So that’s okay, we may have gone from pitha to pizza, kingkhap balisori to “Sorry, kingkhap what?”, hengdang to hand-me-down Fashion TV hangovers, and ugul thugul to “arrey yaar Google shoogle”, a quick-fix reference for all things unknown, but so what? It’s Bihu. And it’s come from Coke Studio. Comprende Senor?
It’s always so nice to receive a calendar for new years, something thoughtful, one that will put out a bunch of flowers on a wall, or just sit pretty on a desk holding out an orchid and an old saying, giving hope. And I did receive one too, this time from a new publication that has just hit the stands. “Rongali Bihur antorik xubhechhare” it said, with best wishes for Bihu.
Among the many messages from well-wishers, including one that said “build a life through the light of culture”, though, lay the lead headline for the day “Bixombad!” it said, “Dissidence”! Nothing changes.
“Ji mula barhibo, xi mod khai teen tekeli” a friend is in the habit of saying, the adage a mix of two: “Ji mula barhibo tar dupatote seen” meaning “The radish that will grow we know by its first two leaves”, close to “Morning shows the day”, and “Gaat nai saal bakoli, mod khai teen tekeli” that, bluntly put, means “He hasn’t got enough to wear but will drink three pitchers of hooch”. What my friend says impishly amounts to “The radish that will grow drinks three pitchers of hooch”. It’s his refrain for the tumultuous times we live in. Take it or leave it.
As a kid, some of us learnt the English months in Assamese and it went something like this:
Trees dine hoi mah Septembor
Tenekoi April, June, Nobembor
Athais dine mah February dhore
Edin barhibo tar soturttho bosore
Oboxistho xat mah ektris dine
Janiba Ingraji mah eidore gone!
It taught us the English months and the days each had; that February had 28 and one day would increase in it every fourth year. A nice, pretty poem, I’ve always thought. The one that teaches the Assamese months is even better. It’s more us and more Assam:
Bosorot baro mah xuna lorahot
Bosoror aag mah Bihu Bohagot
Tar pase jeth maah barokhor taan
Road aru piyahot atur poran
Aharot xaat lage bhor barixa
Xaunot boroxun diye dharaxar
Khetibati bhorpok aam kothalor
Bhadot janiba tithi Mohapuruxor
Ahinot rua xex, kuoli katit
Aghonot poka dhan, pothar xubhit
Puh maah jar kali dhore thetuai
Maghot Bhogali Bihu, khetik sopai
Phagunot deen jar botah xodai
Sotot mahor xex, bosor bidai
Gos lota jok mok, kuhi phul paat
Maniki modhuri mou kou kou maat!
There are 12 months in a year, it says, the first has Bihu in Bohag, in Jeth comes the heat, your soul thirsty in the sun; in Ahar, mid-rain it’s Ambubasi, in Xaun the unending rain pours hard. Mangoes and jackfruit are all ripe in Bhado, that’s when Mahapurux Xankardeb is born. Sowing’s over in Ahin, it says, and it’s the mist in Kati. The fields are pretty in Aghon, their paddy all ripe, in Puh it’s the shiver and the cold. It’s Bhogali Bihu in Magh when you bring in the crop, days are cold and windy all day in Phagun. It’s at the end of Sot you see off the year. New leaves grow on the greens again, and comes the cuckoo and its sweet koo koo call! And it’s Bihu once again.
Bhupenda, forever worried about his people, had about spring and the season that welcomes it asked: Sotore Bihure geet, ei beli ki bandhoi, ei beli ki? What is your song this Sot, he asked, what is your song? The signs of the times were ominous and hence the question.
Assam also lost a comic of class, Bhaya Mama, some years ago. Bhaya Mamar Bihu, a video cassette he produced with his team those days, were about the fears that have lurked in the heart of every Assamese and every north-easterner. Will our culture survive? What happens 50 years from now? Poignant was a scene of folk musicians returning from a bihutoli, without having got a chance to perform, their music no match for the Bollywood magic that had set the stage on fire. Some of Bhaya Mama’s famous acts now live on YouTube, his memories in a little lane named after him on Guwahati’s RG Barua Road.
Over the past few days, as Bihu came alive once again on Assam’s television screens, on offer were packaged deals, of both song and dance, a far cry from the rustic resonance of the Bihu that we have heard in our villages in the years gone by. It can often be more about antics now, rarely art. Like the waters of the Brahmaputra this dry season, the husori has receded to where it once was, even further. Rarely is it seen in our towns anymore — it now lives only in the most distant of our villages, a little unwell.
We exist perhaps somewhere between the best and the new. Ours would be the “No i-pill, no Bupai pill, dhora porile ou kil” set, the “No over-the-counter i-pill empowerment, you-get-caught-you-get-in-trouble” generation. The little less daring and little more in love generation, compared to the new. But aye, the news have it! So let’s go with the flow, shall we? We’ve survived a million years’ and we will. It’s Bihu. Bihu always survives.