Will the Assam I know please speak up?

RESHMA N C SHAH

I have not given up on Assam, even though electoral history of a different kind was created last year. I earnestly hope that those in power shall vindicate the people’s faith in them, and bring about the promised changes. I have not given up on my state even though disruptive factors threaten the closely woven social fabric of our culture.  I am equally proud to stand up for the national anthem at the movie hall as I am about our Assamese song – O mur apunar desh.  I take pride in my passport and my country’s rich history as much as I take pride in the defeat of Mir Jumla by our hero Lachit Borphukan. The reasons for this are simple.

We, the people of Assam, are simple people. We have simple tastes in clothes and food and most of us live in eco-friendly Assam-type houses with our vegetable garden at the back. We grow our own local grains and brew our own liquor. We celebrate the change of seasons with our Bihu festivities. We revere our intellectual thinkers and glorify our military strategists who pushed back the imperial advances of a mighty empire.

We have welcomed people from the ‘mainland’ and have been doing so for more than a hundred years. So much so that more than three generations of businessmen, skilled workers and traders have declared Assam, rather than their state of origin, home.

We gleefully embrace ‘mainstream’ cultural symbols as our own, like the ghagra choli, the salwar- kurta, the saree and the sherwani. We relish the Punjabi chole bhature as much as the fish kalia or the butter chicken masala. We make Hindi movies a box office success even as we throng the Durga Puja pandals and keep the fast of Shivratri. We welcome our ‘non-Assamese’ sons- in law and daughters-in law with the same joy and warmth that we have for our own.

Our children learn Hindi along with their mother tongue. They watch Chota Bheem and Tarak Mehta ka Udta Chasma with the same interest as a child in Delhi or Mumbai. No joke or pun is lost on them as their fluency of Hindi increases. 

No eyebrows are raised as the young lady, smart in her western office attire, returns from work, and in the evening, gracefully adorns a traditional mekhela chador to attend a wedding.  The Assamese Diaspora, spread across continents, is our brand ambassador that has opened the eyes of the world to our rich fabrics and culture.

So far, the melting pot that is Assam has been a symbol of peaceful assimilation of different cultures.  Even when linguistic differences or the Assam Agitation was at their peak, Assamese society was united by a common goal — to preserve and enrich the unique Assamese Identity — an identity that is defined purely by a shared culture but never by religious or socio-political beliefs.

But there is a threat to change all this. Event that have unfolded in the recent past have sparked fears of hegemony of a dominant culture. The notion of nationalism or the view that only a certain definition of ‘Indian’ will be considered the true Indian is dividing more people rather than uniting them.  It is time, now, for the Indian in the Assamese soul to speak up from the land of Mahapurush Sankardeva and Azaan Fakir.  

Reshma NC Shah

Reshma NC Shah

Reshma Nasreen Choudhury Shah is an education consultant based in Guwahati. She is also director of a preschool that is managed by Rivers Education Foundation. Apart from conducting educational and communication workshops, she is also on a mission to bring the joy back into teaching. She is a mother of two daughters and three year old twin boys. Currently she is sharpening her writing skills and learning new age parenting techniques.