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Finding Commonalities though Verse: In Conversation with Eminent Assamese Poet JibanNarah

Finding Commonalities though Verse:  In Conversation with Eminent Assamese Poet JibanNarah

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 Oct 2018 10:12 AM GMT

Our Bureau

In the realm of Assamese poetry and literature, there are only a few poets who have managed to make a mark in the global arena through their distinct voice, treatment of subject and language. One of the most distinctive voices which appeared in the Assamese firmament in the nineties, and which continues to be heard with the same distinctiveness for uniting people of different communities of Assam, is none other than that of Jiban Narah. An educationist-and-poet par excellence, JibanNarah lives in Nagaon with his family, where he works in Anandaram Dhekial Phukan Collegeas an Associate Professor in the Department of Assamese.

Born in the remote Morangial village of Golaghat district in 1970, the folk traditions of the Mising tribe as well as other communities of Assam caught the imagination of Jiban Narah at an early age.

He took to poetry early on in life, as a means to expressing his inherent thoughts and culture of the different communities he came into touch with, and earned tremendous applause early on in life.

Till date, he is one of the very few regional poets who can claim to have his works translated into all the Major Indian Languages of the country, including Malayalam, English, Bengali, Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Oriya, Gujarati and Manipuri.

Jiban Narah is the author of five poetry collections, two novels, three edited books and two collections of personal essays and a compilation of Mishing poetry translated into Assamese. His poetry has been included in anthologies published by Oxford (The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-east India, Poetry and Essays), Penguin and Sahitya Akademi. He has two collections of Mising Tribal Folk Poetry translated into Assamese which have been further been translated into English by the Sahitya Akademi (Listen My Flower Bud, Mishing Tribal Oral Poetry of Assam) and in Bengali. His poems have been translated into almost all Major Indian Languages as well as Polish Language. A regular invitee to different national and international literary festivals, Narah also takes a keen interest in promoting Assamese as the medium of instruction in schools of Assam.

A legend in his own right, his poetry has been heralded by revered Assamese poets like Navakanta Barua, senior critics, academics and translators like Dr.Hiren Gohain, Pradip Acharya, Ananda Bormudoi, KabinPhukan, Prabhat Bora, GeetashreeTamuly and the patriarch of Modern English poetry in India, Jayanta Mahapatra, who have evaluated and recognised Jiban’s poetry as uniquely brilliant.

Although a revered name in the poetry circles of the country, many are unaware of the fact that JibanNarah had taken one of the lead roles in the “O Mur Apunar Dekh Samanay Jatra” held at Nehrubali Field of Nagaon in 2013. Organised in association with Paridhi and Navarup Jatiya Bidyapith, the Samanay Jatra had culminated with the singing of Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaruah’s famous song, ‘O Mur Apunar Desh’, in 41 different languages/dialects. Although ‘O Mur Apunar Desh’ has always been officially regarded as the State anthem of Assam, it was only after the Samanay Jatra that the State Government issued an official notification in this regard.

Noted poet AJ Thomas, who had written a biography of the poet, said that Jiban Narah’s poetry, much like the vibrant Chinese or Japanese symbolist poetry and unlike the obscure yet intense French symbolist poetry as opined by Kabin Phukan, has been drawn from his native culture and arrived where it has, as his natural expression.

Eminent litterateur and translator Pradip Acharya remarkably notes that, “…the faith on nature-dependence nurtured by JibanNarah in the mid-nineties is significant both for literature and society.” He further observes that this oneness with nature is the keystone of post-modernist literature as demonstrated by Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie and OrhanPamuk”. JibanNarah, being credited with such an important role in Assamese literature by a venerable critic and translator like Pradip Acharya, speaks volumes of the importance of this poet.

Further, talking about Narah’s poetry, eminent Assamese poet Navankanta Barua had said, “Jiban Narah shows that the folk is part of us and folkways make direct inroads into modern poetry and inform his idiom which is regular and catchy…. He is a poet of distinctive character. He brought in a new sensuous quality to the otherwise intellectual modernity of many of his contemporaries.”

The melange team recently entered into a conversation with the veteran poet and educationist to talk about his journey in the realm of poetry and education. Following are excerpts.

At the outset, please tell us about your childhood and your familial life.

Ans:I was born in 1970 in Morangial village of Golaghat district on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River and Dhansiri River. Since my father was a farmer, we were brought up in the typical agrarian society of Assam. Like many others of my generation, I too enjoyed a wonderful and joyous childhood, the memories of which are still deeply ingrained in my mind and heart.

My family consisted of my father Uma Narah and my mother PunyaNarah and three other siblings. My eldest brother, who has passed away, had taken care of our education and higher studies. Growing up in a cultivator’s family, I was exposed to poverty early on in life. My father, despite being a farmer, also had to engage himself in selling fish so as to provide for the family. As a school-goer, I also had to assist my father in selling fish in the daily market every day. I am married to Utpala Bora and together we have a daughter Ninam Narah. We stay in Nagaon.

Tell us about your educational journey.

Ans: I did my early schooling in Morangial LP School and graduated from JDSG College in Bokakhat. I then completed my MA degree in Assamese from Gauhati University and joined the Ananda Ram Dhekial College in Nagaon where I am presently working as an Associate Professor in the Department of Assamese. I had served as the Head of the Department for a short while. I have been associated with the college for the last 22 years.

As an educationist or socio-cultural activist, what are the changes that you have seen or felt over the years. Please tell us about your experiences in this field.

Ans:It goes with any doubt that over the last two decades, there has been tremendous changes in all aspects of our life – be it in our social, cultural or economical spheres. Just like there has been a huge transition in the word of literature, the educational system has also undergone a massive transformation from the days when I first joined as an educationist. Globalisation and better connectivity has made a major impact in the social lives of the people and also in our thoughts processes. So compared to the situation twenty-two years back when I first joined Ananda Ram Dhekial College, the status or the role of a teacher has also definitely changed tremendously in today’s time and age.

How did you develop an interest towards poetry and literature?

Ans: I think I had an inherent love for literature right from my childhood days. As a student, I used to get my poetry published in the college magazine and other small magazines published from Golaghat district.

Herein, I have to mention the influence of my first guru, my teacher, Brajen Bora, who has been a major guiding force for me. He always encouraged me to engage in literary endeavours and when I had decided to get admitted in the polytechnic course after my matriculations, he was not very happy. Due to certain personal reasons, I could not continue my course in the polytechnic institute and joined the BA stream of JDSG College in Bokakhat. During that time, Bora sir had said that I made the right choice as he always felt that literature was my calling in life.

Since we are talking about influences, I have to say that people with the Bora title have played a major role in my emergence as a poet. While I got married to my wife Utpala who is from the Bora family, many educationists and scholars who share the ‘Bora’ title, like Prabhat Bora, Dilip Bora, Prabhat Bora of Nagaon, have had a major influence in my life. Neelomoni Phukan sir has also been a major influence in my journey as a poet.

My mother has been another major source of inspiration for me and she influenced me a lot in my journey in the world of poetry and literature. While I have written a number of poems on her and engaged in a lot of creative deliberations on her influence, it is a fact that she provided the foundation for my literary pursuits.

Do you remember the first poem that you had written?

Ans: Well, I had written my first poem along with my cousin Gagan Payeng, who is now working with the SSB. We must have been in the eighth or ninth standard then and we had dedicated our first poem to one of our lady teachers of our high school who used to be very stylish.

As a poet, you have achieved critical applause at a very young age and you are one of the very few poets to have your work translated into so many different languages. Please tell us a bit about it.

Ans: My works have been translated into almost all the Major Indian Languages, most of them in Marathi, Bengali and Malayali. Most of the noted poets of Kerala are close acquaintances of mine and they hold me in very high esteem. A few poems have also been translated into Polish language. More information about them can be found in my profile which you have included in the introduction. Most of the collections are now being printed in their second and third editions.

Different scholars have put different opinions about my poems and I am forever grateful to them for their constant support. Herein, I would have to take the names of eminent scholars like Nabakanta Barua, Dr. Hiren Gohain, Pradip Acharya, Kabin Phukan, Prabhat Bora, Geetashri Tamuly, Arindam Bokotoki who have taken the pains to review my works and encourage me in each and every step. It is because of them that my poetry has managed to reach such a wide section of people in our State.

How important is folklore in literature or poetry?

Ans: That is a very important question. I feel our oral folklore or folk traditions plays an important role in our present-day literature or poetry. For instance, till the time my collections of Mising Tribal Oral Poetry were translated into English by Moushumi Kandali for the Sahitya Akademi, people could not even imagine the vast dimensions of Mising folklore, poetry and literature. Of course, Tabu Taid and others had translated Mising Oral Poetry before me but they could not manage to take it to a wider section of people. Nowadays, I can say without hesitation that folk poetry has become an integral part of my poetry.

You have also been spearheading the cause of promoting Assamese as the medium of instruction in our schools and colleges… Please tell us a bit about your movement.

Ans: For the last 15 years or so, I have been actively involved in promoting the use of Assamese as a medium of instruction in schools and colleges of Assam. Our basic motto is to save our Mother Language so as to Save our Culture. Herein, I would like to clarify a few facts. For various reasons, many people cannot send their children to study in our vernacular medium schools because of various personal or familial reasons. But if hundreds and thousands of students are taught in languages apart from our Mother Tongue, how can we expect our Assamese and other local languages to even survive?

We want people to study in our local medium schools and then study whatever other language they want to later on in life. I want to make it clear that we are not against learning other languages, but we should make it a priority to teach our children our own language so that we are able to save our language and our culture.

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