Critic and writer Gobinda Prasad Sarma gives us a glimpse of the pain and suffering that created the writer and humanist, Mamoni Goswami
It was Shelley who defined so beautifully a poet or a writer: “They learn in suffering/what they teach in song”. In Mamoni Raisom Goswami too, this came painfully true. The daughter of a well-established, enlightened family of Assam, she took to pen and paper quite early in life - even as a school student. Soon her themes came to be the suffering of the weak section of humanity – the struggling, suffering humanity in which we see the author herself. While this suffering of the weak and the hapless is caused in her oeuvre by the powerful and conveniently placed in society, in her own life, this suffering was the cause of her own individual feelings that wanted to go the right way but faced the power of blind tradition and social and religious customs. And the pangs she felt within herself took the form of her novels and short stories that transcend her personal domain and acquire the quality of the general and the universal.
As a writer who started to write as a school child, her name even at that stage – Mamoni Goswami (actual name Indira Goswami) – became familiar to the language newspaper readers of Assam. The time was the fifties of the twentieth century. The budding writer then wrote only short stories, though today we know her better as a novelist. But even as a short story writer, she was later to write the short story ‘Sanskar’ (translated into English as ‘Offspring’) which came to be recognised as not only one of her best short stories but also as one of the most powerful Indian short stories.
If someone asks me today how Mamoni Goswami was as a person, my answer would be: humane. She was also a protester against all sorts of oppression
Starting her novelistic career in the sixties and taking to publishing her novels in book-form from the seventies, her early novels were set in central, north and north-western India with characters picked up not from the mainstream society of those regions but from the periphery – men and women, half-starved and deprived – living only sub-human lives. And in painting them in highly emotive terms and a startling-suggestive language, she touched the hearts of her readers. At the same time, handling a fictional craft rich in symbols and imagery, she could also appeal to the aesthetic sense of the readers. Her novels of the first phase, Chenabor Sot (1972) and Nilakanthi Braja (1976), are instances in point. Later, in her novels like Mamore Dhora Tarowal (1980) (for which she won the Sahitya Akademi Award) and Dotal Hatir Uye Khowa Howdah (1988) (which won her the Jnanpith Award), her telling became plain while retaining still her early richness of art and craft. In these novels, like Dotal Hati orChinnamostar Manuhto (2001), her bold social themes of protest come out more overtly, though without losing her artistic appeal. Indeed, in the whole gamut of her fictive works, Mamoni always comes out as a protester – a writer with a strong but silent protest against the oppression of the weak by the situationally better placed. It is thus that she went to the industrial working class outside Assam, the suffering womanhood in Assam and Mathura-Brindavan, the meek and the mute birds, animals and other creatures in the sacred precincts of Kamakhya or Brindavan. And all along, we see in her pages a humanist with a bleeding heart with dazed eyes fixed on these sufferings.
Then what sort of a person was this Mamoni Raisom Goswami? A smiling face and a heart always full of warmth yearning always to make others happy with her sympathy for the needy and empathy for all. A writer who always had time for her endless visitors whether it was in her Delhi or Guwahati home. She would never allow anybody to leave her home without a cup of tea over her sweet sympathetic words. And yet, hers was a wounded soul beaten very cruelly by fate in the very prime of her life leaving a scar throughout. She married an engineer from Karnataka out of love and went out of the state with him, but he lost his life soon after in an accident. Her love for him remained all along a haunting shadow in her life and works. She did not go back again to normal worldly married life tied to another. Rather as one who always wanted instinctively to break the trammels of tradition and custom, she came out to live together with a Parsi engineer who was sympathetic to her in her unexpected miseries. The story of this life has been narrated movingly by her in her unique autobiography Adhalekha Dastabez (1988) that reads like a novel. Her bold living together with another was a harmonious united life of mutual understanding and sympathy outside marriage. By this time she could earn a position of lecturership in Delhi University that gave her the much needed economic assurance of a comfortable living needed so much for writing. Her research in Ramayana was an outcome both of her life of storm and calm.
Though beaten badly in life, Mamoni Raisom Goswami never lost faith in it and always looked for a better, happier society where nobody would be oppressed and all would be able to live with human dignity. If someone asks me today what or how was Mamoni Raisom Goswami as a person and to write as I knew her from her writings as well as from my close association with her, my answer would be: humane, humane. Yes, she was a humanist par excellence even while she was a protester against all sorts of oppression.