Monisha Behal isfounder member and chairperson of the North East Network, a women’sorganisation that has initiated several projects on women’s development withinthe region. She tells Uddipana Goswamishe feels happy when writers from the Northeast are read by people elsewhere
What does literaturemean to you? Do you think it has any relevance in our day-to-day lives?According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening aroundus?
To me reading fiction or non-fiction that deals with socialrealities is good literature. I personally feel that a truly good book is whenI am at work and look forward to returning home to read the rest of it! Onething is certain that celluloid has taken over the minds of people in differentways, decreasing reading habits of people. And yet, literature has relevance toour daily lives because people are reading, whether it’s is in the form ofnewspapers, journals, magazines and books.
How close is your relationwith literature in general, and with literature of the Northeast in particular?
I am not an avid reader like many of my friends. But theliterature of the Northeast attracts me because I work on issues of the region.Regional literature is wide ranging, from fables to grandmothers’ tales, ruralstories and those depicting contemporary problems. Being most familiar with the issues of womenI have gone through a range of literature dealing with the subject, in relationto our situation, the neo liberal contradictions that put women into risks andthe decline of food sources in the face of infrastructure development and bigbusiness. In this context, novels have actually represented the above-mentionedissues.
What future do yousee for literature from the Northeast?
Literature is all-pervading and it will always have a largereadership, especially in Assam. Journals and magazines in the vernacular are most appealing to readers.They deal with contemporary issues that many are familiar with. Since newspapersare widely read all over the region, they should do a lot of knowledge-sharingthat deals with today’s issues in a user-friendly way. The target should be theyouth and they must get to know things that are happening in the world ofperforming arts and sports which may give them an opportunity to make contactswith people in context here and nationally.
Name one book thathad a lasting impact on you. In what way?
There are so many I can think of, though the novels ofRohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh made a considerable impact on me. Thenarratives kept me glued to them because they relates to the now and then ofhistory as well the human struggle for survival and self-respect.
What book would yourecommend for our readers and why?
If one is interested in social issues (women in particular)then go for books that have been produced by Zubaan Publishers. It is anindependent non-profit feminist publishing house, based in New Delhi. I wouldrecommend it because of the translated poetry and novels of Northeast writersin English. For instance, Zubaan has produced Irom Sharmila’s poetry inEnglish. It has made it easy for me to understand her ideas and hersensitivities. Finally, it gladdens my heart when people of different walks oflife and cultures read our region's novels and non-fiction too. Such books areavailable in Anwesha in Guwahati.
I would also like to mention a few limericks that Idiscovered here in Assam and about Assam. To quote one, (with due permissionfrom the author):
Party activist ofMaligaon
An upcoming partyactivist from Maligaon
Was adept in numbingand settling any row
He was asked to leavehis brain
at the MLAs domain
but was allowed toretain
his crowd gatheringknow-how.
I would think these limericks, more than hundred in number,must be read.