With the curtains coming down on the 73rd Koliabor session of the Axom Xahitya Xabha, it is now time to take a hard look at the work done and the road ahead. Organised on a lavish scale, the five–day session witnessed enthusiastic public response. A galaxy of literary lumiries participated in the session, the discussions were lively and thought–povoking. Now the questions arise — how does the AXX envisage the challenges facing Assamese language, what strategy it has devised to broadbase the language further and ensure its continued existence, whether the Xabha still has the authority and resources to develop the literary heritage of the region. The new AXX president Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora has struck the right note by asserting that the Assamese identity will be determined by its language. And the greater Assamese society can come about only if its language becomes a broader entity too. Putting on the same pedestal those whose mother tongue is Assamese, and those for whom it is a second or third language — Dr Bora pointed out that Assamese is and has been the lingua franca of the region, the common language tying its diverse ethnic groups and religious–linguistic communities together. His warning that any parochial rrowing down of the definition of Assamese will strike at the roots of tion building is timely, considering the historical causes which led to the splintering of the larger Assam state in the Sixties and Seventies, and which may visit us again.
The group of Assamese students who went to Kolkata for higher studies before the turn of the twentieth century and founded the Asomiya Bhasa Unti Sadhini Sabha, went on to become literary giants. Their untiring efforts paved the way for the Axom Xahitya Xabha in 1917 to begin working for the standardisation of the Assamese language and its literary reissance. Nearly a century has elapsed, the society has changed, and a host of challenges have arisen. The middle class now mostly send their wards to English medium schools, a section of the youth have embraced a mixed pidgin language where grammar goes for a six, while successive governments in the State continue to display a marked reluctance in using Assamese or other local languages in official communication. On the other hand, the common complaint is that the endless hair–splitting by linguistic fundamentalists is taking Assamese language nowhere. After all, language is a living and dymic entity; it is spoken by flesh and blood people who must communicate to survive. Since quality arises out of quantity — the more the number of Assamese speakers, the better the chances for its widening scope and continuous refinement. This is where the new AXX president’s call to make Assamese language a common property of the various peoples of the region, is once again relevant. For that was what Assamese language was ages ago, before sectarian interests took over.
As for the future, it is already here and the forces of globalisation have rung the death knell of many a tongue. If the Assamese language has to thrive in tune with the times, the Xahitya Xabha needs a vision and a gameplan. It is now speaking of involving the public in ensuring that the language of the region is widely used in government offices. It wishes to engage with English medium schools to teach the Assamese language effectively as part of the curriculum. There are plans to introduce crash courses and distance education courses, as well as using information and communication technologies extensively to popularise Assamese and other tribal languages. Development of children’s literature, special emphasis on translated works, encouraging the reading habit through book movements, giving renewed momentum to the encyclopaedia and lexicon projects — are all praiseworthy if they actually come to pass. If the Axom Xahitya Xabha succeeds in putting its house into order, keep out divisive politics and ensure transparent finces, it may yet regain the lustre and authority it once had. It must resolve to do so, for the need to think and share our highest thoughts in our mother tongue to ensure its survival, has never been greater.