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Assamese Lifestyle

Every country has its own customs, and every one has a hanger-on.

Lahe-lahe Life

It has been stated that the Assamese in north-east India hated above all things giving himself the least trouble. Those were the days - The liberal form of Hinduism in Assam was introduced by Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1568). Through it a tribal could progressively gain entry into higher castes, and this too is reflected in well-known Assamese proverbs, along with the liking of ease of living.

The north-east region of the Indian subcontinent came under the British umbrella later than other parts of it, but all the same the British officers took keen interest in Assamese culture and society and wrote delightful accounts.

A quite carefree, laid-back, and languid lifestyle is called lahe, lahe in Assam. Two proverbs reflect it:

"The mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law are in the house, who is to drink the cream?"

There are many equivalents of English and Hindi proverbs. 'None but the wearer knows where the shoe pinches' is: "The river Lohit [Brahmaputra] knows how deep the oar dips".

IN SUM: Ease of living and a convenient life-style: who knows where the shoe pinches?

Facts of Assam

The land of hills and valleys, and the river Brahmaputra, lies in the northeastern corner of India. Through a narrow corridor through the foothills of the Himalayas Assam is connected with West Bengal. The name "Assam" is derived from the term "Asom" which in Sanskrit refers to unequal or unrivalled. Monsoons are Assam's source of growing plants; creating great bio-diversity. Assam produces a significant part of the total tea production of the world, and more than half of India's petroleum. The population is an intermixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin. There were 31 millions inhabitants in 2011.

Women and Food

The Assamese on the whole are rice eaters. - Hoichnu Hauzel

Ideally, every woman is expected to know how to cook. It enhances her qualifications and marriage prospects. - Hoichnu Hauzel

Since there are abundant coconut trees in lower Assam, it is used in many dishes, including nariyal ka ladoo (coconut sweet made with grated fresh coconut and hot ghee). Nearly every household makes its own typical nariyal ka ladoo. - Hoichnu Hauzel

Food from the North-East [of India] is garnering attention . . . Gordon Ramsay came to India to film an episode of Gordon's Great Escape and, in a book by the same name, featured two recipes, fish tenga, an Assamese sour fish curry, and Majuli fishcakes with tomato, another local dish of the island, both of which made it to his 100 favourite recipes from India. . . . He also noticed that people from that region use more natural and fresh spices like chillies, ginger and garlic – not dry spices like the rest of India. - Hoichnu Hauzel

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When in distress, a man calls on Rama [his God] (Gurdon, p. 16)

I won't give myself any trouble. [This "should be . . . the motto of the Assamese, for he hates, above all things, giving himself the least trouble." (Gurdon, p. 21)

He who has not a pair of scales, what does he know of the origin of trade? (Gurdon, p. 13)

Good associates with good. (Gurdon, p. 8)

Do as you would be done by. [Literally, whatever he does to others, he gets the same at home] (Gurdon, p. 20)

He thinks that everybody else's mind is like his own. I doubt if all people think alike. (Gurdon, p. 24)

Every country has its own customs, and every one has some hanger-on. [Sponging on others] (Gurdon, p. 25)

A small income and much feasting are the signs of a man becoming poor. (Gurdon, p. 28)

Give a polite answer if you can; at any rate say something polite. (Gurdon, p. 29)

He who has a mind to thrive, scratches up grass, even when sitting down. [Don't waste a moment.] (Gurdon, p. 38)

Count money first before you take it over. Tell the way if you have seen the road. (Gurdon, p. 42)

Children make up the house, sundries also make up the same. (Gurdon, p. 49)

By weeping a debt is not paid. (Gurdon, p. 52)

Pick up the wood with care, so that you can find your stick for carrying the bundle of faggots on, as well as the fastening. (Gurdon, p. 53)

The stolen bullock finds grass along the road. (Gurdon, p. 74)

In the home the wife is supreme, in the ditch reigns the water sprite. (Gurdon, p. 78)

Marry a girl whose mother is good. (Gurdon, p. 86)

The dog is the enemy of the man who begs for scraps. (Gurdon, p. 94)

To the ant a few rain drops [seem like] a flood. (Gurdon, p. 94)

There are similarities between the step-mother's love and the burning straw. (Assamese proverb)

Woman-oriented

Add "maybe" as fits:

If one gets another woman in the presence of the other, get ready for a life of misery.

The most bitter taste is the lemon leaves. But the step-mother's words surpass it.

Do not miss out on the chance to travel the good long way. For it is better to get married to an aged daughter than to a widow.

In woman-oriented Assamese proverbs, two of the most common motifs are those of the co-wife and the step-mother. Women are often targeted as objects of abuse in Assamese proverbs. A stereptype of a step-mother is of one who favours her biological offspring and is very cruel towards stepchildren. tThe idea of a woman marrying more than once was taboo.

A patriarchical lifestyle that includes polygamy is at the back of many Assamese proverbs,

(Source: Muthukumaraswamy 2008, 19)


Assamese lifestyle and proverbs of Assam, Literature  

A journalist's account, revised April 23, 1998.

Gurdon, Philip Richard Thornhagh. Some Assamese Proverbs. Shillong: Assam Secretariat Printing Office, 1896.

Hauzel, Hoihnu. 2014. The Essential North-East Cookbook. Rev. ed. Cyber City, Gurgaon: Penguin Books India.

M.D. Muthukumaraswamy, M. D. 2008. Assamese folklife. In Indian Folklife No. 31, for National Folklore Support Centre, Nungambakkam, Chennai

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