Violence and Literature – Realities of North East India

Violence can and, is a recurring motif in Literature. It is emblematic of a disorder and chaos which jeopardizes thought processes and militates against happenings, which in turn is reflected in Literature and Art, Violence then is a means in attaining a higher end of aesthetics and the subliminal. Violence can deeply affect sensibilities, disturb the pysche and embed a deep seated urge to communicate and share whether in Literature, Films or Paintings. Violence is a demonic myth to be subverted, but in this very process is communication and an urgency to share. It requires a lot of guts to depict violence in a creative manner because it is truth telling of a high order, dismantling obfuscation with clarity.

Much of the discussion today in the Literature of North East India focuses on violence as a thematic interest. The Literature of North East India which has gained a lot of ascendancy in the last three decades and especially in the last one and a half decades has shown a glut of interest in the remaining parts of the country due to this ‘new’ ontology and cult of violence. First it happened in the Social Sciences in the 80’s when almost all discourses on North East India veered to ethnicity and violence. Mainstream publishing houses capitalized on such current trends, publishing manuscripts as a spin off of seminars and conferences.

Last year a Delhi Publishing House held a two to three day meet on violence in North East India and how writers could bring about an exegisis of peace through their writing. There were endless discussions on it, but nothing on peace. Political issues such as the Assam Nagaland border issue was also discussed but lamentably there were no therapeutic remedies or the feeling that creative writing can actually be as antidote for violence and a restoration of sanity in a world of disorderliness. Speaker after speaker in the Zuban Meet used rhetoric to reel of examples of conflict in North East India. But where was the underlying peace that we were feverishly searching for, which is scripted in our inner beings?

Not one writer mentioned the intercultural interfaces in the region through Literature and Poetry. Not one mentioned that many of the established Assamese writers in Assam are from the tribal communities of Assam and say Arunachal Pradesh such as Rong Bong Terang Samir Tanti, or Sananta Tanki. Perhaps few know that there is a cluster of Manipuri poets in the Bengali dominated Barak Valley of Assam. This is an exemplification of how creative writing is an inter and intra cultural interface. For over two decades a Bengali poet Pijush Dhar in Shillong published a Little Magazine; “Paharia” (meaning “From the Hills”) where translations of Khasi, Assamese and Bodo poetry etc into Bengali was published. This is an attempt towards ethnic harmony using the ‘weapon’ of Literature. Anupama Basumatraray one of the leading contemporary poets of Assam, preferring to write in Assamese is from the Bodo Community, irrespective of the fact that the community has a separate Bodo Sahitya Sabha as distinct from the Assam Sahitya, and where in the Kokrajhar district of Assam the Bodos who already have an Autonomous District Council are also asking for an independent statehood. For over three decades now, this part of Assam is occupied by some of the most colorful and vivacious plains tribes who have been ravaged by violence and bloodshed. Political and creative levels operate disparately but what Literature can do to heal wounds is never asked. Writers writing in the language of their choice are taken for granted. I came out of the Zuban meet, a shaken person because most participants emphasized upon the searing differences within the communities of North East India – which is exactly what politicians want; spoilage and dust.

The fact is that writers of North East India use violence to emasculate themselves from it. Bijoya Sawian the novelist from Meghalaya in her perspicuous novel, “The Shadow Men” speaks poetically about violence prone Shillong which at the same time breeds affection and love for the protagonist a lady, who was born and brought up there and now lives in Delhi. She comes to Shillong to meet her old school friend and her family inveigled by her childhood memory of Shillong, the school et al. But she gets entangled in violence and is witness to a brutal killing. Her love for the place and the people is to such an extent that she ‘waits’ for the events to go to their ‘logical’ conclusions – one killing after another revealing a world of disaffection, heinous crime and blood lust for money. But, when she hears after a few years that the situation has improved considerably there is suppressed euphoria.

When Thangjam Ibopishak, the Manipuri Poet of witness exclaims in one of his poems through an allegorical technique that he wants to be killed by ‘an Indian bullet’ not by the bullet of terrorists; he is only reclaiming identity and the trauma of disparate souls. Recurring in contemporary North East Indian Poetry is the absolutism of violence, phantasmagoria attempted to be overcome by gnomic surrealism: in the poetry of Ibopishak, Y.Ibomcha and Saratchand Thiyam. Violence and art go together in a juxtaposed entity and not as disparate, schismatic elements.

A great attempt has been made by two poets of Shillong, Robin S Ngangom and Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih when they brought out a collection of North East Indian Poetry published by Penguin India a couple of years back: including languages such as Kokborok and the tea tribes of Tripura and even Bengali poets residing in North East India who animatedly write about the ethos of the region, not identified as ‘mainstream’ Bengali poets. This anthology is an intrepid voice of the ‘community’ of poets irrespective of their ethnic communities. Some of the poets of Meghalaya and Tripura are bi-lingual – writing in Khasi and English; Kokborok and Bengali. Literature and politics of the order of mayhem, loot and arson are two distinct entities. They cannot co-exist but rather exist as conflictual currents.

Dr. Ananya S. Guha

Chameleon Press Staff

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