An Article by Honorable Adviser

An Enduring Presence

By Hiren Phukan

Assam, Assamese. The second word was practically unknown to most Singaporeans I met after  I first arrived in the island Republic way back in December 1982. To my astonishment, the first  word  was in common use. It had a resonance for my friends here  far different from the chord that strikes in us.

"No, no'', I had to repeat often, "I have absolutely no links with Assam curry or asam laksa''  They were surprised that, with the name of Assam with which I identified myself so closely, I had nothing to do with the two local delicacies. But the reference  to the two delights gave me an opportunity to  give an introduction
to our state..

Putting the focus on the word Assam, I would go on say Assam for me meant I was from a land of breathtaking beauty, though fast losing its charm to sordid urban sprawls, an India in miniature in ethnic diversity, a home for robust brews of tea with the highest number of tea plantations in the world, a producer of golden harvests of oil, of  floods caused  by the mighty Brahmaputra, of tall grasslands where the great one-horned rhino thrives, and a place where laid-back leisure is preferred to any frenetic pace of life.

For months after I arrived, I came across not a  single  individual from Assam and, over time, I came to be introduced as the longest-staying  Assamese in Singapore. That, however, is not quite correct. as friends in Guwahati told me that someone from
the city had settled  in Singapore well ahead of me. I  met her once with
her husband much later but I failed to keep in touch to give enough
information.

Taking note of a report I gathered recently, the description of being the Assamese pioneers in Singapore should go to the late Krishna Kamal Bezboruah and his wife, Mrs Aandamayee Bezboruah. He was a barrister and his wife, now 86 and staying in Guwahati,  was  Vice Principal of Bartley Secondary School. They lived in Singapore
between 1946 and 1968.

I learnt this from eminent journalist Prof Dhiren Bezboruah, who is a nephew of Krishna Kamal Bezbourah. As my years in Singapore lengthened, the flow of people from Assam became  noticeable and community gatherings came to be organised from time to time. As far as I can recall, the first Bihu celebrations were held in the mid-nineties. Taking an enthusiastic initiative for Assamese get-togethers in those days was a young engineer, Shri Jitendra Das (Jeetu  to his friends). He later migrated to Australia.

Now, with students and young professionals seeking to make Singapore their home, the Assam community is seeing a steady increase in numbers The formation of the Assam Society and the setting up of the Assam portal are pointers that an energetic slice of Assam is here to stay long term, keen on contributing to Singapore's progress and enriching further its
harmonious diversity.

What lies ahead are not just two winning words --- Assam, Assamese --- but  the enduring presence of a vibrant community from India's north-east.

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