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Bhogali spirit

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  14 Jan 2016 12:00 AM GMT

The harvest has been gathered, the graries stocked, the fields now left to rest and recover till the rains arrive in Spring. For the farmer in Assam, it has been a hard year with four waves of floods sweeping away crop after crop. Forced back onto the rabi crop in the ongoing dry season, the farmer deserves this much-needed break to celebrate the coming of Magh and observe the rituals of Makar Sankranti. Rural households are resounding with the beat of the dhenki as the womenfolk pound out rice, Bihu delicacies are being churned out of earthen fireplaces, community fishing is on at full swing in water bodies and fisheries across the State, village youths are vying to erect the tallest mejis and eye-catching bhelaghors in the fields. Towns and cities are thinning out as people are taking the road back to their rural homes, partake of family feasting and renew their bonds for another year. Bhogali Bihu has always been a precious tradition of agrarian Assam, with a deep reverence for the tural cycle and march of seasons. The general bonhomie and harmony among the people during Bhogali Bihu goes hand in hand with a spiritual renewal in the light and warmth of the sacred meji bonfire. But the spontaneous joy of feasting in an agrarian society that came but once a year, has over the years given way to consumption running riot in a consumerist society. Bhogali Bihu is well on its way to being as strenuously marketed as Rongali Bihu has been; the Bhogali markets on fire in towns and cities have little on offer that the middle-class consumer can afford, leave alone the farmer. In Guwahati, prices of foodstuff and other essentials at this time have been showing upward spikes for several years now. But this year, markets in the city have become the stomping grounds of middlemen, syndicates and unscrupulous traders hell-bent in capitalising on the Bhogali spirit. Be it Bihu delicacies, pulses and oils, meat and fish, milk products and vegetables — prices are skyrocketing by as much as 40-80 percent. The State Food and Civil Supplies department is nowhere in the picture as far as any attempt for a modicum of price control is concerned. As this sellers market goes on an aggressive profiteering spree in an election season, there is no question of the farmer getting his due anywhere by any chance. In the midst of all this commercialisation, Bhogali Bihu in our urban areas is turning steadily into a food festival, with jaded palates turning away from run-of-the-mill Bihu delicacies to a bewildering fare of ethnic food. All these mouth-watering visuals are being brought straight into living rooms by sections of the electronic media which have difficulty in distinguishing between the Bihus that come in Magh and Bohaag. A primarily rural festival being grafted onto an urban setting, Bhogali Bihu in this age will surely get caught up in commercialisation with all its attendant parapherlia. City apartment blocks are forging a new community spirit with Bhogali feasting; some Bhogali mela organisers are recreating rural Bihu household activities to draw urban clienteles. The upcoming generations are getting to taste Bihu delicacies and ethnic food at this time of the year that they would not have gotten to savour otherwise. If the way to the hearts of the young is through their stomachs, then so be it; if the Bhogali feeling of wellbeing is truly engendered in an increasingly urbanised population, then so be it. For surely it will one day make us all appreciate and value the producers in our State who make this Bhogali abundance possible. This in turn must lead to giving a just deal to our farmers and fishermen, our artisans and workers.

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