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Of fish and other delicacies

GSA general secretary Ibocha Singh remembers the city as a sleepy town blessed with nature’s bounty

Ibocha Singh, 69, longs for the days when his mother used to head towards a pond and not the market to bring fish home for lunch. “There used to be a pond in the area where a petrol pump — opposite the lane that leads to Apsara cinema — exists now. My mother and other women of the locality would catch goroi (green snake-head fish) and xingi maas (stinging cat fish) and bring it home for lunch. In the fifties we did not have to go to the market to buy fish,” the resident of Manipuri Basti recalls.

Ibocha Singh also fondly reminisces about the bullock cart rides to the farmlands in Beltola during the harvesting season in the 1960s, which he says were great fun. “Three families of Manipur Basti had paddy farms in Beltola and I used to accompany them. Like fish, we hardly went to the market to buy rice. Not just Beltola, the now cramped and crowded Ganeshguri and even Zoo Road were farmlands then,” he says.

Football and cinema, at that time, were the only sources of entertainment for the youths.

“Bordoloi Trophy had a charm of its own. Football fans used to go berserk while cheering their teams. I remember how Judges Field was fenced with tin sheets during a match and we used to sneak in, taking advantage of a gap, and watch the game for free. Though I wouldn't subscribe such thrills now, we had great fun then. Things were simple and small, much like the Re 1 entry ticket that one had to spend to watch a match,” he says.

Ibocha Singh, who was born in 1943, has himself played inter-district hockey for Guwahati and C-division football for Rajbari Athletic Club.

“My father, a policeman, was an athlete. In fact, there were several in the family who excelled in badminton and hockey. This inspired me to be associated with sport. I have been associated with the Guwahati Sports Association (GSA) since 1974,” Ibocha Singh, currently the general secretary of GSA, says.

“There was a time when people used to chase members of GSA for Bordoloi Trophy tickets. I was a member in those days, but thankfully, the pressure was on the general secretary to entertain the fans with tickets. Sadly, the popularity of the meet plummeted since the Calcutta clubs stopped taking part,” Ibocha Singh, who retired as the assistant security inspector of Guwahati Municipal Corporation in 2004, reminisces.

He considers himself fortunate to have seen how a garbage dumping ground was converted into a sporting complex in 1962. “I have vivid memories of the inaugural match between the Chief Minister's XI and Governor’s XI at Nehru Stadium. Minutes before the match, a storm lashed the area and I overheard people in the wooden gallery, where I sat with my friends, saying that the rain had only cleansed the place that was a garbage dumping ground.”

“Cinema, in the absence of television, was another source of entertainment for the youths in the sixties and seventies,” he says.

The city, which has close to six lakh vehicles now, was a sleepy town in the early sixties. “There was a time when hardly any vehicles plied on the streets. So deserted were the roads that two of my friends even challenged each other for a bike race from Manipuri Basti to Ulubari. Now, the number of vehicles has risen beyond one’s imagination. Forget bike races, there is hardly any space for pedestrians or vehicles,” he rues.

The early winter chill, too, seems to have disappeared from the city. “In the sixties and seventies, winter used to set in by September-end. The freezing cold is now felt only in the latter part of December. That's because along with rise in population, buildings and high-rises have come up. Sadly, there are hardly any open spaces for children to play,” he says.

Ibocha Singh is also associated with the Sarbajanin Manipuri Basti Puja and the Bihu committee of the locality.

“There was a time when Bijuli Mill, Fancy Bazar, Latasil and Barowari Mandir (Uzan Bazar) Pujas were the only ones that people thronged. Now, we have over 400 Puja pandals. The Manipuri community here has always associated itself with Bihu as much as they have with charouba, the Manipuri spring festival,” he adds.

Culture calls

The flavours and colours of Guwahati fuel nostalgia in KARISHMA SAURABH KALITA

I have always been away from Guwahati but I actually started missing it after I shifted to Delhi in 2011. Prior to that, when I was pursuing a media technology course at St Anthony’s College in Shillong and could come home more often, I never gave importance to the small things about Guwahati which now make me cry when I think about them.

There are so many things I miss about home, especially the food and festivals.

I miss home food the most. Never have I craved for a meal of bhoja maas (fried fish) with plain rice, dal and alu pitika (mashed potato) as much as I have over the past year-and-a-half. And yes, adding kaji nemu tenga (Assamese lemon) to it is almost like getting a taste of heaven.

I also miss celebrating Rongali and Bhogali Bihu with my family and friends back home. So I wear mekhela sador on Bihu and try out my mother’s pitha recipes to make myself feel at home in Delhi, where I currently work.

I regretted being away from home when my grandparents passed away. They were an integral part of my growing up years and I miss them a lot when I think of home.

I also miss my locality, Krishnanagar, the food joints and the places I used to frequent with my friends.

Thankfully, I have two of my closest friends from Guwahati staying in Delhi. So whenever we miss home, we meet and talk about food and other things. It gives us a feeling of home away from home. We are like a small family in a different city.

My phone also plays a friend of sorts. When I miss home, I call my parents to share my feelings.

I often take solace by thinking of others, who like me, also miss their home.

On the positive side, staying away from home has made me value my tradition and culture even more.