Earlier in the year, I visited Assam and drove from Gauhati (Guwahati) to my dad’s hometown of North Lakhimpur and back. I’ve already written about it for Outlook http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?285067 but so far hadn’t shared any pictures. Here are a few now.
Last year, the journey from Tivim to Dadar by the Jan Shatabdi was memorable.
This year, travel has been restricted. So, only photographs and memories from the train ride.
My favourite writer!
Tuesday saw Ian Rankin come to town to promote Rebus’s comeback in Standing in Another Man’s Grave. Early attendance (and no mates) meant I could bag a front row seat (in what turned out to be a packed house).
It was a great evening listening to ‘the master’, who is clearly a really nice guy.
I’d managed to watch the BBC documentary about his writing the book beforehand (not so easy from New Zealand) and was a little surprised to see the struggle he had to get started, and the doubt he suffered during the writing process – particularly at page 65, the place where his notes run out. I asked him about this, and said I was a little surprised that someone with nearly 30 books under their belt he would feel that way.
“It never gets any easier,” was his response.
Ian writes like Stephen King – with…
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By Amit Baruah
You can’t miss it. A white, boat-shaped temple marks the gateway to North Lakhimpur town, on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river. As our Bolero, which has nearly completed its 360-odd km Guwahati-NL run, chugs along, one can spy first a Maruti showroom and then a Hyundai one. We have hit town.
It has been 34 years since I set foot in North Lakhimpur, my father’s hometown in Assam. My last trip, at age 14, with my parents, was in 1979. We had taken the Tinsukia Mail to New Bongaigaon (where the broad gauge line ended at the time) and then the Murkongselek-bound Arunachal Express to land in NL. I still remember the delightful omelette we would have for breakfast at the New Bongaigaon station as we waited for the Arunachal Express.
This time, an Indigo flight from Delhi takes me to Guwahati (North Lakhimpur is not connected by air from anywhere), which destination I reach by 8 am. Amiyo, who is to drive the Bolero, is waiting for me. We leave for NL straightaway, stopping only to pick up Samudra Gupta Kashyap, a long-standing Guwahati-based correspondent, who is to be my co-passenger.
The road isn’t bad, but it’s like a work in progress. My gaze seldom veers from on the countryside, a sight for my sore, Delhi eyes. Three hours down the line, seeing Amiyo wobbling a bit, we stop for tea. It’s around 11 am, the dhaba is half-full. A stocky patka-sporting Sikh, going by the handle Bahadur Singh, is the dhaba sanchalak. I try my Punjabi on him, only to get an answer in Asomiya. Given that my basic Asomiya is rusty, I switch to Hindi. He tells me his dad was born in Assam.
Tea over, we set off again, only to make a couple of more pit stops, including one for a super rice-and-fish thali, but the journey otherwise is mostly about reaching NL by evening.
Peepal vs Peepal
I have been invited to inaugurate the new building of the North Lakhimpur Press Club the next morning. When they got in touch with me, the organisers weren’t quite sure about my Assamese. So they requested Samudra to contact me and convey their invitation. I accepted immediately. My late father would have been happy that his son had been invited to do the honours in the town he had left in the 1930s for college in Guwahati and Calcutta.
The ribbon-cutting over, yours truly is brave enough to speak a few words in Asomiya and then hastily switch to English. Later, I release three or four books, fumbling with their elaborate covers. I talk of the change I see in NL and the fact that 34 years after I made it by metre gauge rail, the broad gauge line is in an “advanced” stage of completion. Confronting the rise of the ‘other India’ in my journalism, my thoughts stray to the success of my father, U.L. Baruah, who in a 38-year career with All India Radio rose to become its director-general after having studied in a village school in North Lakhimpur all those years ago. Given that aspiration is alive and kicking, and Guwahati and Delhi the obvious goals, it’s a success story the audience can identify with. Samudra, who speaks after me, refers to the conversation he overheard between my wife and me on the phone en route to NL. He quotes me as telling her, “The peepal trees in Assam are so large and majestic. By contrast, the peepal in north India looks stunted.” The audience is amused by the reference.
Pocketed Cash Transfer
There are many cars on the roads. Gone are the cobwebs on the power lines from 1979. NL is a bustling town compared to the sleepy place I remember coming to as a teenager. Wondering where all the wealth is coming from, I ask it of people around me, including my niece and her lecturer husband. The general consensus seems to be that funds allotted under government schemes are leaking, with cash transfers going directly into people’s pockets, no bank accounts needed here. You get the drift of the argument. Also, the many teachers and the better payscales for them are adding to the wealth of society. Given that there are few jobs in other sectors, the sales of cars is still surprising.
Surprisingly, I hear few complaints about rapacious Delhi oppressing the people of Assam, something one heard regularly in the ’80s. The ULFA and the AGP-AASU are definitely yesterday’s story. Boys and girls from other parts of the country are coming to study at the IIT in Guwahati, but Assamese boys and girls are still making a beeline for Delhi, Pune and anywhere else that they think might give them a decent education. As a friend in Guwahati explains, “If Calcutta was the destination for your father’s generation, it’s Delhi today.” The links, one could argue, are becoming stronger.
At a Gohpur restaurant
Where we stop for fish and rice, there are two large photographs: one of a Hindu deity, the other of Bhupen Hazarika. Their placement? Bard Bhupen above the lord. His place in the pantheon is, clearly, assured.
Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist; Amit Baruah tweets at @abaruah64
Pictures taken at the Satabhishekam ceremony for Murali’s Appa in Coimbatore (August 2012). Belated posting of pictures shows that I thoroughly enjoyed being there. Thanks for inviting me. Would not have missed it for anything. Especially since Murali didn’t want me to come. And then had to pay for my ticket.
In this day and age, you need to be multi-skilled to multi-task. So, with that mantra in mind, I set off for salubrious Goa to work as a trainee barman. For a few days, and especially one weekend, I worked hard at a job that I had never done before.
BTW, you can’t just land an internship at a daru bar, you have to have the right contacts. But, you see, I did have the right contacts. I called up Marius, the malik of Cavala beach resort in North Goa, and asked him whether he would have me as an intern!
Our conversation on a wobbly mobile connection went something like this.
Me: Hi Marius, how are you. I have an unusual request. Can I come and work at your bar in Cavala for a week?
Marius: (Didn’t sound very surprised.) Sure, when would you like to come? Just send me your dates.
The rest, as they say, was settled by SMS and history.
Before, we go any further, let me state my biases right up front. I have stayed in Cavala with family and friends on seven or eight occasions in the last eight to 10 years. I just love the place, the creepers on the walls, the people (Maria especially!) and the food!
It’s everything you can want. And, of course, as my friend Shammi (who introduced us to Cavala and Marius, and she will kill me if I don’t record this) said – the killer attraction is that you can have breakfast when you wake up – and let me tell you her breakfast usually is around noon.
I did mention my plans to friends before setting off. Most were surprised, but envious. All of them thought it was a great idea.
Marius is an organised man. He had already informed Benny (the chief barman), Bastiao and other members of his staff about what was to be done with me and my slightly off scheme.
Given that I know all of them as a “guest”, it was a bit awkward to begin with, but Benny was stellar. He took charge of me and made everything so easy.
The first couple of evenings were slow. It was Goa in the monsoon. Cavala did have guests, most of them regulars and a few who would drop in for dinner. But, overall it was slow in the week.
I learnt the difference between a Caprioshka and a Mojito, a B-52 and a Kamikaze; how to make a mean Bloody Mary and how to mix a Martini.
Soon, I gathered that all preparations were on for Friday evening. D-day, big day, whatever you want to call it. Friday evenings is when a live band performs at Cavala and the whole of Goa knows seems to know it’s party time.
Let me tell you that life is quite different on the other side of the bar. Preparations , which included cutting enormous amounts of lime wedges and mint leaves, began in the late afternoon. Clearly, there was a drill to it and only I was new to it.
Calls came into the bar making table reservations, which were carefully noted down by Benny in a notebook. Given the hundreds that would arrive, those making a reservation were displaying considerable wisdom.
Benny showed me the peg measures and told me my job. Hand out the beer, rum soda, whisky soda, vodka tonic – all the simple combinations. The others would do the complicated cocktails, including the shots.
People started filtering in around 9 in the evening and the place was soon jam packed, with Tidal Wave belting out all the popular numbers that can bring people to their feet. In Cavala, barring those who had a table, everybody was on their feet in any case.
Women and men were dancing their heads off and, boy, were they drinking. I thought I was forever in a bent position – having to bend down to open the little fridges that contained the chilled beer.
Soon, some of the women were dancing on top off the bar. One couldn’t really serve people their drinks as long as the ladies were atop the bar – shaking a leg like there was no tomorrow.
But, this was no Sahara mall. Old and young, men and women were just fixated on having a good Friday evening and we played a small role in plying them with the spirit needed for the purpose.
After the ladies cleared themselves off the bar, the pressure mounted. There was no time to breathe. Beer. Rum. Whisky. Beer. Jaldi. Abhi. Immediately. Along with the real barmen, I was pouring drinks like mad.
Someone wanted whisky and Red Bull. Who was I to argue? The gent who asked for the same was a kindly sort. Keep the change, he said. He handed over two notes and told me to keep the change. Ten rupees it amounted to. All handed over to the cashier.
Another gent (mostly it was men asking for the drinks though there were a few women as well) told me to keep about Rs. 300. I was happy – had been tipped for the first time in my life.
There was a lady, who spoke to me about something or the other. Couldn’t really get what she said in all the noise. A little bit later, she asked if it was okay to take her purse from the bar. I said sure, please do.
Around 1.15 am, I was tired. Stepping away from the bar, I went and sat near the reception. The lady either happened to be around or sought me out.
And she had a question, “Do you have a brother. Is he a journalist?”
Me: (Think I recognised her in that instant as a reporter working for a TV channel) Yes, sure, I have a brother (actually I have two brothers!) but he’s not a journalist. I am the journalist.
Lady: You are Amit Baruah. (Turning to her friends…He’s a senior journalist. I know him. Have been wondering the whole evening what he’s been doing behind the bar!
Lady, what was I doing? I was enjoying myself — talking to people, soaking in the environment, feeling quite free away from the day-to-day mundane things that seemed to reduce in importance.
Thank you Cavala and Marius, for letting me have the time of my life.
I want a Repeat.