Assamese flautist and entrepreneur Partha Protim Neog produces thousands of bamboo flutes a year. Despite the toll of the pandemic, he uses music to bring smiles to people’s faces.
“I feel solace in playing the flute. It is all I can think about,” quipped Partha Protim Neog, 27, who runs an assembly line making flutes in the Jorhat district of India’s northeastern state of Assam.
Inside a make-shift 10x10 foot room with unkempt walls, Partha embarks on segregating bamboo sticks to manually design flutes of various sizes before selling them in markets across the country.
After making around a dozen flutes, Partha picks up a multi-compartment box filled with different colours to paint them. As soon as he finishes this delicate process, he feels over the moon before returning to the corner to begin the process again.
These handmade wind instruments embellish all corners of his room-turned-workshop, keeping Partha thoroughly focused on his work and believing that someday his indigenous-crafted flutes will be appreciated by musicians around the world.
Apart from making flutes, he also teaches music to people from all age groups, including children from rural backgrounds who later perform in cultural shows.
Partha started producing flutes by using bamboo sticks shortly after graduating from Jorhat College with an honours degree in philosophy in 2015.
As the lone breadwinner in a family of three, he enthusiastically invested his time in the craft, while enduring some tough times after his father passed away in 2003.
“Due to the financial crises, I had to take care of my family when I turned 15, since having my younger brother and my ailing mother by my side,” said Partha, who owns ‘five instruments production’ - named after the five musical instruments which he makes at his home workstation.
He produces 2,000-3,000 flutes annually apart from Pepa, a musical instrument made from buffalo horn. However, the pandemic has impacted his home-run business.
“Covid-19 has wreaked havoc. We lost a major chunk of business in 2020 due to fewer sales and which equally affected our production,” said Partha.
He also makes instruments that are used during Assam's Bihu festival, which celebrates the onset of spring.
“Pepa is quite famous here [in Assam]. I obviously produce and perform it for a living, but it’s also a lifeline which synchronises the meaning of my life,” Partha stated.
He has participated in exhibitions and performed in the states of Orissa and Nagaland, and won multiple accolades for dedicating his life to Assamese culture.
He asserted the internet has made it easier to procure stocks and to market his final products.
“I usually sell our products in Assam, and also have been sending it to other states as well including West Bengal and Karnataka. [But] managing all this single-handedly has been a tough job,” he said.
Given the dedication to his craft, it isn’t surprising that Partha has created a 12-foot long flute - which would make it one of the world’s largest flutes - that he himself has played.
Partha’s friend Nabajyoti Bora, 33, can be seen playing one of the 12-foot flutes as well.
“Early on, I found it difficult to play it. But with time, I got the rhythm. I am thoroughly enjoying it,” Bora said.
“I have been playing the flutes since I was 14. This has been in our tradition and we had been fascinated by it. Usually, at festivals, we make the most of the opportunity.”
The spell-binding performance from Partha, Bora, and their colleagues keep the locals happy by spreading love in the countryside through music and art.
The artist in Partha is pleased to bring a smile to people’s faces amid the pandemic. When organisations are looking for answers on how to make most of remote work with their employees, Partha takes pride in having a physical workplace at home.
“If I would be able to bring a smile to someone’s face I would consider that I have succeeded in my mission, it’s my job and I will do it until my last breath. I am happy that I can continue with production even though the market has been affected by the pandemic,” he said.
Despite the lack of avenues available to him, the otherwise humble Partha has kept on living his dream of creating and teaching music, as he seeks to further redefine Assamese culture at a broader level.
"Being a catalyst, it's not always about making a lot of money, but it is about the satisfaction of doing work with zest and zeal and by seeking joy in seeing others happy.”