Remembering Sambha Lamarr


I came into touch with Sambha Lamarr when she was a student in St. Mary’s College. I was a fledgling lecturer in St. Edmund’s College Shillong. Together with a friend came a request if could I help them out in some of the Honours papers? I came across a serious-minded student for whom the teacher’s word was the last. After she graduated I did not meet her for quite some time, but sometimes would see her in Laitumkhrah, books in hand, and with a look that was a wee bit sombre. Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih was to release his book of poems published by Harper Collins and he had invited me. That was sometime in 2010. Sambha walked up and with nonchalance asked, ”Don’t tell me you can’t recognize me?” And after that, whenever book launches were organized in her book shop ”Book Mark Sahaki”, she would invite me for each of them, the notable being the launch of Sudeep Chakravarti’s ” Highway 39…”.

Then came the announcement. She would like to organize a creative writing meet for children and could I give some inputs? Already by then I had recognized a talent who would do anything to promote creativity and the arts in her town and would love to invite writers and artistes from other parts of the country. ”We have to take us to them, and bring them to us,” she would say not with the authority of an impresario, but in a modest well-meaning manner. I would nod. How long had I wanted Shillong to be a seat and forum of creative and cultural diversity!

That sowed the seeds of the Creative Arts Arts Literature And Music (CALM) Festival which Sambha Lamarr with the help of the State Government curated and orchestrated. It was a superb blend of music, painting, creative writing, stand-up comedies, book launches and panel discussions ranging from poetry to mental illness, fiction to the travails of the transgenders. This had five editions right from the winter of 2011 to the month of May 2015. It is not  that she was single-handedly responsible for inviting luminaries like Chetan Bhagat, Davidar, Shobha De, and Prajwal Parajuly, but what was most significant is that she wanted the public of Shillong, especially the youth to get the most of it, ask questions, interact and show an inquisitive mind. Thus she invited the well known Jerry Pinto for a debate on ” Does Poetry Sell?” which turned out to be quite ‘stormy’. Sambha was meticulous in choosing the topics for panel discussions. She would see to it that they they were open-ended and carefully worded. She would hunt for the right type of moderator and panelists with painstaking efforts.

She was extremely sensitive to the fact that local authors and those from the Northeast region need a platform to launch their books and she would go out of their way to help them. Young men and women, bureaucrats, academics were the ones she helped and promoted. She got a distinct sense of satisfaction out of it, but she was never in the limelight. She was in the background pushing young people to compere, make the announcements, arrange for the hall or the lighting. She emphasised on the art of painting, and believed that children should be given an opportunity simply to write or to draw and paint. This space she created in CALM. She also gave a thrust to Children’s Literature by inviting stalwarts like Paro Anand for her children’s festival and book fair.

Sambha never wanted the limelight or publicity, her’s was a zealous mission to promote creativity among the young and the old. Deeply sensitive to the feelings of others she perceptibly felt the needs of an author or a creative artist. Nor was she overcome by ‘big names’. She admired style and finesse in a person.

Having studied in Loreto Convent School, St. Mary’s College, with her initial upbringing in the town of Jowai, Sambha Lamarr was a genteel person, urbane and refined. Her contribution to the literary arts and music in Shillong to give it a wider audience and unravel talent is unparalled here and in Northeast India. Though I keep fighting back my tears, as she was my friend, philosopher and guide I can hear her saying: No, Dr. Guha we must have one more CALM! May she be surrounded by angels and rest in eternal dreams – for that was what she was an active and avowed Dreamer… RIP.

Not in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I would be writing this, but I can only smother my tears and see her SMILE.

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Shillong (Meghalaya) as an Academic Administrator. He has over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience. He has six collections of poetry and his forms have been published world wide. Some of his poems are due to appear soon in an Anthology of Indian Poetry in English to be published by Harper Collins.