Progression of bihu in the National Capital Region of Delhi (NCR)

By Manoj Kumar Das

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I was lucky to grow up in an area where Bihu was the heart beat of the people. My earliest memory of Bihu was eager egg fighting on the ‘Uruka’ of Bohag Bihu. We used to prepare eggs for the fight. There was the toughest egg, called ‘xoya koni’ in local language. A little older, due to financial discipline, my village kids’ ‘husori’ team made me their permanent treasurer.

It was in Guwahati, during my Cotton College days that the bihu fever really struck me. My class mate Santanu Bora and a few of us commercially organised the first CCTV broadcast from the ‘Latasil bihutoli’. It was a successful venture and we made about Rs. 5000/- each in 1978. After that I went to Gujarat for Engineering, and used to visit Ahmedabad, which had a sizeable group of Assamese residents, to organise the bihu festival. There was a long gap of some 8 years before I again came in touch with Assamese groups. In 1985, I attended the rongali bihu function of Assam Association, Delhi at International Youth Centre. The bihu programme was totally ill conceived and clubbed with the AGM (Annual General Meeting). There was total chaos and the whole function was marred by the formation of a new committee.

In between, a job took me to Shimla. During a short visit to Delhi in 1990, I met the then General Secretary (GS) Mr Pradip Sarmah, who made me a member at the Assam Emporium. I was touched by his commitment and his wife’s, Diksha bou.

Then, in 1993 destiny brought me back to Delhi, this time for a long tenure. I realized that to keep rooted to home, and to partly insulate the young ones from the Delhi culture, I must get actively involved with the community.

In 1984, I joined Assam Association, Delhi. Initially, as an Annual member. Mr Santanu Thakuria, then GS groomed me to be a future GS. He organized a rongali bihu function at the Constitution Club, which was attended by Dr Manmohan Singh, MP then and Mr Tarun Gogoi, also MP.

In the succeeding year, I attended rongali bihu at the site of Srimanta Sankaradev Bhawan. The place was quite uneven and undeveloped. The function was preceded by a drama in Hindi. The event could have been better. I decided in my mind, that if I ever became an office bearer, I’ll dispense with the Hindi drama and would never mix anything with ethnic programmes and shift the venue to somewhere more approachable and popular, where non-Assamese people could also join the celebrations.

1996 saw me becoming the GS. Immediately I launched a North East cultural festival. Queen Hazarika baidew took the onus of bringing a team of 101 artists by train belonging to various ethnic groups of Assam & NE like Mising, Dewri, Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi, Garo, Naga and Mizo. The NEC (North East Council) came forward with a generous sponsorship, due to the pursuance of Mr Hiranya Das, the then director.

Our NER Festival was a grand success. The Neem tree at Constitution Club provided a nice backdrop and nearly 3000 strong audience provided the buoyant atmosphere. That event provided me the necessary training and confidence on fund raising and event management in future to raise funds for the Srimanta Sankaradev Bhawan project. During my tenures as GS, I was very fortunate to have experienced supportive Presidents in Mr T P Khaund and Mr B C Bora.

That year we planned Bohag bihu in the happening venue of Dilli Haat (an ethnic craft bazaar located in South Delhi), which is frequented by hundreds of foreigners as well as locals and domestic tourists. We planned a ‘Goru bihu’- the pampering day of the cow, followed by Rongali bihu celebrations. A calf was carried in an auto-rickshaw for the ceremonial cow-bath and offering of rice-cake. As we poured water to bathe it, the calf tore free, and ran away to the amusement of all. We also introduced egg-fighting for the first time. The event was a grand success. Dilli Haat continued to be our venue for many succeeding years.

Year 2005, after a gap of 4 years I again became GS. This time I continued for 6 long years. This was the turning point for the Association. We organized fund raising events (Amman-Ayaan- Ustad Zakir Hussain, Bhupen Hazarika night), raised funds, donations, grants and constructed Srimanta Sankaradev Bhawan. I wanted to bring in a Bihu team from rural Assam. My birth-place of Bordoloni had a good team, and I thought of giving back something to my roots. It had 50 members in their teens.

We had the Bihu at Sarojini Nagar community centre as Dilli Haat became too crowded and apathetic. The group that we invited really held my prestige high. I scheduled to keep them optimally occupied.  We showcased Bihu in South Avenue for MPs, at Chattarpur farmhouses for the rich & famous of Delhi, at Alliance Françoise for foreigners. We also took them to the Mother’s International School and showcased Bihu before 6000 students. We followed this up with another show in the school in 2009.

The big day for Bihu came in 2007 when we had a huge stage erected near the India Gate. Some 10000 people came to see the cultural extravaganza of Assam. That was a dream come true. We changed strategy again in 2009. There was a festival of South East Asian countries at IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts). Parag Sarmah of NSD (National School of Drama) suggested me that we stage our Bihu in IGNCA, where an existing structure of bamboo stood for free. We had a benevolent Ministry of DoNER (Development of North Eastern Region) coming out with a substantial grant to support the festival. This two day long event was attended by more than 5000 people. It was in the vicinity of Rashtrapati Bhawan, India Gate and Parliament House.

Earlier in Delhi, we had only one group celebrating Bihu. Now more than 7 places organize Bihu programmes in the NCR. They are Assam Association, Delhi; Assam Association, Gurgaon; Kirtan Sangha (Assam Govt. employees), Assam Association, Faridabad; Asomiya Kristi Kendra, Dwarka; All Assamese Students Union of Delhi etc. This year residents of Ghaziabad are planning to have their maiden bihu function. It’s a good thing because many more aspiring artists can be accommodated and the Bihu season in the capital gets to last for two weeks.

The proliferation of Bihu in Delhi and the national capital is good news for the Assamese culture. Now the schools have shown special interest in Bihu during their annual programmes. This has created a demand for trainers. Already two professional groups have surfaced in Delhi. Oil India Ltd. and OGNC are regular sponsors of Bihu festivals in the NCR. Bihu has the potential to penetrate more in the cultural landscape of the NCR, I am sure one day it will vie with Bhangra to be the most popular folk dance of India. Using NCR as the launch-pad, Bihu will set to conquer many more frontiers.

A production engineer, Manoj Das worked with L&T, Voltas, and Hero Honda before starting his own factory on Assam Government sponsored ‘Operation Udyog’ scheme at the age of 24. He now works with North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd.

Born in Bordoloni in the Dhemaji district of Assam, Manoj did PU (Science) from Cotton College, Production Engineering from Morvi, Gujarat and MBA from University Business School, Punjab University. He also did a Certificate Course in French from the School of Foreign Languages, Ministry of External Affairs, GoI. A meritorious student, he has always been a Scholarship holder throughout his academic career. He has traveled extensively all over the world and lived in various parts of India.

Affable and helpful by nature and quite popular amongst the NRA community in Delhi, Manoj is a committed social activist and entrepreneur, having served as the General Secretary (Hony.) of Assam Association, Delhi for 7 seven years. He was also treasurer and Vice President of the organization for four years in between. He also served as Project Director (Hony.) of Majuli Island Protection & Development Council and campaigned for awarding of the UNESCO World Heritage status to Majuli. He was earlier part of the group which successfully campaigned for recognition of Sattriya as a Classical dance form. He is also the founder Vice-President (Hony.) of ‘Asomi’, an NBFC operating in Assam in the field of Micro-finance. He is presently National co-ordinator of ‘Jeevan Initiative’ and Trustee in Assam Times Foundation.

In Cotton DS Hostel Manoj co-founded and edited a wall magazine- ‘Prachiror rengoni’. He writes occasionally on innovative projects, infrastructural developmental issues concerning Assam. Of late, he has taken to writing extensively concerning Assam, to motivate youth and NRAs. He is an active member of Assamnet too.

He resides in Delhi with his wife Dr. Ajanta Baruah and has two children (Priyanka & Dewang).