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Lost moorings

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 Jan 2017 12:00 AM GMT

For many a concerned observer of which way our society is heading, the so-called ‘Bihu coverage’ fare purveyed on TV screens over the past few years — has bred a sense of disenchantment far too serious and widespread to laugh away or ignore. This trend of cultural philistinism, which has allowed our Bihus to be ‘commodified’ for the market, has in turn drawn forth anguished reactions over our lost moorings. As the State now basks in the convivial aftermath of Bhogali Bihu bonhomie, there is also a cautious bracing for the next round of ‘studio manufactured’ Bihu gaiety that has come to assail our senses round the year. It hardly needs a wise old head to say that our three Bihus are separate and distinct, that in them we see the march of seasons over which our agrarian society sets so much in store by. But the manner Bihus are being (mis)represented in a section of media, it seems that those who should be knowing better, are losing their heads. The outcome is the ignorant, crass, market and TRP-driven mixing up of traditions that once characterized our Bhogali, Rongali and Kongali Bihus. Hapless viewers are getting to see a veritable ‘amalgamation’ of the three Bihus into an artificially stretched-out, perennial spring celebration masquerading as the Rongali variety, but which ends up neither here nor there. Take Bhogali Bihu, for instance. There was a time when youths heeded their elders not to beat the drum during freezing nights at the field, as the month of Puh gave way to auspicious Magh. The belief was to let the field slumber and recuperate from its creative effort, to help gather its energies for the next cycle of bearing and nurturing seeds into fine crops. Was this an ‘unscientific’ belief that should now stand junked on our TV screens? Likewise, youths were once warned not to play their drums at the field during Kartik season, for that could awaken pests to wreak havoc on crops readying for harvest. It is not long before Kongali or Kati Bihu observed at this time, loses its sober, humble, austerely spiritual character to be consumed in the media-generated perpetual spring fever. In the admonitions against playing drums at crop fields in ‘ippropriate’ times, what many are now failing to grasp is the sense of respect to the agricultural rhythm. There can be nothing unscientific in harboring respect for a cycle that sustains us; without this sense of respect, there can be no appreciation and valuing of traditions that have long underpinned our agrarian society. And as our society allows its roots to die off in this fashion, what is coming in as substitute is a pell-mell marketing drive, in which every object or artifact has to be packaged and sold at the great bazaar. As Magh Bihu mejis get ever taller and more imposing, as the Bhogali food turns into designer cookery fare to get viewers salivating before TV screens, somehow the idea of community bonfire and feasting is irreversibly taking a backseat. Bhela-ghars dotting the fields are becoming competitive efforts to draw television cameras, visitors (and hopefully sponsors) — one erected at a village near Tangla this time was a replica of the Taj Mahal, no less. What we are forgetting in the headlong marketing rush to make a commodity of Magh Bihu is the fact that Assam is steadily losing a large number of indigenous varieties of rice, vegetables, herbs and fruits. If short-sighted practice to grow only ‘standard’ or hybrid crops for markets is the major culprit, the loss has been aggravated by environmental degradation and climatic change. And it is a continuing shame that despite being blessed with rivers and tributaries that other states can only envy, Assam is a net importer of fish, a commodity so proudly displayed as a trophy by many a consumer in the Bhogali market. This year, there are reports of sea fish displacing local fish varieties in several markets. At this rate, the three Bihus will remain only on paper, to be memorized by rote and written down in essays by the average schoolchild. But the crudity the institution of Bihu is being subjected to — is sadly spilling over onto other festivals. Discerning observers often recoil at the prospect of media coverage during Saraswati Puja, a festival that ought to venerate the Goddess of Learning — when TV channels go on overdrive to quiz comely maidens of what facials and sartorial surprises they have in store to enthrall viewers!

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