INTERVIEW Sahitya Akademi award winner Assamese writer-translator Pankaj Thakur says that the truth about the Assam Movement will prevail one day as nothing can be kept away from the purview of history
Look at history. Worldwide. And you shall find that all significant chapters of a society can be located in its literature.
Apply this observation to Assamese literature and you can’t avoid thinking that so little about the chapter of the State’s students’ agitation against illegal migration and its consequences have been dealt with through a writer’s pen. Yes, there are important books that have held the movement as focus. But they are a handful considering the movement was one-of-a-kind in the social and political firmament of the State which gave the country its youngest chief minister and many other things including giving birth to insurgency with the demand for secession from India.
Well known writer-journalist from Assam, Pankaj Thakur, responds to this observation, “That the students’ movement is reflected inadequately in our literature is true. The movement took a very fast turn. The moment it tilted towards terrorism, the pro-movement general public started taking a back seat and gradually withdrew from the mainstream. Meanwhile, the Government, in the name of controlling terrorism/insurgency, took equally strong armed action. In other words, it became counter-insurgency. The term ‘secret killing’ and the magnitude of this act speaks volumes about insurgency and counter-insurgency. The common people were sandwiched between both these groups and found it safe to be away from the scenario. Presumably, this tendency of evasive psychology made people hesitant to become expressive in most of the fields.”
Thakur, the winner of Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Award 2012 for translating Vishwas Patil’s significant book on dams, “Jhadajhadati” from Marathi to Assamese, though counts the works that handled powerfully the times. “Syed Abdul Malik’s ‘Pora Gawot Pohila Bohag’ ( novel), Rita Chaudhury’s ‘Eai Somoy, Sai Somoy’ ( novel), Sibanath Barman’s ‘Swadesh, Swamat’ ( non-fiction) are a few among the writings based on the impacts of the Assam Movement. Jyanpeeth awardee Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya took a sympathetic stand through his writings towards the movement, and he opposed the activities of State-sponsored terrorism.”
Thakur has his reasons for not dealing with the subject in his writings yet. “It is probably because the issue touched me deeply, and I wanted to do something concrete so that something could be achieved to ease the complexities of this multi-dimensional problem of our country.” He, however, states,
“I attempted to minimise the level of misunderstanding amongst the various ethnic groups of the region, as many (local) newspapers made the issues much more complex for their vested interests. In the process, I edited a book called ‘India’s North East – A Multi-faceted View’ in 1982. Through it, I attempted to address issues like the impact of illegal migrants in Assam’s economy and the political scenario, abnormal changes of the demographic pattern of the region in comparison to the growth of population in the rest of the country, etc. The book made an impact on the desired line. It was included as a reference reader in the universities of the NE region and also in the JNU for North East Studies.”
He though points out categorically in an email interview from Guwahati, his base, “I do believe that nothing could be kept away from the purview of history. Sooner or later, the truth will prevail.”
As of now, Thakur has many things going for him. Recently, his well-received Assamese book “Jibon Juktir Bahirot” was translated into Hindi as “Tark Se Pare Zindagi” by Papori Goswami and launched in New Delhi. The English translation of this short story collection, “The Heart is a Secure Address”, was launched at the 18th International Book Fair and Literary Festival in Prague last year. A clutch of 18 shorts, the book speaks as much about the writer’s sharp eye that draws out for readers the finer points in a character as also bringing to them slivers of everyday life in the remote corners of the North East.
One significant story based on his real life experience belongs to 1977. Thakur was then a lecturer of Economics at Mount Tiyi College, Wokha, Nagaland. The story skilfully deals with human relationships, the innate goodness and the fears, one’s sense of ethnicity, with the Assam-Nagaland border tensions that took a bloody turn in Merapani town.
“I do believe that everybody carries a lot of things close to their hearts. If they are presented in a structured manner, they can be valuable material for good fiction,” he says.
A thought that prodded him to write, edit and translate as many as nine books so far despite taking up a career in the hectic corporate sector.
Working on the same premise, Thakur is readying himself for yet another set of autobiographical writings. “The book, titled ‘Mon Mati Manuhor Gaan’ (‘Mind, Land And People’s Songs’), will be launched later this month. You can call it the second part of ‘Jibon Juktir Bahirot.”
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY