Frontispiece - Funny people : humour writers of Assam : Bhadra Bora

Noted humorist Bhadra Bora gives us an overview of humour and satire in  Assamese literature

Rasaraj Lakshminath Bezbarua dug up the well-springs of humour in Assamese literature. He used humour, satire, parody and other genres to enrich the storehouse of Assamese literature. But this great humorist had also written in regret: “Three-fourths of the people of Assam do not understand what in English is termed as “wit and humour” and cannot take pleasure in laughter. Which is why they have fallen on bad times.” Though spoken in jest, he meant it.

Various scholars have examined the nine rasas. Researchers have, however, not focused so much on the importance of humour literature. The amount of satire in old literature is minimal. Historically, although humour in Assamese literature has deep roots, it hasn’t been very strong. This is mainly because ancient literature was derived from Sanskrit. Religious works had therefore by definition to be serious and profound. Renowned scholar Satyendranath Sarma wrote:

“As a people we might not be humourous, but that is not the complete answer. Society has not changed much since Bezbarua’s time. Perhaps the biggest reason is writers have not treated the humour genre with the kind of seriousness and fame it deserves.”

Humour has, meanwhile, always been present in our literary culture. Apart from folktales and folksongs, there have been notable works such as Bezbarua’s own stories in Burhi Air Xadhu. Ojapali, and songs sung at traditional weddings were rich sources of humour. Famous researcher Bhrigu Mohan Goswami’s ‘Ojapali institution and Daina-Pali’s Role’ and other works examine this source at great depth. The flavour of ancient practices have been preserved effectively even today by institutions such as Ojapali and bhaona.

Bezbarua’s own role is crucial in understanding more recent developments. Litikai (1890), Pasoli (1913), Nomal (1913), Sikorpoti Nikorpoti (1914), Gadadhor (1918) and others are outstanding examples of the genre. Another notable contributor to the field was Padmanath Gohain Baruah, whose Gaonburha (1897), Teton Tamuli (1909) and Bhut Ne Bhram (1924) were particularly good examples of satirical plays.

Satirical theatre was also enriched by other playwrights such as Durgaprasad Majindar Barua, Benudhar Rajkhowa, Chandradhar Barua, Mitradeb Mahanta, Padmadhar Chaliha, Laxmidhar Sarma, Surendra Nath Saikia, Kumud Chandra Barua and others.

About influences on humour literature, scholars have this consensus: “In terms of English humourists whose works have influenced writings here, the name of Charles Lamb can be called to mind. Others include Beerbohm, Priestley, Gardiner, Stephen Leacock and Huxley.”

Other writers, following in Bezbarua’s footsteps, contributed stories and novels. They include Dolai Sarma, Kerpai Sarma, Ananda Kagti, Phulpani Phukan and others. Storywriter Mahishchandra Bora might be more usually considered as an essayist, but he was a storywriter nevertheless.

Critic Munin Borkataki feels: “In my mind Deka’s (Haliram Deka) works are on the one hand about people, and on the other are examples of light and funny creations. Writing is generally divided into these two divergent strains. Until these two strains are mixed, good examples from this genre cannot emerge. In the last three decades, there have been other examples of this, including Kumar Srimadhusudan, Premnarayan, Pitambar Raimedhi, Memera Medhi, Bhadra Bora, Lila Gogoi, Lalit Bora. Similarly, Hem Barua, Tilak Hazarika, Kirti Hazarika, Hem Sarma, Kiran Sarma, Prafulla Barua and, to an extent, Nabakanta Barua, Dulal Borthakur and Harendra Deba Goswami, can be counted within such writers.”

This critic has placed some writers within the genre of essays or on the fringes of some other genre. He has called them “borderline cases”. Lila Gogoi’s Kopiling Siga Rail and similar creations, Hem Sarma’s Madar Phulor Mala, some works of Bhadra Bora and others might occasionally have an element of humour in them which might elevate them to the genre.”

Some of those who have been writing in this field in the last decade are not around. Of those that remain, the foremost, Tilak Hazarika, has not written in this genre for a while. Hem Sarma has not written anything new at present. Adept writer Rama Hazarika is currently silent. Of that generation, only I am active. 

In the recent past, the quantity of such works might have decreased, but several powerful humour creations have made major additions to Assamese literature. Mentionable among them are Bikash Barua, Riju Hazarika, Punya Saikia, Badal Das, Bijoy Sankar Sarma, Bhupen Sarma, Prabhat Goswami, Reena Debi, Dasho Kalita,  Barendra Barkataki, Narayan Kataki, Haladhar Kataki and others.
The 20th century’s radio programme Rahghara created several humour writers. Similarly Guwahati AIR Kendra broadcast works of several renowned authors, including Durgeswar Borthakur (‘Niruddex’, ‘Ghorot Kun Ase’), Mahendra Borthakur (‘Nedekhaie Bhal’), Jogen Chetia (‘Dhantu Patanto’), Bhadra Bora (‘Bhola Borar Sophor’), Kirtinath Hazarika (‘Akorxon-Bikorxon’, ‘Phutukar Phen’), Tilak Hazarika (‘Bharaghor’), Bhola Kotoki (‘Bibhrat’), Tafazzul Ali (‘Nepati Kenekoi Thaku’), Tarun Saikia (‘Gobardhan Sorit’), Premnarayan Datta (‘Satkar’), Laxminandan Bora, Ali Haidar and Kishori Mohan Pathak.
Assamese humour and satire magazine Biholongoni became popular partly due to the works of its editor Pulak Das, while ‘Rohimola’, ‘Girjoni’, ‘Abikol’ and other sections brought to light the humour writings of many talented writers.

In contemporary times, five ‘witty’  humour writers deserve special mention -- Dr Jogendra Narayan Bhuyan (Kripabar Borooahloi Chithi), Jyoti Prasad Saikia (Bagarambar), Bidhi Pathak (Ityadi), Bedanta Bikash Sharma and Gautam Sharma.

In their works, the great names in Assamese literature, such as Syed Abdul Malik, Silabhadra, Mahim Bora, Laxminandan Bora, Bhabendranath Saikia, Padma Barkataki, Sourabh Chaliha, Hiren Gohain, Hiren Bhattacharyya and others, have displayed several instances of humour. Their contributions need to be studied through the evolution of their writing careers.

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