A glimpse into the Northeast world


Contemporary literature coming out of India’s Northeast is vibrant and reflects the concerns and issues faced by the people of this achingly beautiful, but strife-ridden region, says Prof. Subhajit Bhadra. He introduces us to some of the writers who are making waves.

The contemporary literature of the Northeast is vibrant and multidimensional. The major changes which have taken place in the context of Northeast literature are responses to growing unemployment, insurgency, disappearance of traditional ethos, youth losing sense of direction, political unrest, and a sense of intolerance regarding communal politics. All these themes are reflected in the contemporary literature of the Northeast. As a result of which, it has taken a new direction.

Assamese literature and the world it reflects
The poetic responses to these tumultuous developments have been varied in the context of Assamese poetry. Readers also discern in some poems a yearning to live a life not tormented by conflicting questions of ideology. Sometimes, there is an expression of discomfort at the fast pace of change all around. The intrusion made by the latest advances in information technology has hugely influenced the individual life and interpersonal relations. In many poems, readers find a desire to loll in the peace of an unhurried life that is fast replaced by instruments of modernity, in a region that remains as a peripheral participant in the market economy of an increasingly globalised world.

Dhrubajyoti Borah’s The Sleep walker’s dream.

Dhrubajyoti Borah’s The Sleep walker’s dream.

While the society in the Brahmaputra valley has been changing over the decades, Assamese poetry too has witnessed many changes in every sphere – imagery, technique, diction. But it may be remembered that while translating the poems into English, the original resonance may be lost. Some of the major Assamese poets of the contemporary period are Harekrishna Deka, Sameer Tanti, Nilim Kumar, Aunbhav Tulsi and Manoj Barpujari.

In the field of short fiction, writers like Shibananda Kakoty, Bonti Shenchua, Manoj Goswami, Getali Bora and Mausumi Kandali have made their mark. Their stories are varied and rich in texture and structure, and innovative in terms of aesthetic appeal. They have carved a track which newer writers can walk on without much difficulty. Mausumi Kandali’s story Lambada Nacher Khekhot (After the Lambada dance), Bonti Shenchua’ story Jol Vori Jashoda, Geetali Bora’s Appolo Appolo, Manoj Goswami’s Shamiran Baruah is Ahi ase (Shamiran Baruah is arriving) are novels that attempt to form an indigenous signature style. Smriti Kumar Sinha’s collection of stories Seducing the Rain God has broken new ground. Sinha writes in an endangered language which faces threat of elimination and annihilation, but when his stories were made available through English translation, it created a ripple. Sinha is just one example of someone who champions the cause of endangered languages in the context of literature of the Northeast.

In the field of novels, the Bengali writer Bikash Sarkar has written a novel titled Astro (Weapon) which highlights the troubled relations between the Bengalis and the Assamese people in the context of the Northeast. In recent times, there has been a spurt of historical and mythological novels in Assamese literature which highlight painstaking research, meticulous treatment of these, and innovative and often poetic language. Rita Choudhury’s Deo Lang Khui and Makam, Anuradha Sharma Pujari’s Mereng, Chandana Goswami’s Patkair ipare mur dekh, Dilip Bora’s Hodhoyapurar hunor Mekuri and Pradhana Saikia’s Jatadhari, are major examples. On the other hand, writers like Debabrata Das, Arun Goswami and Madan Sarma have written innovative novels whether in the field of short story or novel.

The Northeast is being regarded as the “Other’’ (In the sense of Homi K. Bhabha and Edward Said) of mainstream India, and most of the regional language literature is losing ground because of the cultural invasion of English. While on the one hand these are writers who write in English and two recent novels deserve attention. One is Dhruba Hazarika’s Sons of Brahma, and Dhrubajyoti Borah’s The Sleepwalker’s dream.
These two novels deal with the problem of insurgency in the Northeast, while Kishlay Bhattachargy’s Che in Paon Bazaar demystifies the stereotypical representation of the Northeast.

In conclusion we can say that literature of the Northeast in the contemporary period is doing well, but we have to be careful of the ‘invasion’ by the English language. However, Northeast literature will break new ground and continue to exist inspite of the ongoing onslaught of English. The literature of the Northeast also includes in its rubric Bodo, Manipuri and other such so-called minor languages’ literature. One can find in these literatures a tendency to indulge in nostalgia, a growing sense of unease and an anguished response to the bleak socio-political scenario. Pankaj Gobida Medhi’s Assamese novel Srehara talks about the ongoing infiltration of Bangladeshi citizens into Assam through the broder areas. Juri Bora Borgohain’s Bhuk (Hunger) talks about the trade of girl-trafficking in the Northeast. On the other hand, the English poet Anindita Das talks about a tendency to withdraw into the self.

Kishlay Bhattachargy’s Che in Paon Bazaar  gives a real picture of the Northeast

Kishlay Bhattachargy’s Che in Paon Bazaar gives a real picture of the Northeast

Most of this region’s literature points towards the newer challenge brought about by the growing political unrest and intensification of the crisis of moral values. Jitumoni Bora’s Assamese novel Shesh Prishta (The last Page) talks about the growing moral degeneration and plight of the old people who are relegated to the backdoor. The literature of the Northeast also echoes the concept of yellow journalism which has also been shown by Jitumoni Bora’s novel Siahir Rong (The color of Ink). Previously, Northeastern literature was highlighted by insurgency, but in the contemporary scenario, the literature of Northeast assumes a varied and colorful hue. Some of the writers are dedicated socio-political activists, and their works bring a fresh social perspective.

The literature of the Northeast is mostly published in newspapers, journals and magazines, which have given them a strong platform. In the field of drama and other performative arts, the tone and tenor has changed. In contemporary literature of the Northeast there is a strong folk element. The combination of younger and older generation of writers has witnessed the birth of the balanced form of literature in the Northeast. The burning issues are poverty, unemployment, and a resurgence of strong regional sensibilities. However, sometimes, we witness the response of the writers of the Northeast towards its specific demography and topography. Modernity is still an unfinished project as Hebarmas said, and the literature of the Northeast is trying to the modern in the truest sense of the term. The response of the writers of the Northeast writing in regional languages should be seen in the context of globalisation.


Subhajit Bhadra

Subhajit Bhadra is an Asst. Professor in the PG Department of English, Bongaigaon College, Bongaigaon, Assam. He is a gold medalist from the Tezpur Central University. Till date, he has published various national and international seminar papers, books and anthologies. He specialises in American Literature, Indian Writing in English, and Post Colonial Literature in English.
He has also widely published in Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal Indian Literature.