Saturday, 26 December 2009

Random Thoughts IV

The happy side of Guwahati

Written after a trip to Assam early in 2008

Not everything was so depressing in Guwahati this time -- some things also made me very happy. They mostly has to do with some people I met this time – for apart from meeting and rediscovering old friends, admired teachers, and respected elders, I also met some very pleasant and polite young people, who seemed to have the right ideas about what is good for them and for Assam.

One idea that seems to be taking root slowly but surely is the idea of the Jatiya Vidyalayas, of which there are already more than four hundred in the state. Having studied in an English medium school myself, and having grown old enough now to be able to look at both sides, I am convinced that the only way forward for the Assamese is for everyone to be really bilingual, which unfortunately my missionary school education did not make me: I can only haltingly read and even more haltingly write in Assamese, to my intense embarrassment. I have tried very hard to improve my Assamese over the years, but with age, that ability seems to diminish. So I was really thrilled that besides other very laudable aims, one of the basic aims of the Jatiya Vidyalayas is to make their students bilingual (in English and Assamese). Since children are our future, it is wonderful to see this movement gaining acceptance and recognition.

While on children, it was a great pleasure and privilege to visit ‘Arohan’ in the city. Built and run according to the plans and vision of our legendary Bhabendranath Saikia, it has to be seen to be believed – for success stories like this are rare. When we visited it on a Friday afternoon, the place was buzzing with happy activity. Children of various ages were busily engaged in various activities – singing, dancing, painting, reading,…; there was a smile on most faces. On my way back my thoughts went back to my own childhood when I had spent many happy hours in the Bal Bhawan in Delhi. There is a Bal Bhawan even in Guwahati, I know, but why then did we need Shri Saikia to make this effort? Maybe the sheer fact that institutions like Arohan have to be created through private enterprise is proof of the fact that public institutions, which already exist and are supposed to cater to the same needs, have totally failed to deliver. We had the good fortune of meeting Baidew, Mrs. Saikia, who seems to have made it her mission to convert her husband’s dream into reality. And judging by the happy faces around, she, assisted by her dedicated team, has already achieved it. Would it not be good if all the Bal Bhawans in the state are handed over to Mrs. Saikia? I am sure she would be able to convert them into many more happy Arohans in no time.

On the last evening before I left Guwahati came the final icing on the cake – the stage production of our best playwright Arun Sarma’s famous play ‘Nibaran Bhattacharyaa ahi ase” by noted stage personality Bahirul Islam and his very able drama school students. The entire production was truly spectacular in all aspects, the soulful music by Tarun Kalita was divine. This play has been done on stage many times, very successfully too, but the production by Islam was probably the one that did full justice to the thoughts behind the play – judging by the words Arun Sarma khura spoke at the end, maybe this enactment corresponded exactly to what he had always imagined it should be – the ultimate satisfaction for a playwright. I was in tears at the end, not just overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and artistry of the production, but by the sense of emptiness, hopelessness and despair that the play brought home. In the play Nibaran Bhatta let many birds of ideas fly away, claiming that by catching a bird, he killed it. But Nibaran Bhatta did not die in vain, like the haunting chants that spread out over the whole auditorium, Sarma khura’s idea-birds will live on and multiply; with his great performance, Islam, gave drama new life, by creating such beautiful music, Kalita invested the life with a soul. There are many lessons to be learnt from it, not just to dare to expose the shallowness of our pride and the meaninglessness of life itself but also to be able to create art and beauty even in the face of these undeniable, unalterable truths. And those dark mysterious melodious chants will haunt me till I return to Guwahati again.

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