|(From left) Bipul Kathar, Debasish Sarma and Raju Sarmah sing at Mahur market on Tuesday. Picture by Dipankar Roy
Mahur/Haflong, April 29: Raju Sarmah was only into the first stanza of Bistirno parore when he had to take his left hand off the guitar to prevent Namdhei Pame from slipping in a folded ten rupee note into his hip pocket. The look of plea on Pame’s face as he insisted was real.
“Bahut accha laga,” Pame said, explaining his gesture at the crowded market in Mahur, about 23km east from Dima Hasao district headquarters Haflong, around noon today; it is the weekly market day.
“That was an expression of genuine love,” Raju would say later of Pame’s unsuccessful bid.
A motley crowd had gathered around Raju and his singing companions, Bipul Kathar and Debasish Sarma, deputy resident commissioner at Assam Bhawan in Mumbai, as the trio regaled them with a few Bhupen Hazarika immortals.
However, Debasish had not come all the way from Mumbai to Mahur to sing. He was there and in Haflong later in the evening to talk about cancer, the telltale signs of the disease, the causes and prevention.
Debasish is the undeclared pointsman for cancer patients from Assam going to Mumbai for treatment and founder of Deepsikha Foundation, an NGO based in Guwahati and working in the field of cancer. Raju and Bipul are Guwahati-based musicians.
The awareness programme was organised by the NC Hills Autonomous Council to mark its 63rd foundation day today.
“We did not want to do anything extravagant to celebrate the occasion,” chief executive member Debojeet Thaosen had told a modest gathering at the indoor stadium in Haflong earlier in the morning while Debasish and his team from Deepsikha Foundation were in Mahur. “Cancer is prevalent in our district and we felt we must use this occasion to talk about it,” Thaosen said.
For Thaosen, the day could not have begun on a more poignant note. “I lost a relative to cancer this morning,” he said.
Doctors from Mumbai and New Delhi were also invited for the purpose.
“How many of you here have tamol (betel nut) with lime?” Debasish asks after wrapping up the short singing session. A few tentative hands go up in the air. “How many of you smoke? How many of you drink?” the questions follow. He then tells them about the symptoms, what causes cancer and how to possibly prevent the disease from turning fatal. He touched chords when he showed them pictures of what the disease is capable of unleashing on his laptop.
“The major cause of the disease in this district is smoked meat and alcohol,” Debasish said.
The joint director, health services, Francis T. Amo, said there were around 300 cases of cancer in the district.
As the Deepsikha team was winding up, a man with a muffler wrapped around his head and the sides of his neck walked up to Debasish. A brief interaction later, the man removed the muffler from the right side of his neck to reveal a large, gaping hole.
Debasish told the 50-year-old carpenter and father of six children to go to Guwahati for treatment and that Deepsikha Foundation would arrange for everything — right from his stay to medical care.
“It was detected three years ago at a Guwahati hospital, but I couldn’t follow up on the treatment because of financial constraints,” the man rued.
“He can only be provided palliative care now… he is beyond cure,” Debasish said.
It is likely that the man is not among the “around 300” cancer patients in the district.