As regards the Bengali population of Shillong, we formed two rather conflicting impressions. One was that the women were very much more free at Shillong than at any other place we knew of, and the other was that the men were very much less so. It appeared to us that the men at Shillong spent their days shut up in a room and working at their desks. The impression was right because most of the Bengalis at Shillong were clerks in government offices. It also seemed to us that Shillong was a place where monotheism prevailed over polytheism and that in the face of the One-God or Brahma, as we called him following Brahmo theology, our familiar many-gods kept themselves very much in the background.
“I have never felt that my fiction and nonfiction were warring factions battling for suzerainty. They aren’t the same certainly, but trying to pin down the difference between them is actually harder than I imagined. Fact and fiction are not converse. One is not necessarily truer than the other, more factual than the other, or more real than the other. Or even, in my case, more widely read than the other. All I can say is that I feel the difference in my body when I’m writing.”
At the National Seminar on “Dalit Literature: Texts and Contexts”, organised by Delhi University’s English Department over three days, like at any other seminar, a buffet lunch was served. As happens at most such events, the sole meat dish, or nonveg as it is called, was kept a part apart. At what was deemed a safe and agreeable distance from the other pure-veg stuff. Safe for and agreeable to whom? It was not clear if the Manu Smriti or Narada Smriti or DU’s rulebook designed by some long-dead registrar had been consulted as regards the decorous distance to be maintained. I asked an aproned cateter on whose orders this had been done. We do as some saheb tells us, he offered. Besides this is how it’s always done, another said. But how can this happen at a Dalit Literature conference?
IT IS raining on the morning he leaves Shillong. It has rained for the past three days, alternating between drizzle and downpour. He looks out of the bathroom window as he brushes his teeth—grey skies, rain, pine trees on the far hills, red tin roofs—and feels an indefinable sadness in his heart. He quickly bids farewell to his mother and brother and walks through the rain with his bag to the car where his father waits.
He is dropped off at Police Bazar where a long line of Guwahati-bound Tata Sumos wait for passengers, their engines idling. A swarm of young touts encircle him as he gets down from the car; he allows one of them to lead him to the second Sumo in the line. He clambers into the last row where there is just one person at the moment.
At a book reading in Kolkata, about a week after my first novel, The God of Small Things, was published, a member of the audience stood up and asked, in a tone that was distinctly hostile: “Has any writer ever written a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue?” I hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless I understood his anger toward a me, a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted an absurd amount of attention. My answer to his question made him even angrier.
“Nabokov,” I said. And he stormed out of the hall.
‘Chandal Jibon’ (2009) by Manoranjan Byapari is the story of Jibon, a boy born into the hitherto ‘untouchable’ Chandal (or Namasudra) community in East Bengal, whose parents flee from East Pakistan and arrive as refugees in India. The story of the boy’s journey to adulthood – is also the story of the experience of the subaltern Bengali refugee community and of caste oppression, humiliation and violence, providing a trenchant bottom-up view of post-1947 Bengal and of Calcutta in the turbulent Naxalite era. It is an epic tale of the indomitable human will to survive.
In India, we now stand at a critical crossroad, as far as the humanities are concerned. The State is creating a situation so that literature departments are either forced to turn into small-scale entrepreneurships for providing a set of skills for proficiency and/or help set-up a finishing school kind of an ambience for prospective customer-students. Research work is being systematically stymied. As a result, neither are the traditional fields being nourished and updated nor is real innovation happening in charting fresh fields.
Remembering U Soso Tham, most celebrated poet of the Khasi Jaintia Hills
Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming.
There are 14 flights of stairs. Each one has 12 steps. That’s 168 to climb, because the lift is always out of order.
“Write simplistically about “North Eastern” stuff like villages, mountains, sacred groves, tribal customs, you know pristine crap like that ” and nine other tips
A profile of Hoshang Merchant, poet, teacher, male, gay, who says he ‘seeks the queer in each one of us’
Easterine Kire, who won the Hindu Literary Prize 2015 for her novel When the River Sleeps, beating stiff competition from heavyweights like Amitav Ghosh and Amit Chaudhuri, among others, talks to Dibyajyoti Sarma about her ‘spiritual’ book, and about being a writer from Nagaland