Crossing over the Patkai mountains
Ethnographic explorations are extremely scarce on the life and times of people like Purnokanto Buragohain (1890-1959), pioneers in the “eastward” approach to business and enterprise under the “empire”, trying to connect the emerging business hubs like Yangon and Yunnan to the trade potentials of colonial Assam. What was the “perceived and felt” identity of people like Buragohain in twentieth-century Burma (Myanmar) and China? The available memoirs and accounts, the most prominent one being Patkair Xipare No Bosor (Nine Years on the Other Side of the Patkai) by Purnakanta Buragohain, first published in the 1950s, suggests significant continuities of cultural ethos and world views across these “spaces” once connected with a shared past but increasingly being separated by emerging colonial boundaries. Taking memoir as a historical account written from personal knowledge, the boundaries that separate a memoir from an ethnographic work appear significantly porous. It becomes more interesting when memoirs of such kind become a site of “meaning making” as well as a certain “recovery of a loss” at various levels. More engagements with the ethnographic memoirs will aid in understanding the nature of the flows and ruptures through which the region continues to be constituted.