By Prami Bhattacharyya
The Asomiya Bhasa Unti Sadhini Sabha which was founded in 1888 by a group of Assamese students studying in Calcutta, then the capital of Colonial India, first devoted itself to the development of Assamese language and literature. These efforts grew wider in the early part of the 20th century, culmiting in the birth of the Axom Xahitya Xabha in 1917. The apex literary body has completed 98 glorious years, with its 73rd session at Kaliabor a resounding success.
The 500 bigha plot of paddy field with the me Mouchonda Pathaar in the Atmaram Sarma Samannoy Kshetra, med after the person who first translated the Bible into Assamese, thronged with people, young and old. Their numbers grew larger as the Xabha session gained momentum. The main gate of the festival was minimally but sensibly put up in the me of Rudra Kanta Goswami. Along with it, forty gates were further constructed in the mes of forty distinguished persolities. Numerous hand–crafted creations like the much talked about eighty–foot–long Gumala and Radha–Krish–Sudama Milap attracted large crowds. More than 100 books were released, a praiseworthy practise of the Xabha to recognise upcoming literary talent. Delegates from far flung areas of the entire region, swarmed the venue, enthusiastically attending the book fair, trade fair and exhibition organized there. A total of 160 bookstalls catering to the need and fancy of book lovers, as well as 350 stalls in the trade fair went far in adding to the glitter of the Kaliabor session. Koliabor Jilingoni, the exhibition to showcase the cultural diversity and history of the region, drew numerous footfalls. Activists of many self–help groups and NCC students as volunteers were admirably harnessed by the organizing committee to aid and assist visitors to the session.
Among the many organizations participating in the exhibition, WWF (World Wide Fund) sought to create awareness about the threat of extinction facing the one–horned rhino, the state animal of Assam, by making one of its activists don the garb of a rhino and move among the visitors.
The most important point that has held the focus of the Xabha for nearly a century is the preservation and development of the Assamese language. Several speakers in the session castigated the State government in failing to implement the Official Language Implementation Act, 1960, even after five–and–a–half decades. In his speech, Dr Paramanda Rajbonshi vehemently pointed out that if Assamese is sincerely used as the language in all governmental proceedings, it will induce parents to make their children pay greater importance to learning the language. He further emphasized how Assamese is useful and central in acting as a link language connecting various peoples in the region. It was heartening to find youngsters participating actively in the sessions and putting forth their views about using the language extensively in the state. In a bid to encourage the Assamese language learning process, Dr. Rajbonshi spoke about a three month long crash course, aided by the internet and CDs. This is a remarkable move by the Xabha in keeping pace with the IT revolution, and using it to save the Assamese language and let it thrive.
However, it looked odd that the main area where the Xabha sessions were held, had many empty chairs, while most of the crowd milled about the venue in a carnival–like atmosphere. The crowd was comparatively thicker in the exhibitions and trade fair than in the book fair. Nevertheless, the efforts by the Xabha and the active participation and cooperation of local people and volunteers have drawn kudos from appreciative visitors.
All the five days of the session at Mouchanda Pathar were eventful with various programmes like children’s art competition, women writer’s gathering and youth congregation. There were colorful cultural programs in the evenings like the ones in the memory of Baiddyo Bixarod Harendra th Sharma.
On the fourth day, the new President of Axom Xahitya Xabha Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora formally took over. Dr Bora was led in a vibrant procession to Mouchanda Pathar, with huge crowd greeting him with folded hands and standing ovation. Aiming to take the Xabha mission to new heights, he said, “The Assamese identity will be determined neither by religion nor by ethnicity – nor even by the language of a particular group of people or by a group from a particular place. It will be language–centric but a broader entity in the sense that its constituents will include equally those whose mother tongue is not Assamese but who have been using Assamese as second and third language.”
Dwelling upon the role of the people of the State hailing from erstwhile East Bengal who adopted and accepted Assamese as their language in almost every sphere of their daily lives, Dr Bora said that the Assamese language has received a great impetus from this usage. He added that portraying these people as “Bangladeshis” will only impede the growth of Assamese language and literature and mar the Assamese identity and language with rrow commulism.
With this positive and hopeful note, may the Axom Xahitya Xabha march on to bring back the glory of the Assamese language and preserve it for posterity. In doing so, the active and sincere participation of every Assamese in the region and overseas is a necessary obligation and duty.