Thursday, 21 April 2011

My time in Guwahati

This time I was in India for long enough to be able to do a little more than I have been able to in the preceding few years. And since I could plan my time, I could also make sure I was able to attend a few events in Guwahati, even though I was away from Guwahati on work for long stretches at a time.

The first event of that kind was Confluence, the South-east Asian Literary Festival, hosted by the North-east Writers Forum (NEWF) in Guwahati early in December. As I have been a NEWF member from day one, the event was like a huge reunion of old friends for me, besides giving me the chance to meet greats like Mark Tully and Mahesh Dattani. And since I have been away from the Forum for many years now, I got treated like a guest, so much so that I did not have to do any of the organising and could just sit back and enjoy myself. In any case, it was really great to be back in that world again. Pity that I didn't really manage to be present at any of the Forum meetings after that, and in the process missed meeting Mitra baidew, for example, again. But I did meet Mamang again in Itanganar, that too, after she had been awarded the Padma Shri, and was thrilled to find her as unassuming and as friendly as ever.

Even before Confluence was over I had begun to wonder about Upasana's idea of starting a community college in Guwahati. Not knowing how else to go about making it happen I wrote a 'letter to the editor' and sent it to both the Assam Tribune and the Sentinel. You wouldn't believe the response we got to that letter! At least 20 people responded over phone, maybe an equal number over e-mail, and as a result of all of that, Upasana managed to put together a group of like-minded people to get a programme to train domestic workers started already by mid January! And though their group Xahai is a long way from setting up a community college in the form we had originally envisaged, still a beginning has been made. The fact that neither she, nor I, nor Smita, the very enterprising young lady based in the US who has done a lot of work with domestic workers in Assam, actually live in Guwahati is probably part of the problem. But I am hopeful that there will be better things to report on that front in the days to come.

One event that I couldn't attend, despite wanting desperately to do so was the going on-line of the Saurav Kumar Chaliha website on New Year's Day in Guwahati (more about this in a previous blog). I have been associated with that effort right from the very beginning but just could not be in Guwahati on that day as my work and job demanded I be with my Tangsa people. However, there was a sense of real achievement as the website actually took shape and we were all very happy to have been able to put on record our admiration and respect for the great master of the Asamiya short story through this little gesture. I've brought back a few more stories to translate, but translating SKC can be quite a challenge, as you all know.

Between my field trips I was also desperately trying to get ready for publication, two books in English, that were already in the pipe-line and would be good to have released in the next award meeting of the Munin Barkotoki Memorial Trust scheduled for early March. The first was a book of short biographies of some important Assamese men of letters. This book had been more than 10 years in the making and was still not ready. The second was a book of selected short-stories and poems, in translation, written by the Munin Barkotoki Awardees 1995-2004. While I was not directly involved with the production of the first book (except for helping with expediting things wherever I could) I had translated all the prose pieces for the second book and was also responsible for getting it ready for publication. To cut the long story short, both books appeared in time for the Award Meeting; but the first one was so full of mistakes that it will have to be re-done, and due to some misunderstanding with the publisher the second one is still not really published (at the last moment we had to get a few copies printed so as to be able to release it at the meeting) though we are hopeful it will happen soon. But I have learnt one simple lesson from this major exercise which cost me a lot of time, energy and money -- that one cannot really push things beyond a certain point -- things will happen in their own good time; if you push too hard -- things will just fall through.

The award meeting was fixed for 5th March 2011 and we did manage to put up a reasonably good show (read my earlier blog). But I could see that the strain of organising this event was beginning to become a bit too much for Ma. I tried to do what I could to help, however, I am not sure how we will keep this going in the years to come especially with the centenary around the corner in 2015.

There were other jobs like doing tax returns, renovating the two bathrooms in my flat, redoing the furniture and curtains in Ma's living room, and so on which can only happen when one is in Guwahati for long enough. I also took Ma for a medical check-up to Delhi. Of course there were many other things that I did not manage to do despite being there for so long -- visiting Khura, Arindam and Misiki in Nagaon and, Mimli's parents and Shishugram in Guwahati among them. I hope to be forgiven for it was not intentional -- I kept meaning to visit but kept postponing till it was too late. Since I have been away for many years now people have stopped inviting me for weddings, birthdays and the like. And I am not exactly sorry about that. But I was happy that I could attend one very nice Asamiya wedding partially and it was really good to find that the old Assamese traditions still live on.

That wedding also took me to Rangiya and I was pleasantly surprised to find how nicely village life has adapted to modern conveniences without losing its wholesome and thriving character. That feeling was reinforced in my trips to Adabari and Barpeta Road. From Barpeta Road, our friend Monica took us to visit the Satra at Barpeta. And that was perhaps the most beautiful and most impressive of all the places I have been to this time. Of course the fact that women are still not allowed in seems more like an anachronism than anything else to me and I tried not to allow my irritation over that prohibition mar my appreciation of the serene beauty of the place.

Besides all that Stephan and I had a wonderful holiday in Dharamshala in March -- it was nice to see a new part of India and also nice to get away from the daily grind for a bit. It was amazing to discover that Macleodganj near Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama lives, is so overrun by Tibetan refugees, north-Indian businessmen and foreign tourists that one only rarely sees any Himachalis around. Nature in the Kangra hills and valley is simply breath-taking although the towns and cities are nothing to write home about. Work also took me to Mokukchung, Kohima, Itanagar and Shillong this time and I can say this in all sincerity -- the hills and people of the north-east are as wonderful, if not better, than anywhere else in India.

One of the nicest things that happened during my long stay in India this time was getting back in contact with my school and college friends both in Guwahati and in Delhi. It started right on the very first day on my arrival in Delhi with a really big reunion of my Carmel school friends after 28 years! That was really a very happy occasion and I tried to do the same in Guwahati with my St. Mary's, Cotton College and University friends. Miraculously things worked and it was just wonderful to have had the chance this time to reconnect with so many of my old friends from school and college with whom I share so many unforgettable memories. As I look back on those wonderfully happy get-togethers I can only feel blessed and be grateful for having been given the chance to meet them all again.

While on friends, there were a few old friends, Roshini and Liza amongst them, who I could not reach or find despite repeated efforts, and I kept wondering what the matter could be. I still don't know but maybe it is just that as time goes by people change and with it change their preferences for friends. To make up for the ones I have lost, I also made a few new ones, and that made me very happy -- Lisa from Itanagar, Bhaskar in Margherita, Altafda and Nazrul in Guwahati to name just a few. I also had a few amazing experiences and also met and got to know some incredibly nice and impressive people. More about all of that, in my note on the Tangsa that is to follow. And as I now begin the process of figuring out which of my friends in Europe I have lost, and which ones I still have left after so many months of no contact, I can only tell myself that no matter what the outcome is, these were six months in India well spent.

1 comment:

  1. So well written, Meenaxi. I was really sorry to have missed going over that last week...somehow so many other things were happening...I did try to call though. Youwere probably somewhere else

    This Barpeta thing is really irritating. ANd yes I agree the hills of NE are really the most beautiful (barring maybe the NIlgiris etc in the South...The hill stations of the South are much better than the Himachal ones I have always thought!) The people of the hills everywhere are nice...
    Looking forward to meeting up soon. When?