Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Breaking inter-state barriers

At a time of rampant political conflicts, the need is for sensitive writing that brings the seven sisters closer together. Ramlal Sinha reads the writing on the wall.

THE landlocked seven sisters – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura – have a shared history, but it is a history that has seen more of conflicts, less of sisterhood. The ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the region is not as much of a problem as its territorial disputes are. Creation of the northeastern states without their boundaries properly demarcated – a politically expeditious action by the powers that be – is a major reason behind the growing emotional divide and strained relations between them. This issue has been keenly pursued by some writers transcending geographical, or rather,
man-made barriers.

Litterateur Hiren Gohain
At a recent workshop on translation held in Guwahati, renowned litterateur Hiren Gohain had said: “We (the northeastern states) are neighbours, yet strangers. We must overcome the barriers.” He blamed colonialism for the gap between the ethnic groups in the Northeast. Gohain said that bringing out books for children in all the languages of the region would enrich their minds.

The workshop on translation of children’s literature into various languages of the region was organised by Anwesha, a book promotion group. The participants were tasked with translating children’s books into Assamese, Bodo, Garo, Manipuri, Mizo and Khasi at the workshop.

Author and former North East Writers’ Forum (NEWF) president Arup Kumar Dutta, who hails from Assam, has written three novels set in the Northeast. His novel The Counterfeit Treasure is about the numerous caves in Meghalaya. Apart from the literary points it has scored, the novel says a lot about tourism in the hill state. Revenge, another novel by Dutta, is based on the Khamti tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. It highlights the culture and traditions of the Khamtis, thereby helping promote tourism in the state. Besides his many short stories set in the states of the region, NEWF founder secretary Dhruba Hazarika has authored a novel, A Bowstring Winter, probably the first work of fiction about Shillong after Rabindranath Tagore’s Shesher Kabita. With archery, a kind of betting locally called ‘teer’, as the subject matter, the novel depicts betrayal, loyalty and revenge through six characters. It also gives a vivid picture of the food habits of the people of the region.

Karunamay Sinha
A writer from Tripura, Karunamay Sinha, has written a long column on what he describes as the ‘unpredictable northeasterner’. It was published in the Sunday magazine of a Guwahati-based English daily. He starts his column with a general discussion on the subtle things northeasterners have in common, like food habits and festivities. He also highlights the similarities in their nature, which according to him is uni-dimentional. Northeasterners, he says, are prone to flaring up at the slightest provocation and their outbursts of passion are unpredictable. He tries to substantiate his claim through an assortment of historical narratives that are essentially accounts of insurrectionary outbursts against oppressors and foreign invaders. Sinha argues that the northeasterners are the most freedom-loving of all Indians, which is why they have produced the first martyrs and the first insurrectionary uprisings against the British. The display of valour and love for freedom by the Assamese, Khasis, Garos, Jaintias, Lushais, Manipuris, Nagas and Kukis dominate his column. These accounts deal with the brave histories of various ethnic tribes of the region that have been lost or are on the verge of being lost in the vagaries of Indian history.

A young writer from Assam, Aiyushman Dutta, tried to bridge the gap between the seven sisters by holding a seminar on Northeast cuisine in Guwahati in 2009. Many writers and food specialists of the region participated in the seminar, the purpose of which was to analyse how food defines culture in the region and helps to bring people of the northeastern states together.

Dils Lakshmindra Sinha
Assam was represented at the seminar by Jyoti Das, who gave an overview of Assamse cuisine, Rajib Bora and Dils Lakshmindra Sinha (from Assam but who gave an account of Bishnupriya Manipuri cuisine), Manipur by Karunamay Sinha (he hails from Tripura), Tripura by Parinita Livingstone, Nagaland by Insopangla Ao and Villolo Achumi, and Meghalaya by Alynti Nongbri. The seminar endorsed the view that amidst differences, there are many similarities in the food habits of the seven sisters, and these similarities should be celebrated. 

Hiren Gohain’s appeal for overcoming of the ‘barriers’ therefore, is just another instance of the thinking people of the Northeast getting together to overcome political disputes and conflicts. The writers of the region have been very much on the job. What we need now is the involvement of more writers in this ‘undeclared mission’.

Courtesy: Seven Sisters Post (www.sevensisterspost.com)
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