L’AFFAIRÉ literary

CROSS the meadows of Assam grows a type of grass that in appearance is like a reed, but is grass nevertheless. Very narrow-stemmed and ranging in height from six inches to a foot, it has on its head a bristle of tiny seeds. This is the bon seed, and its purpose is twofold. The first is to stick as tenaciously as it can, in its hundreds, to the clothes of anyone who walks through the meadows, and to take them off later is a lesson in patience and dexterity. The other is to be chewed at the stem by boys in the late spring with much, or nothing, on their minds. Our boy, as he plucked the bon seeds from his socks and slid his bare feet through the pond water into the cool mud, had much on his mind. His was a close extended family, with everyone at almost an equal social level, which makes getting along easier. He was on comfortable terms with cousins his age. His two brothers, being older, did not count. But Uti was different. He had known Uti all his life, just as his father had known Uti’s and his grandfather knew Shilukaba. It had started when K.C. Rajkhowa, his grandfather, had first met the Naga at Amguri down the road from Jorhat towards the Naga Hills. It was a friendship born of an equal love for the hills and respect for each other, for Shilukaba was from an old family too, and a man held in immense respect in his tribe. So the generations had grown closer as Shilukaba tried to give a sense of direction to his people and times changed. Gojen remembered Uti’s mother and the stories she used to tell when he visited them at Amguri, where the old man held a provisional court of sorts for his people together with the district magistrate of the area. Uti’s mother had died shortly after his father, both from cholera, when the boys were nine. Rajkhowa’s mother had been like a mother to Uti afterwards, and Uti stayed at the plantation as much as his grandfather allowed. A duck waddled across the pond and looked at Gojen but lost interest and went away, quacking duck questions. The boy remembered Uti as he best remembered him: the small-boned light frame dancing around him, teasing. ‘Elephant-boy, hati lora, elephantboy,’ he would sing, darting in and pinching his cheeks and daring him to chase. For the truth was, Gojen had been a very rotund little boy with cheeks that everyone loved pulling, and short stout legs that were not much use for running. Someone – Rajkhowa was sure it was his grandfather – had told Uti what his name meant. King of Elephants. And so hati was what he was called. ‘Uti aru hati,’ the Naga boy would say. Uti and his elephant, and the elephant chased the boy for much of his early childhood until he lost the baby fat but the only name Gojen could think up for his friend was ‘Owl-nose’. They would walk through meadows like these, and hills like those beyond, and when they were ten, Gojen was asked by Shilukaba if he would like to go with Uti to the morung. This was the boys’ dormitory in every Naga village, a time of learning the oral traditions of their people, of learning the ways of the village and the forest, a rite

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NOVEMBER 13, 2011

SEVEN SISTERS

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Assamese elephant remembers Naga boy
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TURNERS
TEMSULA AO
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HE HAD known Uti all his life, just as his father had known Uti’s and his grandfather knew Shilukaba. It was a friendship born of an equal love for the hills and respect for each other
Poet and writer, Temsula Ao is retired professor of English, North Eastern Hill University. One of the major literary voices of the region, she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007. She spoke to Debarun Borthakur and Gitanjali Das about her views on books and literature.
u What does literature mean to you? Do you think it has any relevance in our day-to-day lives? According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening around us? t Literature is not something detached from my life. For me if literature does not talk about life it is not relevant. Today the Northeast is full of conflicts. Literature should mirror these conflicts and everything else that is true of life here.

The Grasshopper’s Run Siddhartha Sarma Scholastic, 2009 (1st ed.) Paperback/Fiction `195, 196 pages

iNKPOT
EXTRACT
Chapter 2, pp 32-35
of passage that was important to Uti and his grandfather, an inheritance not to be taken lightly. So Rajkhowa had gone and stayed for six whole months, his grandfather approving, his father secretly envious because he had not been invited when he was little, and everyone else in the family aghast. Gojen had gone to the morung a former elephant and returned something else, for there he found company, with boys his age and the elders. He learnt their stories and legends, the old way

of life, the customs by which their people had lived for ages and more than anything else, the secrets of the forest. Here he found he adapted and learnt quicker than most the art of tracking, living off the land, hunting for food. Uti was better, of course, quicker, sharper, and more athletic, but the boys had come to a provisional truce and did not pull each other’s legs in front of the others. They learnt how to spin tops or mezung; they built stilts to race each other; they even had bull-roarer whistles (though some whistles sounded more like frogs croaking). They sneaked up behind the elders’ backs and blew the huge hollow-log gongs in the village. These gongs were broadcast instruments of old and it had been great fun to make a noise and startle everyone in the middle of

the day, for the noise the gongs made was simply tremendous. At night they would lie under the stars on the platform built on stilts outside the morung, talking of this and that, and arguing about legends. Each had his fixed views on these matters. For Uti, everything that was told must have happened, otherwise why would anyone tell it? For Gojen, who knew much fiction from his grandfather, anything that was possible might have happened, but not everything anyone said was possible. For him the truth lay in the forest, in what he saw, felt or heard. Beyond that anything was not worth much considering. Gojen came back from the morung and was sent straight to school, his grandmother having won a significant victory over her husband about the boy’s future. Generations of Ra-

jkhowas had gone to Bengal, she had told him during one especially bloody skirmish, but her Gojen was going to be somebody and not come back and become a ‘moss-covered planter’, as she put it. So the boy had gone, but he returned each year, and Uti and his elephant were together again, at the house, in the fields and meadows, pulling the most fearsome pranks and, in the forests and swamps, with other men of their families, learning about the world and discovering themselves. Gojen also went to the morung twice later, and sat in when Uti was introduced to the tribe elders as the person to lead them in all matters. And in the one element where Gojen was unmatched, Uti would look at him now and then, saying ‘Fat Boy, you might have something good in you after all.’

u How close is your relation with literature in general, and with literature of the Northeast in particular? t Literature has been my bread and butter, so you can say I have always had a pretty close relation with it. The Northeast is so beautifully varied. It is like the different hues in the rainbow. Each of the seven states in the region brings out a different flavour. I think one should do justice in portraying these various flavours through their writing.

BOOK ABLE
CFP: Chitrolekha International Magazine of Art and Design
Publication date: December 2011 Issue: Volume 1 Number 3 What to submit: Writings on traditional art, architecture, fashion, home and festive decor, design, documentation, book review. Contact: editor@chitrolekha.com Website: www.chitrolekha.com Deadline: 15 November 2011

ipen
Maps, Monsoons and Mirrors
Cripples of a patchy drizzle, that phenomenal night The tower peeps into a trail, Lightnings of homicides, under the silence of smoke, Sometimes, need recess; A new history teacher that phenomenal night, Gathers her modern India books, horrified, “Where is the tale of my vistas, the childhood rains beside emerald rivulets the alcoves of areca palms, where are the vestiges of silkworms, the notebook paper boats, Kanaklata, Lachit Barphukan, Madhav Kandali, A heritage sung since ages?” Murmurs one cartographer that phenomenal night, “Torn lands and handicapped maps need no wear, Why stain our human atlases, with barbaric forests upon humid latitudes?” As a matter of fact, When glared from a picturesque Everybody is an animal. One ape more animalistic than the other; The history teacher overrides her forbidden fear, Among the ancient, medieval piles, a matchstick flame, she lets fires of modern world burn, With her fountain pen, sets to write another history, That phenomenal night, “I am not a spectre yet, you cannot make me one, I speak from the land you have always forsaken, A rememory of injured kites".

Brahmaputra Bleeds
I cannot speak, They give me no voice They refuse to hear me Every time I flow I laugh at human folly Friends! Erase this dark fear Come! Hear my melancholy; Waving farewell to the Mansarovar Like an artery, I enter this land, green and grassy Pregnant with yellow fertile silt Blue and glistening pure, I am, Though, They have called me the ‘red’ river, Drawn me as a landmark on the map Which I realise is a cruel farce! They have Acquainted me with spilled blood Of sprouting school children, I can’t forget how much I wept When these merry cities were bombarded yelling widows, sisters and mothers now childless Left only with bitter memories and hazy ashes; Naïve humans they are, they blame me of floods I call it an excuse I can mirror the million pockets filled... Out of some corrupt minds seeking vengeance Through inhumane strategies so well craft Blame game and this blood bath! Death! I can no more carry your phantom trolley O dear! Hear my melancholy… They have washed their nasty hands off me And sung eastern songs panegyric Dumped in me victims of sadist policies… Come! hold my dejected hands… Or sit beside my banks Swallow my tears, Terror! You have made me weary O dear! Embrace my arms Sing my melancholy…

u Name one book that had a lasting impact on you. In what way? t One book that I have really loved reading is The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck. I read it when I was quite young. It was the suffering of the protagonist who is a woman – and the fact that she did not succumb to the pressures and atrocities committed against her – that makes her a strong literary character. u What book would you recommend for our readers and why? t One book I think everybody should read once in their life is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It exposes the social prejudices of the time and shows how people can be swayed by the prevalent biases which are so much a part of our society.

u What future do you see for literature from the Northeast? t I think literature from the Northeast has a great future. A lot has been written about the region and its various issues. However, there are so many other aspects of the Northeast that demand focus but have not been addressed so far. For example, the scenic beauty and its varied cultural grandeur. I see a great future if these subjects are also dealt with equally.

News: Assamese author shortlisted for Man Asia Literary Prize 2011
Author Jahnavi Barua’s book Rebirth has figured in the longlist for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize along with the works of Amitav Ghosh and Tarun Tejpal. The book is about the struggles of a young woman, Kaberi, as she deals with an unfaithful husband, a troubled relationship with her parents and the death of a childhood friend. Barua is a doctor by profession who started her career as a writer of short stories. She also wrote a children’s book called The Boy Who Lost His Voice. Her collection of short stories, Next Door (2008), received critical acclaim. In 2006, Barua was awarded the Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship to study Creative Writing in the UK.

RINI BARMAN, NEW DELHI

Unsung
Where are you, Where is the flag of survivors, silently plucking sallow leaves of tea, Where is the fat leech sucking blood for free, fatter than newspaper ink bottles that blacken so carmine a fury… Where disappears lakhs of pleas, amidst routes traced by the federal tree, Those hatching mini isotopes of uranium235, in mansions, in suburbs too friendly, Yet, where are we? Where are you now, Where in the throat, exactly, do you reach As you gulp in, Cocktails of plastic explosives? With which eraser do you blot The lethal human-foetus rampage, Now drowned in salts of a toxic sea Where have we scribbled, unheard traumas of the everyday knee… Where does it sail to, The steel strait of a limitless enemy, Where are you? Where are we…

TUG-OF-WORD
I What is Mizo poet H. Ramdinthari referring to when he speaks of "the yellow scars on our foreheads"? A. Bullet holes B. Rope burns on the forehead C. Sandalwood paste on the forehead I Which Naga poet chides all men: “Don't waste your time/ laying down your diktats”? A. Temsula Ao B. Easterine Iralu C. Monalisa Changkija I In which poem does Arunachali poet Mamang Dai call the people of the region “foragers for a destiny”? A. Remembrance B. Memory C. River Poem

Invitation: Seminar on Folklore of North Gauhati
Occasion: Commemorating death anniversary of Dr Praphulladutta Goswami Organiser: Folklore Society of Assam and North Gauhati College Place: North Gauhati College Date: 19 November 2011 Time: 10.30 am – 5.00 pm Contact: Nabin Sarma, President, Folklore Society of Assam. Ph: +919864297511 Mrinal Bora, Secretary. Ph: +919435546791

We invite readers to contribute creative fiction, non-fiction and poetry pieces for this section. Submissions should be sent to northeastliterature@gmail.com

Ans 1. B

2. C

3. A

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