New anthology provides glimpse of Assam, its people
A Fistful of Moonlight: Stories From Assam

New Delhi: An anthology of 14 stories rooted in Assam explores love, identity, politics and fantasy, and also offers a fresh take on an age-old fairy tale of the state.

Ten of the stories in “A Fistful of Moonlight: Stories From Assam” were part of the Write Assamese project, a collaboration between Untold Narratives CIC and BEE Books supported by the British Council, and their writers were selected from an open call for submissions from across Assam.

The anthology has been edited by Mitra Phukan, Arunava Sinha and Lucy Hannah and published by BEE Books.

According to Phukan, all are contemporary stories.

“Ten are from emerging voices that are assured as well as sensitive to the world and the concerns around them,” she writes in the editor’s note.

Some explore contemporary issues and are often a reflection of the times while being universal in their appeal like “Roots”, “The Roar of Baghjan”, and “A Wagtail’s Song”. Others like “The Hunt”, “Values”, “The Captive” and “Bak: The Water Spirit” are modern classics in Assamese literature and come from highly-regarded Assamese writers, she says.

One of the stories, “Tejimola’s Stepmother Found a Place to Get a Haircut”, is a reworking of a traditional tale.

Phukan says all these stories have a strong sense of place and are rooted in Assam.

“Together, they give the reader a glimpse of this land and its people. For it is through stories that we learn about each other,” she says.

Sinha says the single-most important task for the three translators who translated 10 of the stories in the volume was to “transfer the unique nuances and flavours of the Assamese language to English, without adding speed breakers to the reading experience”.

According to Hannah, the range of pieces in “A Fistful of Moonlight” reflects the diversity of writers involved in the project – some are from remote areas in Majuli, Nagaon and Sivasagar, whereas others are from towns and cities across the state.

One of the stories “The Roar of Baghjan” by geographer Juri Baruah is about the Baghjan Oil Field fire incident of 2020.

“When I travel to upper Assam, I have flashbacks. The geography of upper Assam does not limit to tea, oil and coal. In reality, it is much more profound with the history of armed struggle, the meaning of martyrs, the complex definition of Assamese nationalism, bandhs and many more broken pieces of resistance,” Baruah told PTI.

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“The Baghjan oil fire, therefore, took us back to the contended nature of the slogan of Oil India – ‘Oil flows nation grows’. But a nation grows on whose sacrifices? It reflects how the oil companies in upper Assam are playing the role of a state which can control the regional geographies and conditionally apply its power in the rewriting of local history. ‘The Roar of Baghjan’ is an introspection of those broken pieces of resistance and hidden voices,” she adds.

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