Random rambling on Assamese Literature after attending the 12th North East Book Fair, December 2010
It was a happy coincidence that it was the time for the 12th North East Book Fair when was visiting Guwahati in early December 2010. This was to be my second visit to this particular book fair. I had attended the first-ever NE book fair 12 years ago, when it was organised as a separate event from the then lone Guwahati book fair. The Guwahati book fair is a semi-government affair, as it is organised by the Assam Publication Board. If I remember correctly, a few local publishers did not get a good deal in the Guwahati book fair, and lobbied to start a similar event on their own. Thus was born the North East book fair.
This time, I was really surprised and happy to see how much media coverage the fair generated. There are at least three television chanels in Guwahati. All of them did quite extensive coverage, even going live for certain events. Even the newspapers covered the event every day for a week or so. The event became so popular that the organisers had to extend the dates for two more days. The papers reported a healthy sale of books. There were news of inauguration of numerous books — novels, poetry, what-not! In short, Guwahati was in a frenzy of book mania.
For me, it was sort of an eye-opener. Assamese is my mother tongue, and there was a time I wanted to be a writer in Assamese. However, in the last 12 years or so, my connection with Assamese literature has been scanty. I left Assam for higher studies in 1997, and since then I an not really in touch with Assamese literature. I am familiar with the works of a few writers, authors I knew and admired — Arun Sharma, Dhrubajyoti Bora, Mamoni Roisom Goswami, Nirupama Borgohain, Homen Borgohain, Arupa Patangiya Kalita, and among poets, Sameer Tanti, Gyan Pujari, Anubhav Talasi. But, things had changed. For example, there was a time, like every youngster of the time, I was hooked to the poetry of Nilim Kumar. He gave a brand new perspective to Assamese poetry, a bold new voice. His first collection, Panit Manuh Manuhbor Maas (Men in Water, Men are the Fish), was a landmark achievement. Now, a few years ago, I picked up his latest collection Tomak Akasot Dujoni Jon (There’s Two Moons In Your Sky), and I could not read it. The language sounded awkward, the images trite, the form weak. Was it because I was reading Assamese after a long time, or was it because the Assamese language had evolved in the last decade and I am not aware of this? I guess, it was both. Assamese language has evolved over the years, and not really for the best. It makes most of the works by the new writers unreadable, especially for me. But, in case of Mr Kumar, it’s not the language, it’s the depth. He is now a established poet, whatever he writes would sell, and he writes whatever; mundane observation in mundane language, in broken sentences. His poems these days sound like all those Facebook status messages; a meaningless effort to sound profound. Whatever!
But, I must confess, I haven’t read much. There was a time Debabrat Das was my favourite author. He in a way introduced me to world cinema, and Marquez. I remember meeting him once in the office of the then editor of ‘Goriyashi’, the number one literary magazine in Assam, the Late Chandraprakash Saikia. He was so affable. I miss talking to him sometimes. Anyways, Mr Das and I talked about Pablo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’. I told him how he inspired me, and also gave him a copy of my book of poems (which I am sure he did not read). Now, I cannot even read him; his style has become so dull. Recently, I came across an article by him in Goriyoshi where he discusses, among other things, the film ‘Cinema Paradiso.’ I have seen the film years ago, and the article did not really did justice to the magnificant film.
Then there are those popular names I have never read, and it’s not due to the lack of willingness. I tried to read those books and gave up, these book did not speak to me.
Therefore, during this Book Fair, I decided to give these new writers a try, and boy, is it a huge list, and most of them are women authors (which is an admirable achievement, I must say). In one sense, these new writers are led by Anuradha Sharma Pujari (Arupa Patangia Kalita was also a starting point, but owing to her dilligence, talent and feminist ideology, she’s now a league apart.). There are others — Mausumi Kandali (who, according to a friend is a very good writer; she has recently translated Salvador Dali’s Autobiography of a Mad Genious into Assamese), Maini Mahanta, Rita Chowdhury (Who latest tome ‘Makam’ was selling like a hot cake at the festival), and the writer, I have forgotten the names, whose latest book is called Moi Desdemona Haba Khujo (I Want To Be Desdemona).
End Of Part I