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I flew out of my parents’ nest 31 years ago. During every festival, more so during Rongali Bihu, I miss Assam immensely. That is a feeling that will always stay with me.
The landscape around me has transitioned from the dull barrenness of winter to an attractive picture with new, vibrant foliage. Cold temperatures are still sneaking in now and then, but spring is finally here.
The world is set to revel in the beauty of nature that mesmerizes mankind. Excitement is high in my home state too, for the Rongali Bihu spirit embraces all. It marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year.
Last month, a box of goodies, packed with love, came all the way from Assam. It was filled with sesame and coconut pithas, our Bihu delicacies.
My family and I savored and relished them to the last crumb. I made sure that they lasted longer and that we didn’t finish them in a single day!
I was born in Assam and grew up there celebrating every Magh Bihu and Rongali Bihu with my parents and relatives. I questioned myself the other day as to whether I had always been crazy about pithas and larus that were made in heaps during Bihu.
To be honest, I was not. I love eating them now more than I did when I was home. The same principle applies to my fondness for other traditional Assamese dishes. It’s purely human psychology that we crave for and enjoy things more when they are not within our arm’s reach.
My father was open-minded and very accepting of cultures besides his own. However, he was insistent that we know ours well and ensured that we followed certain traditions to the minutest of details. During Bihu, some rituals were expected to be honored. We were made to visit family and friends, pay our respects to the elderly, and seek their blessings to begin the New Year on an auspicious note.
My brother and I were irked at times, and we felt that he went over the top with his rules. Now when I am in the seat of a parent and I look back, I understand his point of view. Culture and tradition give us our identity. They constitute the framework on which our personality develops. And it is important to feel the sense of oneness by spending time with loved ones during any festival or special occasion.
Customs that we deemed as meaningless in our younger days now make a whole lot of sense when we dive in deeper. Let me cite just one example.
There is a ritual during Bihu in which people bathe with a paste of turmeric and black gram (called maah-halodhi). What is the reason?
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties and is also a natural antiseptic. Black gram is a natural scrub to remove dead cells and cool the skin. Close on the heels of Bihu, summer arrives in Assam. The scorching heat causes skin problems for some, and it is believed that the paste improves the quality of the skin and its ability to withstand the upcoming summer.
I flew out of my parents’ nest 31 years ago. During every festival, more so during Rongali Bihu, I miss Assam immensely. That is a feeling that will always stay with me. But it warms my heart to see how NRIs settled all over the USA are so attached to their roots and celebrate festivals that are emblematic of their culture.
I too am a part of an Assamese community here in the southern state of Georgia. From just a handful of families three decades ago, our numbers have dramatically increased. How positively inspiring it is to see so many passionate people around me, eager to celebrate our Bihu! Even during the pandemic phase when social distancing was observed, a virtual Rongali Bihu was organized with families performing programs in the comfort of their homes.
Just like other years, the playground is ready once again. Preparations have started in full swing since mid-March. Every weekend has been devoted to rehearsals in multiple homes as different groups have practiced for their performances.
It is also heartening to see parents encouraging their children to participate in cultural activities. They are preparing an upcoming generation to be proud of the culture and heritage that belong to them.
With great anticipation, I look forward to an evening of Rongali Bihu celebrations with all of the fun, food, and festivities. I believe that while we fondly reminisce about our Bihu days in Assam, we will also rejoice in pleasant camaraderie, even in our homes away from home.
Here’s to wishing all from Assam a very happy Rongali Bihu!
Image source: Wikimedia Commons here and here
Rashmi Bora Das is a freelance writer settled in the suburbs of Atlanta. She has a master’s degree in English from India, and a second master’s in Public Administration from the University of read more...
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