Anmona Handique Mahanta
The Assamese New Year is here and our heart beats together when it comes to welcoming and celebrating the spring festivals of Assam. The month of April is very special as it brings to us the auspicious occasion of Rongali Bihu bound with new beginnings, new hopes, adoring bonds with our families and friends. And being far away from one’s own land and family during such vigorous festive times, and especially when the entire world is going through such a grim pandemic period, it just gives a solitary feeling mixed with sadness and aloofness. But surprisingly, this time we felt lucky that we were not unaccompanied. Rather, we felt very much blessed that despite being far away from home, we got the opportunity to preserve our culture and our tradition celebrating our beloved Rongali Bihu all the way in Japan with some of our own people. Today through this column, I would like to pen down my thoughts about our sweet little Rongali celebration here in Japan and how it feels being connected to our roots, when it comes to a hearty get together.
This year we planned to celebrate Rongali Bihu together at the heart of the Tokyo city of Japan. Sincere thanks goes to the Assam Association of Japan (AAJ), formed around 5 years back in Tokyo under the initiative of honourable Jagmohan S. Chandrani uncle and Bela Chandrani aunty. To be noted, uncle and aunty have been the first of the generation who have been in Japan since 42 years so far and it is their blessings, inspiration and relentless effort that such events get a better haven for celebrations. Also thanks to other distinguished members of the organization for whom our Assamese traditions and culture have been preserved well in this beautiful land and making Bohagi celebrations realizable.
Mr. Jagmohan S. Chandrani and Mrs. Bela Chandrani (Photo: AHM)
For the entire event, a community hall was booked that had all the requirements right from dishes, cutleries, cooking utensils, refrigerator, cooking gas stoves and all other such kitchen essentials intact except items like garbage bags, dish washing soaps and scrubbers were required to be shopped. Initially two rooms were booked where in one we savoured our morning Assamese Jalpan that included doi (curd), Chira (rice chips), Gur (molasses), cream, ghila pitha (traditional Assamese snack), laru (a typical Assamese sweet item made of coconut paste and sugar) and other such scrumptious Assamese delicacies. In total, we were 21 people who joined in from different parts of Tokyo, some with families, some students, and most of them working in Japan.
It all started with Bihu shopping that was done on the previous day of the event. It was such a hilarious experience shopping for Bihu in both Japanese and Indian Supermarkets in the bustling Tokyo streets. We were accompanied by Bela Aunty and thanks to her agility even at such an elderly age that Bihu shopping happened so suitably and promptly. From all needful groceries to dish washing items, garbage disposal bags, wet tissues and other such requisite items, the entire atmosphere just thronged with Bihu vibes. As the next day started, we all gathered at around 11 a.m. in the morning at the Community hall. Although, there were a few families with kids who couldn’t reach on time as they stayed afar. But everything went just fine as there were many young people for arrangements and management. By the way, it was mostly the gentlemen who were the Chefs for the day except one of the delicious platters was cooked amazingly by one of our female friends, Purbashree, who not only cooked lusciously but did the entire dressing and cutting of the duck meat on her own. We had a grand menu for the day and from delicious duck curry with Ash Gourd to Rou maasor (Rohu fish) tenga (sour curry), to dailor bor (cake made of dal), mashor muri ghonto to labra (mixed) bhaji and pudina chutney we had it all.
The big fat delicious menu for the Rongali Bihu (Photo: AHM)
I know it actually sounds like a Maghor Bihu feast but this is how it happens when you are in a foreign land. You get a limited space to celebrate and it's all a happy feasting thing that gives the Bihu vibes and makes us feel so connected with our roots giving the proudest feeling of being an Assamese. Ladies were mostly in traditional attires draped in their forever favourite and enthralling Mekhela Chador and the gentlemen were in Kurta wearing the traditional Gamocha around their necks. And for a moment, it just simply gave the feeling of being in my native land, as if we were somewhere in Assam yet far with just a sense of warmth and peace all around.
Amid the vivacious celebrations, it was so good to see that all who gathered maintained the Covid counter measure protocols, all in mask and all just worked jointly right from the juniors to seniors. However, masks were removed only during photo shoots and eating time. In fact, the juniors who were mostly students and recently got into work worked in full swing from chopping vegetables, to washing dishes and wrapping up the kitchen work at the end. Yes, I would like to add that in Japan, the community halls that are provided for any public events are really super convenient even for children. Apart from the kitchen essentials, there were also super clean restrooms and if one wants to book it for the day for such cultural or any social family events it is the best option rather than booking an restaurant or a hotel. There is also a rule that once the kitchen is used in the hall, one has to leave it super clean like before. So, in short, we had a Swacch Bharat Abhiyan at the end of the event. Garbage to be disposed of in separate bags, dishes to be washed and place all of them accordingly as it was there. So, when it comes to Japan, this is really something always worthwhile no matter you have any social gathering or any small of the smallest party discipline and hygiene sense is real and is must. And I somewhat felt blessed again to be in a country like Japan that gives you not only a pleasant experience about their culture but so much more to learn and live with it for life through their discipline and hygiene etiquette.
After enjoying and devouring the appetizing meals, we all decided to do some photo sessions and play some games which indeed helped each one of us to settle down with our well filled tummies. Unlike the traditional Bihu games like Koni Jooj (Egg fights) and tekeli bhonga (breaking pot), we had to choose a completely different game due to lack of space. It was a game called Bingo, originally played in the US which is mainly a game played with cards with a grid of numbers that are randomly called out and accordingly one has to choose and you can claim accordingly on the completion of rows. In short, it's a family game and is said to be a low-priced gambling game in the world. And precisely, it was just super fun where even Uncle and aunty, juniors, seniors all were in the game. With more talks, laughter and long conversations, we finally concluded the event with tea time savoured with the left out laddoos and pithas and with a sweet dish of Rasmalai.
While we completed our tea time, as I mentioned earlier, before wrapping up we had to mop and clean everything, and so we all just pumped ourselves and started the Swacch Abhiyan. Feast items were indeed too many and this is obvious in get-together to cook with accuracy. As such the left out food was packed in sealed vacuum packets and whoever wanted anything to take home, were allowed to do so. Needless to say, it was just one of the most homely and warmest experiences where many of us for the first time experienced such a cultural and traditional bond.
Bihu, is indeed a true emotion and roots are roots. No matter wherever we go, where we are, we cannot and should not forget our roots. It is through our roots we live again and again and actually realize who we are and how we keep it alive and keep it treasured. It makes us feel proud to be Assamese, all the way from our beloved motherland. And keeping such festive vibes in festive occasions is really needful among today’s modern generations for this is what keeps us attached to one another and offers us a chance to know each other in an unknown place. In such trying times, where the whole world is griming with the pandemic, stay masked, stay safe and stay home. Once again, wishing you all a happy and prosperous Rongali Bihu! Joi Ai Axom!
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