Guwahati: Bold, thematic imagery and innovative use of words coupled with a humble demeanour has been the hallmark of Jnanpith Award winning Assamese poet Nilamani Phookan, which garnered admiration from contemporaries and attracted younger writers and readers.

A socially conscious poet, Phookan experimented for decades with thoughts and words since he began writing in the 1950s, and continued to do so till two years ago, when ill-health forced him to stop his pen from creating more poetry.

A fading memory notwithstanding, when the news of his winning the highest literary award was conveyed to him by wife Dulumoni Phookan earlier this week, it brought a smile to his face and the 88-year old Padma Shri awardee responded: ‘Bhal khobor, bhal khobor (it is a good news)’.

The family, though elated, also regrets that the recognition has come at a time when he is not in a position to enjoy the honour bestowed on him due to ill-health, his wife said.

The award will, however, inspire and encourage young poets and writers who in turn will surely go on to enrich Assamese literature, his son Amitav Phookan said.

The octogenarian litterateur is the third recipient of the Jnanpith Award from the north-eastern state after Birendranath Bhattacharya and Mamoni (Indira) Raisom Goswami.

Phookan’s works have taken Assamese poetry to new heights as his writings reach out to people’s hearts, Assam Sahitya Sabha President Kuladhar Saikia told PTI.

‘His translation of foreign language poems, particularly Japanese, introduced the readers to their images and emotions expressed in the local language, Saikia said.

The Assam Sahitya Sabha has already conferred on him the title of Jatiya Kabi’ and Sahityacharya’, and ‘we will take more steps in the near future to ensure that his works are accessible to more people within the state and outside”, Saikia added.

Phuli Thoka Suryamukhi Phulor Phale’ (To a Sunflower in Bloom), Golapi Jamur Lagna’ (The Raspberry Moment), Kobita’ (Poems) and Nrityarata Prithivi (Dancing Earth) are among some of the Sahitya Akademi winning author’s principal works, which will remain etched in the annals of Assamese literature.

A retired college professor, Phookan was born and brought up in the sylvan surroundings of the Upper Assam town Dergaon, which left a lasting impression on his poetic sensibilities as he often sought refuge amid nature, and used it as a metaphor to delve deep while analysing the complexities of life and living.

Noted author and editor of Assamese literary magazine Satsori’, Anuradha Sarma Pujari, told PTI that the new generation of poets have much to learn, particularly the use of traditional words in the modern context, from Phookan’s poetry.

‘His poetry falls in the modern genre, but his language and imagery is traditional. Many may find his poems complex and the poet may appear to be confused but he delved deep within himself searching, introspecting and finally creating incisive, insightful and magical poetry’, she said.

Indian classical music, art and nature had a profound influence on the poet and his ‘poetry reflects a combination of all three”, she said.

Art, particularly, was very close to Phookan’s heart, which led him to study in detail the ancient and modern art forms of the state, along with introducing people and artists in Assam to their varied nuances, President of Gauhati Artists’ Guild Aminul Haque told PTI.

‘He was an art critic par excellence who closely followed the works of artists in the state, and encouraged as well as inspired them to experiment with different art forms, he added.

Referring to Phookan’s works, another prominent poet of the state, Nilima Thakuria Haque, said the sensitive portrayal of nature, history, the joys and pain of ordinary people, momentous events and disasters, pain, longing, despair and other varied emotions have rarely been depicted with such finesse by any other Assamese poet.

‘His poems have set exalted standards and the efforts made by younger poets will definitely lead Assamese literature to find a place of pride in world literature, she said.

Careful study and observation of his poetical journey reveal how passionately he has studied poetry traditions of different countries and origin. His literary pursuits that include both studying literature and art are great sources of inspiration, pointed out author and journalist Ratna Bharali Talukdar.

Great creators always leave footsteps in their works so that the next generation can learn, and Phookan Sir’ has always extended a helping hand to his younger friends, she said.

‘Till he fell seriously ill and became almost bed-ridden, nobody needed an appointment to visit him. He was always there to listen, share moments and pose for a photograph, Talukdar added.

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