Guwahati: The pandemic, which continues to evolve as new virus variants emerge, has left an indelible mark on all art forms. In these two years, we have been exposed to the din of hunger and death. We have also witnessed the deterioration of the people’s economic and social rights. The prolonged period of suffering has also had an undeniable effect on one’s writing abilities. This is because literature is a reflection of society, and the fictional tales and verses are often based on what the writers see and observe around them.

To provide some reprieve to the book publishing and selling sector, which has been battered by the pandemic, the Assam Book Fair 2021-22 is all set to begin from December 29 in Chandmari, Guwahati.

In light of this, EastMojo spoke to a few young and new writers in the local publishing scene to learn about the difficulties of lockdown writing and how the disaster has affected their work and what the future holds for them.

The year that was

Abhijit Bora, the author of Deuka Kubai Jai, feels that the pandemic has shaken the lower-middle-class people, and it is tough for him to comprehend how terrifying it has been for those living in poverty. “As a writer, I couldn’t see anything else but their pain and struggles for survival in the face of the pandemic,” he adds.

For young poet Ankur Ranjan Phukan, who won the 2019 Munin Barkotoki Literary Award, it was more important to observe the situation as a human being than to analyse it as a writer or a poet. He says, “Even the poet is a human being first, and we are all living in a time where people are constantly terrified. Therefore, the dread and anxiety are affecting a poet’s thinking as well.”

“The global situation of helplessness will undoubtedly influence my writings,” says poet Mamani Das, whose collection of poems H2O’r Pisorkhini released last December. “Life is going on, but the rhythm has vanished. Instead, it is our financial, mental, and physical suffering that reverberates in the silence,” she adds.

“To write about people and society, a writer must first relate to their grief. With the ever-widening divide between people, how can isolated individuals internalise their tragedy or how can the wounds heal without the reassuring touch of a hand,” questions Bora, the winner of the Munin Barkotoki Literary Award in 2020.

As for Jintu Gitartha, author of the short story collection Sobir Bhram, Bhramar Sobi, the pandemic has altered his perspective about the ordinary joys of life that many of us still take for granted. “Following the pandemic, I’m attempting to be more responsible because now I am conscious of every second spent,” he says.

“In content and serene rhythm of living, creativity cannot thrive, and the anguish of our present existence has deeply scarred my inner soul. As a result, these observations and sensitivities have also provided me with multiple perspectives on real-life to work on,” he adds.

The Impact on Writing and Productivity

Gitartha continues, “It is due to the first lockdown that my first book came out a little early. In an otherwise hectic way of life, the lockdown provided me with a period where I could consider and react on my terms.”

“It’s difficult to predict how the pandemic will affect my storytelling, but some new aspects of social life, new views about individual lives, and new terms have already appeared in what I’ve written in the last six months.”

In addition to reading a wide range of genres and writers, he has also completed a few short tales and translation projects during this period.

However, in an attempt to strike a balance between work life, academic responsibilities, and family obligations, writers had to battle against a persisting lack of focus and writer’s block, as well as finding peace amidst the turmoil.

Mamani Das, who also completed her first book during the lockdown, says, “Apart from that, I’ve written a few more poems about the pandemic, but nothing much.”

“The present situation has taught us how to transcend the values and consciousness of human life and death, and these experiences would undoubtedly manifest my work directly or obliquely,” says Ankur Ranjan Phukan. But the poet reveals that although he was productive throughout the initial stages of the lockdown, the monotonous and isolated life quickly became irritating for him.

“The frequency of writing a new poem has declined for me. But I have been exploring a new passion in expressing myself through a different art form,” says the poet, whose Hrashanta ta is a creative rendezvous of challenging accepted standards in poetry and striking a unique chord among readers.

Writing the End of the Pandemic

The pen has tremendous power. It has the power to re-create history and shape the future. When asked about how the storytellers would wish to end the continuing plight if the reality was their creation, the writers and poets expressed their hope and optimism for the future of mankind.

Ankur Ranjan Phukan resolves to end it with “a realisation of the present, an awareness of one’s worth, a sense of the need and relevance of society, and a re-defined perspective for the future.”

Abhijit Bora, who hasn’t written anything new since his book came out, says he’s been weaving a few tales in his mind. And in his version, the pandemic would end once and for all without any false hopes.

“The world has suffered more than enough,” he adds.

On the other hand, it is the realisation of nature’s worth and the vulnerability of human lives that echoes in the thoughts of Jintu and Mamani.

For Jintu, “self-introspection in the form that nature can survive without us, but we can’t survive without nature is essential.”

With the same point of view, Mamani says, “The life and thoughts of human beings will have no relevance if the natural balance is lost. So, our dependency on nature and demands a re-thinking.”

“The suffering is universal, albeit in varying degrees of intensity. I would end the pandemic by empowering all those who have been affected by it so that they can regain their mental strength and get back onto their feet and recover from their upended lives,” she concludes.

The Future for New Writers and Poets

The lockdown had severely hit the communication and distribution channels of book publishers affecting their overall productivity and turnover. With postponed literary events and book fairs, the crisis also created a highly unwelcoming period for debut authors and their careers.

“Because the lockdown provided everyone with much free time, people began to write extensively. This resulted in a scarcity of space in monthly magazines and other publications for new writers like us,” says Ankur Ranjan Phukan, who has recently joined Gogamukh College as an Assistant Professor of Sociology.

“Hurdles will appear at every turn, but we continue to write because a creation must move through a variety of challenges to make itself complete,” he adds.

“In Assam, as in any other sector, establishing oneself as a writer or poet comes with its set of hurdles, but passion and determination is the key. I write because it is my passion, yet my career is not the same,” says Mamani Das who is a Post Graduate in English Literature.

“The present situation for young writers is dire but if you write properly, the appropriate publisher and the right media will always find you. And I’m not talking about self-publishing,” says Jintu Gitartha, who is currently pursuing Post Graduation in Education.

Although social media and online discussions have kept the conversation around books alive, newly-published authors still feel a lack of sufficient exposure.

“Yes, virtual platforms are useful, but nothing compares to the thrill of meeting an author or a reader in person, especially at book fairs or book launch events,” says Jintu Gitartha.

Furthermore, in Assam, the remuneration structures for young writers, popular essay writers, and a few full-time authors differ.

“In my opinion, there is no such thing as new and old among writers. The only thing you need is a good book. The problems we are currently confronting are problems that every writer is dealing with,” says Abhijit Bora, currently pursuing his PhD in Assamese Literature.

“I am very new in this field, so giving any advice feels a little weird, but I’ll say this – Take it slow and read extensively, become acquainted with different kinds of literature, and keep writing and rewriting. One should be able to recognise his or her faults. They must develop the skills to be their own critic,” says Bora, when asked to offer a word of advice to aspiring writers.

Organised jointly by the Publication Board Assam and All Assam Publishers & Book Sellers Association, The Assam Book Fair 2021-22 will be held at the Assam Engineering Institute (AEI) playground in Chandmari from December 29 to January 9.

The theme of this year’s book fair is in line with Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, and the event will host around 110 book publishers and book retailers. The organisers have announced that ten publishers from Dhaka, ten from Kolkata, and five from Delhi would participate in the book fair this year, with more than 50 new books to be released.

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