Parag Kumar Das
`50, 212 pages
Sanglot Fenla, which roughly translates as Revolution’s Army, captured the minds of an entire generation. During my undergrad years, reading Manoram Gogoi’s memoirs Paragdar Xannidhyat (In Paragda’s Company), I was amazed reading about its popularity. When was the last time the publication of a book became an event in itself, a cultural moment? In the world, I could only think of the release of the Harry Potter novels and recently, Haruki Murakami’s 108Q. Sanglot Fenla was serially published from July 1992 in the pages of Budhbar, the newspaper Das edited. Its first edition was over at the Guwahati Book Fair that had started on January 20 and the next edition was printed for the Asom Sahitya Sabha’s 59th session at Sibasagar. Due to some tiff between the organisers and the publishers, the book shops were shut in protest during the Sabha. Gogoi narrates that even during this phase, hundreds of people thronged Budhbar’s stall only to buy Sanglot Fenla and Rastrodrohir Dinalipi (A Seditioner’s Diary, 1992). One old woman demanded a copy immediately despite being told that they were not selling as a mark of protest. “I came all the way from Lakhimpur only to buy these two books, you better give them to me,” she said. Has anyone heard of an old lady travelling 415 kilometers only to buy two books?
Sanglot Fenla is no more in print, but has left an enduring legacy. In the early ‘90s, after the counter insurgency operations, many ULFA cadres had surrendered. The ones still underground nurtured a romantic idea of the separatist insurgency. Away from the hunger, diseases and death in the valleys of Burma, they were leading a life of luxury in Guwahati and Dibrugarh, earning a bad name for the organisation. But there were many more cadres who were still committed and took their goal seriously. Parag Das wanted to celebrate the struggle of these committed cadres, who according to him had not yet been co-opted into the system.
|Parag Kumar Das|
Mahanta and ULFA – something which Parag Das was very critical of and rightly so.
However, the novel is not an apologia for violence. Rather, it attempts to show how the Assamese had to take the course of armed resistance after all democratic means had been exhausted. It is also not a separatist treatise for youths who read the book unguided. In fact, to understand the novel properly, one must read Parag Das’s non-fiction and Manorom Gogoi’s memoirs. What Das narrates in the novel is merely an extension of his narrative non-fiction retold with characters and situations.
Throughout his career, Parag Das dreamt of a multi-hued Assam, bound by unity because he knew that breaking down into small groups would not help and would only appease the central government’s imperial design that has always feared the common cultural thread binding different communities in Assam. He also tried to raise awareness on human rights abuses by the Indian Army in Assam. Sanglot Fenla fits into this larger project: but what redeems the novel from the clutches of narrow, jingoistic nationalism is his depiction of the inhuman brutality of the ULFA cadres on their “traitors”, their decadence. Chillingly, the torture scenes at the Indian Army camp and the ULFA camps are very similar and successfully (sadly) compete with torture scenes of Chilean testimonios under Augusto Pinochet’s regime.