Utpal Borpujari

March 11, 2009

Writing on the Wall: A personal perspective of a misunderstood region

Sanjoy Hazarika, anyone interested about the North-East region of India would know, has been passionately writing on the region for decades now with a rare insider’s perspective. His books “Strangers of the Mist” and “Rites of Passage” have highlighted the insurgency issue and the human migration from Bangladesh into the North-East. A journalist who has worked with international media houses, Hazarika has of late turned his gaze towards doing things more hands on, starting a health service on boats for people living on the sandbars of the mighty Brahmaputra. Of course, that has not stopped the writer in him from continuing to write about issues close to heart, which goes without saying, are about matters related to his home region that he frequently visits.


This compendium of 15 essays, some of them carried by various publications earlier and some others new, is a reflection of Hazarika’s thought process as also his wide range of interests. Like all North-Easterners, Hazarika’s concern and grouse are with the fact that very little about the region gets reported, unless it has to do with negativities like natural disasters, insurgency or corruption – ‘newsworthy’ in journalese. But there are many wonderful stories to tell about and report from the region that has an unmatched biodiversity and ethnic spread, not to speak about its (mostly tribal) cultural heritage. Hazarika’s essays in this book are reflections on some of all that.


Some of the essays are journalistic, extensively quoting relevant information, and some are written with pure emotion of a man who is, well, emotional about the region. As he says in the preface, it is not possible for such a small book to address the issues he takes up in it in their greater detail, but even then, they provide a glimpse of the many issues that are important to the North-East, and whether the “mainland” across the Chicken’s Neck corridor that connects it to the region admits to it or not, to the rest of the country too.


While the essays take up issues ranging from water issues to Naga peace talks, and from the ethnicity-related and insurgent violence that has wrecked the region to developmental concerns, there are a few that stand out on readability quotient. “The Bard and the Builder” is one such, focusing on two of the greatest sons of the region – Bhupen Hazarika and Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi. About the first, the whole of India knows, thanks to his humanistic songs, but it is a tragedy of sorts that virtually nobody has heard about Bordoloi, the first Chief Minister of Assam who was awarded the Bharat Ratna many years after his death. It was Bordoloi who had virtually taken on the whole Congress establishment, with support only from Mahatma Gandhi, to successfully prevent Assam being made part of the Pakistan during Partition. Then there are the essays that recall Hazarika’s coverage of various strife in which thousands have lost their lives all over the North-East since Independence.


The book is definitely not one that will provide you with fresh insights to issues relating to the region – it is more of a recalling of memories and perspectives of personal experience of covering and writing on the North-East. The author in his preface says that this one should be seen more as a companion volume to a larger book he is planning to write, and it should be looked as one.


(Writing on the Wall – Reflections on the North-East; by Sanjoy Hazarika; Penguin Books; pp 161; Rs 225)


(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 08-03-2009)




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