Folklorist and writer, Bhrigu Mohan Goswami, finds that reading Indira Goswami’s short stories is like seeing the world in a grain of sand
Jnanpith Award winner Mamoni Raisom Goswami gained fame as a novelist only after she had become known to the readers through her short stories. There was a reason behind why she loved to write novels more than short stories. In her own words, “the vast world of novels is like the sky while the world of short stories is a part of the sky as reflected in the water collected in a cow’s footprint”.
Sinaki Morom (1960), a collection of short stories, was Goswami’s first book in print. There were very few women fiction writers at the time. Her short stories drew the attention of readers as well as authors, young and old.
The world of her short stories is vast. It will not be possible to discuss all her short stories in this short essay. The discussion here will focus only on some of the stories included in Mamoni Goswami’sFavourite Short Stories (1998). This book has 15 stories – ‘Sanskar’, ‘Yatra’, ‘Ishwariya Sangshai aru Prem’, ‘Poroshu Patoror Nad’, ‘Hriday’, ‘Udong Bakas’, ‘Barafar Rani’, ‘Pashu’, ‘Nangath Chahar’, ‘Parash Ratan’, ‘Riniki Riniki Dekhisu Yamuna’, ‘Matri’, ‘Parashmoni’, ‘Sei Endhar Puharoru Adhik’ and ‘Bijanu’. These stories appeal to me for they display Goswami’s style, narrative, use of local dialects and metaphors among others. They also show her preference for distinctive subject matters – the heart of a woman, folk culture, love of nature and the burning issues of Assam and other parts of India.
Dr Banikanta Kakati had written in ‘Nari Hriday’ (Woman’s Heart), one of the essays in his book Sahitya aru Prem (Literature and Love), that the authentic representation of a woman’s heart and nature in literature will remain elusive until the emergence of female writers with original talents. With the arrival of writers like Mamoni Raisom Goswami, this has become possible. If one reads Goswami’s short stories and novels, one can get a clear picture of the nature of a woman’s heart. Male writers would not have been able to do what Goswami had done with such brilliance.
Goswami wrote ‘Matri’, ‘Parashmoni’, ‘Sei Endhar Puhororu Adhik’ and ‘Bijanu’ when she was a college student. Morning shows the day! We can see signs of classic writings in these stories which, though set in Assam, have a universal appeal.
In ‘Matri’, childless teacher Madhu adopts an orphan, Soun, and puts him in the lap of his wife Padumi who has all the fine feelings of a woman. However, for a moment, she also loses her temper. Padumi says to Madhu, “We don’t know whose son he is. You have brought him straight home simply because you are a teacher. Do you know how much this little boy eats? His is not just a stomach; he is like a pot used for a feast.” (p221). Such comments from Padumi make him think: “These days human love has also lost its purity. How can you trust others when you can’t trust your own people?” At this point in time, Padumi tells her husband that she has become pregnant. Madhu is worried again: “Being the mother of her own child, perhaps she will ill treat Soun twice as much as she did before.” The much awaited day arrives, but Padumi gives birth to a stillborn. Now she understands the meaning of motherhood. She says, “Bring Soun to me. I just want to touch his body. Only once…” Nothing can better explain a mother’s longing for her child.
Goswami unravels the deep recesses of the mind of a woman and looks at conventions from a new viewpoint in ‘Sei Endhar Puhororu Adhik’. The traditional character of Damayanti in this short story believes that the greatest ornament of man is his personality. Treatment of tradition from a fresh perspective is one of the characteristics of Goswami’s literary works.
‘Sanskar’ is one of het most famous creations. She boldly wrote this story at a mature age, exposing the hypocrisies in orthodox Brahmin society. It revolves around the mysterious life story of a poor widow. ‘Yatra’ highlights the effects of insurgency, floods, and so on in Assam.
A Ramayana scholar of renown, Goswami lays bare the heart of woman in ‘Ishwariya Sangshai aru Prem’. It is the story of widow Ishwari and widower Dharmabahadur. It weds Ram bhakti with earthly love and is written from her experiences as a participant in discourses on the Ramayana in India and abroad. In ‘Udong Bakas’, the character of Taradoi has been very tragically depicted. The story is an attempt at building a classless society, free of the prevalent caste system. However, the author is not sure how the change will come. The story has an undertone of despair. ‘Nangath Chahar’ is about the slum areas in Delhi. It shows the writer’s love for the Dalits. ‘Parash Ratan’ is one of the best love stories authored by Goswami. In ‘Riniki Riniki Dekhisu’, the writer goes looking for love like a free bird, but ends up a caged parrot. “Love should be spontaneous, unfettered,” says Sananda, an important character in the story.
The short stories of Mamoni Raisom Goswami are replete with her diverse experiences. She has eyes like the sun, the rays of which fall on everything. Thus, in her short stories and novels, we find many news things which we would otherwise fail to see with our own naked eyes.
Source: Goswami, Bhrigu Mohan. 2010 (2006). Asamiya Sahitya Alochana. Guwahati: Jyoti Prakashan