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Abhijit Bora
Date of Publish: 2016-10-07

Honouring our artistes

           

The way a group of people or a community shows respect their cultural icons, mass artistes is a key yardstick to judge how cultured the community is. The global community stands witness to how the British revere Shakespeare and take utmost care of the material belongings left behind by the great litterateur and artiste.

In the context of Assam, Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha , even so many years after his death, still stands tall in the cultural arena in the state and among the masses across the ethnic tapestry in the region. During the last Bishnu Rabha Divas, a musical performance was organised at the courtyard of Kalaguru’s home in Tezpur.  While enjoying the musical show unfolding before the eyes, a though crossed this author’s mind about the possibility of developing a tourism circuit like that of the Stratford-upon-Avon of Shakespeare. Or nearer home, like that of the house of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi Peace Ashram, Wardha etc.

 The idea sounds realistic to yours truly especially because a hue and cry is often raised  by various quarters  in the state to highlight the want of a system either at government or non-government level , for  taking proper care of heritage and rare artefacts of numerous great artistes of the state.

I remember having read many stories about the British people taking great care of Shakespeare’s home and also the theatres where some of his timeless plays are regularly performed. Of course, not only Shakespeare, many other artistes of the same ilk have been honoured with such gestures  

So, what happens when it comes to artistes or important persons from our own state is an aspect that we should give a serious thought.

 We all know that Poki, the ancestral home of Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, has been taken over by the state government, apparently for its upkeep and maintenance as well as to upgrade it to a tourist destination. But, how much of the purpose has been achieved is a debatable aspect. Also, Rupkonwar’s Bholaguri studio and Tamolbari house where the great artiste and doyen of Assamese cinema, spent a considerable amount of time towards the later part of his life, are yet to be restored effectively and thrown open for tourists and cultural enthusiasts.

 The present state government seems to have taken up the issue of taking over and preserving Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s homes at Guwahati and in Kuthori in Kaziranga. It is indeed a prudent gesture on part of the government to preserve these sites of so many invaluable creations of the Bard of Brahmaputra. However,    it would take some time for making a reality check in this direction.

 There are apprehensions also. Whenever things go to the government’s domain, more often than not, they become restrained by the steel frame of bureaucracy. This author would not vouch for total involvement of government in this venture and rather recommend involvement of social organisations with commendable track record of working in the relevant sphere. The government’s involvement should be somewhat limited to the extent of facilitating means for smooth progress of the work.

Not only the homes of the great artistes but also invaluable creations of these artistes in various domains of arts be it drama, films, painting, literature and what not, should be preserved for the progeny.  Do the government or universities or any other credible concerned and interested quarter has prepared a proper catalogue of all these creations by our great artistes so that those can be accessed to sans any difficulty by academic or research purpose?  And if the same do exist, can the agency responsible claim that the list is accurate and exhaustive?

 The moot question is that despite instituting awards and prizes in the honour of our artistes, what concrete has been done to actually preserve the works and memory of these persons so as to keep their names familiar with all upcoming generations.

 In this regard, a few things which can be taken up in the right earnest may include – preparing complete and exhaustive biographical details of these persons, physical as well as digital collections of their creative works, articles and items relating to their personal life etc., in institutions like the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra among others. Also, maybe in that particular person or artiste’s home archive. The issue of public display, marketing (if decided for it) and royalty of these artefacts, memorabilia including books, magazines, notebooks etc., do also need to be taken care of.

Assam government has announced setting up of a Cultural University in Majuli which definitely would be a highly appreciable initiative, if actually carried out in proper spirit. This university, when it becomes fully functional, may also take up the projects mentioned here above.

There is also the possibility of preparing a tourism circuit of great artistes and other prominent personalities of the state much on the lines of the religious tourism circuits put into vogue by some of the prominent travel agencies.

 Also, digital archiving should be one of the primary goals as it is not a major issue nowadays. All India Radio has converted majority of its tapes into the digital format about a decade ago. So, in our case also, it should not prove to be a major deterrent.

 Coming to the memorial  of  our eternal Sudhakantha Dr Bhupen Hazarika , the site chosen is good from the angle of visibility as it is right on the confluence of major roads and by the way to the airport. However, at present it seems that the chaotic situation at the point is taking its toll as one would have expected a calm and quiet ‘ashram’-like ambience in such places. Also, a feeling that the work has not been completed yet seems to be floating around at the site. This is unfortunate especially after several years of the Bard’s demise. 

 Further, going by the public apathy about any activity undertaken by the government in any aspect of life, can we think of Trusts comprising prominent people with impeccable public image for implementing such a project for the future?

With the newer and younger generations in our society showing increasing orientation towards continuing their studies in English medium, a situation would arise in which these generations would not know anything about these iconic personalities from the state. And when that happens we can’t blame them for this fiasco. It would be absolutely the fault of the seniors, not that of juniors’.

This author had seen something unique during an academic visit to the USA a few years ago. The USA for the last few decades has been allocating a particular space for her past Presidents where all kinds of memorabilia relating to the person are kept for public display. Probably, families of a few of the past Presidents have donated their original homes for the purpose also. This author had the opportunity to visit one such facility and was overwhelmed by the beautifully-curated estate.

 Not only this, that country has dedicated a large estate in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. - the great human rights leader who considered Mahatma Gandhi as his spiritual guru. This estate is just adjacent to the home of King’s maternal grandparents’ home where he grew up during his childhood. I take pride in informing that a full-sized statue of Gandhiji is installed right at the entrance of the estate that can hardly be missed by any visitor. This was another example of how meticulous planning go into creating memorials with a futuristic view.

 In our country, especially in Assam, except maybe Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and a very few other prominent leaders, personalities, we hardly have any such memorial set up.        

While concluding, let us look at another issue apart from these.  

  

During the run up to the last Assembly polls in state held in April 2016, as usual, all political parties were engaged in a war of words to impress the voter. In the process of going to ‘any extent’, they stooped to new lows.  One particular aspect was that leaders of the major political parties – that too quite senior persons – were boasting that he or she had the blood and stature of Lachit Barphukan and Mula Gabharu or Joymoti etc. While there can’t absolutely be anything wrong in this regard, we do never hear anyone declaring that he or she had the blood and creative talent of the great artistes of the state or the country whom we do admire and take as role models.

Is there a hint of subtle discrimination here? Readers are the best judge to give their verdict.

Abhijit Bora

( Abhijit Bora is Associate Professor & Head, Mass Communication & Journalism Department, Tezpur University. The views expresed are the author's own. )

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