Inspirational Assam

She has not merely been the spark that lights the creative flames, but also the figurative mother who had moulded my sensibility and guided my actions throughout my life.

Bihu Dance group of a young Assam boys & girls

Love and inspiration, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin — an object of love never fails to inspire, while inspiration is impossible unless an object is adored. If Assam has been a source of inspiration for me, it is because I love her with an inexplicable passion.

Inexplicable? What is so inexplicable about passionately loving one's motherland? After all, is not this fervour, nationalistic or sub-nationalistic, the primal impulse that gives a community its identity? Have not wars been fought and millions killed throughout the course of human history, all in the name of love for the motherland? Has not patriotism been made the racial watchword by umpteen kings or politicians, often enough to have been reduced to a ragged, worn-out cliche?

Yet, inexplicable in my case, for I have always sought to develop a sensibility that would not be fettered within constricting bounds of space, time or place. An essay at intellectual dispassion that might invest me with the quintessence of the human identity, one that does not have the laminated identity-tags of class, colour or creed pinned on its lapel. Sad to say, I am yet far, far away from achieving this goal, so much so that I am beginning to wonder whether it is not an impossibility.

Introspecting, I have been forced to concede that it is my deep attachment to Assam that is one primal impediment. It contradicts my secret objective, but try as I might, I cannot erase this love, since it is too deeply embedded in my psyche. Perhaps it is just as well. Perhaps, deprived of this love, I might be deprived of the creative flame; the oil, so to say, might run out, leaving only the bleak smoke from a charred wick.

Again, introspecting, I have sought to discover the cause of this infatuation that, try as I might, I cannot shake off. It takes me back to a childhood mostly spent in alien climes. The cold height of hills, even colder confines of class-rooms and dormitories built of stone-blocks that had emitted their chill for a century. No doubt acclimatization had made those days glorious, for a child has a capacity to adapt that is almost miraculous. Yet, each moment of each day, amidst those lively, boisterous school-mates, the ache and yearning always lay like a lump of cold clay in an antrum of the heart.

Then Assam had loomed in the imagination as 'home', the snug perch that the flighty, wandering bird returns to. With the school-party by train to Howrah, then aboard a trusty Dakota for home! I can still recall the thrill in the heart at the abrupt aerial sight of the Brahmaputra, braided like the hair of a young girl. Then the warmth of maternal, paternal embraces, the cosy ambience of a loving family, the long-awaited trysts with childhood cronies, mother's cooking, pithas and narikal-larus, the hours whiled away in books or reverie without expecting the summons for classes.

Impressions gleaned in childhood still cling to memory and provide me with inspiration even today. Later, of course, I have sought to rationalise and discover the cause of the obsession that inspires me. One major reason, I presume, is Assam's incredible natural beauty. Mother Nature has indeed been bountiful to this land and her people. I can still recall travelling the length of the dusty, monotonous, mud-brown north-Indian plains and then being struck with wonder at the verdant contrast that was Assam. Jade hills and emerald vales, rushing rivers and ikora filled sandbanks — even the most hardened heart cannot fail to be inspired by such beauty!

Another point of contrast is the gentle amiability of the indigenous people, their capacity for infinite tolerance and easy going attitude towards life. Repelled as I am by the crass commercialism marking other Indian societies, the non-mercenary attitude of our people comes as a refreshing change. In the context of today's highly competitive milieu, such attributes might be construed to be negative ones not conducive towards material development and so called progress. But, to a temperament which places human values above materialistic ones, these are actually virtues when seen in a different perspective, which if, had they been emulated elsewhere, may have made the world a better place.

The contrast of ethos with the rest of the country, particularly northern India, struck me at a very early phase of my life. Even today, despite the social changes that have been effected, and the desperation which seems to have gripped Assamese society, to a great extent the difference persists. I can say with conviction that the Assamese people, along with those of the North-East, are by far the most secular minded and tolerant in the whole of the nation. Coupled with their fabulous hospitality, acknowledged without reservation by visitors from outside, their non-acquisitive nature and friendly disposition, this invests them with unique characteristics capable of inspiring the creative mind.

Yes, I have been inspired by the people of Assam, especially the women, by their beauty, the dignity with which they comport themselves, their inborn artistic talents. The graciousness which accompanies social functions, the humility with which guests are greeted during marriages and other occasions, the studied ritualism that pervades ceremonies, all these reflect a high degree of civilisation. It is my good fortune to be able to spend my days in such a congenial environment and discover inspiration in almost every aspect of life. I am fascinated by the manner in which rural society has allowed culture to permeate into its day to day existence. I am enthralled by the items of our folk culture, the Bhaona or the Husori, enraptured by folk melodies, and inspired by being able to make nature a part of my existence.

These are but a few aspects about Assam which inspire me. There are many more. But do not get me wrong. I am not under the misconception that ours is an ideal society. Nor am I oblivious of its drawbacks, its warts and ugly aspects. But this is not the season to dwell on negatives, positives far outweigh the negatives, and I would be the first to concede that Assam has provided me with a fertile soil in which to strike root, and try and blossom.

- Arup Kumar Dutta on The Assam Tribune