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Inter-University Youth Festival: A Confluence Of Emotions, Culture And Talent

“It’s not about winning, but the participation; it’s not the triumph, but the struggle…”

These words espouse the principles on which the concept of the Inter-University Youth Festival has been laid. The same principles distinctly echo in the minds of the students, who shoulder huge responsibilities and aspirations with a zeal to be among the best in the country. In the process, they also exhibit the splendour and magnificence of their rich cultures and heritages, cutting across geographical and linguistic barriers.

The Inter-University Youth Festival is an annual event organised by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt. of India. It is organised in three phases: Zonal, National, and South Asian Youth Fest.

The festival isn’t just an assemblage of students from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh who compete under one roof. It’s also an intermingling of different cultures and customs, a platform for sharing ideas and thoughts, promoting national integration and communal harmony, while manifesting a zest of friendliness and liveliness among themselves.

This cultural Mahabharata stretches for about 5-6 days (instead of the 18 mentioned in the epic). However, the unmatched feeling of representing one’s university, state and zone (at large), against the nation’s best, results in the participants preparing for months beforehand. The preparations also involve the team managers, university authorities and other stakeholders. As Bobby Knight rightly says, “It is not the will to win that makes you a winner, but the will to prepare to win which does.” The vehemence to be the ‘first among equals’ instills such motivation that the students toil day and night for weeks before the extravaganza, often skipping food breaks among other things. The afflictions endured by the team manager and the professionals involved in overseeing the preparations are significant.

The expedition to the host university is no less eventful either. Within the travelling time of 2-3 days, we need to strengthen our bonds. In our case, among other things, the games of dumb charades and truth & dare, amidst the little breaks from meticulous preparation in the train, turned out to be a memorable escapade for us – something we will treasure throughout our lifetime.

For instance, the game of truth & dare did see many of us reveal secrets, while others preferred to display their heroics. Dumb charades revealed the ‘inner actor’ out of some of us – much to the awe of one and all present. A others discerned that acting is not their cup of tea including yours truly. Shouldering huge aspirations, we also had to carry the additional burden of our team of musical instruments and props.

The trip has always been no less than an adventure – something inexpressible. In contrast to the ebullience and excitement during the journey, there’s an air of serenity as soon as we reach our destination.

The Bihu Dance troupe of Gauhati University. (Image source: Shivam Kumar)

A colourful procession by students from the participating universities, donning unique cultural attires and symbols, sets the ball rolling for the spectacle. The Gauhati University (GU) team, throughout the years, has excellently portrayed the rich heritage, uniqueness and cultural diversity of Assam during the cultural procession at the Zonals, Nationals, and at the South Asian Youth Festival, thus bagging multiple awards.

In the East Zonals and Nationals for 2015-16, held at Tezpur University and tge University of Mysore respectively, and the East Zonals and Nationals for 2016-17, held at Vidyasagar University, Midnapore and Shivaji University, Kolhapur, respectively, I had the opportunity to reach out to students coming from every nook and corner of the nation. We created a bond of friendship, shared our experiences and thoughts, got acquainted with their customs, traditions, language, arts among other things, besides taking pride in outlining our rich Assamese culture and heritage.

The quiz team of the GU contingent displayed their intellectual prowess, holding their nerves amidst long gruelling sessions, and emerged as champions at each of the Zonals and Nationals in both the years. They achieved a rare feat for the first time in the history of this event, which was duly acknowledged by the quiz-master and the organisers, much to the elation of all those witnessing the event.

The two-time national champion, en route to their expedition to the top, defeated premier universities like Banaras Hindu University, Mumbai University, Cochin University, Punjab University, Mysore University, Jadavpur University – to name just a few.

The two-time national champion Gauhati University quiz team receiving their trophy. (Image source: Shivam Kumar)

Susmita Nayak, who was a part of the GU contingent that represented India at the South Asian Youth Festival, 2017, adds – “It was a great experience at the South Asian Youth Festival. Getting an international platform to promote and popularise our art and culture, to share ideas among the delegates from the neighbouring countries, besides getting acquainted with their customs and traditions, is always special.”

The serene faces of the participants in the theatre events concealed a high level of competitiveness – and that they would not settle for anything except the first place. The various acts performed by different universities were based on evergreen themes which included excerpts from the epics- the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These added an Indian touch to the festival which included, among others, hugely-popular western and other contemporary themes. Each flavour that could possibly satisfy a drama aficionado’s palate was served on a platter, neatly garnished. A series of thought-provoking skits first made us laugh and then think.

In the event featuring the ‘mute cousin’ of the theatrical arts (mime), a variety of themes were creatively portrayed. These included current and social issues like witch-hunting, demonetisation, and the ostracisation of eunuchs, which drew a huge round of applause from the packed auditorium. It was a power-packed performance by each of the teams, and one could only marvel at their talent. The thespian talents of GU have, of late, outperformed their counterparts at the Zonals and have even made their presence felt at the Nationals.

“From late-night rehearsals to chanting the name of our university during the prize distribution, words fall short while documenting the memories associated with the youth fest. The train journey to Mysore, the rebukes during the practice sessions, the dosas and the upma served at food courts, and the euphoria of lifting the trophy still makes me nostalgic and shall forever remain etched in my mind,” recounts Dipannita Das, who represented GU at the National Inter-University Youth Festival 2016 held at the University of Mysore.

The folk- and classical-dance troupes from various parts of the country also displayed their prowess with flawless performances that had poise, balance in footwork, and grace in the bodily movements of the dancers. Our cultural heritage came alive in colourful vivacity, as each of them produced a thumping performance. The participants certainly meant business as the audience could only sit back and wonder at the amount of hard work and the level of perfection each of the participants had achieved in their respective arts.

The folk-dance ensemble of GU mesmerised the audiences with their scintillating performances. Their sheer diligence showed in their rendition of Bihu, portraying the splendour and magnificence of the Assamese culture. That the dance was adored stemmed from the fact that it had the audience swing to their rhythm, as they rendered one of the most exuberant performances of the festival.

The folk orchestra band also enthralled the congregation with their captivating act, and dazzling them to the extent that they literally danced to their tune. Consequently, the folk-orchestra and the folk-dance teams of GU have had multiple podium finishes at the Zonals and the Nationals. They have also continuously represented India at the South Asian Youth Festival over the last few years.

“Youth Fest, a conflux of youths from across the country and South Asia, celebrates art, culture, creativity, knowledge and talent. It is a noble idea to reconnect the new generation with Indian culture. The enrapturing performances and the vibrant depictions of their respective arts by the participating universities is a treat to watch and drives me to perform with more vigour and ardour.” – notes Puja Priya Baruah, an ace Bihu dancer who has had the honour of representing GU and India thrice at the South Asian Youth Festival, besides being a regular at the Zonals and the Nationals.

Members of the Gauhati University contingent with the students from Nagaland University after their performance of the Naga warrior dance. (Image source: Shivam Kumar)

However, as they say, the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn – and so it happened with us, when we were returning from Vidyasagar University. We were supposed to board a connecting train from Midnapore to Howrah, a few hours past midnight as we stepped into the new year. But, this turned into a nightmare as we were forced to deboard thanks to our repeated efforts to halt the train, which resulted in us being stranded at a nondescript station for hours waiting for the next train. At the same time, we had to deal with the railway officials for the offence committed. There are numerous anecdotes like this – and one article won’t suffice to provide justice to all of them.

Our return trips have also been no less adventurous, filled with delight, celebrating the fruition of months of exertion – and with a sense of pride that we flew the flag of our university high alongside other universities. I would ask every youth to partake in this gala event at least once – for a one-of-a-kind experience, that will definitely last a lifetime.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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