It was around 6 in the evening when I arrived at the Khanapara Veterinary Grounds in Guwahati for the Rongali Festival. Considered to be the biggest such festival in the Northeast, Rongali 2017 was the third edition.
As I made my way towards the entrance, I heard garbled announcements, music, and excited chatter all around me and my steps quickened in anticipation. As is my habit, I kept my camera bag and purse in readiness for checking by the security personnel. But there was no security check and I entered freely. Just like that. I actually looked around to see if there was some mistake. But no, there was no security check.
It was with a sense of disbelief over the lack of a security check that I began my experience of Rongali. A disbelief that extended to other things as well over the three days, or rather evenings, I spent at the Festival venue, observing, interacting and sometimes participating in the events. It was a disbelief that led me to confront my perceptions and pre-conceived notions and also one that led me to a greater understanding.
More about that towards the end of the post. Let me first take you through the various events at Rongali the way I saw and experienced them. 🙂
My experience of and participation in the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) this year, which was held from 3rd to 12th February, was limited, for I was travelling. This was the first time that I missed the opening day of KGAF, missed seeing the stalls open, missed seeing the installations on the first day, missed bumping into people I always meet at the KGAF, missed attending other events…
It felt strange and kind of weird to miss out on what has become an annual tradition for me. So I did the next best thing: the day after I returned to Mumbai, I headed to Rampart Row in the Kala Ghoda area, where the visual art installations are displayed. Like in previous years, I went in the morning, before the place officially opened and before the place got crowded. Since I wasn’t following the #htKGAF hashtag on social media, I had no idea what the installations were like. So it was almost like seeing them on the first day. Almost.
As always I began with the Kala Ghoda installation — the black horse that is the centrepiece of the KGAF.
The drive to Sibsagar (also known as Sivasagar) from Jorhat in Assam takes about an hour. Except for one small stretch, the road, which is the National Highway 37, is smooth and and makes for a beautiful drive. The entire stretch is lined with banana and coconut trees and cottages with cane around them making for a pretty sight. It is almost impossible to take one’s eyes off the beauty all around.
But there is one place along the drive, about 15 km before Sibsagar and at a place called Gaurisagar, when you have focus on something else, even get off the vehicle you are travelling in. It is a bridge across the river Namdang, a tributary of the river Dikhou. The bridge is a small, not a particularly impressive looking, one and is about 60 m in length and 7 m in width.
But don’t go by its looks, for this bridge is only one of 10 such bridges ever built in Assam that still survives today. It is a Sila Saku or a stone bridge that was built in 1703 by the Ahom King under whom the dynasty reached its zenith, Swargdeo Rudra Singha.