Butterflies in my stomach and a great thrill – exactly what I felt when I buckled up to take a paramotor ride here. It wasn’t that someone who is scared of adventurous activities chose to indulge in an air sport that surprised people. But the fact that I did it in Guwahati – considered to be the gateway to the relatively less explored northeast India – raised many eyebrows.
A city full of top fashion brands with high-rise residential and commercial buildings, Guwahati has changed a lot since the last time I set foot here two decades ago. So, it comes as no surprise that it is the only city from the northeast region that has found a place in the list of first 20 cities which will be developed into Smart Cities in 2016.
In spite of all the new developments, two things haven’t changed – its people’s simplicity and the pride in speaking in Assamese. Since I hail from Imphal, which is about 40 minutes away from here by air, they assumed that I was one of them and that I was fluent in their language.
But only I know how lost I was in translation especially while watching plays and listening to radio jockeys. Not that they don’t converse in other languages. The moment the localites noticed my inability to understand Assamese, they quickly spoke in Hindi or English.
Assigned to cover the second edition of Rongali – Destination, Culture, Harmony, a festival of Assam, I was eagerly looking forward to my return to Guwahati after 20 years. It’s a place where my father bought our first car, I got my first Barbie and I started my first school year after kindergarten. Little did I know that the list of ‘firsts’ won’t end here.
Be it attending concerts of sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and the home-grown talent Zubeen Garg, who is idolised by many in Assam, to digging into the Assamese delicacy called chicken khoika to taking a flight over the mighty Brahmaputra river on a paramotor, the three-day fest gave me more ‘first’ experiences during my second visit.
Though I showed interest in paramotoring, it seemed like they were doubtful about it because of my weight. I was told that for balance purpose, one needs to weigh at least 50 kg, and bingo! I felt so glad to have gained weight for the first time.
With the helmet on and seat belt in place, I was geared up for my first paramotor ride, thankfully with a professional.
Flying 500 ft above ground, it was like chasing the wind and the Brahmaputra staring right back at me. As long as the motor made a roaring sound and we moved straight, it felt fine. But there were times when the loud sound stopped, making my heart skip a few beats. The twists and turns, controlled by the pilot, further made me scream at the top of my lungs. No wonder why the paramotor pilot said that I was the first person to scare him to death.
After that daring act and the conclusion of the festival, I made sure to take a stroll down memory lane.
So I, accompanied by a localite, made the Army School, Narangi – now Army Public School – my first stop. It’s not just the name that has changed but also the whole look. The old buildings with metal roofing have given way to new ones in green and white hues. Nevertheless, I got emotional while taking a tour of the school, located away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
While crossing our previous army accommodation here, I got into flashback mode.
To cheer me up, my new friend took me to one of the city’s popular sweet shops called Mishti Mukh, where she suggested to me to try patishapta – thin crepes mostly made with rice flour with a coconut filling. The other Bengali sweet she swore by was the soft and round Kacha Golla, made of uncooked cottage cheese and sugar.
Heading home without a souvenir was not happening. So I added shopping, something that I loathe, to my itinerary. Yes, so products like bags made out of water hyacinth, eri silk jackets and Gamucha were responsible for excess baggage charges at the airport.
Pressed for time and a traffic jam discouraged me from exploring the city more. So my last stop was the Purva Tirupati Sri Balaji Temple. With its strong lights, the white temple complex looked magnificent at night.
Guwahati is one of the cities that I am emotionally connected to, and this trip made the bond even stronger. (IANS)
Twenty-first of February is an important annual date for the peoples of both, Bangladesh, and West Bengal. On that day in nineteen fifty two, students of East Pakistan’s institutions of knowledge like Dhaka Medical College, had been mercilessly struck down, after they were fired upon by the soldiers of West Pakistan. Their crime? Bangla, the indigenous mother-tongue of all Bengalis, irrespective of religion and location, had been the prime focus of East Pakistan’s ‘Language Movement’. The seat of power, despite the East’s relatively larger demographic, had been, for all means and purposes, firmly lodged in the West, separated from the Eastern wing, by thousands of miles of territory belonging to the state of independent India. West Pakistan wielded absolute power over Pakistan’s army, its internal security, administration and the judicial system. Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi, were the most recognized and respected lingua franca. Bengali was deemed by the West, to be a ‘Pagan’ language, the tongue of millions of ‘kaffirs’ that worshipped a plenitude of deities.
The Bengalis, a people deeply protective of their cultural heritage, cutting across religious lines, took offense, and thus commenced the movement for the restoration of Bangla, as the legitimate representative of the East Bengalis. What followed, is well known, to South Asian History, enthusiasts. Exploiting the opportunity that had presented itself, and asphyxiated by more than ten million Bengali refugees who had migrated to eastern India in wake of ‘Operation Searchlight’ imposed by West Pakistan on its eastern wing, India had invaded the latter in the early December of 1971. The shortest war of modern history, had ended a fortnight later, with the emergence of an independent homeland, for all Bengali speaking peoples: Bangladesh.
Bangladesh turns forty-seven on the twenty sixth of March this year. Over the last nearly five decades, much water has flown under the bridge. Significantly, it has taken along with it, a bulk of the initial bonhomie and camaraderie, that Bangladesh and India shared with one another. From trustworthy allies, the two neighbours, have now entered a phase of grudging respect, but that too is often found in suspended animation, once anti-Indian regimes come to power in the other country. There are a number of reasons why India and Bangladesh have experienced a souring of relations over time, and much to the ordinary Indian’s chagrin, not all of the blame can be laid at our eastern neighbour’s door.
A) WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? EVERYTHING!
Any patriotic Indian, often ruminates fondly over a well circulated photo that emerged in the December of 1971. It was taken during the capitulation of the West Pakistan army to India. The photo is held up by Indian nationalists, like a trophy and proudly referred to as the ultimate symbol of India’s crushing of Pakistan. This historic photo in question, has a sombre Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora, looking on, as a visibly demoralized Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan signs the document of surrender. A sea of khaki and army green dot the backdrop of the image. Smiling soldiers of the Indian Defence Forces, can be seen interspersed between high ranking members of the Pakistan Army. However, remarkably, missing from the image, is the presence of the very people, who had had to sacrifice their life, their limb, and their precious dignity, to make their own independence happen.
As time has passed, millions of Bangladeshis have taken stock of the historic footage that seemed to signal their freedom day, and yet, they have asked: “Where are our people?” Yes, indeed. It is a photograph that, once the euphoria had died down, was bound to reveal its troubling nature. It may have been the defining moment for our own military men, but for the patriots within our newly born neighbour, this image is one of being slighted; of being overlooked, and insulted. Indians should have realized awhile back, that parading the said photo, was not a wise thing to do. The newly liberated nation, did not and to this day, cannot claim the image as their own, due to the complete absence of any East Bengali presence.
B) WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK!
In 1996, Bangladesh and India had signed a treaty over the sharing of river waters. The agreement – known as the Ganges Treaty – had promised to equally divide the volume of river waters shared by the two nations. Waters of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin, constitute the globe’s second largest hydraulic region, with a high population density inhabiting its banks. Simply put, the so-called division of water, is neither fair, and nor useful, to Bangladeshis. Through the Farakka Barrage, India, with its advanced systems of harvesting trans-boundary water, virtually controls the upstream flow of currents, which it then utilises without a care for the consequences being experienced by the people that live around the downstream currents of the barrage. As a result, Bangladesh has become a victim of environmental degradation which is a direct consequence of India’s water harvesting policy and techniques. Flora and Fauna, especially a variety of edible fish, important to our eastern neighbour, have either drastically lessened, or come close to extinction, due to callous and selfish, Indian interests over river-water sharing.
A) THREE IS A CROWD!
A fundamental problem that posited itself even before the Liberation War in East Pakistan was over, and should have been a dark indicator of what was to come, was the deluge of refugees that had escaped the porous Indo-Pak border at its eastern end, and come to stay in India, as hopeful citizens. Even though Bangladesh is itself a witness to a refugee apocalypse in the form of the Rohingyas, they do not seem to be able to join the dots between their own problem, and that of India’s, for which their homegrown, poverty-stricken population is responsible. The Indian state which has borne the brunt of our refugee crisis, has been the north-easterly one of Assam. Bordering Bangladesh, this volatile Indian region has had to absorb the vast majority of illegals that continually transgress into our territories, by paying a small bribe to the jawans of the BSF (Border Security Forces), and obtaining false ration and identity cards. Bangladesh has chosen to delude itself by claiming time and again, that the alleged social scenario is an impossibility, accusing India instead, of tainting Indo-Bangla ties with our calumnies against them. In a heart-breaking tragedy that unfolded in the Nellie town of Assam in 1983, thousands of Muslims were slain by the local Assamese, over fear of the former’s illegal alien status.
It must be acknowledged, that though a sizeable proportion of the deaths were of Indian Muslims who were unfortunately caught in the crosshairs; the remaining victims were indeed of Bangladeshi descent. The crisis could have been averted, if a national population census board had been specifically set up for the beleaguered Assam state, decades previously. But illegals from Bangladesh have been known to wade deeper into Indian territory, in hopes of a better life, and confirmed sources have located many such uprooted families living in the shanty dwellings of even megalopolises like Mumbai, which lie on the far-off western shores of India. If left unchecked, the Bangladeshi Illegal Aliens crisis, may snowball into a far greater threat than it is today. Given the pull of money, such individuals and indeed, families, may be willing to join insurgency operations that are threatening the fabric of unity that holds this country together.
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY!
India’s pliant and contiguous ‘ally’, on her East, may have begun by solemnly swearing to secularism, but with the passage of time, she has metamorphosed into a caricature of her own founding principles of equality. Her one-time bete noir, Pakistan, is now edging closer to her and she seems to be egging it on. When elections approach, her largest minority, the Hindu one, pass their days in fear, wary of the poll results. Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, a certain section of East Pakistan, described as being the Razakars – once active in the erstwhile Indian royal kingdom of Hyderabad under the auspices of its cruel Nizam – had backed the West Pakistan regime’s crackdown on the Bengalis. In the post-war era, they have been contesting elections under the garb of the JEI or ‘Jamaat-e-Islami’.
A vast segment of their fellow citizens have indeed lent support to the JEI’s nefarious plans of defeating secularism in their nation, and engendering anti-Hindu, and anti-India policies. One is often mistaken into thinking, that the father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rohman, was sincere about preserving the tolerant fabric of his country. This is not entirely true. Just as Pakistan’s PPP (Pakistan’s Peoples Party) was once headed by Benazir Bhutto who had nobbled Islamist forces to infiltrate Indian Kashmir, while simultaneously projecting herself to be in favour of religious equality, Mujibur had gone lax on the Islamic fundamentalists of the JEI, when he realized that they had a large section of his society, in their pockets. With the assassination of Bongobondhu (Bengal’s Friend) Mujib, the Islamist army chief General Ziaur Rehman assumed power in a coup. His policies had brought Bangladesh closer to the Islamic world, and strained its relationship with its benefactor and neighbour, India.