This post has been long overdue. And for a year now this has been one of those things which get me started. Started as in the whole “rolling my eyes, nodding my head, waving my hands and getting excited to the point of panting and puffing” started. Now don’t blame me if this, too, sounds blatantly loyally Assamese, but heck, I am proud to be one. Inspite of the million issues this state keeps cribbing and crying about all the time, inspite of the fact that even now people outside the North-East find it difficult to digest that we do know the national language afterall and that no, we don’t come from the jungles, and inspite of the dwindling number of people in our generation who actually understand the essence of the classic Assamese way of life.
I was lucky enough to have been blessed with parents who taught us to appreciate and form our own opinions on everything without forcing anything on us. I mean, I actually had what one would call an “ideal” upbringing (that I ended up slightly screwed up I consider totally my doing, or rather, “undoing”). Having spent a considerable amount of time during my first three impressionable years, cradled in my grandmother’s lap listening to folklores and mythological stories to be punctuated by songs and verses in her amazing voice, and the best part of the years thereafter learning unadulterated Assamese songs composed by our very own bards along with Hindustani classical music, I find it intriguing how I still manage to love classic rock the way it is. I do belong to that class of people (then again I wonder if there’s a class like this) who have western music by the bulk in their I-pods, with rare Hindi numbers thrown in now and then, and swear by Angarag Mahanta and hence never delete his songs from the music library. And yet, I find myself getting goose-bumps and all choked up (for some weird reason) and strangely anti-rock when I hear live Bihu, which is *the* folk dance, in case you are ignorant enough not to know, that has become (erroneously) synonymous to be the be all and end all of Assamese culture . And that’s when I know I am either a true-blue Assamese or an A-class hypocrite. For the sake of my own ego, I’d like to stick with the former.
This started last year when we had the North-East Vice Chancellors’ Meet in our university, and we’d invited a team of teenagers (some of the dancers were not even ten though!) to perform Bihu in the cultural evening organized for the benefit of all the delegates from outside Assam. And when I saw those young kids enjoying themselves to the hilt while giving one of what I consider the best Bihu performances I’d seen till date, and our very own Professors struggling hard to keep themselves from clapping and cheering much like we did (some of them simply decided to let go) it was like a sudden realization. And that’s when I blurted out to my thoroughly non-Assamese friend who happened to be standing next to me, “Why do we need rock when we’ve got Bihu?” I attribute his non-committal nod to his not understanding the whole spirit, and that’s when the “Oxomiya” in me decided to raise its head (and voice) and I went on a rant about how Bihu, albeit getting so much focus and everything, is still under-rated.
The same fire was rekindled just yesterday after seeing yet another Bihu routine, this time by our own university students. Guys who donned low-waist jeans and t-shirts screaming “Metallica” and “Black Sabbath” on any normal day, looked equally at home wearing our “suriya” and “gamosa” as they danced on the stage. And while most girls find it difficult to even walk wearing our traditional “mekhela sador”, them pretty dancers made it look so effortless and graceful; the whole dancing and singing bit. Now I remember having this discussion with my Dad (a much more sympathetic listener) as to how one should put in the two together: a rock band and a Bihu troupe, and then simply turn off the power in that place. And then let’s see which “rock” (pun intended) more. With that I rest my case.
But then again, I insist that I am not taking sides here either. Put it simply, I love rock music. I just happen to love our Bihu more. And not the kind that sells by the gunny-bags these days in the market either. I love the plain simple verses that my parents would sing all the time, the funny, at times outright quirky lyrics and the typical tunes that I had always known Bihu to be made of. The ones which didn’t need an entire studio and a dozen electronic instruments and synthesized sounds to make it suitable for the public’s ears. Give me an open field and dancers decked up in dominating red and golden, having the time of their life celebrating youth, and the spring-spring smell in the April air anyday. And I’d happily leave my I-pod behind.
But this is not just about Bihu and rock music is it? This is just an epiphany of how culture is defined these days. I find myself actually feeling sad, that given how much I have been able to take from my grandmother and my parents, what I pass on to my children will be even less. With no proper documentation of our folk culture and traditions, the norm being that they are always passed down from generation to generation, how many generations will it take for it to evolve into a totally hybridized morphed version of what it had originally been? Will the next generations never know the beauty of simplicity?
The incorrigible optimist that I am, I still see hope. And not just when it comes to the fact that even in the small town of Tezpur, there is an actual academy where Bihu, inspite of it being a folk and not a classical dance form, is being taught formally, and that just a few months back there was an event here, when a large number of Bihu dancers gathered together to dance in sync on a huge open ground. Which means that there must be things like this happening in other places in Assam too. I am talking about the people who’ve left this place and gone out, and maybe that’s when and that’s why have realized the worth of what they’d somehow never attached much importance to back home. I’m talking about that small sect of people who inspite of not knowing much about where they come from, at least realize that it is not something to be proud of. And that it is as cool to know about our music and our traditions as much as it is to know by heart the names of the latest Grammy winners. I’m talking about Assamese all over the world still getting together to celebrate being Assamese. And I’m talking about pioneers like Angarag Mahanta and Zubeen Garg who’ve given a whole new dimension to Assamese music, and have made us listen to Assamese songs, and most importantly folk, yet again.
So until next the time I get a chance to enjoy live Bihu, I’ll get back to my classic rock and swear loyalty, and when the untimely cuckoo birds (seriously, is it just me who’s noticed that the “kuli” seems to be rather impatient this year….singing when its still March….or that the mango trees have flowered already?) get a little too much for me, I’ll listen to Angarag croon “Lokomotive” (by far my favorite in the fusion-folk genre) into my ears and for good measure hum a few Bihus my Mamma’s taught me, all by my own.