Poetry holds out hope for unity among communities in conflict in Assam, says Uddipana Goswami
I have always loved Jiban Narah’s poetry for its beautiful use of colours. In fact, in one of my short stories entitled ‘Colours’, I had used two lines from his poem ‘Anjal’:Tumi muk bhal paleSarimuthi halodhia xuta kini dim(If you love me, I will buy you four lengths of yellow thread)The yellow of his poems have always reflected for me the yellow of the landscape of the Assam countryside, resplendent with mustard flowers and laburnum blossoms. The same yellow reminds me of the yellow in the eye-catching ethnic dresses of the various communities — Bodo, Dimasa, Mising… It is the yellow that always carried me back home when I was living away for so long. His poem ‘Rong’ lucidly brings out his fascination with colours and beautifully reflects my own. It charts his life’s journey through the green, the yellow, the dappled; the black, the blue, and the red that finally consumes him. The deep sorrow with which he self-confessedly started his poetic journey also finds expression for him and his readers through these colours. Therefore, when he handed me a copy of his collection Halodhiya Upama (Yellow Metaphor) some days back, I was thrilled. It contains three of his poetry collections within a single cover – Tumi Poka Dhanor Dore Gondhaisa, Dhow Khela Loralir Sa and Tari-ri.The rich use of metaphors in his poetry has been a subject of much critical discussion. For me, his metaphors are as real and tangible as that which they represent. If the feeling or object they represent takes me into the heart of the poet, the metaphor itself transports me into the world Narah must have grown up in. A world which is sometimes essentialised, often idealised, but one which, nonetheless, is a lived experience for the poet. After all, poetry may at times wish to report reality in all its starkness but, ultimately, it has to be filtered through each poet’s unique and distinctive sensibility.The poetic world that informs Jiban Narah’s creations is the colourful, picturesque Mising life. His metaphors and the magic of his language derive overwhelmingly from the rich culture and variegated habitat of the ethnic community he belongs to. He even attributes the lilt of his poetic expression to the folk music and poetry of his community. But he also claims that he is a bi-lingual poet who believes in multiculturalism. After all, he writes in the Axamiya language, but his poetic consciousness reflects his Mising heritage. As he said in an interview, for him, ‘Axamiya ethnic groups’ refers to the ethnic communities that live in Assam. Herein perhaps lies the scope of looking at Narah’s poetry from a fresh sociological perspective.My training as a sociologist and before that, as a student of literature, has often prompted me to look at poetry also through an interdisciplinary lens. Whenever I have done that to the creations of those poets from the indigenous communities of Assam who write in the Axamiya language, it has led me to rethink what really constitutes ‘Axamiya’. Would we have a language or culture called ‘Axamiya’ if it had only comprised of all that is Hindu and Sanskritised? How would we have a Bihu so uniquely Axamiya if not for the Bodo Baisagu? Who could have sung Bihu songs if the Mising oinitam had not stirred their souls? Who would have taught us to sway to the Bihu dance if we hadn’t seen the many ethnic dances of Assam?And the language that has been described as honey-dripping, inspiring the mute to speech? Anil Raichoudhury, in outlining his philosophy of the Axamiya language, has demonstrated how our vocabulary and grammar owes much to the languages of the indigenous communities. The lilt of our language also definitely owes immensely to the euphonious tongues spoken by the ethnic communities. Then there are the poets and writers like Jiban Narah who add to the richness of our language – as well as literature – by embedding in it the folk and lived elements of their indigenous worlds. They constantly modify the idiom of our language and enrich the body and burden of our literature through their works. It is owing to them that we continue to evolve and flourish – as a linguistic community, as a culture and as a people.My only regret is that hardly any Axamiya-speaking non-indigenous writer has ever written in the language of the ethnic communities. That has proved to be a major impediment in creating a sense of parity between the various groups of people. Despite such an obvious imbalance, writers like Jiban Narah, Samir Tanti, Bhaben Narzy and Rong Bong Terang have contributed to our ethnic unity. Jiban Narah’s poetry therefore appeals not just to the poet in me, but to the quintessential Axamiya consciousness I profess and propagate. His poetry gives me hope that despite all the conflicts we live with, we can still have amity. He, and those like him, have held our community together.