Children's literature or the culture of Assam, Mitra Phukan's stories are special...
Mitra Phukan, English fiction writer and popular columnist of Assam has a passion for music and children's literature. The Collector's Wife, published by Penguin/Zubaan, is the first novel in English to be published by a major publishing house from the North East.
Her fiction for children include The Biratpur Adventure, Chumki Posts a Letter and Mamani's Adventure, (published by Children's Book Trust) and The Terrorist Camp (Scholastic India). The co-ordinator of the ongoing Katha-North East Writers Forum Translation Project, she also edits New Frontiers, the literary journal of the North East Writers Forum. Excerpts from an interview ...
How did you get interested in literature/creative writing?
I always seem to have been interested. My father was posted to various places around the globe, so I had to change schools often. Books were my constant companions and friends, and I must have been inspired to write by them.
Is Rukmini, the protagonist of ‘The Collector's Wife', a reflection of the turbulent Assam of 1970-80 period
Rukmini, has been seen by readers as a metaphor for Assam. Her anguish, and the fact that she is torn between the “official” side and her students who are at the forefront of the students' movement shows the conflict in the State and how it affects the people. Her inability to conceive reflects the condition of the State and its people. At the end, though, in spite of the tragedies and deaths all around, she finds she is with child. This brings hope.
Then what about Mamani, the heroine of Mamani's Adventure'?
I like Mamani very much because she is my first little heroine! She is only seven, but is resourceful and musical and quite unafraid in the face of danger.
Could you describe the process of your writing?
It hardly ever ‘just happens'. It is a long process. The theme comes with the story. The characters evolve in my mind after that. The most difficult part for me is to plot the plot! Since I love interacting with people, dialogues come easier. Nevertheless, everything comes together only while writing. And then all the endless revisions follow
How does Music influence the environment of your stories?
I find the lives of the musicians I meet, and their way of looking at things, quite unique. Their stories, their ways of life, are not generally known to others. Since there is so much insurgency here, I find many stories in the tempest of terrorism around us. I always write from a woman's point of view, but I am a humanist rather than exclusively feminist.
Could you compare the present status of English writings in India, in relation to Assam and the North-East?
English plays a very important role in the North East, especially the hill states. Much of the traditional literature of these hill states is oral and much of the new writings coming out of these States are in English. Assamese literature is extremely strong. We write about the same things, only the medium of communication is different. English thankfully is very malleable.
Assam is generally considered an area of political violence and unrest. How intensely reflected is it in literature?
A large body of literature – short stories, poems, and novels are being written about the dark years. There are many viewpoints, depending on the author/poet. A strong humanism infuses the stories. There is a cry for peace in much of the literature of the State today.
In the backdrop of political unrest, do you think Assamese literature is relatively marginalised ?
No I don't think it is marginalised. The total population of Assam is only about two and a half crores. Of these, a significant percentage speaks different languages, such as Bodo, Bengali, Tiwa, Karbi, etc. Given this, the position of mainstream Assamese literature is very good. Its fiction, etc, has been recognized worldwide. People like Jnanpith Awardees Mamoni Raisom Goswami (Indira Goswami), Birendra Kumar Bhattacharjee etc are applauded, translated and appreciated.