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Interview: Sattyakee D’com Bhuyan Reveals the Man behind the Theatrical Mask

Rifa Deka:

“My tryst with destiny is not far, I think I’m just going to get there”, says the man who embarked on a journey to introduce the youth of Northeast to the world of Western Theatre. He became the youngest director of English Plays in the region. Son of the award winning film-maker Dhiru Bhuyan, known for his extensive expertise in all areas of the Stage and Theatre, he has also acted in and directed numerous plays and short films and is one of the pioneers of professional live English anchoring in the Northeast. In an exclusive interview and an absolutely candid conversation with me, under the virgin blue summer sky, Sattyakee D’com Bhuyan reveals a side of his that the world was unaware of.

EXCERPTS:

Rifa- You took to the stage at age of seven. What instilled this love of theatre in you and how did you conceptualize D’Passion Players and presently The Passion Collective?

D’com- Cotton College, my beloved! The Shakespeare Society in Cotton College Gauhati, Department of English, I think, shaped my life. Without that department, English Theatre, Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Shaw, Edgar Allen Poe, nothing would’ve been visualized in the Northeast and that I can profoundly tell you. A majority of my theatre productions are in English to acculturate with the accelerating pace of globalization, but I also do theatre in the vernacular. About D’ Passion Players, it used to be D’RAMA – The Passion Players but I changed the name later because it had religion involved and my connection with theatre is solely through Passion so presently it reads D’Passion Collective.

Rifa- Your father was an award winning film-maker; your family was always familiar with the art. Was your family always supportive when you wanted to do theatre or were they like other parents, wanting you to focus on academics first?

D’com- I’ve more or less learned to smile when I felt sad. I was born into a creative arts family theatre taking the cake.  I wanted to become a rock ‘n’ roll performer of sorts however, my father then insisted on academics- and today I thank him for that. Education is important, and in my close family, I was the first graduate. As for my PhD, I couldn’t complete it because in the final stage my guide Dr. Dipankar Moral passed away and he was the best I had. I didn’t want to do it under anybody else, although my thesis on the broader lines of Linguistics was complete.

Rifa- Can you tell us about your stint with the World Bank Group and about the decade long break from theatre?

D’com- I served The World Bank Group’s South Asia Communications team back then which is technically a part of the United Nations system, but its governance structure is different: What a delightful experience it was! And to top it all it got me travelling. However after serving the bank for more than a decade I did return home to do my thing of colour and resume my journey doing my kind of theatre, my music, workshops and revues. Now, I just try a little tenderly, to teach the theatrical art alongside the regular academicia.

Rifa- You worked as a journalist and a reporter for the Telegraph and I being a student of journalism myself, would love to hear a few stories from that period. Do you have anything adventurous to share?

D’com- There are lots of interesting stories on various beats – cultural, insurgency and the likes. One such interesting story was about the Sanjoy Ghose’’s  abduction and killing in Majuli Islands – it was the month of July 1997. Me and my senior crime reporter Sujon Dutta were among the first ones to reach the island and file the story which got us page 1 bylines.

Rifa- You were among the first anchors of the region, were you being guided by somebody back then? How did you get your first gig?

D’com- I was one of the first English anchors in the region who got paid! I had no professional guidance back then. How they saw me walking, how they saw me talking, and my father was a broadcaster and they observed me and probably thought that this guy will be able to make it in English. Before that, English was not happening here in Assam. They said, “Eitiya Ingrazi kunei kobo?” and they happened to call me for some reason- some trust they had that I would be able to pull it off. Then followed the beauty pageants, fashion shows and the whole Jing Bang of Razzmatazz. A new wave was set, in the early 90’s it was!

Rifa- In most of your interviews, public speeches and even inside the classroom, you have called the ‘Smart Phone’ the enemy of creative thinking and even right now, you happen to be using an old phone (feature phone), even older than the ones with the QWERTY keypad. How do you still manage to keep up with everything in this world where everything begins and ends with that gadget in our palms?

D’com- Nalani Baladevi was a poet. In Paltan Bazar, there’s a place in a park, there’s a statue there; no one takes care of it. I recited during the inauguration of the bust and I asked “Why is it kept like this? Have these people been forgotten? Where are the great thinkers?” Technology, I’m not scared of, however, it might just complicate a few issues towards thinking peacefully. From what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, who I’ve met, I have a son and a daughter, I have students galore, I’m not sure how much time they spend on ‘thinking’. Spending quality time with oneself is becoming a challenge.  Most of the time, everyone’s busy with ‘the toy’ and that’s going to be a worry, at least for the next twenty years or so. For every small thing one has to knock the door of Mr & Ms. GulGul (Google) and its just an option provider.

Rifa- I particularly found one thing very amusing when I went through your bio on the internet, you happened to work as a Scientist of languages at IIT. What does a Scientist of languages do?

D’com- That was my second job, as an Assistant Scientist of Languages, RCILTS, Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Guwahati.  I was involved with the scientific study of Tibeto-Burman languages and its structure, including the study of grammar, syntax, and phonetics. Moreover, specific branches of linguistics include sociolinguistics, dialectology, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, comparative linguistics, and structural linguistics. It’s an interesting subject I must say with few takers!

Rifa- A scientist of languages, what other languages do you happen to know?

D’com- I speak English, Assamese, little Japanese, Nepali, Bengali and a bit of Hindi too. I’m currently working on a revue out of Nagaland and Assam as a part of the International Year of Indigenous Languages which is a United Nations observance in 2019 that aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of Indigenous languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace, and reconciliation. The sole aim is to let the languages live longer, otherwise all our Indigenous languages are slowly dying. My father didn’t even know why I was doing Linguistics! Another language that I happen to know is ‘the language of the stage’, the stage has a language too which you must know to do Theatre. People often think, what contribution does the director have in a performance? You give the stage a piece of yourself and that’s what makes the play stand out. After all, Theatre is the only kind of work which you can call Play!

Rifa- You are referred to as a ‘Philomath’, why is that and what is the story behind this unique name – D’com? I’m sure you get asked that a lot!

D’com- A Philomath, yes, I am a lover of learning and studying and the story behind the name ‘D’com’ is an interesting one. I usually tell my kids, “If you’ll excuse me, my name is D’com; I came before E-com!” But there’s another story. ‘D’ in the Ahom language means ‘water’. I am sure you know of Dikom the place near Dibrugarh and the tributary of the Brahmaputra that flows between, which always had  ‘less’ water. ‘Less’ in the Assamese language is ‘Com’. My father was shooting a film in that area and when I was born they were looking for a name with the word Dee—- that’s when my father  gave me that name . I changed the spelling to D’com much later and added the apostrophe just for style! By the way did you know of Dikom Golden Butterfly? Its a specialty tea produced by Dikom Tea Estate and last year it  created a world record by selling one kg of tea at a whopping Rs 75,000!

Rifa- You’ve been a guest lecturer at various institutions like Symbiosis, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and others and presently you’re working with the Royal Group of Educational Institutions .  You’re one of the coolest teachers in town and you come across as someone who is very approachable. Is there something that you think our educational system lacks here in this region?

D’com- Teachers have to be approachable. I have seen in many parts of the world  where  teachers are approachable and that creates a lot of difference in shaping up young minds . I have learnt the same also from my teachers- they were instrumental in converting a rogue to a simple country boy. What Education, what Academics do we talk about when teachers are not approachable? Otherwise, “How can I protect you in this crazy world?” (D’com sings).

Rifa- You must have been so inspired by your father, looking up to him as a child, growing up. What impact did his passing away have on your life?

D’com- My exams were happening in about 15 days, it was my Masters final year, I was a student like you. My father was shooting a film like he always did. He came home one day complaining that his back was hurting and that his knees were paining, so we took him to the local Doctor across the street who took me to a corner of his chamber and said, “Take him to Delhi right away! The Director of AIMS is from Shillong Dr. Robin Sharma and is your fathers friend ……….do give him  a call and take his advice, I think he’s got Cancer”. I took him there, the Doctor then asked me to take him back home and said that he had only a month left to live with cancer spreading all over his body – one couldn’t make out if one saw him during that period. Exactly a month later, my father died. I gave my exams, and managed to top my department.  My father he was a thespian but I call him a Priest, you know. Legacy of Sankardev, to me he’ll always be a Priest and yes, that smile he had!

Rifa- You are a Theatre director, a Communications Expert, an Anchor, a TEDx Speaker, a Journalist, a Scientist of Languages, a Philomath and a Youth Icon, but who is Sattyakee D’com Bhuyan as a person and what is it that he truly likes?

D’com- I like writing, I like drawing, I like a few other things, I’ll tell you now – I love my mother, my family, the mountains, Shiva, a little off beat Reggae music, the Guitar, my Enfield Bullet (made Like  a Gun), young people like you my dear, my t-shirts, jeans and my boots! I am basically a jeans and tee shirt man.

I want to be noble, not talk about technology much – that grid, spend some time with myself and not get busy with other people’s lives like they do on Social Media these days. Why get busy with someone else’s life? I’d rather get busy with mine. I had three Smart Phones in my last job.  When I left, I realized that I don’t need this technology now that I am home and I teach. I have a laptop connected to the grid for all my official work – serve my purpose you see. I don’t want to say busy with phones  and I don’t want updates every milli second . I am good without it. It’s too much of being in the grid. Soon it will result in the collective destruction of our inner selves and our creative capacities if nothing else. One shouldn’t over do it, if you can stay off the grid and not get busy with other people’s lives, perhaps you’ll lead a better life ….. and yes I love my unfettered freedom, at least to think if nothing else.

My tryst with destiny is not far, I think I’m trying to get there like I am trying hard these days to make online classes a pleasant place to be! After all the only definite influence I have is over myself. The only thing I can really, really change is exactly that- myself.

Presently, I ask the Higher Power above to remove my shortcomings. I’ve learnt to evaluate myself with an empathy born out of humanity. Moreover a close honest relationship with a Higher Power is the one and only solid foundation I’ve found for honestly with self and with others. If I may quote Leonard Cohen, “Nonetheless, it’s the flaws, the weaknesses, the imperfections that lend character. I don’t know of a better way to express it than one of my favorite stars.”

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

And I think I am not in charge of my life, neither am I the director nor the manager. I am just the audience – I am here to enjoy the show.

Rifa let me end by praying to the Supreme Power,

Please do grant me the Serenity

to accept the things I cannot Change,

Courage to Change the things I can,

and Wisdom to know the difference.

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