Pooberun, which began as an adda of Delhi University students from Assam, is now a platform that engages a crowd in serious conversations on issues related to the State and the Northeast
In East India, particularly in its slow moving little towns and villages, adda, or informal conversational sessions over continual cups of tea, is such a way of life. Having grown up with the habit, “it was only natural for us to have started Pooberun,” says Jyotirmoy Talukdar, a Delhi University student from Patshala, a dot of a town in lower Assam.
Pooberun is an informal platform for conversations over tea, started at the DU campus by Jyotirmoy and Mukul Haloi, a DU student then, in 2011 along with three other students from Assam — Tanmoy Sharma, Bikram Bora and Shaikya Shamik. The addas became a regular feature, on the lawns of the Vice Chancellor’s office, at the seminar room of the Modern Indian Languages Department, drawing students from Assam to converse on issues concerning the region.
During a chat, Jyotirmoy offers a sampler, “Since 2011 was the centenary year of writer Lakshminath Bezbaruah, we began by inviting Sahitya Akademi winner Rita Chowdhury to converse with about 50 Assamese students on Bezbaruah’s Burhi Ai Xadhu, a collection of children’s stories which has been a part of everyone’s growing up. It was an interactive session where Chowdhury also critiqued the collection.” There, Pooberun also tabled its manifesto, “to follow inclusive nationalism, which is only cultural.”
Nearly two years after that November day in 2011, Pooberun now stands on a widened sphere — from being campus-centric to a Delhi-based platform for conversations on Assam and the Northeast. Recently, it held its first session outside DU. Informs Mukul, “We had two sessions that day. One had writers and artists from Assam living in Delhi talking about artists from the State who have been at the receiving end, from Kala Guru Bishnu Rabha dying penniless to the legendary actor-playwright Braja Sharma passing away on a hospital verandah to Mobile Theatre’s pioneer Achyut Lahkar now spending his last days, forgotten. The other session had people from various communities of Assam on competing identities in the NE.”
Initially, Assamese was the medium of Pooberun Conversations. Now, English is. Jyotirmoy says, “It is the pragmatic way. After all, Assamese is just another language of Assam and the NE.” Pooberun moved from being “Assam-centric to Northeast focussed” when they took up the issue of including literature from NE in DU’s English Literature syllabus though Indira Goswami, then associated with DU. In the new syllabus, it has writings of two Manipuri writers. “We can call ourselves one of the many contributors of this development,” says Jyotirmoy. Pooberun “is currently pushing for setting up a Sankardev Chair at DU’s MIL Department, a process started by Goswami.”
Mukul connects Pooberun’s root to an organisation, Jyotirgomoyo, which he and his brother started in their village in lower Assam. “We also used to bring out a magazine, Janma of which Jyotirmoy and Archana Deka (a Pooberun regular) became a part. Janma did stories on many burning issues of Assam which were well-received besides raising funds for needy writers and poets, holding kavi sammelans, etc. Former ULFA militant Megan Kachari (his book of poems penned in jail was published by Goswami) began writing his autobiography in Janma. That success gave us the confidence to start something in Delhi.”
They focused on “the idea of being a part of a bigger collective.” Jyotirmoy explains, “Being Assamese speakers, it is easy for us to identify with what being from Assam means. But Assam is also made of other communities who speak different languages. So we need to listen to others, have a discourse on how Assam can remain together, how it can be a cultural federation.” So dominant Assamese symbols like the Bihu are a no-no. “Let’s not impose one’s culture on the other,” he says. Instead, Pooberun Conversations “have people of different communities from Assam looking at issues like identity and culture…two different kinds of people who love Assam coming together to find a middle path.” Mukul points out, “Delhi is a good place to have such introspections, to look back from outside.”
Pooberun has no formal members, “no hierarchy. It is a Facebook group now. In the sessions, there are about 40-45 regular faces.” Some regulars have left DU, also Delhi. Mukul, now studying at FTII, Pune, says, “The Northeast India Studies Programme at JNU wants to hold some collaborative events. We might take it to other cities.”