Guwahati: Donning a traditional Arunachali jacket, Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi is seen scribbling the names of his books in Assamese at the ongoing Northeast Book Fair in Guwahati, Assam. On Saturday, the Sahitya Akademi Award winner inaugurated the 12-day event that is hosting 172 publishers and booksellers from across India and Bangladesh.
Although Thongchi speaks in his mother tongue Sherdukpen, a dialect spoken by a few thousand people in Arunachal Pradesh, he practises his writings in Assamese language. In fact, he’s considered one of the last men standing in Arunachal Pradesh to keep the Assamese language alive in the state.
Thongchi, a prolific writer from the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, took up writing in Assamese since his childhood days. The 66-year-old started his literary career with an Assamese poem called Jonbai which was published in 1967 in an Assamese children’s magazine, followed by several literature works and one-act plays in Assamese.
He has also been honoured with several awards including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005 for his Assamese novel Mauna Outh Mukhar Hriday.
The Arunachali author can speak and write in Assamese with such ease as if it’s his own mother tongue. The beauty of one culture embracing another wholeheartedly is simply mesmerising.
While reading an Assamese newspaper and talking about literature, Thongchi, however, regretted: “The art of writing Assamese literature is dying a slow death in Arunachal Pradesh.”
While recalling Lummer Dai, a pioneer in Assamese writings from Arunachal, Thongchi said, “I was inspired by the great writer to pursue literature. The craft of writing in Assamese language might just end with the end of the writers belonging to my generation.”
There was a time when a lot Assamese literature came out from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, but that is no longer the case now, as more and more youngsters are choosing English and Hindi as their language of preference over Assamese for their literary ventures.
Talking about the younger generation of Arunachal Pradesh and their inclination towards Assamese, Thongchi said, “The younger generation of writers in Arunachal is more inclined towards Hindi and English, and are unaware of the beauty of writing in Assamese.”
The Northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh was once known as North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which was created in 1954, and was later renamed as Arunachal Pradesh in 1972. Interestingly, Assamese was the medium of instruction in NEFA schools in those days and acted as a lingua franca among the illiterate masses, which explains the reason behind the people belonging to the 1950s being fluent in Assamese.
However, in the past few years, Hindi has been making strong inroads into the state, and the reason being the primary education system in which Hindi is recognised as the medium of instruction.
As a result, Hindi now serves as the lingua franca and English remains the only official language recognised in the state. This has led to the loss of a naturally formed common language of the state which was unofficially called ‘Nefamese’, a local style of Assamese unique to Arunachal.
Echoing the same, Thongchi same: “I do not have any problem with Hindi, English or any other language, for that matter. But I have grown up learning this beautiful language, which is why it breaks my heart that people are slowly forgetting this medium of speech.”