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NELit review

POST script 3
MAY 13, 2012


OTHING in the world can touch me now. Yes, Im also part of the world, or a theme in it. Still, things like love, jealousy, violence and hatred dont work on me. You probably wont believe me. Maybe you will not be able to sustain the willingness you have expressed now to know about these things. But I think its one of the duties or rather the only one of my life to tell you these things, for I cant claim to be mine the road that I have taken to come thus far. If I had slipped over on the road I wouldnt have got the chance to let you know these mind-boggling things. Do you really know the import of the tale that Im going to tell you, the one that you are also interested in? The eagerness of people to know the world. And tales? In tales trees talk, souls of people go into hiding in the guise of birds; however, I firmly believe that tales are not just creations of imagination. They are a synthesis of sorrow and happiness, laughter and tears, and toil and sweat of flesh-and-blood people. Im going to relate this story perhaps in the same way as someone sometime told somebody else about someone else. If you come to know of the things, I mean the things about my life, and then write a short story or novel based on them, people will still assume that you have created it using your imagination. But imagination does warrant a real base too. Of course, I dont insist that you listen to or know about this tale, yet I have a feeling that this story might represent the harsh realities of life you or some others have faced. Hold on! Dont get restive. Let me order my thoughts. Okay, its a tale, so Ill narrate it like a tale. Where to begin Well, listen In olden times there was a merchant in our country. His name was Bhogeswar. Olden times mean one or two hundred years back; wouldnt you and I be gone in one or two hundred years? If people talk about you and me then, they would use the terms olden times. Actually, time doesnt grow old; man, the world and human nature do Bhogeswar had two wives Sadari and Sumitra. Sadari died at the birth of her baby girl and Bhogeswar married Sumitra a few days later. Manbar, a distant brother of Sumitra, was Bhogeswars haribhakat or fellow disciple followers of the same religious teacher. Bhogeswar came from a well-off background. His family enjoyed all the trappings of affluence property, servants, elephants, watchmen and so on. The death of his first wife, Sadari, shattered him and he grew very indifferent to life. He felt as if the world had turned into a desert after the demise of Sadari. Moreover, he was deeply worried about the baby, especially about how he would perform the responsibility of bringing her up. Though there was no dearth of maidservants in his house, Bhogeswar had been busy with the baby since the passing of Sadari. He didnt want his daughter to be brought up by housemaids at all. He

The story of
Tejimolas mother




Mridul Sarma AANK-BAAK, 2011 `230, 352 pages Paperback/ Non-fiction
was an out-and-out simple man. (How can I tell you openly that the man, a financially or socially powerful person as he was, didnt have a thoroughly clean character? If I tell you this, youll pester me with questions. And in answering your questions I will have to open the door to a mysterious world of human character. Of course, you yourself will be able to unearth that mystery one day. It would be more valuable to you if you do that by your own thinking, action and experience than by what you hear from me. So, Ive decided not to tell you my story in its entirety.) The beautiful palatial mansion has lost its shine since the last year. A deathly silence hangs over the house. It looks as though the ducks, chickens and cattle there have even forgotten to make noise. The gable over the gateway shed on a timber frame is still visible from as far away as the eye can see. It seems the wooden structure no longer brings any pleasure to passers-by or visitors; rather, it gives the impression of mocking the prosperity of the family. Can you believe that a home that always buzzed with people for the greater part of night has reached such a sad state within just three months? Manbar stopped near the entrance shed. He wondered where the enthusiasm with which he used to cross the timber shed had gone. The mansion and its gateway and courtyard had


HOW can I tell you openly that the man, a financially or socially powerful person as he was, didnt have a thoroughly clean character?
been kept perfectly neat and clean; not a single dry leaf lay there. A breath of wind from somewhere caressed Manbar bringing him to his senses. Perhaps it reminded him of the storm his fellow disciple had gone through. That was something Manbar, however, hadnt forgotten. Does this mean I havent remained myself? he thought. Ha... Aa... Oo ...Ss The ear-splitting cry of Bakharu virtually welcomed Manbar to the house. And he walked in. On hearing the trumpeting of the elephant, the mahout, Paniram, rushed out of the mansion and started shouting in an enthusiastic way as soon as he saw Manbar. Paniram, it seemed, was just looking for an excuse to create such a noisy scene. Several people Mangala, Subhadra, Pomee and Ratia among them came out from inside the house. It was apparently a chance for them, too, to emerge into daylight. Manbar enquired after whoever came to

mind, then entered the mansion. Seeing Bhogeswar out of shape, Manbar gazed at him in astonishment. Whats wrong with you? Whats wrong with you? The two haribhakats didnt know how long they sat face-to-face. It looked as if neither of them was aware that they were sitting close to each other. When Bhogeswars eyes met his friends he appeared to try to hide himself from Manbar. He felt some pain in his neck and behind his ears. His heart said he should share a few words with Manbar, but something in his throat choked his voice. The eyes of the man were turning moist; they soon began to fill with tears. Bhogeswars gamosa moved up from his shoulder as he sought to conceal his tears with it. The situation also disturbed Manbar and he was at a loss what to do. I did anticipate finding myself in such a situation. Why am I so surprised now, then? he thought. Haribhakat! Just as Manbar uttered this word it felt as if it had flooded the Luit that was about to burst its banks. Bhogeswar wept loudly. Manbar didnt stop him. He let him cry. He wanted the man to cry as much as he could. Everything in the world comes to an end. Wouldnt haribhakat stop crying one day? Stretching forth his folded hands, Manbar prayed to God. Just then a baby cried near the door and the voice of a woman was heard: Oh! Oh! No! No! My darling! Want to see your father? Lets go lets go By the time the woman appeared, Bhogeswar rubbed his eyes and face and transformed into the authoritative merchant. That, however, didnt escape Manbars notice. How would it be if people with high social status dont hide this much from the lowly people? Manbar said to himself. Amidst the gloom an inward

smile tickled him. Father! The woman could hardly say something as Bhogeswar cut in, Give me the baby. Go and tell the folks a guest has come. The woman went back into the house like a doll. Bhogeswar got busy with the baby. Manbar remained silent. He chewed up three pieces of betel nut from the bota placed near him. Pushing the door that was left ajar, another woman showed up. She walked up to Bhogeswar and said, Let me hold the baby. Snacks are ready for the guest. Bhogeswar also passed the infant to the woman like a toy. Manbar guessed that the woman wasnt one of the servants who had been working in the house since long. A woman of sturdy build and pale white complexion, she could be described as beautiful, her family neither very poor nor very rich. He, however, didnt get to see if she was a young girl or a married woman, who seemed to have such an influence on the household. Whos she? Is she some sister of Sadari? Maybe. Do I have to know all of Sadaris sisters? Manbar was lost in thought: she must be Bhogeswars sister-in-law or daughter, but she didnt address him as brother-in-law or father. Haribhakat! Haribhakat! Bhogeswars voice brought him back to reality. Yes, yes, the woman had left the place. Standing up from his wooden low stool, Bhogeswar called out to his friend. What are you thinking about? Nah! I mean this This woman? She is one of my neighbours. She respected and loved Sadari very much. She died in her arms. With Bhogeswars voice showing signs of faltering again, an energetic Manbar said, Oh no! You talk about only one thing. Lets go and have some snacks. T

Joi Barua, musician and lead vocalist of the band Joi, has composed and sung the popular song 'Tejimolaa'. He tells Gitanjali Das that Tejimola is the universal story of the girl child, the feminine form. He says Northeast Indian writing is fluid, yet rooted
u What does literature mean to you? Do you think it has any relevance in our dayto-day lives? According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening around us? t To me, literature comes across as a written account, from a cultural perspective, of any given place and its people at one particular point in time. It has huge relevance to our day-to-day lives because it is the only way we come to know how society reacts to inevitable changes and learns lessons from them, and seeks to adapt itself to the future. u How close is your relation with literature in general, and with literature of the Northeast in particular? t I have been an avid reader of anything that come my way, but my reading has suffered during the last four to five years. Im trying to get that habit back. Literature from the Northeast will be my focus now. u Why is there such fascination with the character Tejimola in Assamese literature and culture? t Tejimola is the universal story of the girl child, the woman, the feminine form as also the subject of a story that man feels he can suppress and destroy. It would endear itself to people from any geographical and cultural affiliations. A weeping child will melt the hardest heart....I just wish the lessons were learnt as well. u What future do you see for literature from the Northeast? t Very bright. I personally feel that generally artists and writers from the Northeast have a very curious mix of local and universal sensibilities. This makes their writings and creations absolutely fluid but rooted in culture. This itself is a very powerful attribute.

Commonality of cultures in plural NE

The very idea of India would remain vacuous if the Northeast were to be left out of it

HIS is a collection of essays on the society, culture and folklore of North-East India written over a period covering some three decades by a scholar who has distinguished himself by his range, depth and subtle understanding of the region. Needless to say, the essays reflect a sensitivity of touch which is possible only for a person well-acquainted and deeply involved with the regions diversity of cultures and its very rhythm and pulse something which is often a difficult, though not impossible, task for someone who does not belong to the region. It is certainly Birendranath Dattas strength that his language draws its simplicity and directness from his involvement with the common people, their traditions and practices. This makes his scholarly presentations very readable. The book opens with a brief introduction where the author tells us how his intellectual horizons kept on widening as he moved from Cotton College to Shantiniketan; of how he learnt to contemplate on his Assamese and northeastern identities against the backdrop of a wider panIndian cultural matrix. Throughout the essays, one is struck by the authors stress on the commonality of cultureswhat the entire northeastern region shares in the form of traditional knowledge, history, culture and folklore. He is certain that the northeastern region, with all its bewildering cultural complexity, has a oneness which distinguishes it from the rest of the Indian mainland and endows it with a unique identity... Birendranath Datta says that the very idea of India would remain vacuous if the Northeast were to be left out of it. Unlike many other scholars who rue the marginalisation of the northeastern region in the cultural discourse of India, Birendranath Datta emphasises the contributions of this region to the culture and civil-


BIRENDRANATH Datta is certain that the northeastern region, with all its bewildering cultural complexity, has a oneness which distinguishes it from the rest of the Indian mainland and endows it with a unique identity...
able to build on their shared cultural heritage and, for a variety of reasons, are moving apart from one another into what may be termed as exclusive social spaces. That such a movement could prove self-destructive in the long run has already been proved by the different degrees of violence that have come to mark inter-community relationships. While stressing on the sense of togetherness and a shared tradition amongst the different small nationalities of the northeastern region, Prof. Datta is also quite aware of the use of folklore and ethnic symbols to strengthen ethnic solidarity and cites several such examples. Folklore, like any other legacy, is not immune to politicisation and, in the hands of nationalists of varying hues, it can easily be turned into a vehicle of exclusion as well. It could also be used to mobilise people on the narrow planks of ethnic nationalism. I am sure that these aspects would form the focus of further research by young scholars working in the area. Prof. Datta has provided ample material about the cross-affinities among the different nationalities of the northeastern region. It would certainly be an interesting effort to find out as to when and why such affinities cease to work during certain periods of historical change. The essays in the volume are divided up into four parts along broadly thematic lines. The first part, under the heading The Concept and the Perspective, deals with the salient features of the cultural heritage of the northeastern region, with a stress on the idea of a shared culture as reflected in its rich folklore. It also has two essays dealing with the historical value of traditional material and the historical/cultural relations between Manipur and Assam. Arguing for an integrated history of Northeast India, the author refers to the regions rich storehouse of ballads and songs. Part II entitled Tradition and Change has essays on Karbi, Mising and the folklore of other tribal groups and how these have been undergoing changes both in content and form. In Pan-Indian Connections which forms Part III of the book, the author discusses Sankardeva and his legacy of cultural liberalism in the northeastern region. Highlighting the strong points of the movement initiated by Sankardeva, Birendranath Datta refers to its reaching out to the different tribal communities of the region. Although he does not attempt to delve into the reasons as to why Sankardevas Vaishnavism did not spread to the hills as it should have done, Prof. Datta, towards the end of his essay The Sankardeva Movement, writes about how schisms set in within the faith: satras started shedding their catholic and humanistic outlook, and in the process began losing their mass


Birendranath Datta Oxford University Press, 2012 `695,255 pages Hardcover/ Non-fiction
isation of India and highlights its strong tradition in the field of traditional historical material like the buranjis and the strong oral tradition of the ballads. This is a highly positive assertion, especially at a time when the politics of fragmentation seems to have totally marginalised the ideas of social inclusiveness both at the regional as well as the pan-Indian level. It is in this context that one finds the essay Contact, Togetherness and Commonness very relevant. This region has certainly had its positive strengths and Birendranath Datta rightly refers to the lack of communal and religious divides. But, unfortunately, the happenings of the not too recent past have put forward a totally different picture and the price in terms of human lives has been, to say the least, quite staggering. The different nationalities of the region, despite having so much in common, have not been

base. He concludes his essay with the following words: What is more shocking is that some of the powerful organisations professing true allegiance to Sankardeva have themselves been responsible for sowing seeds of dissension and division among the followers of the faith on petty issues of dogma and ritualism. The same section has essays on Madhava Kandalis Ramayana and the different versions of Ramayana and Rama-Katha among the Karbis, the Khamtis and the Mizos. This is an area in which Birendranath Datta excels, and his discussion of the different Ramayanas and Rama-Kathas is highly original and incisive. This discussion gains further relevance in the light of recent controversy centered around Ramanujans essay on the different versions of the Ramayana and the furore being raised by fundamentalist Hindu groups. The last part of the book deals with Performing and Visual Arts and takes within its ambit, among others, traditional forms like the ojapali. The observations made by the author are both incisive and original and, while dealing with the traditional arts and crafts of Assam, one wishes that the author had gone into some greater detail. The essays in this section deal primarily with the Brahmaputra valley but for the concluding piece on Manipuri manuscript painting which once again highlight the immensely varied influences which helped shape the cultural milieu of the region known today as Indias North-East. Oxford University Press deserves credit for providing access to the reader in one single volume essays written on a wide range of topics by an eminent folklorist of the region. This volume is undoubtedly a major addition to the literature of the northeastern region. T A retired professor of English at Dibrugarh University, Udayon Misra writes on socio-political issues related to the Northeast.

u What book would you recommend for our readers and why? t The aforesaid poems and book. They are comprehensive.

u Name one book that had a lasting impact on you. In what way? t Its tough to single one out. I would like to say that I have been hugely influenced by the poems of Rumi and The Bhagawad Gita. They humble me each and every time I read them, and tell me that every sunrise is a possibility to learn, to love, to live.


An open courtyard is story for me She lived in a green-walled home I shall pull you towards my end of the tale But, You should tend the tulsi plant first Insects swarm much on a lazy evening. Lazy hymns and tattered textbooks preach, Pray and define Chicken coops, red tea with pepper balls floating And stinging my winter mouth (I like fish fried in mustard oil) On your sticky wound, when flies attack Do not leave it in haste She will come round the corner, when you least expect She will rise, from the daunts of the lilies The river-bird shall stain its mouth with a fathers memory, Maimed limbs and crushed betel nut How does one whisper a life into anothers ear, If not for dainty goat-skin handfans?