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                               JUST A PASSING THOUGHT                             

Dr. Utpal Kumar Kataky, Dubai

               The world has indeed become smaller.  Three years ago, I had read in Home Link, the then published weekly for the non-resident Assamese, about an illustrious young cricketer named  Nishant Bordoloi from Assam, playing County cricket in the U.K.  Last week I had the pleasant surprise of meeting him briefly at a common friend’s place.  He had visited Dubai at the invitation of a local cricket club for whom he played a couple of matches.  I longed to meet him again at Ain Al Faidah resort in Al Ain during our Rongali Bihu celebration, but he could not show up owing to prior commitments.

                The Bihu sanmilan, organized by members of Axom Samaj of U.A.E. passed off with a colourful cultural programme, sumptuous dinner and lunch including ‘Machor Tenga’ and traditional Assamese breakfast with ‘laroos’ and ‘komal saol, chira, gur, doi,’ etc.  Including children there were a total of around eighty people in the congregation.  Three families from Oman, who had joined us, added special flavour to the occasion.  One of the male members was a doctor friend of mine whom I had not met since leaving Assam Medical College.

                On the following morning, while others had gone for outdoor activities, my friend and I relaxed at the hotel lounge over a cup of coffee.  I had a long chat with him and, as we went down memory lane, we had bouts of laughing sessions.  Various topics that came up including ragging among the medicos, hostel food, morning shows on Sundays and interaction with the fairer sex.  Then we caught up with re-living of some nostalgic moments such as our trips to Dillighat on picnics, the rigorous NCC camping fortnight and happenings at the Rural Health Service in Chabua. 

                Very few of the doctors I know, graduating from AMC, had come abroad in the seventies.  Most of these left for the United Kingdom on job vouchers to work in British hospitals. The majority of those stayed on to become General Practitioners for the National Health Service while a few successfully completed higher degrees and occupied hospital posts.  Some, who were not interested in either, used England as a springboard to migrate to America. The next few years had seen a handful of doctors from Assam settling down in the Gulf for a tax-free salary, attractive perks, comfortable living and the most important reason – to be nearer home.

                Although some of us were nearer home,  communication with our homeland was in its infancy. For instance even in the early eighties, it took us two overnight stopovers from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to reach Guwahati.  Having no ISDs those days, we had to go through the international telephone operator to call home and sometimes, there was a forty eight to seventy two hours waiting before we got the line.  Telegram was a bit faster means of communication while delivery of mail from either end was rather erratic and often took a month or two.  Keen to keep abreast with happenings back home, we subscribed to the Asam Bani but because of delayed delivery we ended up receiving out-dated news.

         A couple of decades ago, people in general did not have the faintest idea of where Assam is.  I remember a Tamilian doctor working in the same hospital as I was, in England, said, “Is Assam in India?”  How could people be so oblivious in their basic geographical knowledge?  Until the Assam movement gained momentum in the early eighties, our homeland was miserly represented in most parts of India, not to speak of in other parts of the globe.

                Why were we so poorly represented?  A good cross section of the people thought of our wonderful land, in fact the entire north-east, as snake-infested hilly terrain with wild buffalos and elephants roaming about the streets.  And they thought of the people inhabiting the area as under-civilised tribes with primitive ways of living. Was this because we were underexposed, cut off geographically and unable to merge with the mainstream?  Haven’t we been suppressed politically and exploited economically since independence?

                In recent times, however, our identity has become more prominent for one reason or another. Incidents in our homeland have been hitting the headlines in prominent newspapers and magazines highlighting extortions, shootings and killings by various militant outfits operating in the area.  The government’s determination to crush the rebels with the police and military forces, in an attempt to protect innocent lives, also appears in the front pages.

                On the brighter aspect, there had been positive happenings lately for which our motherland has come into limelight.  The beginning of the millennium had been celebrated with the freedom fighter and our first Chief Minister, Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi being posthumously honoured with the highest civilian award – the Bharat Ratna.  Last year saw the much-awaited recognition of the Xatriya dance. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, the composer, lyricist, music director and singer from Assam has successfully been able to merge Assamese melodies with Bollywood hits.  Again, Kalpana Lazmi’s film Daman is awaiting release where the cinema lovers would, for the first time, get a proper glimpse of the Assamese costume – the stunning mekhela chadar

                Assam may be a land of Lahe Lahe, and still is, in many respects.  For instance the train from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia, a distance of thirty miles, still takes the same time of two hours and fifteen minutes that it took thirty years ago.  But our homeland has certainly kept pace with the rest of the world at least technology-wise.  You just have to surf assamlive.com and you get the news on happenings, good or not-so-good, instantly in even remote parts of this globe.  You can also take part in tele-conferencing with friends, relatives or business partners in Assam  at the click of a mouse.  Hasn’t the world  shrunk more than we could ever have imagined?