Leit suk ban bam kwai ha dwar U Blei Bah Sumar Sing Sawian!

Obituary: Remembering the Legacy of Bah Sumar Sing Sawian – A Pioneer in Journalism, Literature, and Khasi Culture

Leit suk ban bam kwai ha dwar U Blei Bah Sumar Sing Sawian!
Ramakrishna Mission, Shillong mourns the loss of Bah Sumar Sing Sawian, who passed away on April 8, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that has left an indelible mark on the history of Meghalaya. Bah Sawian was a trailblazer in many aspects, being the first Khasi to join mainstream journalism and making significant contributions to the promotion of Khasi culture and heritage through his writings.
In the early 1990s, Bah Sawian was appointed as the Chief Bureau – Northeast of the prestigious Press Trust of India (PTI), where he displayed unparalleled dedication and professionalism in his work. Later, he joined the English daily Apphira, published by Ri Khasi Press, in the early 2000s and went on to become the Editor-in-Chief, succeeding the renowned writer Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih. His journalistic pursuits were widely recognized and earned him accolades from his peers and readers alike.
Bah Sawian’s passion for literature was also evident in his work. He has written many books, including Ka Jutang and Ki Khun Ki Hajar na Jingkieng Ksiar, among others.
He also translated the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s composition “Geetanjali” into Khasi. He authored numerous books on the indigenous Khasi faith and the culture of the Hynñiewtrep community, reflecting his deep understanding and appreciation of his roots.
As an elder of the Seng Khasi Seng Kmie, Bah Sawian played a pivotal role in organizing the annual pilgrimage to Lum Sohpet Bneng peak, known as “Ka Kiew Pyneh Rngiew.” He was instrumental in preserving and promoting the traditional practices and beliefs of the Khasi tribe, and his efforts were commendable in keeping the cultural heritage alive for future generations.
Bah Sawian’s contributions were not limited to journalism and literature alone. He also made significant contributions to traditional archery, organizing competitions through the Apphira Archery Committee, further promoting indigenous sports and fostering a sense of community pride.
Throughout his illustrious career, Bah Sawian was associated with All India Radio, Shillong, and Doordarshan Kendra, Shillong, where he continued to inspire and mentor young journalists. His work was widely recognized, and he received numerous awards for his exceptional contributions to journalism and social service, including the prestigious Meghalaya Day Award – U Tirot Sing Award for Arts and Literature in 2017, which honored his outstanding achievements.

Bah Sawian’s demise is a great loss to the literary world, and the Khasi community. We are grateful for the time we had with him, and we take solace in knowing that his legacy will live on through his works and the lives he touched. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Rush Hours

There’s no cadence in morning rush hours
The frustration from the brevity of time
As anger burst like atomic bombs
and words splattered
like spilt tea on a white sheet;
Even self consciousness
becomes unconcious
as it swallowed benevolence
as it unchewed conversations
and devoured the serene day.
This wild madness
In morning rush hours
Ceased to numbness
as we rush in through the day-
May be the ritual of our madness
Pays salary to the oblivion
and owes debt to morning rush hours.
This wild madness
In morning rush hours

Rangkitbok C Dikrud

Showers from the lord

Our Heavenly lord, the Creator.
Touching everyone with the down pouring.
The welcoming of Dawn with the drizzling coupled with fog and thunderstorm.
The slight sprinkles on the face having imagined.
laying on bed, waking up from this dream
the showers from the lord in reality, fills one with Divine grace.
Announcement of morning with the light rain.
Starting out with daylight occupied with showers,
escaping the walls of the room.
The warmth of the sun is not what the heart desires
but dampening the fires of anger, jealousy and frustrations in this joyous showers.
Rain filled wind blends with the soul.
Making one complete and whole.
With the coming of noon, rain comes with force.
But the sense of peace and happiness remains intact, in spite of the heavy violent pour.
The evening comes with a steady shower
and the mumbles of denizens offering prayers.
Rain drops at night lulls watchers to sleep
where the soul is bonded with a feeling of a new tomorrow
and more positivity as well as goodness to borrow.
Erasing the misery and sorrows are the Showers from the lord.


Ruth Harris on ‘Guru to the World’

Ruth Harris has written a new book [“Guru to the World: Life and Legacy of Vivekananda,” Harvard University Press, October 2022] that examines Vivekananda’s life through his transformative relationships and the impact he had on transforming the Western understanding of spirituality and the global perspective as a whole.

Ka Jingshai (KJ) was in conversation with Prof Ruth Harris (RH). Here is an abridged version of the interview, which can be found in full at https://bit.ly/3KgGkFk

KJ: Your book about Vivekananda covers the importance of his philosophy from multiple perspectives in an interesting way. How did you discover Vivekananda, and why you decided to switch genres in your writing?

RH: Well, there are two things. On one level, it was a shift, a tremendous shift, and I had to spend 8-10 years doing the book because I had no background. On another level, it wasn’t because I came to it through French history. I was reading about the relationship between Romain Rolland and Gandhi and picked up two other books he wrote. One on Ramakrishna (La Vie De Ramakrishna), and the other on Vivekananda ( La Vie De Vivekananda). It’s that book that got me started. 

The second reason is that people like Vivekananda came from the colonial and imperial world to the west, but they shaped our views and shifted our perceptions. Also, I wanted to explore why somebody like Vivekananda had such an impact outside of India before he returned to India. I began to read letters, and I got a sense of him as a human being. That was very enticing.

KJ: When you read him first, what really struck you? 

RH: What struck me about him was his capacity to express very harsh, fundamental truths through wit and humour, especially to his western audience and, at the same time, his openness to their preoccupations. I was stunned by this because he could have been very angry. There were times when he said, ‘Please, don’t speak of us as heathens, don’t offer us stones when we need food.’ It was also his cultural ambidexterity that he could engage in any of the discussions Westerners were interested in. That struck me, and so did the first woman who dealt with him. He could talk about many things, and I began to think, ‘what does it mean for somebody like this, to so many different people, that he had to encompass all this learning and ability to communicate?’

KJ: Did you ever feel like ‘let me write on the Guru of Vivekananda?’

RH: Well, I have to say, of all the things I wrote, the chapter on Sri Ramakrishna was the most difficult. As a Westerner not brought up in this tradition, I had read the gospel of Ramakrishna, and I began to think of how difficult it is to convey the message of Ramakrishna. I was trying to understand, but we get that message only through devotees completely changed by his presence. We get an extraordinary sense of his charisma, humanity, and capacity to touch people with different psychological makeups. 

The story of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda is often told as a story of opposites, but it’s superficial opposites. Certainly, Ramakrishna comes across as  Bhakta, Vivekananda as sceptical Jnani. But underneath, it was Ramakrishna’s wisdom that he was learning. Vivekananda himself said, ‘I am a bhakta’. It is a complex and transformational relationship; I think Ramakrishna understands that you need somebody who can communicate in the wider world; the savviness of somebody like Ramakrishna really impressed me. 

Finally, I found out how he insisted on being a baby and said that innocence and play of babyhood are authentic Atman. He acknowledges Vivekananda’s intelligence; when he reasons too much, he says, ‘you must go beyond that.’ This is something that he used when he was speaking to his audience. It wasn’t just the rational Vivekananda that they loved.

KJ: What thoughts made you think that the concept of ‘Swami Vivekananda and America’ needs a new light? 

RH: There was a personal dimension here in a weird way. It brought many things together for me. Of course, I am American, ended up in Britain, and married an Englishman. It was interesting that working on Vivekananda brought my American, British and Indian friends together. 

Most of my American friends said, ‘we’re growing up; we’re not religious; we’re spiritual.’ I thought, ‘Where does that come from?’ Many of them were Jewish or Christian. But they all think of themselves as spiritual. Yet, they knew on some level that many of the ideas around spirituality they professed came from some vision of yoga or India. 

I realized that people had not grasped the connection between Vivekananda and William James, who was considered in America to be the founder of psychology. Romain Rolland, in  his discussion of Vivekananda, writes about William James. He recognizes that Vivekananda is part of a greater shift in views of self-consciousness and religious experience. I read some of his correspondence and realized that he was having a debate with Vivekananda. He does not accept Hinduism. He still thinks of it in very orientalist terms as metaphysical and transcendent, but not based on science.

KJ: It’s intriguing that you present and understand Indian ethos so delicately in this book. How challenging was that? 

RH: I can’t tell you. In the fourth year, I began to despair. I thought, ‘Oh, this time, I’ve bitten off too much. This time, I’m going to get into trouble.’ That’s because I could not understand, but I was working hard. I was raised in a Jewish tradition and spent a year working on Catholicism to learn about the Virgin Mary. 

I think the change came when I listened to a good translation of the Gita. When you begin to understand what it is, for Arjuna not to defend his family and his relations because of his Dharma, when Indian families mean so much. The sacrifice is extraordinary for the higher ethos I began to appreciate. 

Interestingly, many of my Indian friends began to recognize that we really can’t understand politics, and of course, the Indian anti-colonial struggle without religion. I had been working on religion and science for many years, but what I was doing on Vivekananda was different. It was in exchanges with my friends that I began to get an idea. I tried to be delicate, I’m not sure I always managed. 

I tried to use my historical imagination to enter into the world I was looking at. I realized that people pick and choose from Vivekananda. But the world he lived in was not like ours. We have to understand that it was a world of theosophy, spiritualism and Christian science. 

KJ: In Vivekananda’s writings and speeches, there seems to be a convergence between modern science and Vedanta. He also cautioned against superstitious beliefs in both science and religion. What is the main lesson to be learned from these opposing ideas?

RH: What he’s saying is don’t accept claims from either religion or science as blanket claims. Each individual must find her own path through intellectual understanding. Vivekananda globalizes Hinduism, he engages in debates, and he’s provocative. The Orthodox didn’t accept what he was doing. There are those who disagree with his vision of the relationship of Karma Yoga with Advaita. There are others who do not want to give up rituals. He never said you had to give up anything. He wanted people to question. Though he did prioritize Advaita above other forms, he never lost sight of the fact that Ramakrishna had achieved everything spiritually through Kali.

KJ: Do you think Swami Vivekananda, in a sense, was more unique in his approach than Ramakrishna?

RH: It is not that, that he isn’t unique; Ramakrishna is utterly unique. He’s not like anybody I’ve ever encountered, he’s remarkable. But what I’m saying is that Vivekananda becomes a global figure, he goes to Chicago, he does all those things that Ramakrishna could never engage with.

In his encounter with Ramakrishna, he wants to see God. Vivekananda has this mystical sense and he knows, that it was Ramakrishna who can do that. That’s when he accepts Ramakrishna. It’s a spiritual reconciliation of the highest order. I think that’s partially why he hopes to bring reconciliation when he goes to America. But he’s also savvy, he needs to impress them, he also acknowledges that there are dynamics of power that have to shift. He scolds the people in the West. He says, ‘You’re brutal, you’re materialistic. You don’t listen, you don’t see yourselves.’ When he comes back to India, he says, ‘You’re timid, you’re quarrelsome. you must learn self-reliance, commit yourself to practical Vedanta.’ Like a good Guru, he says different things to different audiences. Despite that, I don’t think that there are two Vivekanandas. He wishes he was back with Ramakrishna, but he has to shift his whole rhythm and psyche and it’s exhausting. That’s why his women friends in America, worry about him all the time, they see he’s exhausted.

KJ: Do you believe that the mental pressure and stress Vivekananda experienced was due to the obstacles and superstitious beliefs that he had to overcome?

RH: I do think it was very exhausting, it’s again that human capacity to acknowledge his weaknesses that I got attracted to him, that he wasn’t a Superman. That he not being a Superman, he’s extraordinary. He talks about ‘The imitation of Christ.’ You can imitate Christ, he says, be Christ, be better than Christ. But he doesn’t want Indians to imitate the British; he wants them to be Indian. How do you take the world, the universal, while remaining authentically yourself? That’s his message for individuals and nations.

KJ: How do you think these ideas about blending experience and reason are influencing the modern thought currents of the West? 

RH: In this connection, we may remember his discussion with William James. They all were trying to blend experience and reason. When people say in America, I’m not religious, I’m spiritual, what they’re trying to say is, I think, ‘we’re not superstitious, we don’t belong to these old ideas, but we are open to many different paths.’ 

He was interested in creating a Vedantic science, but he himself could not do that. He was interested in the idea that people would see the cosmic and the mundane together. They found it difficult because they think the universality is European rationality. But when science comes to India, it doesn’t shift. People are interested in science, but many continue to have their spiritual preoccupations.

In the West, there was a split. By the end of the 19th century, there was a revolt against these ideas and Vivekananda slots into those discussions. What’s interesting about Vivekananda is he believes in evolution, but he doesn’t believe that natural selection has a role in the higher mental and psychological faculties. Even Darwin’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, would have agreed with Vivekananda. 

KJ: There is a popular trend of using science to justify every religious ritual or practice. What was Vivekananda’s stance on this matter?

RH: Vivekananda wanted everyone to find his or her own way. He didn’t think that real spirituality was the miraculous. He encouraged people not to search for ‘getting powers or being miraculous’ He thought that a more enduring spirituality was based on perseverance and disciplined search. 

I think he’d learned that from Ramakrishna, and that’s why I begin that chapter by talking about how Ramakrishna has throat cancer and his disciples want him to cure himself, and Ramakrishna says, ‘I can’t ask for that. As I spent all my time explaining that the body is nothing.’

These are things that Vivekananda knew and tried to convey to his American devotees. 

One of the things about my book is to show how the vision of science changes very much over time. I still think that we have an overinflated view of science. It can explain some aspects of the world but not everything.

KJ: In your treatment of disciples of Swami Vivekananda, you have dealt with the Indians, the Americans and the British separately. Were their perceptions of Vivekananda different during his time? How do you look at this when the world is considered just one village?

RH: Absolutely. I mean, even though it is one village. In India, there are many who view Vivekananda through the eyes of family tradition; it’s there in the bone. Yet everyone has a different view in India of Vivekananda. 

In America and in Britain, it’s again, different because they see Vivekananda as basically the door opener to all these Indian ideas. I was trying to get them to understand that there’s a background to why he came to America. 

That Chicago thing is important because America is not yet an imperial power, it will be in 1898, five years after the Parliament. He’s glad to be in America because he speaks English but doesn’t have to deal with colonists. In Britain, people have heard of Vivekananda but don’t think of him through an imperial lens. They think of him as the founder of yoga. That’s what many people have heard of Vivekananda, but they don’t realize that he has had such a powerful afterlife in Indian society.

KJ: After reading Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on Vedanta, the concept of Self, Atman, and oneness, as a Westerner, how revolutionary were those ideas for you to comprehend?

RH: Yes, it really was revolutionary. But I also have to say what I loved about reading these high flights of Hindu metaphysical thought was how he joined them to stories.

First, I only understood the parable side, and then, with time, I began to investigate the other side. I spent so much time reading about American women because I was like the American women. But also because I’ve lived in Britain so long, I was like Margaret Noble.  Again the relationship between universalism and particularity is a very important issue for the Jews, the relationship between love and longing for spirituality. 

Vivekananda has been spoken about as a great cosmopolitan or a great globalist. But I think, after the pandemic, we realized that it’s not so easy when we are a village on one level, but we’re also highly fragmented. 

KJ: Vivekananda was many things to many people. Ruth, why did you want to attribute the word Guru to him?

RH: It’s very simple. I was saying that he was trying to be a guru to the world. But I also was trying to explain that India was often placed in that position. But rather than being easy to do, it’s also problematic because the idea that India is spiritual and the West is materialistic is basically a cliche.

We know that Indians are not purely spiritual and that Westerners are not purely materialistic. So while he enters into the Western world, by presenting himself as a guru to the world, he’s also constrained by these very categories that don’t allow people to step outside the box. I think that’s a great paradox for him.

I think it’s, if you don’t mind my saying, because I’m not Indian, it remains a great paradox for India today because India wants to be a world teacher, but it’s not always true that people do it that way. I wanted to explore that paradox honestly and with generosity.

KJ:  You mentioned that the book’s purpose evolved over time. Have you ever travelled to India, and if so, for what reason?

RH: I did. I went to the archives, and I did everything. I also went all over America to look at archives. I was in St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston. I, of course, went to Calcutta, to Belur Math. I had to go to all these places. Because if you don’t have a sense of place, you can’t understand and, when you go and visit people, they give you bits of history. They give you their memories, what has been passed down to them, and you learn a lot.

KJ: Do you think Vivekananda’s philosophy should be taught to school or college students for a better world tomorrow?

RH: I think it would be very interesting to have some aspects of his work on universalism and diversity in the curriculum in our schools. In England, there is teaching in Christianity. But there’s also a lot of emphasis on religious studies, and now they’re starting to do courses on Hinduism.

 I would recommend reading ‘Practical Vedanta’, the lectures in London, where he describes that everything can be in the service of this Self that is God, even in the most humble things.

Professor Ruth Harris is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls’ College and a Professor of Modern History at the Oxford University. She has been awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and Wolfson History Prize and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. She has published widely in the history of science and medicine, the history of gender and religion, and the history of politics and emotion.

A Requiescat in  Pace

Speed forth, O Soul! upon thy star-strewn path ;
Speed, blissful one! where thought is ever free,
Where time and space no longer mist the view,
Eternal peace and blessings be with thee!

Thy service true, complete thy sacrifice,
Thy home the heart of love transcendent find ;
Remembrance sweet, that kills all space and time,
Like altar roses fill thy place behind!

Thy bonds are broke, thy quest in bliss is found,
And one with That which comes as Death and Life ;
Thou helpful one! unselfish e’er on earth,
Ahead! still help with love this world of strife!


Artwork by the author

The Khasi people believe that men were not the only sentient beings sent to earth by the Creator God, the one whom they refer only to as U Nongbuh Nongthaw. There were other spirits and entities too, each with its own sense of purpose, wants and needs. Often deified as earthly gods, these powerful beings are of many kinds and tribes, living alongside human beings since the beginning of time.

The Khasis also believe that some of these beings were specifically sent to earth as custodians and caretakers of nature and the earthly realms. They call these beings Ryngkew or Basa. They were believed to be able to take on any form and reside in their own natural territories – be it a hill, a mountain, a forest, a river or stream, or any place they were appointed to watch over. Known to be fierce protectors of their own territories, these beings are often most feared and respected by the people who are aware of their existence. The belief still survives to this day.

People need to hunt in the recent past to stay alive, especially in places where farming is not a fruitful labour. There were however certain parts of the wildlands and jungles where they were forbidden to do so. Under no circumstances should people be allowed to harm anything inside these forests – for these forests are believed to be under the stewardship of the earthly gods, the Ryngkews and the Basas. Bad things often befall people who fail to abide by this code. The gods (the Ryngkews and the Basas), they believed, can grant curses and also wishes to those who happen to meet them, although it is very rare for them to do so. Usually they like to be left alone and undisturbed. No one knows what happens if the Ryngkew or Basa gets disturbed and certainly no one would want to find out. This belief of the Khasi people too is still strong to this day, with some of these age-old reserved forests still intact and venerated.

Once, there was a person named Kani who lives in the town of Nongrim, who loves hunting more than anything else in the world. So great was his love for the sport that he would choose to devote many nights in the forest hunting, rather than spend quality time at home with his loving family and friends. Gradually his unbridled passion turned into an unhealthy addiction, while his fame as a crazed hunter of Nongrim never seems to stop spreading. As a hunter, he was lauded for knowing even the most obscure tracks in every forest in the region and for the wonderful trophies he brought back to the markets. As a person, however, he was heavily disliked by many, particularly by his family and folks at home for his insincerity, general indifference and lack of respect for anything but himself.

One day, while Kani was out again on yet another hunting spree, he accidently crossed into one of these sacred parts of the forests not far from his village. Named Rangpongpa, this part of the forest is so old and ancient that the memory of it being a place of a certain forest god has long passed away along with the memory of his name.

As an exceptionally experienced hunter, Kani knows his way around the forests as he knows the back of his hand for he is quite familiar with the areas around his village. Only this time however, he sensed that he had never been in that part of the forest before. Nothing seems familiar, except for the vegetation which seems to have grown a lot thicker and the trees which seem to have grown a lot taller. There was a certain kind of unusual dread in the air and Kani seemed to have sensed it too. Something strange was definitely afoot.

Usually, people would turn back when things like these happen but Kani isn’t in the least afraid of these things. He is even more excited as ever because he had never hunted in this strange area before. Since this part of the forest seems thicker, he expected that there would be more exotic animals and hence, more trophies. Eventually, he found his perfect place near a waterhole as he perched himself on a branch of a very tall Soh-um tree and waited with his rifle – oiled and loaded.

As the sun starts to go down, the forest gradually loses its colour to an almost pitch blackness of the night. So far, no animal in sight, Kani thought as he remained there perching motionlessly on the branch, a skill befitting only a few men of his calibre. After another couple of hours of waiting, Kani was suddenly awakened from his half-slumber by a white thing flashing out of the nearby thickets. He cocked his gun and aimed at the spot where the movement was seen.

What he saw surprised him so much that he nearly fell off the tree in excitement.

It was a fox with an especially bright white fur moving about in the bushes seemingly unaware of Kani’s presence. The white fur is so bright; it shines – almost mimicking the half moon above it. Kani eventually regained his position as he aimed his gun at the white thing again. “A white ghostly fox…” He gleefully thought to himself. “...what a score! Imagine how much money they would give me for this!”

In his defense, the fox did look like something out of a fairy tale. White, spotless and ethereal, the enchanting animal stood out of the darkness like a well misplaced apparition. The sight is most otherworldly indeed.

Kani, fully regained, was just about to pull the trigger when he heard a very loud, booming and deafening voice that seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.

“Go Home!”

Taken off guard, Kani relaxed his aim and listened to the strange voice for a few seconds. The source of the voice cannot be determined, neither is its direction. When no other sound was heard, he grudgingly took to aiming the rifle again, thinking that he was just simply imagining things. That it was all in his head.

When he was just about to pull the trigger, he heard the voice again. This time it was louder and a lot more terrifying.


And this time, Kani was scared because he had heard it loud and clear. He was definitely not imagining it. It was most definitely not in his head. It was real. No sooner than he realized this, he started hearing the loud thumping sounds that are slowly drawing closer. The thumping sounds raised several hairs on his neck as he panicked and quickly packed up his rifle and nap sack in an attempt to flee before things got any worse. But before he could leap from the tree branch into the ground below, he saw a shadowy figure of a very big animal approaching him with the same loud thumping sounds that could only have come from the animal’s exaggerated footsteps.

As soon as he saw what it actually was, Kani froze. By then, the huge human-like thing had come out of the shadow of the trees and into the faint light feebly shone by the waning half-moon. This bizarre creature was so grotesquely huge that although it was standing with its feet on the ground below, all Kani could see were its big bare tummy and its pair of thick monstrous pillar-sized legs. And whatever this thing is, it is stomping towards Kani, slowly, threateningly, with a strange calculated intensity. The upper part of the body including the head cannot be seen as it was so high above the trees!

The frightened master hunter stumbled, lost his footing and fell from the branch of the tall Soh-um tree. Luckily the forest floor of thick fallen leaves broke his fall and he was unharmed. He quickly got to his feet and ran home as fast as his legs could carry him without ever looking back. Any thoughts of the white ghostly fox had completely left him by then as he ran towards home without stopping.

Upon reaching the village, the story of Kani’s terrifying ordeal spread like wildfire. It was later ruled out to be a rare encounter with a Ryngkew, one of the guardian gods of the natural world. To make things even stranger, this specific part of the woods where the leaves are bigger and the trees are taller, was never found when villagers went to look for it in the following morning. It was also ruled out that Kani, who was once a proud man, was far too humbled by the supposed encounter to be lying about it, or so the villagers thought. But whatever it was that he saw, legend has that Kani never went hunting ever again.

Donboklang Majaw is a multimedia specialist with years of experience in development communications. Donbok likes to read, write, sketch and paint in his free time. He also plays guitar and compose music for bands like Retrosage and Ïaiong.

Observations of a Septuagenerian

Voice: Sandipan

Every remarkable achievement has a modest beginning and that beginning is first born in  people’s dream. Erstwhile Quinton Hall turned Rama Krishna Mission Vivekananda Cultural Centre, a landmark in present Shillong, was no exception. The hall where Swami Vivekananda delivered his  enlightening speech on 27th April 1901 that eventually was to be the last public speech of his life, had its initiation way back on 28th July, 1890. As the need of a public hall was being felt for some time, a meeting of a few like minded, prominent persons of the then Shillong was held in Babu Kirtiram Baruah’s place on that date.  A committee by the name of “Public Hall Committee” was formed  as par resolution of the meeting. The participants were Babu Sarat Chandra Dhar, Babu Umesh Chandra Majumdar, Babu Shreesh Chandra Banerjee , Babu Keertiram Baruah and Munsee Mohammad Assanulla. The former Three were President, Secretary and Treasurer respectively, remaining two being the members.

        The first  meeting involving the general public of Shillong was held next year and with their liberal financial contribution this public hall was established in 1892.

       This was ages before my father, Late Jagadindra Nath Choudhury, who ultimately succeeded in reverting it back to its original purpose by handing it over to Ramakrishna Mission, saw the light of this world. It happened to be a difficult legal battle over thirty seven years, against its falling prey to commercial exploitation, with his untiring efforts. The series of unfortunate incidents that followed over a long span of time since its inception can be summed up at a later occasion.

       Today, I would like to recollect my personal memories about the hall and and its adjoining area, from late 1940s or early 50s till 1992 when this public property had been successfully restored and handed over to this organisation for the purpose of social benefit.

It  was a sprawling low land, bounded by Quinton Road on the west and north side running at a higher elevation, with a dilapidated structure known as “Singhania Talkies”, a part of the building housing office of VCC today. Behind it two shabby sheds stood near east and west boundaries facing each other, where very few broken cars used to be parked with mechanics working on them.  One or two trucks would occasionally be worked upon. Seemingly casual compared to the busy Bijoli Motors further up on Quinton Road, Nagi Motor Works in Police Bazar and Khan Motor Works on Keating Road to name a few close by, the main attraction being the cinema hall. The small shed on the eastern side of the land contained a space for a terribly noisy Dynamo to cater to the cinema during power cuts, completely shattering the silence of the locality . 

            Between two sheds there was an ill maintained space, parallel to Quinton Road on the west, which served  as part of a straight  thoroughfare between two sides of “L” shaped Quinton Road for some school going children of the locality or people who would compromise with potholes, grease, oil, and heaps of garbage for a shortcut to and from the hall or beyond. The southern most portion of the land, segregated from the other part with a shallow dent created by flowing rain water from the higher level, was a considerable open space for free neighbourhood boys to run about. Some archins loafing around would also venture in evesdropping closer to back wall of the hall for their favourite dialogues from ongoing shows. Of course, they were often relieved of the effort when the sound box threw tantrums and the dialogues along with music did entertain the neighbouring houses as well. To humbly admit, yours faithfully picked up a number of light “film songs” in the process that were otherwise forbidden for her on consideration of tender age. 

     This whole property lay, between Quinton Lane on the south and a wide open, deep, main  municipal drain on the east, serving the greater locality. The west and the north, however, was bounded by Quinton Road, without a formal boundary on any of the sides. Leaving quite a wide space in between the cinema hall and a shallow drain in the west and an extremely narrow pathway separating the dynamo shed in the south, there was a lawn tennis court with a changing room and a pavilion attached, where the middle class Indian youth of the erstwhile society got a chance to learn playing lawn tennis without seeking benevolence of the British dominated Shillong Club and continue to play. This piece of govt. land, the present parking lot with garden, lying idle earlier, however, was added to  the Quinton hall property since 1921, thanks to untiring efforts of U Dohori Ropmay. I remember observing at least two generations playing in that court.  We would enjoy the game from our house, self, of course, without much knowledge about the rules, and supply drinking water for the players on their request.

   In mornings the ball boys of the tennis club would prepare the court with roller, markers, net, etc. for the game in the afternoon. After the game of Tennis every evening, they would sit together  on one grassy patch close to the court near the eastern boundary.They would play games, sing in chorus with tins containers for percussion accompaniment. Once in a while presence of bamboo flute would make it more interesting.They would not only have good time among themselves,but also cheer up the otherwise unhealthy atmosphere. In winter evenings they would have a bonfire lit there to warm themselves up, a red glow of fire brightening their faces and parts of limbs exposed to it. Watching their glowing contented faces in otherwise dark gloomy winter evenings that side from our confinement of comfortable rooms warm with electric heating, many imaginative young hearts used to pine for similar freedom, I assume. I, for example, nurtured a dream, for quite some time, of being born as a ball boy on my rebirth. 

         To their utter dismay, as expressed by the senior members in the neighbourhood, ambience of the locality deteriorated fast since the structure was converted in a cinema hall after 1946. Moreover, due to absence of essential facilities available to the cinema goers, the narrow pathway beside the tennis court served as a public urinal lined up by a class of the male audience, during interval, oblivious of public eyes in the residential area, stench and  general hygiene. It continued over the years. At times this queue would extend along the edge of the main drain, defining the total eastern boundary of the land including the tennis court.

         Yet, it was not devoid of innocent merriment, especially for the children. What was highly attractive to me as a child, was the southern most part of the property where a day or two before the Holi festival busy preparations would start for the ceremonial “Holika dahan” attended by the Marwari population of the town or may be one large extended family only. Our excitement knew no bounds. No where have I seen so far such beautiful Holika made with a  tall  local pine tree supported by piles of log with heaps of dry pine leaves covering them.

         The ladies of the community used to come in the morning before Holi with ritualistic offerings like pulses, flowers, garlands, rolls of thread, incense, sweets and, to the amazement of the children, garlands made of cowdung cakes. Placing them on the sacred pyre one by one with care and devotion performing rituals chanting the mantras, they circumambulated the pyre with the ball of thread in hand a number of times thus encircling it with the thread. The late evening used to host a gorgeous sizable gathering of the families arriving in hoards to burn the holy pyre. Ladies would arrive donning their colourful traditional attires with fineries, singing traditional tunes, all the while. Another set of rituals would follow before the fire was lit on the holy pyre. Merriment would continue till  Holika was ablaze and the fire concluded leaving bright sparks of amber gleaming from dark ashes as a promise for the celebration next year. Most of the neighbours’ attention was drawn as a part of it from their individual compounds around. All became mentally one with the gathering on the field irrespective of race, caste and creed. We would come down to the lowest level of our house with our seats. There would be occasions when our guests from other localities would travel all the way joining us to watch this celebration.

      Depending on auspicious timing, in some years this ritual used to take place late at night. We, being the closest neighbour and the senior members of our family being enthusiastic enough, were woken up by them to enjoy.

       Next morning the male members of the celebrating community, mostly clad in spotlessly white crisp  dhoti and kurta,  would visit the spot in small groups to pay their homage by smearing handful of ashes left from the sacred pyre, on themselves.

       Thus the open, cosmopolitan ambience with a number of significant  minority communities in this small picturesque town opened our minds to the rest of the world as did the main annual festivities involving a large part of the society like autumn festival of DurgaPuja, local festivities of Sad Suk Mynsiem, Eucharistic Procession in November and cheerful Christmas with midnight carols and somber tolls of church bells drifting all over the town through rustling pines, celebrating the arrival of baby Jesus in December. It was much later that we got to know about the societal conflicts of interest, exploitation and divisions that led to so much of sufferings. Luckily, they could not tarnish the inner joy our togetherness imbibed in our hearts way back in childhood.

       My past memory of this above metioned location has gone through sea changes after 1992 and still continuing its journey forward with  dedicated efforts from Ramakrishna Mission, the premier institution first established in Shillong in 1937 and even earlier in some other locations of Khasi and Jaintia Hills with an aim of service . Their contribution towards all round development of the people in this hill area is undeniable. The essence of their toil towards upliftment and assimilation with respect for diversity in language, faith  and cultural heritage surely is a steady light of hope for brighter future. It is gratifying  to watch the  dream of a  few persons flourish in a  significant  proportion over  time and serve  its  purpose of upliftment of the people they loved so dearly, surviving through its long and chequered past.

Champa Sen Choudhury is an acclaimed author. She writes both in English and Bengali. She did her early schooling from Shillong andl ater from Calcutta. Apart from writing she taught in a school in kolkata after completing her Masters in Econimics from Calcutta University.

Manipur and Jagoi Ras

Manipur, an erstwhile kingdom, has a chequered history. In the beginning Manipur valley was a vast lake. When the lake started drying up people descended to the valley and settled there. The Meiteis of Manipur are said to be the descendants of a break-away group of the Shang Dynasty of Central China and the Lei-hou tribe of Koubru hill situated in the north-west of Manipur valley. They established their principality in Koubru hill range sometime during the 15th century B.C. Over the centuries, many people belonging to Tai Shan groups from China and Burma (Myanmar) migrated to Manipur and settled in the valley.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

King Loyumba (1074-1112 AD) instituted Loyumba Shinyen, a written constitution, which was essential in the reordering of the society to integrate the dominant groups. In many ways principles of this constitution still govern the Meitei social system.

The Ningthouja dynasty of the Meiteis founded by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba in 33 AD ruled Manipur till the British took over in 1891. They installed a royal blood on the throne as a proxy ruler till they left in 1947. The reign of the Ningthouja dynasty continued until the monarchy was abolished in 1949 after the merger of Manipur with India.

Manipur’s connection with Hinduism started when Hindu kingdoms in mainland India were overrun by invaders and people, especially the Brahmins, started running off to safer places to escape the onslaught. Starting from the 15th century A.D. waves after waves of the Brahmins entered Manipur and assimilated into the local population.

Besides the Meiteis, there are 33 recognised tribes in Manipur. Frequent intermarriages with different tribes have also enlarged the gene pool of the Meiteis. More often than not ‘Manipuri’ is used as a generic term to encompass all the peoples living in Manipur.

Doyen of Indian Theatre, Ratan Thiyam maintains, “Manipur is beautiful because of its syncretic culture. We have accommodated every culture, every religion, every ethnicity that came our way, and out of this fashioned a unique identity for ourselves. This is an outlook we inherited from our ancestors and this is precisely what has made our arts great and our society resilient. Why are we questioning this greatness inherent in us now?”

Manipuri culture presents an amazing synthesis of artistic and moral aspects. Manipuri performing arts encompass dance, music, martial arts, drama, etc. To the Manipuris dancing is devotion and submission to God.

The tradition of worshipping pre-Hindu deities continued even after the coming of Hinduism. Meitei religion is centred on the veneration of deities. Lai Haraoba or pleasing of deities, ceremonial rites to appease deities, a pre-Hindu festival, is an important festival of Manipur.

Lai Haraoba has been preserved in its most pristine form — its dance forms and oral literary and poetic traditions are still intact even long after the Meiteis have become Hindus. Hinduism could not totally subvert the pre-Hindu Meitei religion. Even the kings who patronised Hinduism continued to worship pre-Hindu gods and goddesses. Meitei religion reached a modus vivendi with Hinduism.

Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1759-1760, 1764-1798) is considered to be the most devout of all the Hindu Manipuri kings. During his reign the image of Shri Govindaji at the temple in Imphal was carved out of a jackfruit tree as Shri Krishna had revealed in his dream. He also arranged to cast the image of Sanamahi, a pre-Hindu deity, in metal. He worshipped both the deities. 

Classical dance is associated with spirituality and has a deep-rooted relationship with Natya Shastra. Manipuri Ras Lila known as Jagoi Ras in Manipuri is one of the classical dances of India. During his lifetime Rajarshi Bhagyachandra founded three Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Maha Ras, (2) Kunja Ras and (3) Basanta Ras. These original forms of Jagoi Ras belong to temples and are never performed outside the precincts of temples. His successors founded another two Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Nitya Ras and (2) Diva Ras.

Three years after the installation of Shri Govindaji, for the first time Maha Ras in classical tradition was dedicated to Shri Govindaji at Langthabal (Canchipur), on the full moon night of Hiyangei (October-November), in 1779 A.D. It continued for five days in which the chief queen and other members of the royal family took part with the young lady Vimbabati playing the role of Shrimati Radharani. King Bhagyachandra himself played Pung (Mridanga) while his uncle, Ngoubram Shai was the leader of the vocal group.

Jagoi Ras customarily starts with a Sankirtana known as Nat Sankirtana. The term ‘Sankirtana’ signifies a form of song or chanting performed in public to praise God. Dance, song and music all combine with devotion in Sankirtana. In a typical recital, two drummers and many other singer-dancers with cymbals in their hands perform, supplemented by conch blowers. The rituals of Nat Sankirtana are all continuation of the original rituals of Lai Haraoba with suitable changes made to adapt to the need of time, situation and other relevant factors.

“Sankirtana: Ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur” was inscribed on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the eighth session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, held from Monday 2 to Saturday 7 December 2013.

Maharas at Shri Gvindaji temple, Imphal by Kosygin Leishangthem

There are different costumes assigned to the dancers playing Shri Krishna, Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and the Gopis.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis wear potloi, a cylindrical costume made of layers of stiff starched cloths covered with a bright coloured silk cloth (either red or green) on which chamaki or bright metal pieces are sewn. Green coloured potlois are for Shrimati Radhika and Brinda Devi. It is tied to the waist of the female performer. Above it she wears another short skirt like garment called poshwal (poswan). Potloi is so designed that any movement of the legs of the performer is correctly transferred to it. In other words, potloi dances along with the steps of the performer.

All the performers in the three Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji Temple gather up and tie their hair on the top of their heads. Each dancer wears a koktumbi, a conical headwear, over the hair. Then the head is covered with a maikhumbi (semi-transparent white veil).

Khwang-goi, a belt, is tied to the waist. Khwang-nap, a flap, is placed on the front. The upper portion of the body is adorned with resham phurit or velvet blouse. Khaon, astrip of embroidered cloth, is put on across the upper portion of the body from left shoulder to right waist and the flap is dropped below the waist. Khaon is used for the performers in Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji temple.

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis in Nitya Ras and Diva Ras can wear either koktumbi or another type of headwear called jhapa. But jhapa is not allowed in Govindaji temple. On their hands they wear khutnam topi (an ornament worn on the top of palm), khuji (bracelet)and khuji thak rattan zoor (an ornament tied to forearm and upper arm).

Shri Krishna wears golden-yellow silk pheijom (dhoti) with green borders. Two Khaons are put on across the upper part of the body from shoulder to waist, from right to left and left to right, with the flaps hanging below the waist on either side. Shri Krishna also wears Khwang-goi and khwang-nap.

Shri Krishna’s headgear comprises of chura, cherei and kajenglei. Chura is the crown of peacock feathers. Cherei or paper-flower is the thin strips of white paper on a string worn at the back of the head. Kajenglei is the circular headdress consisting of numerous brass strips with red tuffs.

On the hand from the top of palm to arm, Shri Krishna wears khutnam topi, khuji popchaobi (thick bracelet), taan (plaque), tanthak (an ornament worn above taan) and tankha (an ornament worn below taan). On the bridge of foot and around the ankle Shri Krishna wears khong-gi leiteng. It covers up sengao sarik or the string of small metal bells around the ankle.  

The complete set of costumes for Shri Krishna is called natavaravesh.

  • Maha Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Hiyangei, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in October-November. It corresponds to Kartika Purnima.

Shri Govindaji representing Lord Krishna participates in Maha Ras. For this purpose, the deity is taken out of the temple in a grand ceremonial procession to the Ras Mandal after rituals. The deity is carefully placed on Vhadra Chakra, a revolving platform at the centre of Ras Mandal. The Gopis dance around while the deity revolves in all directions.

There are some basic differences between Govindaji temple and other temples including Bijoy Govinda. At Govindaji temple, the deity is present at the Ras Mandal. No dancer enacting the role of Krishna is present. At other temples, the role of Krishna is enacted by a dancer. The solo episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ or ‘Krishna Nartan’ are there. At Govindaji temple, instead of the episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ a significantly big Artika is offered in the beginning with the two deities of Shrimati Radharani and Shri Krishna installed on the Vhadra Chakra.

Historically, Maha Ras was performed in the precincts of Govindaji temple with the participation of the members of the Royal family. As it is more ritualistic and have certain practices to be followed, very little change has taken place in this form.

  • Kunja Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Mera, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in September-October.

In Kunja Ras Shri Krishna meets the Gopis at a secret grove of their choice.

  • Basanta Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. The season of colours is enacted in the Ras. Chandravali, the second in devotional ecstasy to Shrimati Radharani too joins Basanta Ras. The episode of Mana signifying the discarding of Shri Krishna by Shrimati Radharani is the most thrilling and sympathetic portion of Basanta Ras.
  • Nitya Ras was founded by Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-1886).

This Ras Lila is not dedicated to Shri Govindaji. One of king’s daughters, princess Sanatombi married and lived with her British husband major Maxwell, the then British administrative officer. This relationship was not approved by the Royal family. According to Manipuri custom at the time she was regarded as an outcaste. Princess Sanatombi organized the Nitya Ras founded by her father and celebrated it outside the temple premises with herself in the role of Makokchingbi (a major in the Ras Lila).

Nitya Ras can be performed in any month of the year except Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. Female dancers of Nitya Ras were not allowed to use Koktumbi or the headdress of Shrimati Radha and Gopis for the three dance forms associated with Govindaji temple. Nitya Ras is also known as Nartana Ras.

  • Diva Ras was created during the reign of Maharaja Churachand (1891-1941).

Diva Ras is the youngest of the five Ras Lilas. It started during the reign of Sir Churachand Singh, the royal head during the British Manipur administration. The time was around 1940 A.D. before World War II.

This Ras Lila is performed during day time hence called Diva Ras. The time of Diva Ras is scheduled ahead of the time of Shri Krishna’s coming back home along with the cows from the pasture.

Manipuri Ras Lilas have undergone many transformations since Rajarshi Bhagyachandra created Maha Ras. In the olden days traditional dancers, singers and artists could survive because of the patronage of kings and dignitaries. Now, they are left to fend for themselves to stay alive. To earn their livelihood they have to bend their ways and try to adapt to the present trend. To attract tourists and entertain people Manipuri Ras Lilas have come out of temples. Excerpts have also been adapted for stage performance. Performance lasting whole night has been squeezed into ten to fifteen minutes

References: –

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, ‘Beyond the Spectrum: The Tradition of Lai Haraoba’ / Northeast India: The Insiders’ Definition. Marg, Volume 63 Number 4, June 2012  

 R.K. Danisana, Manipuri Dances (A Panorama of Indian Culture). Rajesh Publications, New Delhi 2012  

Haobam Ibochaoba Singh, The Pre-World War-II Form of Ras Leela. Published by (L) Haobam Ongbi Shantibala Devi W/o H. Ibochaoba Singh, Uripok Haobam Dewan Leikai, Imphal, January, 2009  

 K.C. Tensuba, Genesis of Indian Tribes: An approach to the History of Meities and Thais (first published in India by M.C. Mittal, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi in 1993)  

 M. Kirti Singh, Religion and Culture of Manipur. Manas Publications, Delhi, 1988  

E. Nilakanta Singh, Fragments of Manipuri Culture. Omsons Publications, New Delhi, 1993  

Pradip Phanjoubam, “Drama in the time of bigotry: theatre director and poet Ratan Thiyam” in the Hindu, December 01, 2018 04:15 pm | Updated December 02, 2018 10:21 am IST; https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/drama-in-the-time-of-bigotry/article25641764.ece. Accessed on December 4, 2022  

 Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Routledge, Oxon, simultaneously published in the USA and Canada, First published 2005. (CK Vol. 1)  

Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Vol. 2. 1764—1843 CE, Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., First published 2009 (CK Vol. 2)  

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh is a bilingual poet, writer and translator from Imphal, India. He writes poetry, short-stories and nonfiction in both English and Manipuri. His original writings and translations in English have appeared in Oxford University Press Volumes, Sabd, Pratibha India, Interstate Commerce Commission Quarterly, Chandrabhaga, Imphal Free Press, North-East Frontier, Sentinel / Melange, Katha Volumes, Glimpses from the North-East (published by National Knowledge Commission), Marg etc.He is the Vice–president of, North East Writers” Forum, a life member, of Naharol Sahitya Premee Samiti, Imphal, and an advisor, Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal founded by Ratan Thiyam.


For good or for evil, the religious ideal has been flowing into India for thousands of years; for good or for evil, the Indian atmosphere has been filled with ideals of religion for shining scores of centuries; for good or for evil, we have been born and brought up in the very midst of these ideas of religion, till it has entered into our very blood and tingled with every drop in our veins, and has become one with our constitution, become the very vitality of our lives.

-Swami Vivekananda


The epic Mahabharata as a legend is considered the foundation of Indian history and philosophy. With 2,111 chapters, 100,000 verses, 18 books (or “parvas”), 107 sub-parvas, and the appendix Harivamsha, is the longest epic in existence. The magnitude of this work is eight times larger than the size of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined. Not only is it a captivating story, but it also holds a wealth of profound knowledge and understanding about Indian culture and values. It has enthralled generations and remains an inspiration to people today.

The great sage Veda Vyasa, also known as Krishna Dvaipayana, is credited with writing this epic according to folklore. The Mahabharata introduces us to a wide variety of human characters, ranging from the sublime to the absurd. No human emotion, act of bravery, charity, selflessness, or malice is overlooked in this epic. Śri Krishna is undoubtedly the most brilliant and picturesque personality projected by the epic. He appears on the scene suddenly at the time of Draupadi’s svayamvara and continues to appear throughout the story. All his energies are channeled in one direction: protection of the right and the good, and punishment or destruction of the wicked. His remarkable prowess, matched only by the bewitching beauty of his perfect form, sage counsels, superb stratagems, and immensely superior statesmanship, captivate our hearts. The epic portrays him as God Himself come down to save mankind, as he himself admits in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of this great Epic.

In this edition of Ka Jingshai- the Light, we are delighted to present the Khasi rendition ‘Ka Mahabharata. Translated by Sri H L Pde and prof Streamlet Dkhar in 1974. This timeless classic had been lost to the annals of history.

In the English section of this edition, we bring you a rich variety of articles. You can read about the Vivekananda Cultural Centre from the memoirs of Smt. Champa Sen Choudhury, reminiscences of the late Dr. Bidhu Bhushan Dutta, and an exclusive interview with Prof. Ruth Harris from Oxford University. These articles offer unique perspectives on Indian culture and provide readers with valuable insights into the cultural legacy.

In the unexplored pages of history, tribute is paid to the freedom fighters of Northeast India – ‘Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma’ of Meghalaya and ‘Pioli Phukan’, a freedom fighter of Assam, who sacrificed their lives. This issue also raises serious contemporary issues such as the increasing migration from villages. The literary section features the poem ‘Jheeni-Jheeni Beeni Chadariya…’, while short stories ‘Catherine’ and ‘Moch’ are devoted to social concerns. The arrival of the season of spring ‘Basant’ and strength ‘Shakti’ are celebrated in Poesy.

We express our gratitude to the authors for entrusting us with their extraordinary works, allowing us to share them with our esteemed readers. With this edition of Ka Jingshai, we present a wonderful opportunity for our readers to explore the multifaceted and vivacious culture of India. We sincerely hope that this edition brings you immense pleasure and that the articles within it touch your hearts and inspire you to develop a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of India.

Keep sending us your suggestions.

Reminiscing Dr Bidhu Bhusan Dutta

To muse over any life, especially a life that was lived as somewhat one of its kind in more than one sense usually is a self-enriching exercise. At a time when the language of arrogance and hate, regularly steals the show, revisiting a life that strived to be loving, gentle, compassionate, upright and not overbearing certainly serves to reaffirm our faith on the intrinsic attributes of civil and social life in the 19th century. Any scope to indulge in such an exercise also serves as an open invitation to have a trip down memory lane and revalue the past from a newer perspective.

Time and people, we all know, once gone are gone forever.  Yet, that hardly justifies us to lose sight of the fact that our present is nothing but a derivative of that bygone. In ceaselessly learning and unlearning from whatever we experience in the journey of life lies the scope of amelioration of our destiny. Lessons we may derive from some lives can indeed be of much help in this regard.

A host of people who knew him from close quarters would perhaps unhesitatingly agree that Dr Bidhu Bhusan Dutta was a witty, warm hearted and alert personality who wore many hats. He was caring, compassionate, firm and focused besides being a serious academic, social activist, institution builder, philanthropist, and seasoned politician. Unlike as it often happens in the present, a difference of opinion even if erupted into fierce debates had never, ended up in a hurt feeling leading to a breakup in relations. On many a times if someone used to have different take on the way he chose to react, he used to say, ‘I cannot abandon anyone. If someone chooses to leave me it is their take.’ Four decades of association with Dr Dutta was bound to have its own ups and turns. If that had never succeeded in denting the personal bonding of love and respect we mutually were privy to from day one, much of that credit rests on his composed and endearing personality.

Bidhu Bhusan Dutta was born at a time when the country was struggling hard to secure her freedom from the clasp of colonial rulers. He was born to the Dutta family of Duttagram at Maulavibazar, Sylhet now in Bangladesh. Sylhet was one of the revenue surplus districts of the Assam-Bengal Province. Its relatively better economic standing helped it develop a rich socio-cultural as also educational base. Hence scores of personalities from this place played lead roles in influencing the academic, political, social and cultural activities of the time. Sri Bipin Chandra Pal of the indomitable Lal, Bal, Pal trio in India’s struggle for independence, Dr Syed Muztaba Ali, the renowned scholar, teacher and author, Dr Triguna Sen, noted academic and the Education Minister of independent India, to name a few amongst others who hailed from Karimganj, then a subdivision of Sylhet.

Sri Bidhu Bhusan Dutta had his early education at Karimganj which by then had become a subdivision of the district of Cachar in a freed but partitioned India. After completing his early schooling, he came to Shillong and took admission in the Arts stream in St. Edmund’s College from where he got himself graduated with honours in Economics. He came in contact with Dr Basudev Datta Ray, his teacher and hostel warden and Sri Hiteshwar Saikia, one of his classmates as also his hostel roommate. As it had to happen, both Dr Datta Ray and Sri Saikia had played vital role in the shaping of his life and activities in the years that followed.

Sri Dutta studied in Shillong, the capital of undivided Assam during his student days at St Edmund’s college. The quaint hill city that it then used to be, was generally viewed as the educational hub and socio-cultural capital of the region. As such, he took full advantage through his active association with some such social, cultural and spiritual organisations to gain deeper insight into the dynamics of public relations. Sri Dutta’s leadership qualities were enhanced by his efforts to form regular though informal study groups with select fellow friends who were inclined to develop a more profound and nuanced understanding of the social dynamics then at play. ‘Fariadi’ meaning ‘plaintiff’ was the outcome of one such endeavour that during its rather short existence attempted to record, analyse and place in perspective  some of the burning social concerns of the time. Subtly, and possibly unknowing, he was being prepared for his glory days in the realm of politics.

After graduation, Sri Dutta left Shillong for a while and went to Calcutta to do his Masters from there. He began his teaching career as a professor of Economics at his college and served the institution for over three decades. His skills at teaching enthralled scores of his students over the years and contributed towards his establishing a lifelong bonding with many of them. Late Sri Purno A Sangma, formerly hon’ble Speaker, Loksabha and the hon’ble Chief Minister of Meghalaya was one of his illustrious students.

His presence in the college common room, and the discourses and dialogues that used to take place at the college canteen over tea and snacks with him as the table head indeed were vigorous and enriching. We the younger ones at the table were almost never allowed to foot the tea and snacks bill during those not so rather routine moments.

Sri Dutta’s keen interest to remain informed and alive on the developing trends in his subject prompted him to be in touch with legendary scholars and teachers of hard core economics such as Professor Amlan Dutta, Professor Bhabotosh Datta, Professor Tapash Shankar etc. It was this association that in the later days inspired him to edit and publish the ‘Selected Works of Prof. Amlan Dutta’ in five volumes. His interest and inclination to learn, his own erudition and fluency in English, the language that is used as the medium of instruction in the institute where he taught, helped him to evolve as a radiant teacher in his field.

The incisive academician in him had always driven him to write and research in the scores of published research papers. Some of his select publications include the books Resurgent India (Edited), Land Use Pattern in North East India, Insurgency and Economic Development in North East India, Economic Development through Banking – A case study of Meghalaya, Shifting Cultivation in North East India amongst scores of others in which he did contribute a chapter of his own.

In this context, I fondly recollect the evening sessions I was privy to attend at his home at Laitumkhrah on days he could spare time to join in enlivening discourses to the general enrichment of all present there. During the time he was writing his doctoral thesis (he obtained his Ph. D. degree in Economics from Gauhati University under the supervision of Professor K. Alam). Such sessions used to be rather frequent with our very obliging boudi, Smt Krishna Dutta, his better half, generously supplying us tea and mouthwatering snacks.

He was deft in handling apparently contradicting situations with relative ease. People of caliber and competence are always a rare breed, but if available, they become significant sources of support and strength to the institutions they serve. Dr Dutta surely has left an enviable legacy behind him in this regard.

In his tenure at St. Anthony’s College, he was well appreciated by the management for being an exemplary teacher and also because he had always been thoroughgoing in his approach in extending support to the institution in its endeavour to live unto its maxim ‘ever more, better ever’. At the same time while representing fellow colleagues as employees of the institution, he enjoyed their unwavering trust as well. The goodwill he enjoyed across a broad spectrum of academic, political, bureaucratic circles had often been of tremendous help for seeing issues in perspective.

Teachers, are often referred to as the nation builders. Seldom, however, the nation cares to reward its teachers to materially compensate the service they render to the cause of nation building. He was alive to this cruel reality. He was a founding member of the Meghalaya College Teachers’ Association and influenced the adoption of University Grants Commission (UGC) scales of pay for college teachers in the state. He also served as President of Shillong Academy and Women’s College until his death.

Despite his involvement with academic institutions, he was also associated with other social and Philanthropic institutions. One of his outstanding contributions to the people of Shillong in particular and that of the region in general and beyond was the establishment of the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture. As its Founder Chairman and Managing Trustee, it was this initiative that kept him involved in bitter struggles at various levels for a long period, nearly till the time he breathed his last. Asian Confluence is another of the institutions of which he, as its founding Chairperson, shouldered the responsibilities of steering its activities all along.

As founder Chairman of the project Resurgent India, a think-tank comprising of hundred prominent Indian personalities hailing from various disciplines of life. He steered to carry forward the Resurgent India Movement aiming to reclaim the lost glory the country once used to busk on. Divyo Jeevan Foundation Trust was another of his cultural units established and chaired by him till the last. Amongst the spiritual organisation he was linked with was the North East Apex Body of Vyakti Vikas Kendra India (Art of Living Foundation) of which he was a former Chairman and Chief Advisor.

Politically he was associated with Congress(I) and had held at different points of time positions such as the Secretary, MPCC(I), General Secretary, North Eastern Congress Coordination Committee and also as Member, All India Congress Committee. He became a Working Committee Member of the Nationalist Congress Party of which he also was one of the key founding members.

In 1993, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) As a member of the Parliament he had served in various Parliamentary Committees that include the Consultative Committee of The Ministry of External Affairs, the Standing Committee of the Ministry of Defence, the Standing Committee of Human Resource Development, Standing Committee of the Ministry of Commerce and Petition Committee of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House). His insightful viewpoints and endearing attitude earned accolades across political spectrum. What perhaps made him standout in sharp difference from many of his ilk is his deep sense of compassion and concern for the general well being of all and sundry. I do not recollect a single instance when invited to any private or public gathering, he failed to ask for arranging food for his accompanying support staff.

A deep understanding of the region and its people gathered over years of experiences and reading made him one of the pioneers to float the idea of opening the region up to the South Asian countries for economic, socio-cultural and commercial activities thus strengthening the nationalist political forces in the north-eastern region in his proactive role as the Founder General Secretary of the North East Pradesh Congress Coordination Committee. The root of the Look East Policy of India, in a way, could be traced in that fore thinking which eventually facilitated the north east to realise its new found significance and the role it is capable of playing to support the cause of national development. He had the heart to do good for people but hardly strived to hog the limelight for himself.

As individuals, we all nurse our own dreams. Dr Dutta had his dreams, but his dreams far more inclusive in nature and wider in vision than most of us are capable of. Indomitable courage to take fresh challenges and a deep love for life had always inspired him to dare and take risks that, to many of us, often bordered on madness. Yet, with a tremendous capacity to persuade, he prevailed over us to be partners in his dream even if that seemed nothing but a utopia to us in the beginning. In the last phase of his life, he was actively dreaming to give shape to his pet project of establishing a quality liberal university in India.

Dr Dutta had departed from this worldly arena on the edge of a time that is undergoing substantial perception reorientation. The institutions he struggled to build are likely to lose their relevance sooner than he thought they actually would. The spirit that inspired him in the struggle would, however, remain ever relevant. It is an angry time that, even if someone deems foolish, tries to hold the bygone largely accountable for all the tribulations that define our present. The calmness of mind and thought is so essential to appreciate that it is not in blaming but in learning from the past that we are likely to find solutions to our predicaments of the present. The seething anger within for the frustrating existential reality of the present may leave us blinded and, therefore, unable to appreciate that the bygone generations too had their limitations and compulsions as we do today. Provided we care to calm our minds and pause a while to ponder over lives like that of Dr Bidhu Bhusan Dutta, we may hope to learn a few things from them that can be of use in mending the present in a meaningful manner.

Dr Debasish Chowdhury: former Princip[al of Women’s College, Shillong, presently the controller of Examination in NEHU, loves to write and was in close association with Sri B B Dutta