A Master Storyteller
In Conversation with Sahitya Akademi award-winning Assamese writer Jayanta Madhab Bora
In the realm of contemporary Assamese literature, Jayanta Madhab Bora is a familiar name as he has carved a niche for himself in the domain of novels and short stories. He has created an aura around himself by winning the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel ‘Mariahola’ where he depicted the rural life with acute details. The novel under review is titled ‘Jalaprapat’ which has been beautifully published by Jyoti Prakashan and which was previously serialized in the pages of famous Assamese magazine ‘Prantik’. In this novel, Bora has created a fictional place named Panghat which might remind one of the famous Indian English novelist R.K. Narayan and his creation of the fictional town Malguri. Bora has created a nice ambience of the locality and the geographical territory is interlinked with history of its people. Bora deals with both pre-independence and post –independence history of the area in his novel and the local history of the people living in Panghat comes alive because of deft narrative strokes of Bora.
This is a novel which can be interpreted from the perspective of sub-altern narrative as the characters created by Bora live in a small area where everybody knows everyone else as they live in the margins of history. Bora contests grand historical narrative and he shows incredulity towards meta-narrative. The novel spans across the history of three generations through the depiction of a family which in turn is associated with the history of the locality. The novel wonderfully evokes the life of Manik Mahajan as he initially provides the impetus to the plot of the novel. Manik marries twice and it is through the depiction of the trials and tribulations of his second wife the novel gradually picks its momentum. As long as Manik is alive nobody dares to visit his house as he tyrannically controls everyone and everything including his second wife. But the big household of the Mahajan comes to naught when he gradually succumbs to illness and dies and with his death it can be said that one chapter of the locality comes to its ending.
As the prosperity of the family of Manik declines with his death the author also portrays the decay of the locality. Bora demystifies the illusion that village life is simple and the inhabitants of village are innocent as we come across their petty ideas, their narrow outlook and their selfishness. We see a complex life embedded within the gamut of rural life of Assam and we also see how criminal can be the attitude of certain village characters.
Bora has shown the lives of the British people living in the area through the character of Etenjen Sahib. The area initially is peopled with people belonging to different communities as they live lives on the margins. The reference to Ferryghat and the local railway station signify a special dimension as plenty of people live on the profit incurred from makeshift shops established in the vicinity. But time changes everything and Panghat goes around rapid metamorphosis. The gradual erosion of moral and social values signify a major change and the characters of the novel struggle to survive and Bora wonderfully deals with the lives of the female characters. There is also an attempt to capture the major upheavals of Assam but there is also an effort to show the major socio-political and historical changes wrought around by time. The novel is basically an ode to the rural life of a particular area but Bora also sings its elegy as Panghat gradually becomes a town and we see the disappearance of community life.
The novel follows a conventional narrative and Bora has exhibited his tremendous command over the resources of Assamese language which become evident through his frequent use of fokora jojona. Bora writes like a poet and his deeper philosophical attitude makes the novel a significant creation in the context of contemporary Assamese fiction.
In a recent interview with melange, Jayanta Madhab Bora talks about his life and his literary journey so far.
- Please tell us about your childhood.
Ans: My childhood was spent in a village. It is a remote place of the present Golaghat district. The river Kakdonga, the Namghar of the village, a primary school, tiny grasslands and vast paddy fields all had created the environment of my childhood.
My adolescent days were spent in tea garden. That was another environment. Only green and greenery all around. My youth days were spent in town. In my writings (many short stories and novels), the village of my childhood finds a space there. Even, now also, in the core of my heart, you will found the Kakdonga village and the river of my childhood. Every writing having a village background contains my childhood’s village. It happened during writing the book ‘Mariahola’ also.
I often feel nostalgic reminding my childhood’s tea garden. My first novel (published as book) ‘Amrit’
was written on the plot of a tea garden. The novel was honoured with the Giridhar Sarma Award by
Asam Sahita Sabha.
- You provide fantastic details about nature in your writings. Does it have anything to do with the environment where you were brought up?
Ans: My adolescence days were spent amidst tea garden and my youth days were in town. May be I
am one of those fortune people who rarely get chances to live life in so different environments. The village, tea garden, town – all these have enriched me making familiar with the different problems, pains, dreams and conflicts of each. I think, it has made me able to pen down short stories, novels on
the three different backgrounds.
- How did creative inspiration come to you?
Ans: I was fond of literature since childhood. As a child, I loved to have reading of the tales. Historical episodes had attracted and impacted me. I wrote a story in the school magazine when I was in class eight. At that time, there was no conscious effort, but a spirit like the river of youthfulness. That was the first time that I got to see my name in published letters. After that, another inspiring incident happened when I was in the ninth standard. In our school, an all Assam essay competition was held. I had participated there and it was an wonder for me that my essay bagged the first prize. I can never forget that day of receiving the prize. In college, I was a student of pre-university science stream and concentrated on my academic studies. I had no relation with serious literary practice or what we call activism. But I used to go the library to borrow books of stories and novels. In hostel, it was quite trend – contradictory that being a science student, I used to study novels and stories during my leisure. In case of literary practice, I became serious when I was a student of Jorhat Science College and then of Dibrugarh University. In Jorhat Science College I studied Physics in B.Sc. and in Dibrugarh University, M.Sc. Actually, I had developed the feeling of responsibility towards writing when I was in Dibrugarh University. I got inspiration from my friends and well-wishers there. But more than that, the unstable inner soul had voiced me to write. I had to speak on against the ongoing corruption, de-moralisation in the society. That rebellious spirit energized me to pen down.
- How did you begin your creative journey? Who were the writers that influenced you? And kindly tell us about your initial struggle as a writer.
Ans: As I have said, I had the kind of habit of writing since my childhood. At that time, I read the Assamese as well as Bengali novels a lot. We were acquainted with the foreign literature through the
translated versions. Now I can’t mention any specific name that this person or that writer had great
impact on me. It was the content, more than the writer which had impacted me.
A writer must struggle. To write well and standard, deep study as well as practice is essential. I am also not exceptional of this cult of struggle. I was containing the story-line of the novel ‘Mariahola’ for 25 years. For 25 years, I was playing with it. I was collecting data. After that I sat to write. It was same in case of my another novel on Majuli titled ‘Namata Kahaya Majuli Sawe’. Those were also one kind of struggle. Another thing is that – I am never satisfied with my writings. When I am writing
a story. I think I am writing a very good story. On due course of writing a novel, I think I am writing a
strong novel. Even I tell my friends with proud. But after completing, it seem for me like- is it a story? What have I written!- But I don’t have that much of patience that I will sit and rewrite. I have never gone for re-writing. I just write and send for publishing. I think this habit is not good. May be, after rewriting, my novels or short stories would become more polished. But this unsatisfactory position is
making me to write one after another. So this struggle to write, with own self has brought me to what I am today.
- You live an urban life but the setting of most of your novels is rural. How would you address this contradiction?
Ans: I have already said that my childhood was spent in a village. That had enriched my life. Those rituals, people, their thoughts and talks-all are alive in my mind. In my writings, it finds its own spaces spontaneously. In the core of my heart, you will find that village and the river. In every writing with village background, the village of my childhood gets portrayed. Even, in writing Mariahola’ also, happened the same. Even after residing in city, I can’t forget that village and those
sweet days of my life. In the lonely moments amidst the mechanical city life, the village comes silently and makes me nostalgic. This conflict between the feelings of village and city shapes the new
- Kindly tell us about your professional life. How does it affect your literary life?
Ans: Not only mine, most of the writers’ (except the journalists) occupational field is different. It brings obstacles in writing also. Time does not permit you. When I get time, I write. Whenever the inner voice arises, I am bound to write. Life and livelihood are not one. Life is aim. Livelihood is the means. Life and the field of livelihood may not be same; or may be same for someone. Those, whose are not same, lose the joy.
- You have written both novels and short stories. How do you maintain this symbiotic relationship?
Ans: Yes, I write both short stories and novels. The story, jerking in mind decides whether it will be a
short story or a novel. Some stories cannot be shaped as short story whereas some as novel. I enjoy
writing both, But I consider myself more in novel writing.
- For many readers Mariahola is your masterpiece. But you have written equally important novels about Majuli and Ajan faker. Kindly tell us something about the conception of these works.
Ans: Mariahola’ ‘Azan Phakir’, ‘Namata Majuli Kahai Sawe’ , ‘Mayang’ – these novels are written in a
new technique. Each of these novels is based on historical episodes and events. But these novels are
not historical novel. Here, historical episodes have been reconstructed. They are reanalysed from the narrator’s view point. An imagined character is plotted in the historical setting and own views are presented. This is my own technique. I am thankful that readers have accepted this technique.
- You seem to have a wide knowledge about the resources of Assamese language which is visible in your frequent use of fokora jojona. Kindly shed light upon these issues.
Ans: Planning is there. Now, I am writing a novel titled ‘Deul’ which has been being published in Gariyasi serially. The plot of the novel covers up the 19th Century- from the Mans’ invasion to 1900. I
am working on a child novel also. I have also planned for more novels. I will have to pen them down one by one.
Translated by Jintu Gitarth