Guwahati: A city of diversity

SAMHITA BAROOAH

Guwahati is a city of migrants, travellers, settlers and multiplicity of identities. This is a city in constant transition for seasons, people, infrastructures and natural resources. It is an elastic city. It can stretch its limits, absorb the nuances and exhibit the exhilarating experiences to anyone residing or passing through the city. Sometimes after long bouts of hectic schedules and work spells, I used to enjoy the slow pace of the city. Guwahati bus rides have been the most amusing memories of knowing the city from close quarters in silence and reflection. Buses have people rushing for work, sometimes struggling for bus seats, elderly persons travelling with grand children, school and college students having fun taking their first joy rides on the bus and handymen luring passengers, waiting for long hours, sometimes stopping at every corner to pick up any prospective passenger.

Recently, NEthing North East is selling T shirts with interesting Guwahati city bus themes. Folkcult also used to sell such T shirts with captions like ‘How ki ha?’ I never knew people were crazy for Guwahati life till I met some young people from smaller towns and villages from across Assam. They all aspired to come to Guwahati city for studies, work, health care and tourism. Some seasonal memories of Guwahati includes Guwahati Bookfair at Chandmari Field in the months of December and January, mobile theatre shows in the autumn months, Bihu functions during April and Ethnic Food Festivals January, Durga Puja celebrations, Ambubachi Mela at Kamakhya Temple, circus and fairs during festive occasions, Saraswati Puja in schools and colleges, Christmas, Ramzan, Diwali, Holi and Bihu festivities.

The city has witnessed a plethora of literary, sports, music, dance, theatre and performing arts from across the country and occasionally from Global quarters as well. Guwahati is really a treasure trove of multiculturalism and confluence of diversity. As a city, Guwahati is maturing from being a clustered city of ethnic, religious and linguistic ghettos to being a cosmopolitan hub. In recent years, the economic prospects of the city has grown manifold with real estate diversifying along the peripheral boundary suburbs like Sonapur, Azara, Rani, Dharapur, Boko, Chandrapur, Chayagaon, Amingaon, Pamohi and Khetri at huge ecological costs through transport links and in future through metro facilities.

Wonder how Guwahati lives through the memories of people who had to do circumstantial compromises to live in this city. Some elderly women in Guwahati came as young brides sometimes without their consent as well. They lived their lives in the four walls of their husband’s family homes without even stepping out on their own even an inch. Their lives are bound by household chores, kitchen flavours and children’s routines. Such women do not have any memories of experiencing Guwahati beyond the family functions, obligatory social visits and occasional festivities. Guwahati seems to imprison such lives under the burden of class, caste, religion, gender and socialisation practices. It seems like a joke when people say that cities liberate women.

In fact, cities imprison women with the bondages of loans, EMIs, family traditions, relationship boundaries, culture constructs and risky gender based violence within and outside homes. In the pursuit of modernity, cities evolve into technology driven capsules of controlled units where existence becomes smooth and emotions evaporate into credit swipes. One Guwahati resident said rightly, “Guwahati is a city of opportunity without any savings.” It seems Guwahati is still a city of elites whose lives are unaffected by flash floods, power cuts, price rise, water scarcity, health epidemics and food contamination. It is only the powerful, rich, salaried and influential persons whose lives are secured in Guwahati. The city provides security to those people who serve this elite class. All others are vulnerable to crime, land grabbing, molestation, domination, defamation and dispossession. Another frequent traveller to Guwahati said, “Well I remember Guwahati through the fights with auto-rikshaw drivers for over-charging me. Otherwise I loved the riverside and fish, herbs markets, window shopping, diverse tastes and interesting people.” Guwahati has all its vices embedded within layers of touristy sceneries, hospitable residents and exotic flavours which somehow save its grace at any given time and occasion.

Monsoons are the most testing times affecting Guwahati. Glorious Guwahati is turned into a sea of death during the monsoon months. Somehow the city has not been able to withstand the pressures of landslides, flash floods and rampant erosion devastating many innocent lives over the last few years. People have fresh memories of losing lives in manholes, electric poles, swelling drainage lines during gushing flood waters of Guwahati. It is a city surrounded by hills, mighty river tributaries and wetlands. Such a natural ecosystem is hardly available in any other city in India. But somehow the urban infrastructure is not attuned to the fragile ecosystem which affects Guwahati adversely. Guwahati can survive only through natural infrastructure, sustainable practices and ecological regeneration not through a culture of consumption.

Guwahati being a gateway, transit passage, marketing hub and networking platform becomes a temporary home for many. It is indeed a connecting city which gives space to diversity, identity assertion, public agitation, resource investments, tax invasion, market fluctuation and food exploration. Guwahati is indeed a city of demonstration of wealth, desires, identities and destruction for some but for most people living here; it is an existential necessity. Wonder if such a city will survive beyond the intersections of diversity.

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.