I really don’t know who reads this blog, or if anyone reads it at all. No. I know one person who really reads the posts, and she has told me that she doesn’t like my posts about all those esoteric foreign films. She tells me I am better when I don’t write about films. But, I have been seeing so many films in the recent months, make that years, that if I don’t write about them, I would probably go mad. And, I swear, I don’t write about all the films I have seen. There are time, I want write about some films, but cannot find words.
Okay, this post is not about films, but it’s esoteric nonetheless. Recently, I was doing some research on the Assamese novel ‘Jangam’ and I stumbled upon this Orkut account on Assamese Fiction where the moderator asked visitors about their favourite novels. There were a number of entries. I have copied the names, and now, I want to list them and see how many of them I have read or know about. If you don’t know anything about Assamese literature, this post may sound gibberish (then again, most of my posts sound gibberish!).
I was clued to Assamese literature till 1997, the year I left Assam. Since then, my knowledge of the thriving local literature has been sporadic. I have read stuff recommended to me; I did not have the time and opportunity to read everything and make up my mind.
Anyway, here are the Assamese novels from the Orkut list...
Jangam (The Movable)
By Debendranath Acharya, 1982. This is one of my favourite novels, and I have read the book countless times. I know the characters and I know their realities. Yet, every time I read the book, it moves me in unexpected ways. When I was young, I dreamt of doing a movie based on the novel, and what a film it would have been — my model was Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’. Now, you call this over-ambition. But what’s harm in dreaming, and while at it, I would like Ian McKellen to play the tall American missionary... Despite the fact that North East India felt the tremors of the World War II unlike other parts of India, there are really a few representation of the time in Assamese literature. ‘Jangam,’ which was awarded the Sahitya Akademi, was a rare achievement, and interestingly, there are no so-called Assamese characters in the novel. It’s a story of a handful of farmers of Indian origin, who had made Burma, now Myanmar, their home. Now, the British are defeated and Japanese army has destroyed Yangoon. And, these poor inhabitants of Manku are asked to leave by the local rebels. But go where? This village had been their home. Finally, they decide to go to Lidu, in Assam. The war has ravaged the country, and this group of migrants must walk on foot through the treacherous jungle, braving diseases and death, and hunger and fear — As they go on, the motley group is joined by two white men and a half-white girl. ‘Jangam’ is not about the destination, but the journey, and what happens during the journey.
Ashimot Jaar Heraal Shima (Whose Border is Lost in the Horizon)
By Kanchan Barua. Somehow, this novel appears to be the first choice of most of respondents, and it’s not surprising. It’s an epic romance, narrated in a lyrical language. It’s the ‘lost civilization from the past’ novel of our language. Four friends take up a journey to an uncharted valley on a boat, where one of them suddenly remembers his past life, which once thrived in the valley, and he remembers how he himself was instrumental in the destruction of the once-glorious city. The narrative then goes on to narrate what happened in the past. The story is romantic at best, heroic at its worse — there’s romance, there’s war, and there’s whole lot of other potboiler stuff, all of it endlessly riveting. The novel was turned into successful play in the mobile theatre a few years ago, and in that format too, it was a rousing hit. Some tales never grow old.
Aashirbaddor Rong (The Colour of the Blessing)
By Arun Sarma. Words cannot really describe Sarma’s towering achievement. Sarma, best known for his plays, published the novel serially in the Assamese fortnightly, ‘Prantik’, from where started its enduring popularity. The novel is set in the early days of Independent India, where Assam as a state is still struggling with a national identity and is burdened by the Muslim migrants from East Bengal, following the partition. In this context, a man, who believes in his ideology as opposed to what people thinks of him, gives shelter to a Muslim girl in his house, and all hell breaks loose.
Antarip (The Cape; Translated into English as The Hour Before Dawn)
By Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia. He was a Renaissance man — novelist, story writer, playwright, filmmaker, magazine editor (Prantik and children’s magazine ‘Sofura’, and much more). he wrote two novels, both serialised in Prantik, and both about the repercussions of a man’s marriage to two women. No, bigamy is not the issue here, it’s something else. When her husband Mohikanta takes a younger wife, Menoka devises a plot to seek revenge; she sleeps with a vagabond and becomes pregnant. Mahikanta knows it’s not his child, but Menoka wouldn’t tell him who the father is. The second part of the novel focuses on their son, Indra, who grew up with a fascination and discontent for his parents and how he comes to terms with it. For a detail review, check here.
By Hiranya Kashyap. Serialised in Prantik, one of the major reasons why the novel was popular. I have read a few chapters.
Mrityunjay (The Conquer of Death)
By Birendra Nath Bhattacharya. Bhattacharya won the Jnanpith Award for this novel, the first Assamese writer to achieve the accolade. Set against the backdrop of India’s struggle for Independence, the novel is, among other things, a brilliant study of the rural life of pre-independent Assam.
Matir Manuh (Men of Clay)
By Hitesh Deka. It was a popular book when it was first published, something akin to the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon, especially in rural Assam. It spoke of the middle class aspirations in a language which can be appreciated by people who usually don’t read books.
Dhanya Noro Tonu Bhal (Hail the Man of Flesh and Blood)
By Said Abdul Malik. The biographical fiction on Vaishnavite saint Shankardeva by a Muslim author. But, Malik was as Assamese as anyone else, and his grasp on Assamese culture is without parallel. He was our Dickens. He was our Sidney Sheldon. He could write a pulp novel like Chabighar (The Picture House), and do serious character studies with equal élan...
Naharar Niribili Saa (The Placid Shadow of the Nahar Plant)
I have no clue about this book...
By Homen Borgohain. How do you explain Bargohain? He left a lucrative administrative job to become a journalist, and remains the most respected journalist in Assam today. He is a prolific writer and voracious readers, and his love for books is infectious. I owe my obsession for books and literature and fine arts to him, more than I would ever admit. He taught me how to look at a painting, and sexuality. His willingness to deal with sexuality at a time when Assamese readers were more than prudish is commendable. So, we have Subala, a woman sexually abused, who finds her place in the world, a retelling of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess,’ or is it?
Hridoy Ek Bigyapan (The Heart is an Advertisement)
By Anuradha Sharma-Pujari. She is an influential author and journalist, and very popular with young readers, especially from the village and mufassils. I haven’t read the book.
Sien Nadir Dhou (The Waves of the River Sien)
By Hiranya Kashyap. Again first published in Prantik. I haven’t read it...
Halodhiya Saraye Bau Dhan Khai (The Yellow Birds Infest the Peddy Crops)
By Homen Borgohain. Takes the title from a Assamese nursery rhyme (the next line of the rhyme is used in another novel by the same author). It was made into an award-winning film by Jhahnu Barua; as the title suggests, the novel narrates the story of the plight of a poor farmer, and politics.
By Chandra Prasad Saikia. A towering achievement, the retelling of the Mahabharata from the point of view of Karna.
Maramar Deuta (Dear Father)
By Bhabendranath Saikia. A father and son relationship drama; essentially an young adult fiction, very moving and very popular. Saikia was the master narrator of details.
Saudar Puteke Nao Meli Jai (The Merchant’s Son Sets Sail)
By Homen Borgohain. “Halodhiya Saraye Bau Dhan Khai/ Saudar Puteke Nao Meli Jai / Nowe bule toolung bootung, bathi bule baw/ gohulite godhulite doba kubao..”. (Assamese nursery rhyme.)
Anuradhar Desh (The Country of Anuradha)
By Phanindrakumar Devchowdhury. Last sentence of the novel: “Anuradha does not have a country. She is the woman of the country.” A debut novel, an instant classic, following the serialisation in Prantik. The book heralded the new way of writing fiction, romantic, use of poetic prose, and a worldview, which is global... A young and somewhat naive engineer goes to Paradeep in Orissa to work in a oil rig. While there, he seeks out his old college friend, Anuradha of the title, as he meets a host of other characters. A charming read with host of memorable supporting cast.
By Homen Borgohain. An elegy to death, which soon turns into a celebration of life as a dying man relives his life’s journeys.
Davar Aru Nai (Clouds Are Gone)
By Jogesh Das. One of the few novels set in the times of WWII; as the war hangs overhead, a community responds to it; while some lose everything, for others war becomes a means to become rich.
Kesa Pator Koponi (The Trembling of the Green Leaves)
Pitaputra (Father & Son)
By Homen Borgohain. The title says it all. Two generations and a study in contrast.
Dantal Hatir Uwe Khuwa Howdah (The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker)
By Mamoni Roisom Goswami (Indira Goswami). Goswami takes inspiration from the satra (religious monastery) to tell the story of a country in transition, where the old values are dying and new views are denounced — about child widows, widow remarriage, the effects of the addiction to kaani, a local narcotic plant, and the politics of shifting powers. Goswami is master of startling images, and masterful use of repetitions.
Boiragi Nodir Ghat
By Anuradha Sarma Pujari. No clue...
Baghe Tapur Rati
By Apurba Sharma. It’s not a novel, but a short story collection. I have seen the cover. Haven’t read the book.
Surujmukhir Swapna (The Dream of the Sunflower)
By Said Abdul Malik. Perhaps Malik’s greatest achievement, this slight book established Malik as one of the greatest Assamese fiction writer.
By Parag Kumar Das. This is perhaps the only novel that dared to seek the reality of the insurgency in Assam in the middle of insurgency itself. Perhaps, this is the book that killed Das, a newspaper editor (His weekly ‘Budhbar’ in a sense popularised ULFA among the common people), who was gunned down in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. The descriptions of the organisation and how clueless young men were trained to be assassins/martyrs, their journeys to Kachin and back to Assam, and their lives on the edge, are so aptly realistic, it is difficult to dismiss the book just a work of fiction. It’s the history of the time, captured innocently. Much later, Dhrubajyoti Bora’s Kalantoror Gadya (The Prose of the end of the Age), would again focus a cold, hard gaze on the subject.
Rongmilir Haanhi (The Smiles of Rangmili)
By Rong Bong Terang. I have seen the book in my house in Assam. I actually picked up the book several times, but never got around to read it.
Papaiya Tarar Sadhu (Tales of the Fallen Stars)
Miri Jiyori (The Daughter of the Miri Tribe)
By Rajanikanta Bordolio. He was our Walter Scott. He actually was, for, Bordoloi started writing historic fiction after reading the works of Scott. Though I prefer his other novel (he wrote several, most focused on women characters) ‘Rohdoi Ligiri,’ ‘Miri Jiyori’ was more popular, which tells the trials and tribulations of a love-lorn couple from the Miri tribe...
By Atulananda Goswami? The novel was made into a very popular TV serial by DD Guwahati. Haven’t read the book...
Kolizar Aai (Mother of My Heart)
Again, serialised in Prantik...
Ramyabhumi (The Land of Pleasure)
By Bhabendra Nath Saikia. Saikia picks up the same pallet of his first novel, the same timeline and tells a completely different story. A man and his two wives, and their children, fighting to dominate a small town. If it reminds you of the Mahabharata, the comparision is apt; Saikia creates an epic of our time.
Dhumuha Aru Ramdhenu