It was already dusk and one could not ignore the unusual sight that lay ahead; a massive fire blazing which lighted the night sky. And along with such a spectacle were roaring sounds of explosions. The magnitude of the ravaging fire at the Baghjan oil well in Tinsukia district was so intense that one could clearly see it from my courtyard in Chabua, which is around 30kms away from the site.
My hometown Chabua- a small town in Dibrugarh district in upper Assam, lies by the National Highway. However, I grew up in the rural area of Rahmoria, located about 10km away from the National Highway, by the bank of the Brahmaputra River. Our family shifted to Chabua town, as we lost most of our land to erosion. May be a sense of personal loss and attachment led to an urge to create an archive of my birthplace. Many of the older generation with substantial claim over the place are departing. Along with them disappears vast knowledge system and narratives and the rapid changes in the society adds to it. Rahmoria is also confronted with a perennial sense of loss due to the decades old problem of river-borne erosion and flooding. The hungry tides of the Brahmaputra has already consumed more than thirty villages, large swathes of cultivated lands, forest areas, rivulets, schools, tea gardens, lakes etc. Rahmoria has seen a lot of displacement, physical, as well as mental and emotional, which further translate to the socio-cultural space. Memories hang everywhere, of the individual as well as the collective – of longing, loss, conflict, hope, belonging, identity, change and instinct for survival.
While I was still in school, the Oil India Limited conducted a survey in Rahmoria, following which they started digging out crude oil from Rahmoria. Just after a few years, it was shut down after protests by the people of Rahmaria. The people of Rahmoria were seeking for a permanent solution for river erosion. The state came digging for oil, but the decades-long problem of the area was not under its purview. Rather, as many local agitations would show, such ventures of resource extractions bring new risks and hazards. Callousness towards the local people and ecology is, indeed, inherent in the very model of extracting the resources. Sometimes the risks turn into disasters of unmanageable proportion. In the last decade, the fire in the Dikol oil field was one such disaster. The inferno that happened in Baghjan area – an ecologically very sensitive area, situated next to Dibru Saikhowa National Park – was even bigger than the inferno in Dikom oil field. I went to Baghjan the very next day of the incident, and several times thereafter. The village was reduced to ashes. The first thought that came into my mind was that the after-effects would linger on, as the state would shrug off its responsibility.
The collaborative work in the backdrop of Baghjan is a visual and conceptual satire. I draw from contradictory aspects related to Bihu as a celebrative ritual, symbol of cultural identity, and metaphor of people’s resilience.
A festival like Bihu shows the resilience and the living spirit of the people to overcome all tragedies or disasters – natural or manmade.
In the work, I have taken reference from the calendars depicting Bihu, where the artificial set up is used to be naturalized.
In these photographs, I have collaborated with Niharika Boruah, who completed her Bachelor’s degree from D.D.R. College, Chabua, Nilakhi Boruah, doing her Bachelor’s in D.D.R. College, Chabua and Anurag Gogoi, doing higher secondary in Lahowal College.