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Grounded in Roots: In Conversation with Eminent Assamese Poet Anubhav Tulasi

Grounded in Roots: In Conversation with Eminent Assamese Poet Anubhav Tulasi

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  15 Jan 2019 7:05 AM GMT

Our Bureau

In the realm of Assamese poetry, 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 80s onwards, and which continues to be heard with the same zealwhile beingrooted in Assamese culture, is none other than that of AnubhavTulasi. A legendary poet in his own right, his poetry is grounded in Assam’s socio-cultural heritage and gives one a glimpse into the rich history and culture of Assam.

The writer of 15 poetry books,two collections of translations, two books of poetry criticism, two books on film studies and a collection of short stories,AnubhavTulasi is an ambassador of Assamese poems to the world outside. Hisworks are resourceful from many sides. As a writer once noted, poetry has been a constant struggle for the writer. Saswat S Das had noted, “‘He takes the reader by surprise with his distance from and nonconformity with what we have read so far as examples of genuine Indian poetry. However, standing alone inside the boundary line and contributing effectively to narrative of resistance, his images assist the reader in delving into poet’s unconscious where symbols and metaphors seem intertwined with and grow out of poet’s life spent in his native land.’

Experimentation has been a constant hallmark of the poet and right from his first collection of poems, Nazma, AnubhavTulasi has continued to experiment with the form and content of his poetry. Writer and critic NirendraNathThakuria had aptly noted, “The real forte of AnubhavTulasi as a poet is his feelings— intense and subtle, immensely varied and very personal. He is not that sort of poet who has shown a penchant for playing to the gallery. Since the publication of Nazma (1985), his first ever collection of poems, Tulasi has made a lot of experiments with the forms of his poetry, and at the same time he has expanded the range of his subject matter and themes. He is richly endowed with imagination, and he is at his best very suggestive. His poetry is so rooted in Assamese culture and ecology that some of his very fine poems defy our best attempt to translate them. His love poems may not be quotable for their exuberance, but they evoke a trail of profound sadness with fresh and striking images.”

American artists and poets, right from Vincent Van Gogh and Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen, have influenced this poet deeply and he is probably the only Assamese writer and poet to recognise and introduce the works of these great artists in his works.

The recipient of numerous awards and citations, AnubhavTulasi was one of the foremost recipient of the prestigious MuninBarkataki Literary Award. While his poems are being frequently translated into English, Hindi, Bangla, Oriya and many other Indian languages, they have also been translated into Uzbek. In 2009 some of his poems were published from Essex, U.K. in the periodical called “Kaktadua”.

Having presided over the Poetry session of Assam Sahitya Sabha in 2004, AnubhavTulasi has attended a number of international poetry meets, namely the JatiyaKabitaUtsab, Dhaka, in 2001, 2011 ad 2014; SAARC Festival of Literature 2010 held in New Delhi; Writers and Literary Translators International Congress, 2010 in Istanbul, Turkey; International Authors Forum, Boston (U.S.A.) in October 2010 and the Austin Poetry Festival in Austin, Texas in 2013.

The melange team recently met him at his residence in Guwahati to talk about his journey in the world of poetry. Following are excerpts.

  1. Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.

Ans: I was born in 1958 in Tulakhimukh village of Nagaon district. The people of our village were primarily agriculturists and we grew up amidst a strong Vaishnavite influence. We were six brothers and sisters and I was the youngest amongst the brothers. My father late LakhikantaSaikia was an educated person in the truest sense of the term and besides cultivation, he worked in a number of positions as mouzadar and as a teacher. He was associated with Vasihanavite culture and was much respected by the people of our area. We did not have much money but thanks to my father, our family was counted as one of the respected families of the area.

I did my primary school in a primary school which was located right in front of our house and then completed my matriculation from Madhavdev HS. After that, I took admission in the Science stream of Cotton College. Although I completed my PU course with good marks, I did not want to study Science and enrolled myself into the English Honours course in Nowgong College. Later on, I joined Gauhati University for my masters course in English. However, due to the Assam Agitation I lost a few academic years but ultimately, I passed out from GU with pretty good marks.

After that, I went to Sualkuchi at my friend’s insistence to join the SualkuchiBudharamMadhavSatradhikar College, which was under Gauhati University. That was the beginning of my professional career and I taught in that same college till my retirement from government service last year.

2.How did you get attracted to the world of literature?

Ans: I guess I was fascinated with literature right from my childhood days and I developed a voracious appetite for reading. When I was in the fourth standard, the then Education Minister Kamal KumariBarua visited our college along with eminent litterateur DevakantaBarua. Although their visit did not make much of an impact on me, they had donated a few books on children’s literature to our school library. I read those books and unknowingly, I developed an interest in Assamese literature in my subconscious mind.

While in high school, I read a lot of poetry books and remember reading the works of Poet Raghunath Choudhury. You can say that was the beginning of my love for poetry although I did not develop much interest for writing. I did write a few poems based on lokageets but those are no longer with me. Gradually, I got introduced to world literature and began reading works of Oscar Wilde and others, which further deepened my interest in literature. In HS, we also adapted a popular story of SahityarathiLakhinathBezbaruah for a school play although I don’t have a copy of that play with me.

In Gauhati University, I got introduced to the works of legendary writers like TS Elliot and tried to follow their style to write some kind of contemporary poems. Somehow, I kept writing poems, stories and one-act plays but they were never published as such.

In University, I was given the duty to submit a few poems every day to a segment in PrasirPotrika. It was a very joyous feeling for me to see my poems being published in PrasirPotrika. In the library of Gauhati University, I got introduced to many noted figures of world literature and it was during that time, I wrote some poems for my first poetry collection, Nazma. Before that, some of my poems were published I Prantik and another magazine published from Nagaon. After that, there has been no looking back for me

3. How many collections of poetry have you written till now?

Ans: Till 2017, I have written around 15 collections of poetry and another collection will be released next month. But herein, I would like to mention that the number of books written by a writer does not really count. We all regard DevakantaBaruah as a great litterateur but he had written only one book, XagorDekhisa, and for which we remember him. Similarly, we remember Ganesh Gohain for only one of his books. Most of us, as readers, remember many writers just for one of two of their works; this happens to most of us.

4. Your poetry is very much rooted in Assamese culture and ecology. Has it been a conscious attempt of yours to depict Assamese socio-cultural heritage and natural beauty in your poetry?

Ans: We grew up in the village and we were lucky to grow up in a very free environment. We did not have any obligations to perform well and we spent most of our growing up days in the lap of our nature. So our minds were really free. Due to the strong Vaishnavite influence in our village and the agragarian society in which we grew up, my first collection of poetry has a strong mark of those elements.

I wrote poetry only because I wanted to write; there was no obligation to base my poetry on any subject as such. It was much later on in life, that my poetry got more refined. But coming to your question, since I write poems in Assamese, my poetry has to contain elements of Assam. Because once I go out, I introduce myself as an Assamese poet and if my poems do not have any Assamese elements, I would be failing in my duty as an Assamese poet.

If we forget the culture given to us by Sankardev and Madhavdev, how can we call ourselves as Assamese poets? I had raised this issue I several platforms later on and the same was vetoed by other writers as well. And lastly, I do not have to try too hard to bring elements of my own culture in my poetry as it comes naturally to me.

5. You have experimented a lot with the form and subject matter of your poetry. Can you please tell us a bit about your penchant for experimentation?

Ans: Yes, I have indeed been trying to experiment a lot with my poems. My first collection of poems, Nazma, also had that same kind of experimentation. My language was very simple and the contents were derived from our day-to-day life in the village. The cultural assimilation of different communities of Assam was reflected in those poems and the Assam agitation also had a strong mark in those poems. I had written close to around 400 poems although I published only 100 poems in my first book.

The poems roughly consisted of four lines and I took the nine characters from each line to form a new poem in the last line. No one had ever experimented with such a form in Assamese poetry before me. So experimentation has been an integral part of my poems right from the beginning as it is ingrained in my sub-conscious.

Further I feel that in literature there is no value for reproduction. So it has been my earnest attempt to create something new in each and every work of mine. Right in 1910, eminent poet Ezra Pound had proclaimed the maxim, Make it New. Based on her maxim, we decided to coin a new phase - Every poem a new poem. I feel that since each morning is a new day, every poem should be a new one.

6.You have received a number of awards and also attended a number of seminars outside the country. Do you feel that these seminars have helped influence your poems?

Ans: I would like to quote Rabindranath Tagore here who, after winning the Nobel Award had said that people might forget his poems but his songs will live on in the hearts of every Bengali. After winning the Nobel Prize, people began to know more about him but it did not help him to become a better poet or litterateur. He had established himself as a literary figure much before the award came his way.

Similarly, I have indeed visited a number of countries and participated in a number of seminars but apart from getting some recognition and helping me make some new friends, they did not help in establishing myself as a poet. So one can safely say that awards help a person in getting the much needed exposure but it does not help one in becoming a poet or a writer.

7. Please tell us a bit about your family.

Ans: I stay in Guwahati along with my wife Mitali, daughter Sanjeevani and son Arnab.

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