Guwahati, Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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Assamese diaspora in London celebrates Bihu

 GUWAHATI, May 1 – On the occasion of Assamese New Year and Rongali Bihu, a traditional feast was organised by the Assamese community at Barham Park Lounge, Wembley on Saturday, an e-mail received here from London stated.

Initiated by Rini Kakati, NRI Co-ordinator for UK, this idea came from Gordon Ramsey when he was enquiring about any Assamese restaurant in London after returning from Assam three years back.

Bihu is the national festival of Assam. Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, the people of Assam celebrate Bihu with much pomp and gaiety. To establish the existence of cultural roots and heritage, every community in Britain put their combined efforts in an organised manner. The Assamese community is no exception.

The dignitaries present were Jitendra Kumar, First Secretary, Indian High Commission, Rita Payne (President, Commonwealth Journalists’ Association, UK, Rolf Kilius, Curator for Horniman Museum, Mayor of Brent, Navin Shah AM (London Assembly Member), Helga Gladbaum, including Councillors from different boroughs - Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative, Justin Wintle, author of the book The Perfect Hostage, Geoff Payne, Consultant in Urban Development and Planning, Alain Durand-Lasserve and his wife Maylis from France, Krishnan Ralleigh, journalist and Dilip Deka from USA. Cyrus, the well-known BBC Celebrity Chef was invited as guest of honour.

Cuisine of a land is a specific set of cooking tradition and practices. Assamese cuisine is influenced by the ingredients that are easily available and the climate of the area. Mother Nature has given Assam abundant greenery with so many rare endemic plants and herbs. The people of this land of blue hills and red rivers take full advantage of Mother Nature’s bounty. Xaak (Green) forms an indispensable part of Assamese cooking, including dried bamboo shoot, dried cocum (thekera), rice powder, powered lentils (maahor guri), kharoli, kahudi and chilly pickle.

In the West, people recognise India only as tandoori chicken,vindaloo, chapati, dosa, idli and sambar. But the mouth watering Assamese dishes at Barham Park changed the attraction of food lovers of Indians and Europeans to a complete taste. Now Assamese cuisine is established as one of the delicious food - khar, tenga, kharoli, bamboo shoot, mahor bora, kahudi, pitika, hanh aru maah, dry fish, patot diya fish, oou tenga, til pitha, payash, chira, doi, gur jalpan, tamul- paan and masala offered in sarai.

Credit goes to Jury Gogoi and her husband Dr Nirjan Gogoi, a Consultant Urologist at Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, who was instrumental and came all the way from Yorkshire to cook various dishes for this event. Jury Gogoi is a Counsellor for Ethnic Minorities. She is the one and only expert for our Assamese delicacies. Jill Baruah assisted her to cook so many dishes laid out on the table and presented kanhor bati, ghoti and thaal in a traditional Assamese way. Everybody fell homesick missing our mother and aita’s cooking back home.

Rini Kakati introduced the invited dignitaries, community leaders and welcomed everybody to join the Assamese New Year celebration. Geetopala Shah opened the meeting with a Sanskrit prayer. Young Assamese women wearing mekhela- sador felicitated the guests with phulam gamosa.

Rita Payne chaired the meeting and talked about Assam and Bihu. Jitendra Kumar, representing Indian High Commission said, “the Assamese community in UK is full of professionals like doctors, engineers, teachers, IT consultant for which India should be proud of.” Pleased to attend the function, he thanked the organisers which reminded him of his childhood days, enjoying Bihu with his family in Assam. Each speaker spoke highly about the Assamese community and their traditional hospitality. The Mayor of Brent assured all possible help in case of a similar event in the future.

BBC Celebrity Chef Cyrus opened the Assamese kitchen by sharing food with the host community. Cyrus has cooked for the prime ministers, presidents, royal families and regularly appears on BBC Food and Drink, BBC UK Today, Saturday Kitchen, Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, BBC World Service, Channel 4’s Light Lunch, BBC’s Money Matters and also radio stations such as BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live and Talk Radio.

Cyrus noticed that while the practice of bhuna, the gentle frying of spices, is so common in Indian cooking, it is absent from the Assamese table, where one can find different recipes for vegetables, curries and chicken, while duck is not so typically hot-lined in the same row. He tasted everything and was pleased to announce that he was going to introduce Assamese recipe at his chain of restaurants in London. This is a great news and pride for the Assamese community.

The mood of Spring brought to a grand finale, with Bihu dance to the tune of seductive Bihu songs woven around the themes of love and passion led by Bakhar and Jill, Jafferna, Abhijit, Sumita, Arindam and Anandita, Rosy, Sahana, Lipi, Anzita, Kavita Vikram, Ashfaque, Jiban Rintu, Malabika and Siddhartha. In short, it was an out of this world experience.

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