Rooted, yet unashamedly innovative


As part of its constant endeavour to enliven the local music and Art scene of the Northeast by promoting local talents and by providing them with a platform, the Eastern Beats Music society, formerly known as the Rockarolla Music Society, last Thursday organized an “Evening of Prose and Poetry” at the city-based Easel Art Gallery. The evening, which had a highly encouraging audience turn-out, saw two Asomiya poets who are presently based in New Delhi – Aruni Kashyap and Nitoo Das – read from their works.

The small art gallery on RG Baruah Road was packed to the brim that day with an audience that was made up of friends, writers, poets and lovers of English literature. Though the hall proved to be a bit too small for the crowd, which had to adjust themselves in various positions and poses, the presence of so many people for a reading session in the city was an encouraging and healthy sign in itself. The fact that half of the audience was made up of young people further enlivened the occasion and bolstered the spirits of all those present. The reading session, which was compeered by noted novelist and columnist Mitra Phukan, was participated by a host of noted writers, artists and musicians; notable among them being Pradip Acharya, BC Rajkumar, Satyakee D’ Com Bhuyan, Deepika Phukan, Hemanta Sarmah, Deepak Narayan Dutt, Deepa Dutt, Kishore Giri, Waheeda Ahmed and the like.

Both Nitoo and Aruni are prolific poets in their own right and both have been acknowledged as new, young voices in the articulation of the Asomiya experience in their poetry. Aruni Kashyap, who graduated from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi in 2007, is the Assistant Editor of the academic research journal Yaatrā: the Journal of Assamese Literature and Culture. His poems have appeared in a host of noteworthy publications, including Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), Pratilipi, Postcolonial Text, The Daily Star (Bangladesh) and Muse India, while his fiction and non-fiction passages have appeared in publications like the South Asian Review (University of Pittsburg, Johnstown), Tehelka, The Assam Tribune, Satsori, etc. In a major boost to his creative pursuits, Aruni has also been awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing 2009 to the Scottish Universities’ International Summer School, University of Edinburgh. Nitoo Das, on the other hand, teaches English at Indraprastha College for Women in New Delhi and had released her first collection of poems, Boki, last November. A doctorate holder in English literature, her PhD dealt with “constructions of the Assamese Identity under the British (1826-1920)”. Nitoo runs a blog, which she began as an experiment more than three years ago while working on a research project (with Sarai, CSDS) on poetry as hypertext. Her interests include fractals, caricatures, comic books, horror films, and studies of online communities.

So on that particular evening, under the broad umbrella of ‘an evening of prose and poetry’, which saw more of poetry and very little of prose, both poets in their poetry displayed a distinctive rootedness in their culture and their Asomiya identity; something which was taken cognizance of and appreciated by all those present. Not being much into literature, it would not be fit to offer my opinion on their literary pursuits. But as another participant remarked at the end of the session, Aruni’s poems are strongly tethered to a cultural experience derived from childhood familiarity with an Assamese landscape, and a domesticity and oral tradition that has been a defining landscape. His collection of poems have strains from various walks of life: so, while How to tell a story dwelt on a generic grandmother’s art of storytelling, his love poems based on more contemporary settings like cafes added to the eclectic nature of his collections.

Like Aruni, Nitoo’s poetry also evokes a sense of longing, though the nostalgia, in the words of both poets, is not similar to each other. While Aruni’s recollections are more celebratory in nature, Nitoo’s remembrances are more hued with the varied flavours of reality, at times of harshness; something which she ascribes to the age difference between them, Aruni being much younger than her. Someone who thinks of herself as a ventriloquist, Nitoo’s poetry is about playing around with given grammar’s words and voices, leading to comic sense of detachment between the protagonist and daily objects. She read collections from her debut novel, Boki, that day. When asked about the peculiar title, this is what she had to say: “Boki is taken from my poem Doiboki. In this poem, a woman’s name breaks up into pieces, turns into a taunt, a song. In Asomiya, ‘to bok’ means to utter meaninglessly, almost crazily. My book works with these multiple layers: poetry as naming, as pure sound, as controllable speech. Boki nearly becomes my slightly unhinged poetic muse.” Her poems are admirable because of its versatility, its ability to take on various voices while experimenting with the form of the dramatic monologue.

It was an invigorating evening for sure and I wish both poets bright days ahead.

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Posted on March 10, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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