full grown, massive animals bearing down on each other with heads lowered, nostrils flared and eyes locked, clashing head-on, like two locomotives. The sight is enough to send the spectators in a frenzy! This fight for supremacy between the animals continues till one gives up and decides to call it a day! Here it may get a bit tricky for the spectators. As the vanquished animal bolts, it doesn't really care about direction. The only thought playing on its mind is escape and this it tries to achieve by simply running as far as possible from the other. And in the process, there is every possibility of trampling the spectators, who are sometimes so engrossed by the whole spectacle, that they fail to take evasive action and end up getting injured, sometimes seriously. But believe it or not, these injuries, if they happen, are borne with pride and fondness rather than guilt and anger!

Two birds, with razor sharp back-pointing talons and with sharp knives tied to their feet, jumping and lounging at each other repeatedly, trying to cause maximum damage, that's 'cock-fight' for you! Cheered on by the onlookers, the birds go crazy, trying all the more to maim or kill the other. The fight ends when one bird is too injured to carry on and refuses to get up. Well its winner takes it all! Its surprising, how a mild cock can get so aggressive. But then the world is full of surprises!

On a more sedate note, there are the fights between 'mynahs' and also 'egg-fights'. All in all, its a time for enjoying the bounty provided by the Gods.

The actual atmosphere of 'Bhogali Bihu' can only be felt and experienced in the Assamese villages and this year it has not been any less. People try to duplicate the celebrations in the towns and cities of Assam, but sadly, how can you create something on artificiality? The ambiance is just not there!

Till next time!!  

Monday, 13 January 2014

Bhogali Bihu - the harvest festival of the Assamese

Today is the first day of "Bhogali Bihu" or "Magh Bihu" called URUKA!

It is the time of paying obeisance to the Gods for a bountiful harvest. Marked by fun and feasting in open harvested fields and near river banks, the festivities really starts rolling from the evening and carries on the whole night through!

For a  more detailed write on "Bhogali Bihu" or "Magh Bihu" , please read my post of 3rd January 2014, titled - "The Unifying spirit of Assam - Bihu".

Have fun!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

My first Ebook - published!

I have been feeling extremely good about myself right through today! 

The reason? I finally wrote, edited, formatted and published my first ebook this morning!

The book deals with the power of our tongues and what we, as Christians, should do to control this small, but very powerful organ that we take for granted.

The book is absolutely free to read online or download! Really look forward to your valuable comments and suggestions.

Thanks and all the best!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Secrets of Tea manufacture revealed - in 7 steps!

As you sip the steaming, aromatic brew every morning, to clear the cobwebs in your brain and kick start the day; have you ever wondered, how did 'this' end up in my 'morning cuppa'? I guess not. Well that's fine, this post is not to make you feel guilty, but rather to let you all know, very briefly, the entire manufacturing process of Tea!

The successful plantation of tea (camellia sinensis) requires a temperate wet climate, with adequate rainfall and sunshine. It must be kept in mind that there is no water logging at the roots of the tea bushes. Once the tea bushes start maturing and sprouting leaves and buds, the process of taking the raw material from the bushes to our cup, starts!

  • Plucking: - The first step in collecting the raw material is the plucking process! The plucking season is divided into three stages or Flushes. The First Flush (March/April), Second Flush (May/June-July) and the Third Flush/Autumn Flush/Rainy Flush (September/November). This plucking cycle is maintained at about a weeks interval. The tea processed from the first and second flushes are considered to be of high quality! But there is a twist here. This is not a haphazard process of plucking any and every leaf that the tea bush has to offer! But rather a deft approach or a skillful way of plucking just two leaves and a bud. It is this approach of plucking only two leaves and a bud that accounts for the high quality of tea from the first two flushes! Care is taken by the labourers not to crush the delicate leaves and buds which are collected in bamboo baskets.
  • Withering: - The green leaves, after being brought from the tea gardens to the factory, is subjected to close scrutiny to remove any foreign matter that is not related to the leaf itself. After this, the green leaves are loosely spread across large 'withering troughs' to a depth of approximately 5-6 inches and air is blown over the green leaves by fans installed at strategic location. The whole purpose of withering is to get rid of the superficial moisture content of the green leaf and make it ready to withstand the strain of rolling without breaking up in the process. This process generally takes about 18 to 24 hours depending on the moisture content of the leaf. The green leaves, when properly withered, gives off a fragrant odour, suggesting its readiness for the next step!
  • Rolling: - The 'withered' leaves are then subjected to mild pressure between metal plates. This process ruptures the cells in the leaves and releases juices which moistens the rolled leaves, enhancing further the chemical changes that the leaf has to undergo.
  • Fermentation: - The 'rolled' leaves are then loosely spread in thickness of 1 to 2 inches across 'fermenting beds' and allowed to ferment for about 3 to 4 hours. Fermentation is a chemical process which allows the tea liquor to become palatable. Here the juices of the rolled leaves react with each other as well as the air (oxidation) to give off the characteristic aroma of tea and also a distinctive reddish brown colour. Optimum timing has to be maintained to stop the fermenting process, so that the leaves are ready to move onto the next step!
  • Drying: - The objective of this process is to arrest any further fermentation of the leaves. To achieve this, the fermented leaves are passed through a 'dryer' and remains there for approximately 20 minutes at a temperature of around 240 to 250 F. Care is taken not to totally dry out the leaves but to extract the moisture and at the same time preserve all the other characteristics to optimum levels!   
  • Sorting: - The penultimate step in the process of tea manufacture! Here, the 'dried' tea is passed over 'sorting machines' fitted with revolving or vibrating wire mesh trays of varying sizes. As the 'tea' passes over these trays, the whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and dust grades fall at different places. This makes up the diffrent grades of tea!
  • Packageing: - Once the 'sorting' process is over, the different 'grades of tea' are packed in plywood chests or paper sacks with aluminium foil lining on the inside. After stamping the various statutory information on the outside of the packaged product, the finished 'tea' makes its way to the market to be consumed by the millions!

Although tea manufacturing has come a long way from the time the British started this industry in Assam, the 'plucking' process is still very much labour intensive. No machine can substitute the deft hand and eye co-ordination of the pluckers in the tea gardens! Barring this very crucial aspect in the manufacturing process, all other processes are automated and flow along a pre-determind path.

So, thats it! The secret of the 'two leaves and a bud' and its journey from the tea bushes to our cups, revealed in seven brief steps!!

Enjoy your next 'cuppa' !

Your comments would be appreciated!!

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Unifying spirit of Assam - "BIHU"

Come the time for this cultural festival and everything is put on hold!

Not only celebrated in the state of Assam, but around the globe, this festival has the magical quality of exuberating a feeling of love, friendship and brotherhood amongst all. It transcends caste, religion, colour, hate, ill-feeling and instead, ushers in an atmosphere of peace and good-will!

To someone not from Assam, 'BIHU' is just one festival. But in fact it is three very distinct festivals spread through the calendar year. It is firmly rooted with the land and its people. The festival manifests mans' dependence on god and his blessings for the sustenance of life! No doubt the festivals are celebrated with a lot of fervour and gaiety, but there is an underlying current of obeisance to the supreme being!

Lets take a closer look at this festival called - 'BIHU' 

  • Bhogali Bihu: - This is celebrated during mid January. Also called Magh Bihu, it is a harvest festival which marks the end of the harvest season. With granaries full of the harvested crop, it is a time for eating and feasting. The name 'Bhogali' comes from the word 'Bhog', which means to 'eat' and 'enjoy'. On the eve of the festival called Uruka, young men and boys build makeshift shelters from the hay of the harvested fields called 'Bhelaghar', preferably near a river or open field along with the all important 'Meji', which is a stack of fire-wood reaching to heights of ten to fifteen feet! The entire night is spent eating and singing Bihu songs around the 'Meji'. (If one were to wander around at night during this time in an Assamese village, the sights of the numerous dots of light and laughter would leave one spellbound!) The following morning, all those involved in the celebrations, take a bath and then worship the 'God of Fire' by burning the 'Meji'. Prayers are offered to mark the end of the harvest season. Throughout the day, various ethnic forms of entertainment are organised at the community level, like buffalo-fights, cock-fights, egg-fights, nightingale-fights etc. 
Of course to enjoy the full scale experience of 'Bhogali Bihu', one has to visit the villages of the Assamese people or else it would be just an artificial exposure to the so called 'cultural festivity' practised else where!

  • Bohag Bihu: - Also called 'Rongali Bihu', this is celebrated during mid April, to welcome the Assamese 'New Year' as well as the onset of spring. It is the most popular of all the Bihus. The first day of the Bihu is called 'Goru Bihu' or "Cow Bihu', where the cows are properly washed and worshipped and new ropes are tied around their necks. The following day, the 15th of April is called 'Manuh Bihu' or 'Man Bihu'. This is the New Year day. People dress up in new clothes, visit friends and relatives, exchange a lot of love and warmth and ready themselves to take on the new year with fresh vigour and vitality. This is the most vibrant and enjoyable time of the year for the Assamese people. There is a lot of fun and frolic, especially among the young, where Bihu songs or 'Bihugeet' are sung by groups called 'Huxori dols'
One can feel the warmth of the Assamese people permeate through the air during the month long celebration of 'Rongali Bihu'.

  • Kongali Bihu: - Celebrated during mid October, it is also called 'Kati Bihu'. The mood during this Bihu is very sombre. There is less merriment and the atmosphere has an air of constraint and solemnity. The granaries of the farmers almost running dry and the crop in the fields in the growing stages, the future being uncertain, the farmers invoke the blessing of the gods by lighting earthen lamps or 'sakis' on this day. These 'sakis' are placed at the foot of the household 'tulsi' plant, the granary, the household garden and in the paddy fields. The cultivators recite a special chant called 'rowa-khowa' , to ward off pests and other spells from their crops and in the evening, the cattle are fed specially made rice cakes called 'pithas' to appease the gods. The custom of tying a lamp at the end of a long bamboo pole, called 'akaxibonti', to show the souls of the dead the way to heaven, is practised even today, during 'Kongali Bihu'.
Whether it is the harvest festival, the spring time or during times of uncertain cultivation, Bihu is the unifying bond that holds the Assamese people together. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year Wishes !!

Wishing each and everyone a bright and prosperous 2014!

Hoping the year just ended was good and may the new one be even better!!