During school, most children’s favourite time was the story session. The class would sprawled out in whatever was the most comfortable position, listening attentively as the teacher read out loud. And when the teacher showed those colourful pictures, our imaginations would wander wild. However, the common fond memories we all have is of our parents or grandparents narrating tales by the fire-place or under the blanket on cold winter nights – of ash gourds rolling and crawling across the streets, or the talking bird trying to take a sneak at the kitchen.
March 20 is World Storytelling Day; a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling which has its roots in Sweden. And today we’re celebrating our oral traditions of narrating stories, cross-culture and across boundaries. The art of storytelling has seen some notable torch-bearers in Assamese culture and literature; writers whom we’ve grown with or learnt our first steps into imagination. Here’s our list of few, in no particular order.
Lakshminath Bezbaroa (Rasaraj, Sahityarathi)
A prolific writer of humour and sass, specifically satire, Bezbaroa had quite an adventurous life. A poet, novelist and playwright, Bezbaroa was one of the most notable Assamese writers of the “Jonaki” period – the age of romanticism in Assamese Literature. A milestone to modern Assamese literature, Bezbaroa dominated the literary scene for almost half a century. In his autobiography, Rosoraj (Roxoraj) looks at his birth as the first mark of humour, born in a boat on a sand bank near Nagaon, on the Lakshmi Purnima night of November, 1868. A wanderer from his childhood, Rasaraj’s family constantly tarvelled because of his father’s professional commitments, before finally settling at Sivsagar.
Bezbaroa had devoted his life in reviving the Assamese literature. Some of his most notable works that’re a reader’s delight, amongst kids and adults alike, are Burhi Aair Xadhu, Kokadeuta aru Nati Lora, Surabhi, and Padum Kunwari. His play Joymoti Kunwari found its first screen translation and set the benchmark of the Assamese film industry in 1935, by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala. The century old magic of Burhi Aair Xadhu (1911) can be listened in audiobooks launched as a part of centenary celebrations.
Dr. Bhabendra Nath Saikia
A novelist, researcher, physicist, editor, short-story writer, and film director bearing a Sahitya Academy, Rajat Kamal, and the Padma Shri, Bhabendra Nath Saikia has a distinct footprint in Assamese Literature. A rare combination of a PhD. in nuclear physics from the University of London and a prominent writer of his time, Saikia was born on February 20, 1932, at Fouzdaripatti, in Nagaon. With an eye for the finer details and a depth of a surgeon’s precision, Saikia shook the very foundation of the form and style of Assamese fiction with his literary debut with Path Nirupam, a short story, in 1947. Marked by a conventional narrative style, the narratives owe in to their analytical techniques. A simplistic approach to the style and presentation of the stories, he brought characters to familiar grounds for the reader. Saikia soon became a household name with his magazines, Prantik and Xofura.
One of the early sci-fi writers in modern Assamese literature with his short story Gahbar, Saikia was prominently known for his award winning films. With a diaspora of films, novels, short stories, plays and autobiographies, some of Saikia’s notable works to watch out for includes Maramar Deuta, Xantaxista Hristopusto Mahadusta, Prahari, Sendur, Srinkhal, Golpo aru Shilpa, and Romyabhumi. A delight to read through, Saikia’s cinematic storytelling is a legacy for every storytelling fan.
Saurabh Kumar Chaliha
A pseudo-name that has infiltrated into every sci-fi reader’s book collection, Saurabh Kumar Chaliha aka Surendra Nath Medhi, is a proud owner of Sahitya Academy for his Ghulam, a collection of short stories. Born in 1930 in the town of Mangldoi in Darrang district, Chaliha attained Bachelors in Physics from Cotton College (now University) and a Masters from London University.
Saurabh Kumar Chaliha’s earlier works were mostly published in magazines and newspapers such as Bahi, Ramdhenu, Awahon, Samakalin, Sadin, Dainik Asom, Asom bani, etc. The reclusive writer directly came into public limelight only when he publicly accepted the Assam Valley Literary Award from a corporate body in Guwahati city. Some of his noteworthy works include Ashanta Electron (1962), Ghulam, Duporia, Bhai Khobor, Ekoish Xotika Dhemali Nohoi, Marudyan, with a few re-compilations in Swa-Nirbasito Xonkolon, Rachana Samara, Sri Dasakar Golpo, and Saurav Kumar Chaliha Rasanawali.
A poet, novelist, and Sahitya Academy Award recipient, Rita Chowdhury is one of the contemporary writers in the world of Assamese literature. Born on 17th August 1960, Rita Chowdhury has been working as an associate professor in Cotton College (now University) in political science department since 2001. She is currently the director of National Book Trust, India.
Winner of Sahitya Academy for her novel Deo Langkhui in 2008, Chowdhury has many notable literary works that mark a footprint in Assamese literature. With her literary debut Abirata Jatra, Chowdhury has come a long way with Maha Jibanar Adharshila, Popiya Torar Xadhu, Makam, Mayabritta, and Jahnabi to name a few.
Mamoni Raisom Goswami
Mamoni Raisom Goswami was an Assamese editor, a poet, professor, scholar, and writer. Her original name was Indira Goswami. Mamoni Raisom Goswami has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Sahitya Akademi award, the Jnanpith, the Padma Shri (which she refused to accept), the Asom Ratna, the Katha National Award, the Prince Claus award from the Netherlands and a number of honorary doctorates. Such was her influence that she even mediated between the ULFA and the government.
The pioneer of feminist Assamese literature, Goswami, despite her own relative privilege, felt deeply the impact of patriarchy and socioeconomic oppression on less privileged communities, and wrote extensively about them. Few of her remarkable works are Datal Hatir Uye Khua Howda, Adha Likha Dastabej, Chhinnmasatar Manuhto, Jatra, and Neelakantha Braja.