The eight edition of the North-East Festival that’s usually held in the Capital, is being held in Guwahati this weekend and livestreamed worldwide. Soulmate (above) will be performing at the venue
The eight edition of the North-East Festival that’s usually held in the Capital, is being held in Guwahati this weekend and livestreamed worldwide. Soulmate (above) will be performing at the venue

Meet the seven sisters, virtually

The annual North East Festival is on its way to Delhi, but in a first it will be held virtually in Guwahati
Hindustan Times | By Karishma Kuenzang
UPDATED ON DEC 20, 2020 04:51 PM IST

The eight edition of the North-East Festival that’s usually held in the Capital, is being held in Guwahati this weekend and livestreamed worldwide, given the safety protocols due to Covid-19.

It won’t be open to the public and only media and government officials will be allowed, in a staggered manner. However, the digital avatar of the edition will have virtual sessions with personalities of the region such as Zubeen Garg and Armstrong Palme. There will also be sessions on rebuilding tourism, the North East’s primary source of income that has been severely affected during the pandemic, and start-ups – all with one aim: growth post Covid-19.

There will also be a virtual walk through the festival at 4pm on both evenings that will have music and dance performances, a display of cuisines from the Seven Sisters, crafts show and fashion show that you can stream on Facebook and YouTube.

Keeping with the goal of educating people about the North- Eastern states and the culture, the organiser Shyamkanu Mahanta says this year the festival hopes to reach a much more global audience.

“This is an opportunity at creating a new audience base because our live streams will talk about the tribes, destinations, festivals, investment opportunities, cuisine, craft, fashion and culture. Covid has forced us to make this change. We didn’t want to lose momentum and as I was in Guwahati, and we had the support of the Assam Govt and the Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal, it seemed like a viable choice,” Shyamkanu adds.

Shyamkanu Mahanta says Guwahati was ideal given the CM’s support and relatively lesser cases of Covid-19
Shyamkanu Mahanta says Guwahati was ideal given the CM’s support and relatively lesser cases of Covid-19

While this is a first for the organiser and audience, it’s also a first and a sigh of relief for performers, artistes and creators, who’ve all had a tough time of no work in the lockdown. We spoke to musician Tirpriti Kharbangar of Soulmate, about their lockdown musings, their crafts back home and what’s keeping them going.

Let the music play

Regular at the previous edition of the festival, Soulmate is viewed as a crucial Blues band in India’s inside music scene and known for its stellar live performances, which haven’t taken place at all during the pandemic.

“It’s the same as it’s been for almost everyone who earns an honest living by working hard from day to day. We’ve been keeping ourselves sane by bonding with our families, which we didn’t have too much time for while touring. But we haven’t earned anything since the lockdown was imposed. And we speak for all musicians and artists!” she says.

Which is why helping peers too can only go on for a while. “We are in the same boat and it may sound selfish to some, but it is what it is,” says Tipriti, who has converted her studio into a live streaming venue, from where the band even did a few events. “We had to keep ourselves relevant because in this fast-paced world, people tend to forget easily. And Facebook and Instagram have been good tools to help share the works and sounds of other musicians, which we have done selectively,” adds the vocalist of the band that released a new album titled Give Love in August and are currently recording a new project.

The lockdown has also seen a whole bunch of talent emerge from the north east, with the likes of The Andrea Tariang Band, Blue Temptation, Sambok Mawnai and a host of Khasi vernacular songs being released every week. “Music has kept us sane despite the fact that we have not earned our keep, which shows the passion and integrity of the artiste community.”

Food, glorious food!

Born and brought up in Guwahati, Dr Geeta Dutta will have a stall with authentic Assamese cuisine at the Guwahati venue will focus on the healthy and nutritious traditional greens, spices and cooking methods from the north east, including herbs with medicinal value like Manimuni (Hydrocotyle sibthorpioide), Bhedailota or Shunkvine, Mosundari (Houttuynia cordata), Posotia, Outenga (Elephant apple) and Thekera (Garcinia).

Poita bhaat or fermented rice, a staple in every Assamese household, served with side dishes like mashed roasted fish
Poita bhaat or fermented rice, a staple in every Assamese household, served with side dishes like mashed roasted fish

“North eastern food is better understood and accepted today and tourism has had a huge role to play in it,” says the chef who will be serving a kaahi or plate with Kumol Saul, cream and jaggery (gur), a curated rice which doesn’t need to be cooked but soaked in water for 15 minutes to be ready to eat; homemade curd; Hurum, a type of puffed rice preparation. All this is mixed together and eaten for breakfast.

“This traditional Assamese breakfast is called the jolpan,” says Geeta, who will also be serving traditional healing food from Assam with her familial fish curry recipe, which uses medicinal herbs naraxingo paat, Shunkvine or bhedailota leaves, manimuni or Hydrocotyle, black pepper, raw banana or “Kash kol “, an age-old health potion for asthenia, viral fevers, postpartum mothers and to improve immunity and raw banana.

Kholar beans, a type of kidney beans from Nagaland harvested by generations of the Yimchungrü Naga tribe living in Tuensang and Kiphire districts and on the other side of the Indo-Myanmar border, has high protein content and low glycaemic index, Dr Geeta tells us. “This makes it a healthy staple pulse and also a source of livelihood and sustainability among the farmers of Shamator-Chessore belt of Tuensang district and Pungro sub-division in Kiphire district,” she says.

Fresh organic greens grown at homes back in Assam, many of whom also have a medicinal value
Fresh organic greens grown at homes back in Assam, many of whom also have a medicinal value

Then there’s poita bhaat or fermented rice, a staple in every Assamese household, served with side dishes like mashed roasted fish, mashed boiled jackfruit seeds (kothalguti) with fermented bamboo shoots (khorisa), fried fiddlehead ferns, king chilly, fried chickpeas, sliced onions, salt and drops of mustard oil.

“North eastern food is all about flavours and social media has a huge role to play in promoting our cuisines,” she adds.

Passion for fashion

For Assam-based designer Arita Kashyap, it’s been months of watching small businesses and the local weaver communities suffer due to lack of orders due to the lockdown. But it’s had a turnaround too for the fashion industry, with Covid-19 acting like a wake-up call to focus on sustainable fashion options.

Eri is grown in backyards in villages in north east, is easily accessible and the dyes used are natural too
Eri is grown in backyards in villages in north east, is easily accessible and the dyes used are natural too

“Eri is grown in backyards in our villages, is easily accessible and the dyes used are natural too. It’s slow but homegrown fashion that we need to focus on because what we wear is what we breathe. We designers need to restructure and come up with a new line up of fashion trends revolving around the use of locally-available produce. There will be more demand if we have an organised sector for such ready-to-wear options,” says Arita.

With the lockdown easing a tad and postponed weddings and events being held, people are now back to browsing the clothes, but this time with a focus on quality and not just tags or brand names, Arita observes. “Boutiques have now started working with the local villagers to get raw materials instead of sourcing it from outside,” she concludes.

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From HT Brunch, December 20, 2020

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