[Assam] About 'A Bowstring Winter'

Ram Sarangapani assamrs at gmail.com
Thu Aug 31 13:09:07 EDT 2006

Baruah is right. Yes, there have been a number of such publications from
Assamese authors (in English). It shouldn't be difficult to get a list.
'Escapades of a Magistrate' does bring back fond memories - we did have a
short discussion on the book in Assamnet several years ago.

*>English novel been published by any National/International publishers like
>Penguin etc*
Why Penguin? In today's world, a book published in India (in English) itself
has a huge market - plus it could get translated into all other regional
languages.  Not that getting it published internationally is bad - but in
the US there are many lousy books also published by Penguin  or Little
Books get published more often than not on expected sales volume as opposed
to literary content. So, books like the 'Escapades of a Magistrate'  would
still be of great value whether or not Penguin publishes it.


On 8/31/06, Rajiv Baruah <rajiv.baruah at usa.net> wrote:
>  Dear Mr. Barua,
> *"Was there any other Assamese writer whose original English novel been
> published by any National/International publishers like Penguin etc. "
> *
> Well there is Mitra Phukan - her Collector's Wife is possbily the first of
> the "post Salman Rushdie"" generation. Ofcourse, there are a number older
> Assamese writers in English - Arup Kumar Dutta's magnificient children's
> books being the most memorable. And I remember Satyen Barkataki's "Escapades
> of a Magistrate" and a book of folk tales in my father's bookshelf. Attached
> below is a profile of Mitra Phukan written by Utpal Borpujari in the Deccan
> Herald. A google search under Mitra Phukan will turn up dozens of
> references, book reviews etc.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>   *Stories to be told from North East *  *Utpal Borpujari interviews Mitra
> Phukan, author of 'The collector's wife,' who believes that regional works
> can become known universally, by English translations. *
>     The collector's wife, the first novel to roll out under the
> Zubaan-Penguin label after the recent tie-up between the two publishing
> houses, is an important book. It is the first English novel written by a
> writer from North-East India to be published by a major publishing house. It
> deals with the subject - the effect of continuing violence on the day to day
> life of people. And, it opens up for the so-called 'mainstream' Indian book
> lover a hitherto unknown world of original writing in English from a region
> which has excellent literary traditions.
> Naturally, the novel's author Mitra Phukan, also a classical singer of
> repute from Assam, is elated. But more than personal elation, it is a sense
> of community achievement that is making her happy- that the publication of
> her original English novel will hopefully start a trend of publishing houses
> looking at more and more English writings from a region where the language
> has firm roots thanks to a long history of excellent Missionary educational
> institutions.
> "I think we are going to see more and more of original English fiction
> writing from the North-East getting published now. Mine is perhaps the first
> original English writing from the region to be published by a prominent
> publishing house," she says.
> <https://www.online.citibank.co.in/portal/citiin/forms/citiinrcaindex.jsp?externalOfferCode=DEHCD180>
> "Of course, there have been self publications as well as books from local
> publishing houses in English, but they have suffered from the lack of
> professional editing and distribution facilities. "There are so many stories
> to be told from the North East, so I believe we will see more and more
> original English writing getting published through big publishing houses
> now," she adds.
> Her novel, maybe reflecting her own experiences as a woman from a
> highly-respected family in a trouble-torn region "where you don't know where
> the next bomb will explode," has a female protagonist, the college teacher
> wife of a district collector who has access to "both sides" of the divide-
> the officialdom and the society at large- at the centre stage.
> On the surface, she leads a comfortable life, but there is much inner
> turmoil. And compounding that is the disturbances affecting life all around.
> Set in the backdrop of the epochal students' agitation of the 1970s and
> 1980s and the insurgency spawned from there, the novel is a personal tale of
> a woman gripped by events that has altered life at large in Assam, be it
> illegal migration of Bangladeshis, political instability, extortions and the
> resulting mistrust and bitterness among people.
> "I don't think it is fair to burden the writers with the view that a
> writer must show the society the way. A writer must be realistic and true to
> his vision, whatever that may be, but it is not fair to expect that of all
> the people that make up the society, the writer be called upon to show the
> way forward," she says.
> Phukan is also a strong advocate of getting regional literature translated
> into English and other languages. She herself is deeply involved in trying
> to get writing in various languages from the North-East translated into
> English, perturbed particularly over the fact that though Assam has had a
> strong literary tradition, very few of its writers are known outside the
> state.
> ------ Original Message ------
> *Received: *Thu, 31 Aug 2006 11:52:16 AM SGT
> *From: *"Barua25" <barua25 at hotmail.com>
> *To: *"utpal borpujari" <utpalb21 at yahoo.com>, <assam at assamnet.org>
> *Subject: *Re: [Assam] About 'A Bowstring Winter'
>   Dear Borpujari;
> Thank you for sharing the information. I am glad to see that you have
> written an article and published it in the Deccan Herald. Congratulations to
> you. We need to expose our creative writers the way you are doing.
> Regarding Dhruba Hazarika's novel, please let me know if there had been
> any serious literary review in a any paper or magazine in Assam. If there
> had been, I am surprised to see that nothing filtered in to the net yet.
> Was there any other Assamese writer whose original English novel been
> published by any National/International publishers like Penguin etc.
> Probably not. With that respect, the people of Assam need to understand and
> recognize Hazarika's literary achievement. But I have not seen any. If this
> type of news does not make it to the Assamese News media, I would say that
> something is seriously wrong with the people of Assam. But I may be wrong.
> Kindly enlighten.
> Thanks
> Rajen Barua, Houston
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* utpal borpujari <utpalb21 at yahoo.com>
> *To:* assam at assamnet.org
> *Sent:* Wednesday, August 30, 2006 3:29 AM
> *Subject:* [Assam] About 'A Bowstring Winter'
> Hi. Read the mails about Dhruba Hazarika's "A Bowstring Winter". An
> article on the book and the author by me appeared in last Sunday's Deccan
> Herald newspaper. Here's the article:
> http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug272006/artic1416552006826.asp
> *Deccan Herald* <http://www.deccanherald.com/>* » **Articulations*<http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug272006/artic.asp>
> * » Detailed Story*
>   *A new dawn in the East? *  Utpal Borpujari
>  *Dhruba Hazarika is one of the few writers to emerge from the Northeast,
> a region largely silent in the realm of English literature, says Utpal
> Borpujari *
> Eight rejection slips. That was all Dhruba Hazarika had to show to the
> world till he touched based with Penguin, which published his first English
> novel A Bowstring Winter written in time snatched from his 18-hour job
> schedule that entails supervising the preparations for the long-delayed
> National Games to be held in his home state— Assam.
> Any other writer would have been distressed with eight rejection slips but
> Hazarika, with his sports background, used his fighter spirit to rewrite the
> manuscript each time he received such a slip, making more compact his novel
> set in the romantic environments of Shillong. The theme of the novel has a
> lot to do with the passions associated with 'teer', or the game of hitting a
> target with arrows, which is a craze among the people in Meghalaya.
> English fiction with North-East India as the backdrop is rare, more so
> coming from writers with roots in that region, though the local languages
> here have a rich literary history. But Hazarika is the latest among a tribe
> of original writers in English who are slowly emerging out this region
> inaccessible to the rest of the country and the world not only
> geographically but also by mindsets.
> A Bowstring Winter is no great literary breakthrough, but it evokes a
> world that is genteel in its lookout, though the story it narrates is one of
> passion and revenge. The story that Hazarika tells is interesting, and
> gripping too, but more than that, it is his way of capturing the sights,
> sounds and smells of Shillong, the beautiful hill station that the British
> made the capital of an undivided Assam, that comes as a whiff of fresh air.
> Set in the three months of "U Naiwieng" (November), "U Nohprah" (December)
> and "U Kyllalyngkot" (January), the coldest and the most romantic period for
> anyone who knows Shillong or the rest of Meghalaya, A Bowstring Winter has
> been described as a tale of revenge and violence with the underlying
> universal theme of friendship, loyalty and the inherent loneliness of man.
> The plot had been with Hazarika since over three decades now, from around
> the time he was in college and was in the grip of, as he calls it, 'teer
> fever'.
> Hazarika had originally written a short story on the subject, but latter
> it grew into a novel, drawing some inspiration from a few real-life street
> fighters and in one particular instance from that of a leader of a gang of
> hoodlums who held sway over Shillong's gang world for quite a few years.
> "The characters I mentioned are touchstones that helped me in sorting out my
> imagination," the author, who won the Katha award in 1996 for a short story
> called 'Chicken Fever', says.
> In fact, that award gave him the confidence to move ahead with writing in
> English on a regular basis. As he says, "It is important for writers from
> the North-East, which has a strong base of English education, to come up
> with more and more original English writing. I only wish to maintain that
> they should not have any inhibitions nor should they have any fear that they
> may do badly. One should simply write as honestly as one can. It is only a
> matter of time before we have more writers in English coming out of the
> North- East."
> *Publishing problems*
> Being located in Guwahati, Hazarika had tremendous problems in getting a
> publisher for his novel. "I do not have a reputation either as prolific
> writer nor did I have exposure in any well known national or international
> magazines," he says. And as someone who 'hates' rejection slips, he never
> thought of sending his writings to famous publications.
> "I published my short stories in the regional papers and although a few
> people thought well of them it was not as if they were masterpieces. So you
> see I was not really a good ambassador for my own stories." It was only
> after getting the Katha award that he began to gather more confidence.
> After every rejection slip to his novel, "I remember revising, editing—
> although the plot remained the same— the novel not less than 11 times:
> changing sentences, changing words, trying for a compact realism that seemed
> a never ending battle. In one way, therefore, the rejections did help me,"
> he says.
> Hazarika, who is now planning to find a publisher for about 40 short
> stories that he has written over the years, is working on another novel
> right now. "I am in the state sports department now for the last three years
> and because of the forthcoming National Games am tied almost 18 hours a day.
> I will be happy the day I am relieved of this post so that I can devote at
> least the next two years to my next novel," he says.
> *A Bowstring Winter
> Dhruba Hazarika.
> Penguin. Pages 343. Rs 295*
> **
> *- Utpal / New Delhi*
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