Everyone talks about Bihu – then and now. Everyone says it was better “then”, than “now”. I beg to differ. For me all the Bihu celebrations have something special to offer. So what, if the celebration of Bihu has changed over the ages? Change is inevitable. We all have to keep up with time and adjust accordingly. Today we do not have enough time and convenience to do all the things that are associated with the Bihus. It doesn’t matter when you were born and how you remember your Bihu celebrations. Bihu is always a special celebration that is closest to the hearts of all the Assamese people around the globe. We love Bihu, be it the vibrant Rongali Bihu or the feastful Magh Bihu. Well, Kati Bihu always takes a backseat because of obvious reasons. All the Bihu celebrations of my life have been pleasant ones. At least I would like to think so. This may be because; nothing could ever dampen the spirit of Bihu in us Assamese.
Today, we celebrate Bihu in our own little ways, feeling equally excited every time. Although the first thing we all would like to do on Bihu is to be at our parental home where we grew up and enjoyed the Bihus in their totality. But due to the many difficulties, obligations and responsibilities of modern lives, it is sometimes not possible to be at the right place at the right time. However, no matter where we are, we make sure that we celebrate Bihu in some special ways to mark the Axomiya “jatiyo utsab”.
To cite a few examples, Pushpanjali, a friend of mine, an Assamese to the bone marrow, is celebrating Bihu in her newspaper office in Bangalore. She has asked her brother to courier some Pitha so that she can reduce the pangs of missing home.
Another of my friends, Prity in Australia has learnt Pitha making, so that she doesn’t have to survive with the cravings for Pitha, especially during the Bihu days. Thanks to her technically savvy mother who e-mailed her the recipes and processes of Til Pitha and Ghila Pitha making.
In Delhi, when work kept us from going home for the Rongali Bihu, just to make ourselves feel good, we (a few Assamese girls) used to make time to at least go to Assam Bhavan near Kautilya Marg, wearing Muga Mekhela Sador to have an Assamese thaliin the cafeteria. The saak bhaji, alu pitika and maasor tenga never felt so heavenly.
A friend of mine in Singapore, Animesh, married to a local girl there, craves for Assamese home food. Last Magh Bihu, the craving finally seemed to have crossed all boundaries. Since he was missing the feasting of Magh Bihu with family and friends for years, last January he decided to celebrate a real Magh Bihu in Singapore. Hunting the market for half a day, he collected some of the close to home ingredients and invited all his Chinese friends to celebrate Magh Bihu at his home. A small Meji was built in front of his home and a bonfire and barbequed snacks marked the celebration.
Once in Delhi, a few of my Assamese friends and I celebrated Magh Bihu in a grand way. We made sure that everyone’s favourite Assamese dish was made. At first only a few Assamese girls got together for the occasion, but word of mouth got spread so fast that we ended up having seventeen “khaar” (Assamese living outside Assam call themselves Khaar as in Khaar khua Asomiya) friends who invited themselves to the celebration. Bon fire is a must on Magh Bihu and we had no idea how to arrange for the firewood. Then an idea struck in the middle of the INA market itself, where we were shopping for the feast. We requested the fruit vendors to donate us the discarded wooden fruit boxes and they happily obliged. Firewood was ready for that perfect bonfire just in front of my residence.
In Kolkata, a few of my Assamese friends are getting together for Rongali Bihu this year too (we have been celebrating Rongali Bihu in Kolkata since 2009). Some of them are students and some are working professionals. The process of deciding the venue, menu and time, is still on. I look forward to be a part of that celebration this time as well.
With the passage of time, my friends and I have moved on changing cities and countries. But the spirit of Bihu remains intact in our hearts and always will be. Although I am in Mumbai now, whenever I hear the cuckoo singing in the big “Krishna Chura” tree behind the St Theresa’s Church near my home in Bandra (W), my heart skips a beat. I realise that Bihu is just around the corner. The Cuckoo, like a sincere messenger tells me with his coos, ‘here comes the most exciting festival of your life’.
In India, Rongali Bihu is celebrated with different names in different states. Being an agrarian economy, almost all the states of India follow the same agricultural calendar. All the states celebrate their traditional New Year festival during this time of April. Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala, Baisakhi in Punjab and Nababarsha in West Bengal are nothing but Rongali Bihu celebrations in their own respective ways. The festivities are the same, the spirit is identical and the attachment of the locales towards these festivals is the same. I have to confess though, that when in Assam, I can smell Bihu in the air and the feeling is matchless. I can’t wait to get home for this Bihu……Happy Rongali Bihu to all of you….
An unofficial Bihu google doodle I found on the internet