Book Reviews

Asomiya: Handpicked Fictions

This is an Anthology of stories created by writers from Assam. The land where the confluence of cultures seep deep, in a worldview, like, the powerful river Brahmaputra, which winds its way through thick forests and where humanity throngs its river bed. A neat mix of nature with traditions! 

The 'Introduction' to the volume, says in simple terms, what is so apparent of the northeast. The seven sisters are held together and geographically tied to the rest of India as if it were through a loop knot, a sphere of life and space, where perceptions are of the 'unknown', because history and topography, of the region, physicality of people - their dress and cuisine are 'different', incomprehensible to the 'other' people who traverse their sphere of life and find their worldview 'diverse' and 'dissimilar'.

Stories in this collection weave a web, so fine tuned, the reader flows through a stream of consciousness, which allures to appreciate its uniqueness, multi-ethnicity and aloofness. The maze is so woven that each unique little region is enmeshed showcasing its cultural wealth, in spite of, being located in the midst of high mountains, impenetrable forests and raging wealth. 

In 'The Invitation' Arupa Patangia Kalita, tells the saga of a woman in turmoil with changing times. (Translated by Arunabha Bhuyan)

In 'Munni's Legs' Atulananda Goswami, paints a picture of how a happy train journey turns bitter and tortuous as a result of a bomb blast. In the mayhem new acquaintances, made on the train, remember the affable and lovable Munni, even though in deep pain. (Translated by Atulananda Goswami and D. N. Bezboruah)

Translated by D. N. Bezboruah, Bhabendranath Saikia's reflections through 'The Cavern' voices the white man's assumption very realistically 

'Many people with black skin had been born in that country and died one day merely because they had happened to be born. They hadn't done anything beyond being born and dying, and they hadn't done anything now either. Therefore, no one had a better right to the country than the highly civilized immigrant race that had taken the land up from the deep caverns of darkness to hold it aloft in the brilliant light of civilization and prosperity through untiring industry and sacrifice. God had not made a mistake in creating a class of people with glistening white skin. His verdict lay hidden in the different in skin color. The dark skinned idiots, incapable of realizing this verdict, sinned in the name of rebellion, but it remained the sacred duty of people like Mr. Piener to show unstinted respect to this pronouncement.' (p. 39)

Unstinted respect indeed! 

Mr. Piener had a heart transplant, a heart from the colored man! The wife of the man whose heart was living in the white man's, requests him to allow her to listen the heartbeat of her husband. This turns out to be a torment for Piener. Would the color of his face, his body, gradually turn black? Because of the organ that circulates his blood? These thoughts torture the protagonist in this story. The end is touching.

'Sirala and Sinduin' by Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, translated by Srutimala Duara, is a tale of conflict and pain of true love between individuals from two conflicting cultures. One was from the hills and a tribal, the other, a social reformer from the plains. Love in the midst of conflict hardly blossoms!

'Guilt' by Harikrishna Deka, translated by Mitra Phukan. is about Durgeswari, the chief protagonist in the story who in her old age is called to stand witness to a death on the rail track. By coincidence she is witness to a murder that is similar to the way she murdered her husband. The torment in her heart is such that she amazes the police when she blurts out. 'Yes, yes, I killed him! I killed him!'

'Looking for Ismael Sheikh' by Homrn Borgohain, translated by Pradipta Borgohain, is the narrative of two women, in the centre of history, in Purbo Bangla one of them in search the man and the other running away from the man in their lives, the latter from her father, now a rikshawala, previously a Brahmin and a Sanskrit scholar. The former, an administrator, in search of the man whose life she devastated. In the context of similarities in predicaments experienced by the two women, the story ends with a changed form of their perseverance. Is it worthwhile fighting against the tides of behavior? 

'Bride' by Indira Goswami, translated by Liza Das, is about a would-be bride, which is a reflection of distressing moments traditional Indian brides face, before they are selected by the bridegroom's family. And finally the tumultuous end of a dream that comes true.

'Defeat' by Joytidev Goswami, translated by Mitra Phukan is about platonic love between two married individuals. Society, however, dismisses it as unrealistic and impossible. Two families, completely shattered, break their bonds of marriage.

'Missing' is Krishna Bunyan's way of telling a story of an orphan boy, who runs away from the clutches of an exploitative and cruel rich man, into the arms of a poor clerk who is kind and loving. But fate has it that the boy discovers the plight of the clerk. He temporarily helps the clerk out of a momentary situation, to be once again confronted with torture and pain from the same rich man that he decides to take an extreme step which torments and persecutes the clerk's state of mind. This is translated by Meenaxi Barkotoki.

A romance in college, turned sour, the pangs of separation, and in the twilight of their lives, they realize, the reason, for one abruptly leaving, at a time when they both decided to dedicate their lives for a village.  Kulla Saikia's 'The Twilight Hour' is told by the male protagonist. This is translated by Rupanjali Baruah.

In the twilight of their lives, she tells him: 'How could I tell you that I would slowly turn a cripple, '.. I would have been a nightmare in the foundation of your dreams.' ' 'Now that I have found you again, this waiting for death does not bother me.'
This is a stirring romance that moves one to tears!

'The Protectors' by Lakshmi Nandan Bora, is translated by Samudra Gupta Kashyap. 

Sompaguri is a well knit village. People are honest. There are no thieves amongst the residents. The Government decides to open a 'thana' to protect the village. The villagers are amused. Do they need one? They think, they do not, but the establishment thinks, they do. Several incidents prove the mighty power of the police, even when they are caught. A tale so common!

'Audition' by Mahim Bora is translated by Bibhash Choudhury. The voice of Prafulla was such that it could drive his mother crazy. He however harbored the secret desire to go on air so that his voice would create sound waves in the air across the universe. Through the power that his friend wielded in the radio station he is almost successful. 

'On the death of an elephant' by Nirad Choudhury is translated by Madhobi Medhi.

An elephant and two men die in a train accident. The hue and cry is about the death and stench of the elephant lying on the road. While all passers by block their noses again the foul smell emanating from the elephant, the writer notices that one woman, not quite conscious of the stench, gazes at the site through the racing bus, . 

In her daze at losing her husband, the writer, volunteers to help mother and son catch the right bus back to their village. Her son divulges to the writer that even his father, the mahout, died with the elephant,. The writer is perturbed at the inhumanness of people. While all pros and cons were discussed about the elephant, the writer wonders, why there isn't thoughts about the two men who also died. Have we lost heart!

'The Crucifixion' by Nirupama Borgohain is translated by Pradipta Borgohain.

Fear among the labor class, should they divulge their religious affinity to lose their source of income, is a theme of the story. This and much more is there for the reader to realize that trepidation runs through their veins, considering the fact that there are opposing forces that the administration craves to torture and terrorize, and vice-versa. 

'Moina' by Sarat Chandra Goswami is translated by Gayatri Bhattacharya.
Narrated by the protagonist, she has revenge on god. He took away her baby son. To drown her loneliness, while he is away at work, one day, he brings her a myna in a cage. She teaches 'Moina' to talk, and one day her happiness is short lived as god takes away her 'lord'. Back with her parents, her only company is her beloved 'Moina'. But then god seems to be unkind to her, as her 'Moina' succumbs to a poisonous sting. Her revenge against god lives with her. 

'Lost' by Saurabh Kumar Chlikha is translated by Meenaxi Barkotoki. A missing link within the self, a realisation that one's creative potential often de-links one from reality, is portrayed as the author is perplexed at the tune that repeatedly recurs softly from the bottom of his heart.

'Disease' by Sheelbhadra is translated by Surajit Barooah. 

A mere incident is just news to the unaffected, but to the affected it is a life long experience of torment, especially when the breadwinner dies, and his family is in the quagmire of poverty and sickness.

This is all the more poignant in a conflict borne area. The reasons for disappearance of individuals are often never questioned. The petrified nerve of society is silently stomached ' insensitive to normal happenings.

The pain endured by Pradeep Mahant's mother at his disappearance, evolves across time. So much so, when consoled about her sons' vanishing, by that time she has lost memory of his very being. When the writer visits her and asks her 
'Won't Pradip be upset if he sees you lying around like this?' Her answer is, 'Pradip? Who's he? Who are you talking about?'

This is in short is how 'Disease' by Sheelabhadra and translated by Surajit Barooah reads.

'The Decision' By Syed Abdul Malik is translated by D. N. Bezboruah. Conscious awareness of her responsibility to educate her two brothers and nurse her sick mother leads Aimoni to decide not to take the vow of matrimony.

Having fulfilled her tasks, her life enters the next phase. Caught between the proposal for marriage from an affluent bachelor and the sobriety of a widower with two children, she opts for the widower, because of her affection for his children.

The Anthology is an imaginative mix of themes any reader could relate to. It is universal in nature, considering the fact that many of these stories could happen in any geographical locale, setting apart its socio-cultural nuances.

This could be an excellent 'text' for a course in Language and Literature.

The Writers could have added explanations or meaning of some more cultural key concepts that occur in the stories.


More by :  Prof. Dr. Jennifer Marie Bayer

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