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Wonderful woman of our times Dr. Gitanjali Himanka: Upholding the cultural heritage of Assam nay India in Sri Lanka
A wonderful woman of our times, Dr. Gitanjali Himanka is now far off in Sri Lanka but she is upholding the beautiful cultural heritage of Bengal and Assam whenever she gets the opportunity and time.
Very recently, I contacted her after a wonderful speech she delivered in Sri Lanka in an International Lecture Series in the Centre for Asian Studies in the University of Kelaniya. Dr. Gitanjali is a versatile personality, an academician, singer, dancer and poet.

Her philosophy of life is wonderful: Love to all and Peace for all. She reads Rabindranath and loves to perform Tagore Dance Drama along with the Sattriya Dance of Assam. She is out and out an academician but never finds it a problem to write poetry in Assamese or to get engrossed in dance which is a passion for her and her daughter.

She had a penchant for academics and extra curricular activities from her youthful days. She got second position in the State Level Science Exhibition and got selected for National Level Science Exhibition, Delhi in 1997 for her research titled "Role of Auniati Sattra of Majuli as a Center of Neo-Vaishnavism in Assam, India (Majuli is one of the largest River Island).

She worked as an Executive (Human Resource / Admin ) at L.B. Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., a renowned CFA of North East, an ISO 9001-2000 certified organisation, since last one and a half years. It has fifteen companies under it like Cadila Health care, Elder Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Torrent Pharmaceutical Ltd and Medley Pharmaceuticals Ltd. to name a few.

She worked as a research investigator on the project titled "Independent Survey to Monitor Performance at close of 2nd National Leprosy Eliminating Project". The project was initiated by the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur, India, and sponsored by World Health Organisation.

She worked as academic Co-ordinator at Euro Kids International Pvt Ltd. For Northeastern States, India and as teacher at Kidzee, a play school chain. She worked as a research investigator on the project "Human Resources in Call Centers of Bangalore," conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Department of Psychology, Bangalore University and sponsored by NASSCOM.

She worked as a research investigator at TALEEM research foundation on a project titled "Reproductive and Child Health" sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi. She worked as guide captain at Axam Jatio Vidyalaya, Noonmati from August 2001- October 2004 and as Manager - Administration at Magnum Intergrafiks Pvt. Ltd. Chennai, India.

Recently I had a dialogue with her and wanted to know the activities as an Indian Emissary in Sri Lanka from the North East, namely Assam, upholding the cultural heritage of Assam and focusing on the fauna of Assam especially Elephant and other animal life preservation.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee: Hello Dr. Gitanjali. You are an outstanding personality but you look so simple and innocent with a girlie look.

Dr. Gitanjali Himanka: (Smilingly) Yes dada, I love simplicity of life and avoid complicated people and things. I am very happy with my husband and daughter Orgha.

RB: Yes, you are a wonderful performing artist and you trained your daughter well.

GH: Oh! thanks a lot for the appreciation. It is a passion for me and now my daughter too loves dancing.

RB: How did you develop this great feat?

GH: I used to develop this knack since my childhood days while I participated in various recitation and extempore competitions. I joined dancing school and started performing since my childhood days. After marriage, I came to Sri Lanka and here I get enough invitation to perform on various occasions. We organise Dance Drama and dance programmes for the public show.

RB: I have come to know that you have a huge experience of research and project work.

GH: By God's blessings it was possible dada. I joined in the S.E.I.L. Project (Student Experience in Inter- state living in the year 2003- 2004) for a month to know the Socio-cultural life of West and South Indian people. The places I visited that time were Gujarat, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, Hubli, Mysore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Jamshedpur. I joined Himalayan Tracking from Bharat Scout's & Guides, Delhi. I also took part in the "March of Nation" at Rajpath, New Delhi on 14th of August 1997 on the occasion of "Golden Jubilee of Indian Independence".

RB: I am thrilled to know all these about you. You have achieved a lot. It is a rare feat that you did so much and still remain equally agile and active.

GH: The praise is really inspiring me. You know I tried to learn even Punjabi and Bengali besides three common languages I knew i.e. Assamese, English and Hindi, which all Indians are born to know.

RB: You are now staying in Sri Lanka, but I know you belong to Assam but which place? Will you tell us?

GH: It is a pleasure for me dada. On July 25th, 1980, I was born in Guwahati, the gateway of the north east. My father's native is Bongaigaon, a small town in Assam and my mother hails from Beleuguri, a small village in Nagaon district of Assam. Most of my childhood memories are from my father's and mothers native. Whenever I visited my mother's native place, I feel excited and happy as I could roam here and there.

RB: You are a lover of nature and a poetic mind. You write poems also and one is published in the Amravati Poetic Prism recently, an anthology launched by Hon'ble Chief Minister Sri Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh. It is a nice Assamese poem.

GH: Yes, I love the idyllic beauty and become poetic. Nature is Assam's pride. I love large green paddy fields. They were my favorite place, which still continue to be one of my most loved sights. My father's home was right on the foothills of the Bageswari hill and I just enjoyed climbing hills, fishing on the nearby lakes, going through the lush green tea gardens and cycling.

RB: Where did you study? It will be inspiring for our readers to know that.

GH: Oh! sure why not. I shall be too glad to share it. I studied at T.C. Govt Girls School and later Cotton College and Gauhati University.

RB: Suddenly how do you take interest in agricultural research and Zoology too?

GH: Good question Sir. You know my great love for green expanse of the meadows. I planned to continue my studies on the Agriculture side and after my Higher Secondary examination, I tried for the same but due to some reason my application did not reach the destination in time and I could not study in that stream. For the first time in my life I felt dejected; later I thought l would continue my studies by taking Botany as my subject. At that time, Anthropology was my pass course but since I had a love for Anthropology as it deals with people, I changed my subject to Anthropology and took Botany and Zoology as my pass course subject.

RB: Anything to say about your teachers ?

GH: You raised a good point here. I would like to mention about my teachers of Cotton College who inspired and created motivation in me, who loved me like their own child and who always boosted my confidence that I could do anything.

RB: I heard you were actively associated with the College Students Union.

GH: Hehe .. ye, yes. During those times I was the Assistant General Secretary of the Students Union of my college. Those were the golden times in my life. However, times flies very quickly. I completed my B.Sc in 2001.

RB: You did any expedition like trekking?

GH. Oh! so lovely to recall it. I went to the National Trekking Camp at the same year of my graduation. During the trip, I proudly wore the T-shirt of my college and on reaching the top I felt like being at the top of the world with my alma-mater.

RB: Ok, tell us more about your Post Graduation and other academic works.

GH: Yes, after my B.Sc, I went for my higher education in Gauhati University in M.Sc Anthropology. I planned to join Shantiniketan for MSW programme, but due to difference of timing for admission I would have lost one year if I had gone there. Hence, I decided to continue my studies in Gauhati University only.

During that time, I also joined Axom Jatiya Vidyalaya as a Guide teacher (Guide Captain). Most of my students are now well settled in different places and I feel proud of them. In 2002, for M.Sc dissertation we went to Majuli, which was one of the turning points in my life.

RB: Yes, Majuli is a turning point of your academic and research career. Can you tell us in details ?

GH: Majuli is the largest river Island of the world. In Majuli, I just fell in love with the island and the people there; they were so innocent and simple that it gave me a reason to think about reasons to do something for the people there. After M.Sc. I joined a government sponsorship project and continued to work there for two years before I moved to Bangalore for MBA in HR. At that time I got a project work titled "Human Resources in call centers of Bangalore" conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Department of Psychology, Bangalore University and sponsored by NASSCOM. During the course of the project I fell ill and had to return to Guwahati. For few years I worked in Guwahati and in 2008 I moved to Chennai and joined as Manager -Administration at Magnum Intergrafiks Pvt. Ltd. in 2009.

RB: If you don't mind, please tell us about your marriage and family?

GH: No not at all. My husband is my friend, a real friend. We got married and returned back to Guwahati as my husband was posted in Guwahati. I could have comfortably passed my life as a housewife.

RB: But why you came back again to your work even after marriage?

GH: Work, work and work for the society, this thing motivated me always. I love people and the society. After spending 6 months at home, my mind asked me a question as to why I should not continue my further studies and I began to think about Majuli. The people of Majuli had always supported me in their own best way and in 2010, I joined Ph.D ( under ICHR with JRF scholarship) on a topic related to Majuli. I was very happy that I was able to work for Majuli again.

In 2010, a small cute angel came into our lives. It was tough managing both Ph.D work and home, but my family and my little baby through her own ways helped me a lot. At some point I was very tired and even I cried and my husband was the best support at that time. During my Ph.D, at that time I published two papers on Majuli. The papers' titles were: A Study of the seasonal Foods of Bhakats of Auniati Sattra of Majuli, published in an international journal: JOURNAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCE HUMANITIES AND LITERATURE, ISSN-2277-842X. Paper titled: Tourism in Assam, its status and prospects with special reference to Auniati Sattra , Majuli, published in a revered journal with annual periodicity promoting research in literature, culture and humanities, ISSN:2321-4791. In 2012, my husband got transferred to Kolkata and my situation began tough again. However, with dedication and support, I submitted my thesis to the university in 2013 and got the Ph.D degree. 45957998

RB: Can you throw some light on your stay in Kolkata?

GH: For me, Kolkata is a 'City of Joy' in the real sense. We had a good time and we enjoyed a lot. We were very attached to the Kolkata Assamese Cultural Association and celebrated all the festivals and programmes with great enthusiasm. At that time I was involved with a project on Kumartuli and I wrote a paper on it titled "Idol making heritage of Kumartuli, Kolkata, India" which was presented in SSEASR (South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture and Religion), 6th International Conference, 2015, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. In 2015, my husband got transferred to Colombo and we all shifted there.

RB: Kindly tell us something about your life in Sri Lanka.

GH: Yes, in Sri Lanka the sphere of my work extended. I started going to the University of Kelaniya. During the course of interaction with the local people, I found that my native Assamese language had close similarity with the Sinhala language. I also wrote a paper on this, titled "Acoustic similarities between Sinhala and Assamese". During my stay here, I observed that the local people love and respect Elephant a lot. We attended the Perahera festival of Colombo and Kandy, which showcased the elephants in full royal fervor.

I wrote about my native experiences through a paper titled, "Tradition of Domesticating Elephants and its Inherent Association With the Folklore of Assamese Society", that got published in Asian Elephants in Culture & Nature, 2016, ISBN:978-955-4563-84-1. My recent lecture was on Majuli in an international Lecture Series at the Centre of Asian Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. The topic was Majuli: An Enchanting Heritage of Assam. Here, I focused to trace the similarities with my land.

RB: Oh! that is all fantastic When away from Assam you still mentally stay here. This is the love for the native land.

GH: You are correct. I am an Indian, I am an Assamese and no one can make me forget this great fact. Long live India. Long live Assam.

RB: Thanks for your time and space. You are doing wonderful job as a cultural emissary for Assam nay India in Sri Lanka.

About the interviewer:

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee, the trilingual writer (Assamese, Bengali and English) and academician, is Associate Professor & Head, Post Graduate Dept of English at Dum Dum Motijheel College, Kolkata and Guest Faculty at Rabindra Bharati University. He is also Member in the International Advisory Board of International Theodore Dreiser Society, USA. He is a regular columnist in The Shillong Times, The Sentinel, Dainik Statesman, Kolkata and Book Reviewer of The Telegraph and The Statesman. Known as Oleander Poet of India, he has to his credit a number of poetic volumes including Melodies and Maladies, The Ballad of the Bleeding Bubbles, Oleander Blooms and Our Daughter, Our Princess and his first book is translated into Assamese as Raktakta Burburanir Malita.

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