Tuesday, February 01, 2011

North East Book Fair

Random rambling on Assamese Literature after attending the 12th North East Book Fair, December 2010

Part II

And there are the poets. I know the names, but I haven’t read them, at least seriously. There’s Pranab Kumar Barman, from Nalbari, I’m told, Barman, who is my cousin’s favourite, is a very good poet. There’s Saurabh Saikia. There are so many names, I have forgotten. Sometimes I get to read some of them as a jpg image downloaded from Facebook (Which I think is a nice way to spread the word.). There are two Kamal Kumars. One Medhi and one Tanti. Kamal Kumar Tanti is a friend. Being a science researcher, he is very politically conscious, especially about minority issues. He had given me a pdf copy of his award winning collection of poems, Marangburu Amar Pita (Marangburu Our Father). He is a good poet (I must confess, I haven’t read the entire collection; I must do it soon.). I saw the other Kamal, Medi, at the book fair. He runs a publication house of his own.

Enough of the poets. Now, the poems.

I started writing poetry in the Nilim Kumar-influenced hyper-romantic mode in mid-1990s. By then the ‘Scented Butterfly’ of Hiren Bhattacharya was too mild; we wanted something more heady, we wanted our lovers to be exotica reincarnated, and so on.

Then things changed. I still remember the day when army vans obstructed our way to the school. I was in class nine. President’s Rule was imposed in Assam that day. Now, looking back, I wonder about the new generation of children who probably would not be able to imagine the streets of Assam without the armymen standing at the chowks. I have seen such streets and I long for those days. Anyway, those were the days of my adolescence, I was writing about love, of course imaginary, while around me, the state was bleeding. I remember discussing about the exploits of ULFA at the diner table, later, the talks will shift to Army atrocities. I still remember a picture in the front page of a Assamese daily — five half-naked youngsters being cremated in a pile of discarded tyres. This was the reality of Assam.

But, what I wrote was my imagination, something like “Moi kandile akashkhon topani jai...” (When I weep, the sky goes to sleep.). I was ashamed of myself since I was powerless enough to express my true feelings. I stopped writing for a long time.

Then I left home. After a few years, I started to write again. This time in English, since I was still powerless to write in my mother tongue, especially poetry. I would write about me. But who I was that people would be interested in my feelings when my state goes through such turmoil? I would find solace in the poetry of Sameer Tanti, Gyan Pujari and a few others.

This time, at the book fair, what surprised me was how the socio-political reality of the land hasn’t affected the new generation of the poets. The new generation of the poets, most of them in their 20s or early 30s, are still hyper romantic, Nilim Kumar is still their high priest... (What do I say, I have nothing to say. I miss the days I would write poems. I miss my friend Bipul Kalita who used to write such beautiful poems, now a bank employee; I miss Bhaskar Goswami, who wrote overwhelming poetry but never bothered to publish them.)

At the book fair, I saw Nilim Kumar, bearded, and in a tribal jacket posing for photographs, with a young fan, as her friend tries to capture the moment in her mobile phone. He was there to inaugurate a poetry magazine, Kabitar Pathar (The Field of Poetry), which he had edited.

And lo, and behold, here’s my friend Arup Jyoti Mahanta. I haven’t met him in ages. He got married, changed jobs, and I have not idea. We had some misunderstandings and I accept, it was my fault. We had stopped talking. Once he was my only literary connection. I would accompany him to weekly meets of the Barpeta branch of the Assam Sahitya Sabha where he was a member. Was I a member too? I don’t remember. But I remember reading a short story at one of the meets. I don’t remember what it was about.

I bumped on him at the book fair, and we greeted each other like nothing had ever happened. My first reaction was: Where is your book? I was sure he had published a book so far. Yes, he has. But that was last year. A collection of short stories called ‘Mauchak’ (Beehive). I asked where can I get a copy. He was not sure if they will still stock a book published last year. So many new books come out every year during this time!

On my second trip to the fair, I had the good fortune to attend a literary meet, organised for the purpose of showing live at a TV channel. There, sitting just three chairs away from me, is Laxminandan Bora. Can I walk up and talk to him? What would I say? I was moved by two of his early novels, ‘Ganga Chilanir Pakhi’ (The Feather of the Seagull) and ‘Patal Bhiravi.’ I haven’t read his latest, ‘Kayakalpa’ which won the Saraswati awards. My friend advises me not to even try to read it. I brought his tale on the life of Sankardeva, ‘Jakeri Nahike Upam’ but never got around to read it. But what would I tell him? I have nothing to tell.

The TV anchor asked various questions. And received various answers. I liked two reaction.

An editor of an Assamese daily said, The Assamese literature as we know it is alive and kicking among the people who have still their roots in villages. (This I agree, especially when poetry is concerned.). The real culprit for Assam literature are the city/town-based middle class, who thinks not able to read Assamese is a cultural achievement.

An author pointed out: There are so many writers, but so few critics, and so few spaces for criticism. Critics are equality important for a thriving literary tradition, something that’s missing in Assamese literature (Again, I agree.)

This brings me to Arindam Barkataki. He may not remember me, but I had met him while he was in Pune during his MA, always the bookworm. In the recent years, he had been doing a lot of stuff in Assamese literary criticism, and it’s really admirable. And when Dhrubajyoti Bora mentions you in his acknowledgement in the book, ‘Katha Ratnakar’, you know you have arrived. Keep up the good work, Arindam.

End of Part II

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