Up-close with a Doyen of Art and Culture
He is a man who has spent his life in the pursuit of art and culture. A doyen of education and folk culture, he has made many novel attempts towards preserving and popularizing the folk culture and music of the State. An erudite scholar, an accomplished musician, a prolific playwright and dramatist, an efficient administrator, besides donning many more roles - he is a unique and wonderful amalgamation of talents brought together in a single entity. We are talking about eminent educationist and researcher Dr. Anil Saikia, who is today regarded as one of the foremost authorities when it comes to deliberations on the folk culture of Assam.
A doctorate in the field of economics, Dr. Anil Saikia retired as the Principal of Moran College. A researcher of folk music and culture of Assam, Dr Saikia's works has contributed immensely towards the preservation and propagation of folk culture and music of the State. As an educationist, he is credited for ushering in a lot of developmental activities in Moran College and changing the very face of the educational institution.
Be it in the form of music or books, Dr. Anil Saikia has been making myriad attempts to popularize the youth of the State with their own folk tradition and culture. He has authored a number of books besides performing a number of lecture-demonstrations across the country. The magnitude of his works can be gauged from the fact that he has also been selected as a Member of the Advisory Board of Folk and Tribal Music, Sangeet Natak Akademi.
A doyen of Assamese culture, Dr. Anil Saikia is also an avid collector of folk music. He has an unique collection of 50 gramophones, 45 record players and more than 14,000 gramophone records. His collections of gramophone records include plays and music of Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telegu, Bhojpuri, Russian and Italian languages along with some rare collections of Assamese folk songs.
A former president of the Moran Saka Sahitya Sabha, Dr. Anil Saikia's efforts has been recognized at various levels. In recognition of his lifetime achievements, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) had bestowed him with the prestigious Pratima Barua Pandey Award in 2011. Other notable recognitions include the Bor-Bihuwa award in 2011 by Sepon Bihu Sanmilon of Sibsagar, the Gramya-Ratna award 2011 by Milan Natya Mandir of Jorhat and Lifetime Achievement award by Sivasagar Sahitya Sabha in 2011.
The mélange team had recently entered into a conversation with the eminent folklorist to know more about his life. Following are excerpts.
Q. Pease tell us about your childhood. Where were you born?
Ans: I was born on August 1, 1955 at a small village called Rangaoi Dagaon located on the banks of the Rongdoi river. My father late Chadiram Saikia was a teacher by profession. My mother's name was late Khargeswari Lilawati Saikia. We were eight siblings and all of them are now settled comfortably in life.
As a child, I did not like studies much and somehow passed my LP school education from three different LP schools. I later on passed out from Jorhat Govt. Higher Secondary School in 1972. At that time there was no H.S.L.C examinations in Govt. Higher Secondary School and after reaching Class VIII, one had to choose between Science, Arts and Commerce. I was a student of Science.
I took admission in JB College in the Science stream but during Part 1 of my education, I realized that science was not for me. I then enrolled in the arts stream of Bahona College in Jorhat with honours in Economics. But I have passed both my B. Sc as well as BA with honours in Economics. We were not worried about jobs because jobs were readily available. We wanted to study a bit more. Accordingly, I passed MA (Economics) in 1979 from Dibrugarh University. I completed my Ph.D from Dibrugarg University in the subject 'Human Mortality of Assam' in 1989.
Q. How did you get interested in the world of culture and music?
Ans: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a village which was very rich culturally. Our village, Rangdoi Dagaon, had a vibrant Bihu and Vaishnavite culture. The banks of Rangdoi river, Borsola Pathar and Bormukuli Pathar were located near our village and these used to be popular places for the youth to perform Bihu songs and dances. I learnt how to play different Bihu instruments and also the different methods. It was in this culturally vibrant environment that I learnt how to play the pepa, khol, dhol and the different nuances of Bihu songs.
The Vaishavite culture of our village was also very vibrant. Bhaonas were held on a very frequent basis in our festival. In fact, the Rangdoi Dagaon Namghar had a separate area for just holding Bhaonas!
As a child, I also loved plays. I used to write plays and the first play I wrote was Ratnakar Charitra. We used to enact plays in the courtyards but due to opposition from the people, we began to do plays in schools and colleges. So Bihu, drama and Vaishavita culture has been part of my life since then.
Q. Did you have any informal education in music?
Ans: Yes, my academic studies and cultural pursuits were all running on parallel tracks. I was trained informally in music in Jyoti Sangeet Vidyalaya of Jorhat. I first learnt table from Ajay Khataniar and Prafulla Dutta and then learnt classical music from Padma Das and Padma Saikia.
Q. You are known more for your music direction in plays… Tell us about your journey as a music director? Also tell us about the different workshops that you conduct.
Ans: Although I loved directing plays, my contemporaries preferred that I provide the music direction of the plays instead. So I have worked as a music director in more than 400 plays, besides providing music in audio and video albums. As a music director, I have also performed in plays staged in drama festivals organized by the National School of Drama, New Delhi. I have also worked as a music director in Sat Nomboror Sandhanot, a film directed by Abdul Mosid in 2016.
I also love workshops. I have participated as a resource person is as many as 50 workshops on drama, scoring music for dramas, Bihu dance, Bihu-songs, Biyanam (Marriage song), Ballades of Upper- Assam, and the like in many places of Assam. I have devoted most of my time in collecting the different tunes of folk-songs of Assam and popularized those among the new generation.
Q. You are one the first person who comes to mind whenever we want to know anything about our traditional culture and heritage, especially Bihu. What prompted you to learn so much about our culture and traditions?
Ans: To be honest, I do not know much. Whatever I know, I have learnt it from the people. For instance, I have gone to Sadiya and Moran to learn the Bihu performed by the Moran people. I have gone to Golaghat to learn the Bihu dance steps performed in that area. I have learnt everything from the people and they have been kind enough to teach me.
At the same time, I am creating an archive of all the information I have gathered and also teaching them to the present generation whenever I get any opportunity. I have not written any books on these issues but more than 50 of my articles on music and culture of Assam have been published in leading newspapers, journals, radio and books, etc.
Q. You are also credited for creating a unique gramophone and gramophone records archive. Tell us about the archive and what prompted you to start it?
Ans: Till date, I have collected 50 varieties of gramophones from 3 inch X 3inch size to 3 feet X 2.5 feet size, 45 (forty five) record-players of different models and companies and 3 (three) record changers. I have collected about 14,000 gramophone records of various types and different languages since 1936 to date. I have created an archive where gramophone records of voices of Bihnu Prasad Rabha, Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Rabindranath Thakur, Winston Churcill, Mahatma Ghandhi, Jawaharalal Nehru, Subhas Ch. Basu, etc are preserved for the generation to come. This will be a State/National property in near future as it wishes.
My father loved listening to gramophone records and I developed this passion for collecting recordings from him. Earlier, I used to collect records in order to learn music but gradually, I started collecting them for an archive. I also try to keep myself updated with the latest developments. For instance, I am also collecting gramophone records of new films like Dilwale, Tare Zameen Par, etc which have started to be produced in recent times.
Q. You seem to be a man with refined tastes…
Ans: I am an ardent lover of music and love collecting items. I cannot imagine living in a house without a piano or keyboard. Ideally, a khol or pair of cymbals should also be there!
Q. You are also a popular teacher who is credited for changing the entire face of Demow College. Tell us about your journey in the world of education.
Ans: I taught economics in college. I joined Demow College in the end of 1981. From 2004 I worked as the principal of the college and served in the same capacity till my retirement. While working as the principal, I completed a few important projects like a two-storied girls hostel, two-storied Zoology department building, a library, sports pavilion besides lots of other construction work. An international standard swimming pool as per UGC norms was also constructed during my time.
Q. Your wife Dipali Saikia is also an AIR approved artist and performer. What has been the support of your family in your life?
Ans: All our family members are independent and we do not hamper each other's work. We try to supplement each other's work but never come in each other's way. My wife has been supportive in this regard and at the same time, we have also not created any obstacles in letter her chase her creative pursuits.
Q. Your son Anurag Saikia is doing a lot of good work in Bollywood. He has emerged as one of the top music directors of the country. How does it feel?
Ans: Yes, it definitely feels good to see him achieving success in life. But as his parents, we tried to ensure that he had a solid foundation in music. I have taught him our traditional music and also methods with which we can create fusion.
Q. You were also appointed as a member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Please tell us about it.
Ans: I was appointed as a member of the advisory board of the folk and tribal music of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2015. Incidentally, I was appointed for the post on the very same day that I retired from service. I have been appointed for a period of five years.