Ool guthibo Jaane-ne Nejaane.. This popular number from an Assamese film was one of the first songs I heard just after I had got married. Ironically, it symbolized my transition to becoming a quintessential Assamese buari (bride) even before I knew it. How, you may ask? Read on…
Many years ago, having recently married into an Assamese family, I was scouring recipe books for the quintessential maasor tenga (tangy fish curry cooked with tomatoes) that I had decided to cook for one Sunday lunch. I stumbled upon the late Sabina Sehgal Saikia’s recipe for Bilaahi maasor tenga, which to date remains one of my favourites. Why Maasor tenga, you’d ask? Well, the answer is simple. The Assamese love their tenga (literally meaning sour), I was told. And so, it is with great trepidation that I went on to cook the popular dish. Needless to say, my rendition of Sabina’s recipe was well, a hit, and I was duly and proudly anointed the good Axomiya buari!
This marked the beginning of my love affair with everything Assamese. Over time, and after many recipes of tenga, and a loo pitika (potatoes mashed with onions and green chillies) and other delectable items of Assamese cuisine, I started acquainting myself with other aspects of Assamese life. My transition to an Assamese began with the mastery of the Axomiya language. Unlike my experiments in the culinary department, this proved to be more difficult to accomplish; despite my understanding of Bengali. In fact, even to this day, I just can’t seem to roll my Rs with the same flourish!
The urge to master the language actually had humble beginnings. It started with those raised eyebrows, a bemused look, or those of utter confusion on the face of my domestic help, who bore the brunt of many a slip. One particular incident comes to my mind; even till this day my husband doesn’t miss an opportunity to tease me about it. I remember asking my new domestic help (of course, an Assamese lady) to serve some jolopias. The poor thing spent a good twenty minutes rummaging the kitchen before my hubby realized that I had made another faux pas. With laughter in his eyes he asked the maidservant to get green chillies or jolokias as they are correctly pronounced. I don’t know who was more relieved, the maidservant or me!
My eventual mastery of the language opened up a whole new world. Thanks to my music-mad hubby and culturally active in-laws, I spent many a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to Assamese music. Be it the soulful timbre of Bhupen Hazarika’s voice or the folk renditions of Zubin Garg , amongst his other popular songs or the foot-tapping numbers of Joy Baruah – the music of Assam has always warmed our hearts and home with its lilting and beautiful melodies. I must admit, the joie the vivre, so intrinsic to the social fabric of Assam, was infectious.
Before I knew it, I began to embrace all aspects of Assamese culture – from the gorgeous and graceful mekhala chadors, to the mesmerizing beat of the Dhul and the gentle sway of the Bihu dancers, to the fascinating stories of its glorious past, and most of all, a gaiety and exuberance that seemed to exude from all facets of their lives.
This gaiety is perhaps what personifies the land, coupled with a gentleness of spirit and the grace of its people. It is something that they carry with them wherever they go. It is something that I have tried to weave into our lives. It is something that I hope my three- year-old son learns as he begins his journey into boyhood. As for my part, it is something that has helped my transition to an Axomiya buari be a pleasurable one. After nearly a decade of marriage, I have – in more ways than one – mastered the art of Bhat Randha (cooking rice)… while Ool Gutha (knitting wool) can wait till my little boy goes to school. For now, I am proud to say that I am a born-again Assamese, truly!