Seminar on North East Indian Literature

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By Ananya S Guha
A two day seminar on North East Indian Literature and its future vision was held in Imphal on the 6th and 7th July 2012. It was organized by DM College of Arts Imphal and Sahitya Academy Kolkata and UGC.

North East Indian Literature is generating a lot of critical interest today. Publishers like Penguin have already published a collection of North East Indian Poetry a couple of years back. The NEHU Publications also came out with a publication of contemporary North East Indian Poetry in 2001. Apart from Assamese Literature nothing much was known about North East Indian Literature till the late 1990s when organizations such as Katha came out with publications of Assamese short stories. Even Assamese Literature hardly got the attention it deserved till of course doyens like Birendra Kumar Bhattacharjee and Indira Goswami got richly deserved accolades. In the early 20th Century Assamese Literature came into a flowering though the writing was ideologically Romantic. Gradually the departure was made in the 1960s with the advent of modernist literature especially poetry where the poets wrote under the influence of European modernism and symbolism.

Much of the focus today on North East Indian Literature especially poetry is on the cult of violence, as if nothing more creative and imaginative is happening there. This is a false dictum and fallacy as writers use violence only as a reaction to their immediate surroundings which give to the writing an immediacy. Violence therefore is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The real good qualities of literature such as the narrative technique, lyricism, allegory, surrealism are all present in this corpus of literature. Moreover, there is a growing body of novelists and poets writing in English some of whom are based outside the region.

This two day seminar focused interestingly not only on “pure literature” but folk narratives, the oral tradition and myths. This was the real interesting aspect of the seminar which focused on Manipuri Epics, tribal oral tradition and folk literature such as those of the Khasis, the Kukis, and the Vaiphies. This interesting paradigm shift was based on the sensitivities of the tribal oral tradition and its deep seatedness. Folk Epics were also discussed in contrary to literary epics especially in the Manipuri tradition. There were also discussions on North East Indian Theatre and Fictions. There was an interesting paper on the globalisation of language, the bilingual or trilingual use of language in Manipur and the impact it can have on literature. Also, the influence of Bengali Literature on the early Manipuri creative writers was discussed.

North East Indian Poetry got the attention it deserved and it was felt that there are many commonalities underlying contemporary North East Indian Poetry including the body of poetry written today in English. The poets of North East often look back to the days of a halcyon past and compare it to present happenings, the predicament of the common man torn between militarism and militancy. The sheer lyrical brevity of contemporary North East Indian Poetry is its hallmark. The papers had wide ranging themes such as the theatre of North East India, Post Colonial sensitivity in Assamese Literature, Tribal Literature in Manipur, the Manipuri Folk Epic: “Khamba Thoibi”, its world view and the distinction between folk epic and literary epic. Apart from that there were discussions also on folktales of Manipur and discourses on North East Indian Poetry. A very interesting paper was presented on the poetry of the contemporary Manipuri poet Thangjam Ibopishak. All the papers reflected culture specific situations and contemporaneity.

All in all the two day seminar was a learning experience and gave enough food for thought with the realisation that the dynamics of this literature is now on the fore front in the Indian literary scene. Some of the papers presented by the research scholars of different Universities including Manipur University were seminal in intent and thought provoking. I came out of the seminar a much enlightened person to engage myself in learning more about North East Indian Literature.

Once more I was back to this historical place. This time I missed the fort of Kangla which is permeated with a kind of historicity which I feel in my inner being.

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