The Literary Scene in Assamese: A Broad View
The aspirations of a generation, especially for chroniclers who look to envisage world-views through the recognized registers of culture, are not always manifested in easily recognized patterns. Yet, it is equally possible to locate in these very registers the conditions of a cultural matrix whose traces literary texts envision for the world to make sense of.
Enumeration of the traces that constitute the Assamese literary circumstance of the present time would require another excursus, but we can still hazard a map of sorts through which the modes of critical and creative engagement may be situated for assessment and evaluation. There is a crisis in contemporary Assamese society, not quite identifiable or localizable in one specific centre, but rather an angst-ridden consciousness of the surrounding world, that forms part of the literary vision in texts that span across multiple genres. In the poetry of Bijoy Sankar Barman, for instance, the response forays a double-pronged look at reality, one drawing on the cultural repository that is sometimes overtly localized for identification and effect, the other marking a mythic orientation which showcases the tradition-modernity interface by referring to a creative take on the state of things. Such moves bear evidence of a socially-oriented writing culture whose responsive character is marked by stylistic innovations that seek to consolidate a modernity that is distinctly Assamese.
How far such an imperative is realized in the writing across the various generic frontiers remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the local is surfacing as a theme of prominence. This tendency is manifested in fiction as well, and there is sometimes an overplay of the 'regional' context, bringing about, an effect-directed narrative focus that look at the representation of local life as one of the primary priorities of the writer. That is why it is not uncommon to find questions of identity and myth, of location and temporal priorities taking over the literary space today. If such a picture suggests a seemingly paradoxical process of looking back and forwards, it is also a sign of the vibrant cultural climate here that facilitates the encompassing of contesting creative scales within the same temporal scheme.
It is necessary, at the same time, to look at those creative energies which have departed from these acknowledged formats to fashion idioms that are new to Assamese literature. Foremost in carving such a road is Prasanta Kumar Das, whose stories are among the best our literary tradition has come to imbibe today. Das' stories are arresting tales that defy the conventional parameters of assessment in contemporary Assamese criticism, and whether it the fabular dimension or the playful takes on the human agency as a source of knowledge, he has broken new ground, opening up ways of approaching reality in fiction.
There are fits-and-starts surfacing that makes splashes, but for impact that bears the traces of the rich repository of Assamese culture, sustained works require equally robust critical engagement, which is what must be toned up if the creative-critical interface is to take the body of work forward in an age where competing voices sometimes drown the ones that matter. For this not to happen, the onus lies on the readers.
Discernment is the key, the sense of which can come only through an alert reading public whose understanding is both critically informed and not closed by pre-structured notions. Such a development, if that is to emerge, would augur well for the Assamese literary tradition, with modernity serving as an index for critical placement.