Assamese Literature and Tribal and Non-Tribal Writers of Assam
The Sahitya Akademi Award winning Assamese novelist from Arunachal Pradesh speaks about the contribution of non-Assamese writers to Assamese literature at the biennial session of the Asom Sahitya Sabha held in Baithalangsu, Karbi Anglong, in 2009.
Kardom!—To all my Karbi brothers and sisters on the occasion of the New Year: which we say ‘tasi dalek’ in our language. I hope the New Year will be full of happiness, peace and prosperity, and for that I pray to Lord Buddha and to your Aarnam. I have been deeply pained to see the images that come to me on my television screens and in the newspapers – of killings of innocents during ethnic tensions in this wonderful land of natural beauty. That is why I am here to meet you all the way from the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River and the Himalayas, with Lord Buddha’s message of non-violence. ‘Non-violence is the best religion’ – this is the message I bring, and stand amidst you all. I urge you all to abandon hatred and violence and embrace the message of love; abandon narrow psychological divisions on the lines of ethnicity and respect each other, love each other, spread goodwill amongst everyone. Only then we will be able to keep our national identity alive. Only then will be able to stand with our heads held high in the world’s durbar, only then will be able to leave the yagya of destruction, and participate in the yagya of creation. The chief aim of the Asom Sahitya Sabha is to organize the yagya of creation and in this pious event, the priest is Padmashri Rong Bong Terang – the talented son of the Karbi Hills and pride of Assam. Sri Terang is a powerful voice against fratricidal conflicts. Under his enterprising efforts, the Asom Sahitya Sabha has organized this special literature festival in this beautiful hilly place called Baithalangsu, coinciding with the Karbi New Year. So let this session be dedicated to peace and prosperity, and let the journey of harmony and co-existence start from this point.
Though Assamese language is one of the Indo-Aryan languages and its roots are in the ancient Vedic language of Indian civilization, it has evolved and been made fertile by the Austric, Tibeto-burman and many other tribal languages. Long before the Aryans migrated to Assam, tribes such as the Kiratas and the Austrics inhabited this region. And even after the Aryan migration, several other tribes have come and assimilated in Assam, tribes such as the Tai-Ahoms, Singphos, the tea tribes, and so on. As the Brahmaputra river descends from the hills collecting water from its tiny tributaries and assumes its mighty huge form in the plains, the Indo-Aryan Assamese language has evolved by absorbing elements of all the tribes in and around Assam. In India’s Northeast Assamese has been the lingua franca for ages. Hence, a lot of tribal languages have great similarities with it in terms of sound, pronunciation and a lot of words and idioms from these languages have been assimilated into the Assamese language.
Modern Assamese literature started after Chandrakumar Agarwala and Anandachandra Agarwala took to writing in the language along with many other non-Assamese speaking writers – a trend that continues even today. The contributions of Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha – a Marwari and a Rabha by birth respectively – are so enormous and invaluable that we cannot think of modern Assamese writing without them. This trend was taken forward by Gobindra Chandra Paira, Hariprasan Gorkharai, Tarun Chandra Pamegam, Bhrigumani Kagyung, Hemanga Biswas, Nahendra Padun and other writers. In the trend of the emergence of non-Assamese speakers writing in the Assamese language, the appearance of Lummer Dai from Arunachal Pradesh is a milestone in Assamese literature. With the encouragement of Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, the first Assamese writer to win the Jnanpith Award, this Adi-Arunachali writer first published his writings on the pages of the prestigious Assamese journal Ramdhenu and went ahead to publish remarkable timeless classics such as Prithivir Hanhi (The Earth’s Laughter), Mon aru Mon (Heart and Heart), Konyar Mulyo (Bride-price), thus enriching the granary of the Assamese literature further. Sahitya Akademi award winning Bodo writer Medini Choudhury’s contribution is significant, too. His novels such as Anonyo Prantor (Unique Peripheries), Banduka Behar, Taat Nodi Nachil (No River There), Pherengadao, Aranya Aadim (Forests Primitive) and Bipanna Samay (Endangered Hours) are milestones in their own right. After Lummer Dai and Medini Choudhury, another powerful tribal-Assamese writer called Rong Bong Terang emerged in the picture with his novel Rongmilir Hanhi (Rongmili’s Smiles). His consistent and prolific contribution to Assamese literature continues to keep the tradition fresh and ever-growing. His footsteps were followed by writers such as Jayanta Rongpi, Samsing Hanse, Longkam Teron, Arun Teron, Dhaneshwor Engti and several other Karbi writers who have contributed remarkably to Assamese literature. Anupama Basumatary from the Bodo tribe, Samir Tanti, Sananta Tanti and Kamal Kumar Tanti from the tea tribes, Jiban Narah, Gangamohan Mili, Bimal Kumar Doley, Tulika Chetia Yein have written such poems in Assamese that we are unable to imagine the evolution of contemporary Assamese poetry to its current state without these names. It cannot be assessed how much contribution Jatin Mipun, author of the novel Miksijili, would have made to Assamese literature if he had not left us at such a young age.
Though Arunachal Pradesh is politically separated from Assam, though Assamese medium has been replaced with Hindi in the schools of the state, several writers from the various tribes of the state have been writing in Assamese sporadically. Amongst them, children’s fiction writer Kengsam Kenglam, short story writer Wangsang Jongsam, poet and author Kalung Borang, essayist H K Zorang, Dr Chou Kedar Gohain, Dr Pegba Rigu are some noteworthy names. Before Arunachal became a Union Territory and then a state, it was called NEFA or North East Frontier Agency. It was administered by a representative of the Governor of Assam and was considered a part of Assam. With the efforts of scholar Indira Miri and the sacrifice of hundreds of Assamese young men, schools were established in Arunachal Pradesh. This was the result of a strong bond of love that the plains and the hills of Assam shared with each other for ages. The ability to learn Assamese was considered by the people of NEFA almost as something heavenly and they were proud to see their children read and write Assamese. The students of NEFA were encouraged to write poems, short stories, essays and plays not just by the teachers in the schools but also authors such as Bidrendra Kumar Bhattacharya, Benudhar Sharma, Gourikanta Talukdar, Giridhar Sharma, Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Homen Borgohain, Dr Hemanta Kumar Sharma, and so on.
Dr Bhupen Hazarika – a jewel that India’s Northeast has produced – used to teach and encourage the people of NEFA to sing, to write lyrics and to take up acting. In the journal called Deepak, edited by Gourikanta Talukdar, many students of NEFA published for the first time their stories, folk tales, essays and poems. Assam has forgotten about Mukti Nath Bordoloi – who was a high ranking officer of the education division and a sound writer – who had started a government aided publishing house that published plays such as Simantor Dabanol (Fire in the Horizon) by Tagang Tanki and many other valuable books such as Rinsin Norbur, Serdukpen Xadhu (Serdukpen Folkltales), Chamru Lusang’s Lusans Janajatir Itibritta (History of the Lusang Tribe), among others. Amongst these writers, Tagang Taki still writes and publishes. Though Assamese medium schools were discontinued in the state, Kengsam Kenglam, Wangsam, Jongsam, Kalung Borang, H K Morang and recently, Dr Pekba Rigu continue to write and publish in Assamese. My novels and short stories have been able to attract the attention of readers and critics of Assamese literature and this has helped me procure immense love and warmth from the people of Assam. I think this is the greatest award I could ever get.
Dr Bhupen Hazarika illustrates aptly the contribution to Assamese literature made by tribal writers from within and outside Assam in one of his songs:
I speak of the evolution of languagesHow shall I praise the contribution of tribal languages!
Bodo, Tiwa, Hajong, Rabha, Deuri, Manipuri,
Tai language keep Assamese language growing
The Neo-Assamese, char-community, and tea-tribes
Bring new colours to Assamese literature.
Permanent is Arunachali-Assamese
Politics doesn’t understand these sweet friendships.
Godapani’s Dalimi spoke Nagamese
It is the seed of love that Assamese and Nagas share.
Lummer Dai, you wrote The Earth’s Laughter!Rong Bong Terang plays the flute of unity
From Barak came Rajmohan, Hemanga Biswas
And built the bridge of optimism, with the assurance of friendship
Tabu Taid, Bhrigumani, Nahendra Padun
Bring the fragrance of oinitom-songs to Assamese!
Though many poets, writers and essayists write in Assamese, there is a large section that is trying to revive their own languages too. At this point, we must mention the rapid development of Bodo language since it acquired for itself the status of a constitutional language. It is now taught taught in schools and universities, and has also has been accepted as the medium of instruction in many places. From 2005 onwards, the Sahitya Akademi Award has been recognizing Bodo Literature. In the same way, other tribal languages can also develop this way along with the development of the Assamese language and literature; and the progress made by the Bodo language and literature attests this. Apart from the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, there are several other major literary bodies of the tribes in Assam – Karbi Lammet Ammei, Mising Bane Kabou Agaam, Tai Sahitya Sabha, Tiwa Sahitya Parishad, Assamese-Nepali Sahitya Sabha, Assam Tea Tribes Sahitya Sabha, and so on. But this does not mean that these literary bodies are in confrontation with the Asom Sahitya Sabha. On the contrary, all these committees complement each other. If there are different kinds of flowers in the same garden, it looks more beautiful. With the development of tribal languages and cultures in Assam, each will raise awareness about the other and this will lead to the spreading of mutual respect. Srijut Rong Bong Terang has said something significant in his speech during the seventy-seventh convention of Asom Sahitya Sabha. He has said:
"It is a good sign that the tribal languages of Assam are seeking to go ahead along with Assamese literature. I feel there is no confrontation in the world of literature and there should not be. There are different modes of expressing, of course, but the rhythm of literature is the same everywhere."
The Asom Sahitya Sabha will have to take the initiative in taking these literary movements ahead among the tribes of Assam. The Asom Sahitya Sabha is not only for the people whose mother tongue is Assamese but it is the national organization of all tribes and communities of Assam, and when any nationality has such a great institution, that nationality and the nation itself shall never perish. This nation and nationality will continue to live as long as the earth lives. I would like to end my speech here and announce the beginning of the biennial session of Asom Sahitya Sabha at Baithalangsu. Tasi Delek,Kardom.
Issue 31 (May-Jun 2010)