Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8

Sahitya Akademi

A Moment of Self-examination
Author(s): Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya
Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 48, No. 2 (220) (March-April 2004), pp. 113-119
Published by: Sahitya Akademi
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23341270
Accessed: 22-06-2015 19:36 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Sahitya Akademi is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Indian Literature.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

A Moment

of Self-examination

Birendra

Kumar

Bhattacharyya

think it was an English poet Hugh Macdiarmid who said: an unexamined


I life is not worth living. I constandy examine my life and find it not worth
remembering. And my works? Everytime I try to reread one or a few of
them, the inner voice rebukes me and says: when will you write your best
work? Everytime I am called upon to present myself before a searching
or critical audience, I think of the final judgement which I am sure will
me to the hell of obscurity and silence. I know I cannot live
audience here have perhaps not read my works in the
and
I do not know what impressions did the translations
original Assamese,
condemn

forever. The Delhi

of

some

of

them

make

on

them.

All

I want

that

to

convey

today

to

you

is my sense of sincerity as an artist of words and along with it an outline


of my mind engaged in trying to integrate art with life. There is every
likelihood that communication

may fail, for compelled by circumstances, I


am speaking in a language which is not mine nor yours. However, I shall

try my

best

to

what

convey

intend

to

convey.

My life has three distinct periods: the period of childhood


an

obscure

tea

garden

in upper

Assam

where

my

father

worked,

passed in
the

period

of youth when I received formal education in school and college and infor
mal education through participation in the freedom struggle and constructive
work for social change and finally, the period of adulthood when I took to
journalism and creative writing. A fourth period can be thought of. It is a
period of physical movement, confronting the reality of Indian literature at
the level of Sahitya Akademi and intense self-searching. A sense of inad
equacy as well as a sense of intense hope for another new spell of creativity
haunt

or

beguile

me

at

the

moment.

These divisions are arbitrary, but they seem to fit in with my idea of
presenting the very tentative view of my own literary activities. I have an
unpublished autobiographical

poem which recalls the vivid images of the first

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

three periods of life. Some of the experienced realities in the childhood


passed in the tea garden form the raw material for creation in my novel Kalar
Humuniah (Signs of Times). A boy discovers the multilingual multireligious,
class and caste-ridden tea garden community with the sahibs at the top, and
the labourers

at the lowest level. He

discovers

nature and himself. The

characters interact living a life burdened by poverty but inspired by love,


beauty, anger and fellow feeling. The boy becomes one with this world, when
suddenly his father loses his job, and he leaves the garden in a sad mood.
A nostalgia for the lost life of innocence, juvenile curiosity and abundant
love still beckon him back to the bosom of that everliving green garden at
the foot-hills of Nagaland.
There is another boy in my novel/(Mother).
He discovers the village
where he lives with his widowed mother who nurtures and educates not only
her

son

but

regards

the tenants

of

her land

as her

sons

also.

There

are

enough

disturbing events in the family and the village but she faces the chaotic world
calmly. The village is modelled on my own village of Dhakiakhowa in Jorhat,
and

the

character

of

mother

was

drawn

in the

image

of

my

own

wise

and

loving mother. But they can be any village or any mother. This symbolic
village also forms a strong part of the background of my novel Munichunir
Pobar (Light in Dusk). The story links up Guwahati with the village, where
the main character, a professor, returns after his politically over-ambitious
wife deserts him. Back in his village he becomes a social reformer and
constructive worker and marries his widowed
facing

the

negative

reality

of

the

peasant

class

childhood

war,

sweetheart

after

Movement

and

Bhoodan

horrors of 1975 emergency. This village is more conflict-ridden and disin


tegrated than the village in Ai, published in 1960.
I was a very serious student, deeply interested in reading and appre
ciating literature and writing for school and college journals, both handwritten
and printed. Our village had an eminent Assamese poet, and some other
writers were in the nearby town of Jorhat where I had literary friends. My
own elder brother Sri Nalinidhar Bhattacharya was my constant colleague in
my literary pursuits. I wrote poems, short stories and essays. I was a shy
speaker. This shyness did not leave me even when later I used to address

meetings of all sort, including the political. Speaking and writing are different
arts. Perhaps I shall never be able to master the first, and shall have to be

satisfied toying with the second. My characters, however, speak better than
I do in life, probably because they have no listeners, but only readers. I am
however very good at monologue. Years back, the AIR Guwahati broadcast
a few

dramatic

written

monologues

by

me.

They

were

crucial

monologues

of a few freedom fighters of Assam who were hanged for sedition. Before
the

fatal

noose

strangles

his

throat,

the

brave

martyr

speaks

the

ultimate

114 / Indian Literature : 220

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

truths as he realized them in life. I tried to bring back not only the dead
heroes alive but induced them to speak to his countrymen in a tone that
renews their battered human spirit.
I do not want to define literature or its various genres. I have tried
and failed. The creative process is largely unknown. While I was a student
I tried my hand at writing short stories or as some say long stories. The size
however is not important. Sometimes I start from some idea, sometimes from

a peculiar person I meet, or situation I confront sometimes from a scene


of beauty or an impressive face. The face is very important for drawing a
character unless of course he has other physical or mental abnormal traits.
Sometimes you are fascinated by the primitive; sometimes by the probable
or possible future, specially when the present tries to cage you like a bird.
The woman to'o is important for a male writer, for she is the other self.
In my writings the other self often appears as the whole society; even there
the woman

acts

as the symbol

or the starting

point.

Sometimes

the oppressed

or the deprived or the marginal person acts as the other self. 'How do you
write your novels and stories?' - I once asked Tara Shankar Banerjee, who
always encouraged me to write. He said he first conceived the characters and
then the interaction started. What are the characters? They are perhaps the
images of experienced reality, or keys to understanding and recreating them.
I search for the spirit of many everywhere. That is a long story. Let me now
recapitulate my own experiences of writing my novels.
I usually start with contemporary experiences. I was a child
national revolution and a witness to some of the cruel happenings
Second World War. As a student, I collected donations for the relief
striking workers in Digboi Oil Refinery in 1939 and also participated

of the
of the
of the
in the

August rebellion though in a marginal manner. I knew some of the strikers


and freedom-fighters very closely. I knew the aspirations of the people and
their anger at the acts of injustice, exploitation and imperialist tyranny. These
experiences changed my philosophy of life and I became wedded to the
doctrine of equality which formed the centre of a world outlook. Other
auxiliary inseparable values like justice, freedom, love and beauty also fas
cinated

me

as

they

fascinated

the

people

of

my

generation.

But

a novelist

cannot live in abstraction, he has to choose some incidents and find his
characters. They must be significant incidents, and the characters must be
rounded, convincing and with individualities of their own.
I often visited Digboi, to attend literary meet, and to meet the readers
of the journals I edited: Ramdhenu and Navayug. Then I met an old
employee

of the oil company and collected from him a written account of the 1939
strike. Late Mr.M.N. Roy, who hailed this strike as a starting point of a second
freedom movement, was an important participant in the strike. I met other
Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya / 115

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

participants. I visited the oil fields and the production units. I saw how
officers lived and how workers lived. I wrote a novel based on the strike thirty

years after the strike took place. I had to mentally reconstruct the Digboi
town

of

the

thirties

in

its relation

to

the

rest

of

the

At

country.

that

time

1 lived from hand to mouth and my wife suffered and shared my voluntary
poverty willingly. I always chose freedom, and as a result, frequently lost jobs.

I lost my third job in 1967 and was doing freelance journalism to survive.
To resume the story. I had chosen my characters identified myself with them
recreated

the

strike

and

made

the

characters

love

move,,

speak,

and

was lacking. A lady reader read the first draft and

something
unattractive.

overtook

despondency

me,

but

soon

act.

But

found it

overcame

it

and

rewrote it. I was not satisfied with it, as I have never been satisfied with
my other works. Is it a desire for perfection or just an effort to be sincere
that keeps me dissatisfied? I do not know. But this is a sort of dissatisfaction
that is hardly appreciated by the commercial publisher whose first consid
eration is saleability of the book. He prefers an author who toes his line.

This novel that came out of these travails was Pratipad (First Moon).
Another novel called Mrityunjay was published in 1970. I've already
referred

to

the

cause

of

my

fascination

for

'42

the

movement

as

a theme.

Freedom

is a great value. But freedom by what means? India was the only
which
wanted to achieve freedom non-violently. The movement in
country
Assam was carried on non-violently, but the pressures of the World War II
which came to its doors drove our imperialist masters mad and they let lose
a hell of tyranny on the freedom fighters and the people. At last I found
my

theme

event

and

in this
the

debate

and

characters?

On

conflict
24

regarding

the

1943,

a great

Nov.

but

means,

where

derailment

is the

took

place

in Panikhaiti near Guwahati.

It was a military express carrying soldiers of


the Allied army. Soon after the incident I happened to pass through the grim
scene
workers

of

destruction
who

did

and
the

saw

the

sabotage

derailed

work.

Years

train.
later

I came
I

met

to

know

the

about

leader

of

the
the

sabotage squad and collected the details of the incident. The incident re
mained in my memory. Before writing the novel, I visited the place of action
again and tried mentally to reconstruct the area as it stood in 1942-43. I
decided

to take

the

same

characters

that

took

part

in the work

of

derailment.

Of course I had to delete some, inflate others and deflate quite a few. I had
to invent and distort. My aim was all the while to reveal the image of the
whole movement, and for this, I had to make the characters engage in
conversation, recollection, action, debate and even quarrel. In order to high
light the ideological struggle, I had to make the characters assume typical and
representative roles sometimes in fierce opposition to each other. Among the
main characters, one is a simple peasant lad Dhanpur who preached strong
116 I Indian Literature : 220

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

retaliatory violence and a new social code. The second one is a student
Rupram who believed in history and the role of violence in the liberation
war; but he was unable to support the mindless violence indulged in by some
of his degraded colleagues. The third one is the hero Mahada Gosain who
took

to violence

as

a last

tyranny,

they

remained

a repentant

till

revolutionary

in the novel are mostly victims of war, violence

his end. The women


and

and

resort

carry

on

the

banner

of

humanness.

Dimi,

the

and

love-torn

tribal woman, is the golden link between revolution and life, between the
primitive and modern mind. These women suffer like the women of the
"Striparva" in the Mahabharata, and at the end one of them asks for a new
human order. She asks, "Will man be better when freedom comes?"
In the fifties, I was a teacher in Ukhrul in Manipur, in the land of
the Tangkhul Nagas and got my Naga characters for the novel lyaruingam
there. I lived there like a Naga and observed the damages done by war and
violence to the Naga life and mind. Sarengla was a nurse, and I learnt about
her tragic life story. She became my main character. A Japanese soldier who
forced her to live with him deserted her and her tragedy began from that
point of time onwards. In her, I found the image of a tragic character. Slowly
other characters were discovered, though unconsciously: Major Khating who
was in the volunteer force of the 14th army and a war hero; Videsselie an
soldier devoted to Netaji and a protagonist of the Nagas to accept
of universal peace, democratic rule and independence move

ex-INA

the message

ment; Rishang the teacher who tried hard to persuade the Indianism;
Phanitphang the confused rebel and frustrated lover; Ngazek, the protagonist
of conservative Naga culture, Abei the dog who plays a human role in
is the

lyaruingam

unborn

future

of

the

I made

Nagas.

every

effort

to

know

the Nagas life - their institutions, religion and customs. An image of a Naga
society is there in the novel. I discovered the Nagas and their life anew and
tried

to

make

them

a part

of

our

consciousness.

I shall not speak about all my novels, or other works. Consciously


or

unconsciously

north-

east

India

the

life

contemporary

interested

me

more,

in

and

Assam
they

and
still

the

interest

related
me.

areas
There

of
are

immense raw material for creative works lying unutilized in the north-east
corner of the country. Some of them I have utilized in my short stories
and short novels. But there is not enough time today to talk about them.
A new world is lying there unknown and awaiting to be discovered.
Pbul Kunwarar Pakhi Ghora (The Winged Horse of the Flower-Prince)
is my latest novel. The novel portrays the life of Guwahati on the eve of
taking a middle class educated family as its base. The war
Independence
Birendra Kumar Bbattacbaryya / 117

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

completely disrupted the life and cultural activities of the younger generation,
to which I belonged. I remember the war-time scenes vividly: the eclipse
of moral values, disruption of education, stoppage of normal literary
activities, high price rise, dilemmas of the revolutionaries, and the rise of
a greedy contractor-class and amassing of black money. The Allied army
movements and their atrocities shook the youth to their depth. Then came
the greatest political crisis faced by the people of Assam in the modern age.
On the eve of Independence came the move of the Muslim League to grab
and drag Assam into East Pakistan. Assam started a life and death struggle
to save her identity under the leadership of her Prime Minister Gopinath
Side by side a movement for a separate university was also initiated
to assert her cultural identity. The national revolution too received a set-back

Bordoloi.

due to the failure of the August rebellion and RIN mutiny. All these form
the back-drop of the novel. The characters of the urban milieu, the prop
ertied men, officers, political workers, journalists, scholars and film-makers,
et al are juxtaposed with the characters from villages: tender vaisnavabhakta,
Deodhani dancer and tribal peasants. A third set of characters - they are
the

creations

of

war

- a South

Indian

Burmese

evacuee

from

Rangoon

who

lost all his near and dear ones during his journey by foot across the Burmese
hilly and jungle terrain to Assam, an American Professor, an Austrian nurse,
auxiliary forces and Chinese soldiers figure as
marginal players. There are scenes of extramarital love and break-down of
family life, of frustrated lovers, experimental man-woman relationship without
of women

the members

marriage and of impact of divorce on the mother-daughter relationship.


It is a world of chaos on which a sense of unity is imposed to bring about
an

aesthetic

structure

or
of

the

moral
novel.

order,
It

is

through
a

worldview
value-ridden

recreated

inherent

in

the

open

world.

I write constantly and when I do not write I serve my people in various


capacities. I've no life apart from the people whom I love intensely. I write
also for the newspapers and journals. I have a hunger for information and
knowledge and I read ceaselessly. The Sahitya Akademi has compelled me
to move, and in a way, I am now beginning to know my India more and
more. I've been abroad. But there is a magic space which I love intensely

and which has so far given me all my themes. Of course, the exotic space
and the non-human world often induce me to write. I wrote an experimental
novelette based on my experience of my first visit to Russia, taking the
as
imaginary dialogue of the Indian visitor with his Armenian interpreter
the staple material of the narrative. The intention was to contrast the two
cultural

situations:

Indian

and

Russian.

The

other

experimental

novelette

was

promoted by one of my visits to the Guwahati zoo, when two chimpanzees


held my attention. I treated them as objects of political experiments of a
118 / Indian Uterature : 220

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

set of social managers who wanted to turn them into human beings through
scientific

mechanisms.

I've

written

some

other

novels

also.

But

I want

to leave

them out of today's discourse.


You've so much to write, but so little dme to realize your ambition.
A realization has dawned on my mind in recent years that the time given
to public meetings or domestic work seems to me the time lost to creative
writing. And I am aging. The lost time takes its own revenge. In a mood of
repentance I often try to write poems in the blank pages of my diary or make
jottings of what could have been a short story or a novel. I am happy when
I am in the familiar villages and hills or valleys of Assam and North-east
India. Every time I come from Guwahati to Delhi I feel that I've come
from the village to the town, from the heart to the head, from the open
sky to the gold cage. I cannot justify this strange feeling. I have been living
a life of voluntary poverty, just to keep my spirit alive. An American writer
said "the writers are supreme in spirit but light in purse." You are not always
supreme in spirit too. Sometime I feel that I am the relic of a bygone age,
an age the young and the pragmatists have rejected. Sometimes I feel I belong
to the future. But the present imprisons you and treats you as a bird in a
cage.

Birendra Kumar Bhattachaiyja / 119

This content downloaded from 198.40.30.166 on Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:36:31 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Centres d'intérêt liés