Rongali Bihu marks the beginning of Assamese New Year. It is a festival of joy, coinciding with similar celebrations in West Bengal, Punjab, Manipur, Orissa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc. During the festival, everyone is in a jovial mood, singing and dancing with peer group or family. Mostly people throng their native places, leaving the cities deserted. It is the right moment to catch up with joint family and re strengthen the age-old bond. R.B. is the most popular and important among three Bihus celebrated. Other two being Bhogali Bihu (during Makar Sankranti) and Kongali Bihu (immediately after Diwali).
First day, known as Goru Bihu happens to be the last day of the previous year. On this day, cows are washed and worshipped. The second day, known as Manuh (human) Bihu, falls on the first day of the New Year.
Suddenly the whole environment changes together with the change in weather. Dresses of ‘other’ cultures give way to ethnic, yet expensive attire, both for women and men. People in general are so meticulously dressed that they give an impression as if marriages are taking place every day at the drop of hat.
Having made up my mind to enjoy the festivities from a close angle, I venture into the compound of Ganesh Mandir Community Centre at Khanapara. 11 pm was purposely chosen to get best out of it. As the arena was jam packed, settling down process took almost six hundred seconds. The first offering came in the form of a group song sung beautifully by a dozen little girls, wearing shocking yellow saris with tomato red borders. All of them were seated in a line. For a moment, it was silence in an otherwise noisy setting. They took time but could sing with confidence and poise for full 15 minutes. And, enthralled one and all. It set the ball rolling. Festive fervour was evident all over.
Next followed a dancing and singing troupe of young boys wearing cotton dhotis and muga silk kurtas. They were holding on to their Dhuls, flute, Gaganas, Toka, Pepas etc. In the close vicinity were pretty teenaged girls in heavy ethnic muga silk saris with long sleeve red blouses to give a contrasting effect. Their hair was neatly tied in a khupa. In such dance forms, the boys or men take the lead with hard beating of Dhuls and dancing in a circle. They set the stage literally on ‘fire’, for girls to take over, with their enigmatic smile, attractive facial expressions, graceful steps and ultimate circular movements. The dance comes to an end with vociferous beating of Dhuls and blowing of Pepas. A few selected girls twist and bend close to Pepa and strike a pose to reach the climax. Since the competitive spirit is all pervasive, they are often subjected to a variety of questions by the judges.
Upon conclusion of dance number, it was the time for vocal chord. One expected the usual stuff telecast on T.V. For a change, it was the turn of Goalpara folk songs. An eight member group led by a middle aged tall lady, wearing a chocolate coloured ethnic sari, duly supported by accompanying artists on Ghila, flute, Dhul, three Dotoras (Guitar kind of instruments) and a Sarangi simply mesmerized the audience for next hour. I could not follow the wordings of any of the seven songs but was more than convinced that she was singing straight from heart and that months or years of rehearsal were behind her deep voice. It had originality. It reflected a vibrant culture. She depicted a loud voice, while singing in a ‘Pancham Swar’. The number- Santa Re………….., probably is going to stir my imagination for a long time. A short, unassuming male companion was equally good, whenever he got a chance to sing a duet or indulge decisively into a chorus. The last song was a duet remarkably padded up with a slow, yet graceful dance movements by a dozen toddlers. They performed with care and confidence. They did not belie our expectations. But it was the ‘chocolate’ lady, who rightly occupied the centre stage.
All good things come to an end. This musical evening, being no exception. Two hours of uninterrupted entertainment gave me the needed healing and refreshment at a time when ‘Mission’ fever was at its peak. It may take some time before I lose the effect of the singer from Goalpara. She was too good to be forgotten instantly.
After soaking adequately in the festive spirit, I offer an ice-cream at the dead of the night to Jagannath, my faithful companion. He is half asleep. I return to the so-called modern world along the VIP Road. Over speeding mobikes and automobiles moving in wrong direction, semi-dark avenues, bumpy footpaths, homeless sleeping on pavements and dogs barking in the solitude of the night greet us. But I suppose, my haggard batteries are recharged to face a ‘Mission’ which will only mean business and no fun or frolic.