East Himalaya

Saturday, April 14, 2012

CHAUTARE, the storytellers from East Himalaya: Atithi Devo Bhavo

CHAUTARE, the storytellers from East Himalaya: Atithi Devo Bhavo: 14 Apr, 2012 Jaipur: It is about 05 years back that I had attended the GITB (Great Indian Travel Bazaar) at Jaipur. It was then a small sh...

Atithi Devo Bhavo

14 Apr, 2012 Jaipur: It is about 05 years back that I had attended the GITB (Great Indian Travel Bazaar) at Jaipur. It was then a small show which the then FICCI chief, Amit Mitra was proud about. Today, when I saw the preparations, I was amazed with the participation and the investment for the 02 day event. This certainly shows quality boom in the travel industry in the Indian mainland (West, North and South India). The flags of the several countries, representing the buyers, certainly leave an impression on the hospitality industry of India still governed by the age old tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’. The strength of this growth lies in the increasing quality services, enhanced by the warm hospitality attitude of the common Indian on road who goes out of the way to be friendly.
Where is the East then, the part of the subcontinent that is the gateway to South and Southeast Asia. We have either failed to gauze the potential or we have avoided because of the ‘China Mania’. It has hardly been 100 years that the country capital shifted from the East, the reason was that the people here initiated the struggle for Freedom. The region, which had relieved the world during human crisis from time to time through the great religious reforms, today fails to make a noticeable presence at this GITB. Is it the lack of political will locally and nationally. On the 6th and 7th of this month, when the Sikkim North Bengal saw its first snow, instead of inviting visitors, a group of politicians decided to call a ‘Bandh’. They would not understand that the visitor has nothing to do with the local issues and that the bookings were made quite in advance. Even in an organized fashion of tourism development, the said region supports 70% of the youths’ meaningful engagement directly or indirectly in tourism. Disturbing a visitor would mean, losing an opportunity to gain global sympathy for the issue for which the Bandh has been called, disturbing the opportunity for growth of the biggest global industry (tourism is the only industry where the buyer comes to the product) and neglecting our tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’.
Orissa or Odisha, whatever we call, has been the seat of hospitality. When there was no concept of tourism for the world, pilgrims spent a few days in the hospitality of the Pandas. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu achieved Nirvana there in Puri, and through ages several people from across the world followed the path. Paolo Bosusco was no exception, he had made Puri his home. Sabyasachi Panda and his group, who probably had several silent supporters for his cause completely lost ground for keeping the Italian in captivity. Back home, as an Indian I can guarantee that even his mother or wife would not support this act. Is this our tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’.
The time has come when the Indian and Global travel industry has to harness this new ground for tourism, East and Northeast India. Another India that is beyond the Palaces and snake charmers, an India which is the mirror of South and Southeast Asia put together, an India where hospitality is still in the houses and hearts of people as ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’.    

Friday, April 6, 2012

Burma Break

For the past 03 to 04 days, all news channels and print media has been celebrating the success of Madam Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, NLD’s success in Myanmar. Her sacrifice for democracy is being compared with leaders like Mr.Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. India is busy highlighting her connections through her schooling and college in this country.
We often fail to go a little behind and discover that even her great father, General Aung San has close connections with India, mainly with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He has made visits to Calcutta and Delhi and has made speeches for freedom. Both, General Aung San and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be remembered as the great freedom fighters for Asia.
During my recent visit to Myanmar, my enthusiastic driver did not forget to drive me twice in front of Madam Suu Kyi’s house. I have always felt that her perseverance and her form of political movement come from the deep rooted Buddhist traditions. From extreme corners of Myanmar to the heart of Yangon, I have seen her place in the hearts of people.

Burma and Eastern India have always been 02 sides of a coin since centuries, starting from Buddhism, trade, British Colony, 2nd World War CBI (China-Burma-India) theatre and above all the people. It is only in the post Independence period and later we identify India’s East & Northeast and Myanmar differently. For both the areas to prosper sustainably, we need to open all the old trade routes through land, even if necessary, consider the routes passing through Bangladesh, between Myanmar and Eastern India. 
The maximum movement as I have understood was during the mid nineteenth century onwards, when the British India, headquartered in Calcutta sent several people from then Eastern India, which included Bangladesh to Burma for supporting the British administrative system. Even several entrepreneurs went from the Eastern part to start a set-up there. While in Bangladesh, I suppose some very enthusiastic youths at some place in Chittagong (probably St.Martin’s Island) did show me ‘Moger Muluk’ in Burma, which I found later was the upcoming commercial centre, Akyab in the past, now known as Sittwe.
Pidusai, Loose Street, 59 street etc are some common names I hear from my friends who have migrated from Burma in 1965-66. Some of their families had medicine shop, some grocery shop etc. In Siliguri some of them still retain the same name of their establishment. While talking to my friend Amal, medicine shop owner, he confirmed that his parents had reached the then Rangoon through the said route. They were owners of Medicine Shop there also. Post independence in Burma, since 1962, when shops were taken over, bank accounts were freezed and schools were brought to local medium by the then Burma Government, they left Burma and finally decided to come and settle in North Bengal. No one was thrown out, but given an offer to be employees in their own shops. Those who wanted to leave were given passage money for ship or flight and some pocket expenses. We have many such families today in West Bengal, whose birth place was Burma.
Many of them, mainly the Baruas being Buddhists stayed on, who have now taken local Myanmarese names through inter-marriage. There is some influence and connectivity of Christianity along the western borders, mainly from Mizoram of India’s Northeast. Islam is quite noticeable in Yangon and to some extend in Mandalay, so is Hinduism. The Durga Mandir still is a landmark of the Burma & Eastern India ties, and still survives in its full glory. Even many Myanmarese communities have migrated to India. In the North Andaman Islands I remember visiting some Karen villages near Diglipur-Mayabandar. Though they were all Christians, yet they had a rich Burmese tradition. I remember some local administration personnel mentioning regular arrival of Myanmarese fishing boats to the northern side of the Andaman Islands.

All the above discussions are to bring into light that inspite of continuing illegal human movements, forced political borders and closing of land and water based trade routes, which have suppressed the once naturally, culturally and economically resourceful areas, it will be difficult to do so for a long time. Tourism can be the igniting factor again. A freely intersecting tourism circuits based on the rivers through Ganga, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy and Mekong, covering the extraordinary horse-shoe, namely the Indian and Malayan peninsulas with Yunan as the crown could beat almost all tourism areas of the world. The similarity and diversity, the heritage of Buddhism - Tea - Weaving, and the natural tendency to be committed hosts could set up a new grammar for the global tourism industry tomorrow.