The Renaissanc of Elegy: Assamese Poetry, 1975-95

By Pradip Acharya

Recent Assamese poetry refuses stubbornly to be marginalized. The poets have readily emerged from the shell of quietism, a regionalist equivalent of the earlier escapism. The poetry has even participates in the current of history. This participation sidesteps totalizing structures and ideologies. The poets themselves do not admit of any easy categorization, but each of them, while living out his separateness, is found to respond to the consequences of violence leading to the proliferation of elegiac responses and almost impersonal, long, narratives. Lots of heroes had safely died for the ancient balladists to celebrate their diffused despair. But these poets are responding to the consequences of actual public violence. This intrusion of the public demands fresh strategies for silence, for the poets would not 'tell' despite their desperate need to communicate. This necessitates the vitally metaphoric search for fresh images, for obliquities.

This is where we encounter the long shadows cast by the stalwarts. The search was initiated by Navakanta Barua and continues in Bipuljyoti Saikia and Hemanga Dutta, two of the youngest poets. The range and depth of Navakanta Barua's concerns have attracted other adherents and we find Syed Abdul Halim trying to underline his historical moorings.

Nilmoni Phukan in his latter poetry, which concerns us here, showed his resilience and versatility in moving from color to contours. Surrealism was his strategy for the immersion in the public which in turn became telluric. One of the supply lines was his translation of Popa and the Japanese Haiku. Sameer is sufficiently electric, versatile and technically polyglot to respond comprehensively to and venture beyond the area mapped by Nilmoni Phukan. Anis, Anubhav and Jiban, all look up to Phukan. Jiban's lyric economy is due to his immersion in the folk and Lutfa's to her exploration of it. In their poetry we realize that filigree wears fainter now maybe because of the pressure of the public domain. But

Processions that lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye...

Because children demand Baddy-long-legs upon his timber toes,

Because women in the upper storeys demand a face at the pane...

(W.B. Yeats: 'High Talk')

The fireworks are provided by Nilim Kumar with his explosive idiom. He celebrates the physical immediacy of human experience albeit with avoidable insistence. Cheniram Gogoi, on the other hand, has the same idiom coupled with a lyric intensity that we find in Hiren Bhattacharjya and yet he reaches out to issues and events larger than himself. He and Sameer are the new voice and are a force to reckon with.

Hiren Bhattacharjya has about stopped policing the emerging talents because he is now neither cop nor extremist, the two polarities of reality now. But his intense lyricism is critical and embraces the universal.

Nirmalprabha Bordoloi, the doyen of women poets in this our era is more impassioned if less intense. There is close commerce between her short, impassioned poems and the feeling and moving songs she has written. Sad possibilities are sensitively monitored by Anupama and she, with Sameer and Sananta, also gives us a feel for alien realities.

Kabin Phukan is a voice apart and registers the first real break with the past with his decisive and deliberate anti-romanticism. His technical virtuosity has obviously facilitated his impressive debut but whether he lives up to his promise is another matter. Part of all this began with Harekrishna Deka's 'Dawning', written in 1975, which remains a pioneering creation. Hiren Dutta's 'Gamble Grove' which I think is a challenge to any translator is elegiac, nostalgic, and narrative at the same time. I wonder if elegy is the defining genre of the day.

Adapted from an article published in INDIAN LITERATURE, Jan - Feb, 1997.