Manikuntala Bhattacharjya is one of the most popular and prolific writers of modern Assamese literature. The young author has already created an oeuvre of novels, short stories, children’s literature and poetry collections in Assamese. Some of this has been translated into English and Hindi. Among her 20 novels, the most popular ones have been Arundhati, Sandhya, Mukti, Baahi, Bordowani and Dastakhat. Her Chitrapat is the first autobiography in verse in Assamese. Bhattacharjya spoke with Utpal Borpujari on literature – her own and that of her region:
What drives your writing process?
I cannot think of any other way to express what I see, understand and feel. There is a constant urge from within me to keep on writing. The environment around me, the society and my sense of responsibility towards my country, community and culture encourage me to write.
The literature and folklore of the North East are hardly known outside the region. Why?
The North East has an extremely rich literary tradition, but it will get the exposure it deserves only if it gets translated into English and Hindi. Unfortunately, because of the small number of translators, our literature has remained within the geographic confines of the North East.
Even within the region, the literature of any one language does not get exposure outside the state. How do you explain this?
The reason for this again is the lack of translation. This limits the movement of the literature to outside the state.
Do you think literature from the North East has a distinct identity vis-a-vis literature from other parts of India?
The region is hugely multi-cultural and multiethnic. Apart from the various languages, there are many dialects, and each has a rich literary tradition. The literature here reflects the lifestyles and societies of various communities and tribes. The natural beauty of the region gets reflected in its literature too.
How do you see the sudden spurt in interest among mainline English language publishers in writers from the North East?
Thanks to the internet, publishing houses outside the region have become aware of our literature and our multi-ethnic societies. They must have realised that our literature would appeal to a wider audience globally.
What do you think needs to be done to make North Eastern literature more accessible to people around the country?
We need more translations and literary bodies must play a leading role in making this possible. At the same time, we need more critical studies of our literature outside.
The North East boasts of a strong tradition of women writers – the most well-known and best-selling authors happen to be women. How do you see this?
As a writer, I have noticed that in a story or a novel the reader usually wants to see reflections of his own life and emotions. I feel women writers can connect with the emotions of readers in a much more intimate way. And naturally, women are more emotional than men, and I feel they can reflect on situations from the viewpoints of a mother, a daughter, a creator of life.
Assam has a heritage of strong, massbased literary bodies like the Asom Sahitya Sabha and its several tribal versions, but in recent times, allegations of petty politicking have harmed such literary movements. Your comments.
Assam has several important literary organisations, the most remarkable among them being the Asom Sahitya Sabha, the Lekhika Sanstha and the Asom Lekhika Samaroh. These organisations are made up of thousands of literatureloving common people. The Sahitya Sabha is currently facing some controversies, not because of political reasons but because of its internal elections. But despite that, these institutions will always exist as the pride of our state, community and literature.
(Published in The Times of India Crest Edition, http://www.timescrest.com, 05-02-2011, along with the main article on North-East Literature)