In Conversation with Legendary Assamese Poet and Sahitya Akademi winner for 2018 Sananta Tanty who is fighting a tough battle with Cancer
“I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.” – Sananta Tanty
One of the most distinctive voices which appeared in the Assamese firmament in the 60s and 70s, and which continues to be heard with the same zeal and rebelliousness, is none other than that of Sananta Tanty. A legend in his own right, his poetry, in the words of noted critic and translator Pradip Acharya, gives us a feel of alien realities. Dealing with themes like corruption in public life, unemployment, poverty and hunger, Tanty’ voice is raw, unadulterated and compels the readers to listen to him with full attention. Tracing his origins to the exploited tea garden workers of Assam, Tanty was among the few poets who heralded the emergence of a new breed of poets from different ethnic grounds in the 1990s.
A rebel who chooses to voice his dissent through the words of poetry, Tanty is considered to be one of the most popular and radical poet of his times – a position he strives to maintain even to date with his unique style of writing, thoughts and observations. The recipient of numerous awards and citations, his poems have been translated into different national and international languages, and have been published all over the world, including the much revered ‘Asymptote Journal’. He also served as members of various literary committees, including the Assamese Language Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi, Children’s Literary Trust Assam, All India Radio, etc. Besides being a poet of repute, Sananta Tanty served as a responsible gazetted officer and retired from service in 2012 from Assam Tea Employees’ PF Organisation
Sananta Tanty was born in 1952 in Kalinagar TE of Karimganj district in Assam. Hailing from an Oriya-speaking poor Tea Garden Labourer family, he was brought up in a semi-urban environment of Ramkrishna Nagar. During his childhood and adolescence, he was exposed to Bengali literature at the hands of his elder brother and it was love for him at first instance. Through the Bengali language, he first learnt and fell in love with literature and also wrote his first poem, a love lyric, in the language.
His early college life in Shillong made him a person of great sensibility but his stay in Jorhat at the threshold of his youth, and the lucidity and life of the Assamese language forced him to write in Assamese. His left radicalism and sensitivity during the time of the great political unrest in Assam in the eighties made him a voice to be reckoned with. A poet who is originally an Oriya, educated in Bengali but who writes in Assamese is definitely not an easy task. But that is Sananta Tanty for you – a man who had to face battles after battles throughout his life but who, as a valiant warrior, gears up for every new encounter with an upright chest. Tanty, who was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2010, has been battling the dreaded disease with a strength and determination that only a true warrior and eternal rebel can possess.
I had met him at his residence in Guwahati in the month of May, 2018 to talk about his journey in the world of poetry. Following are excerpts.
Q. Can you please tell us a bit about your childhood. Where did you complete your education and how did you get interested in the world of poetry?
Ans: I was born as the youngest of five siblings to Loknath Tanti and Baitarani Tanti in Kalinagar Tea Estate of Karimganz. My father was a tea garden labourer and we remember growing up in abject poverty. Out of my five brothers and sisters, only me and my second eldest brother received formal educated. I did my initial schooling in Kalinagar Tea Estate Primary School and did my higher secondary from Ramkrishna Vidyapith in Ramkrishna Nagar, which was near our tea estate. My eldest brother, Basanta Kumar Tanti, did not receive any formal education but was a voracious reader. He used to read all the magazines and books collected by the wife of our tea garden manager. I got interested in reading after watching him and by the time I was in Class 4 or 5, I had already started reading the works of writers like Somoresh Basu and Mahasweta Devi. I wrote my first poem in High School but that was in Bengali as we studied in Bengali medium and grew up in a Bengali-dominated environment. After that, I went to Shillong to study in St. Anthony’s but could not complete my education due to lack of finances.
While in Shillong, I stayed in the tea garden hostel called Prime Rose Villa where I met a lot of fellow acquaintances from the tea garden community. I was exposed to the culture of little magazines in Shillong and my first poem was published in a little magazine. Therein I joined the students wing of a political body and met a professor Udayan Ghosh who encouraged me to read poetry. That is how my interest in poetry developed further. However, since I could not pursue my studies, I had to leave Shillong to search for a job.
I accordingly landed up in Jorhat where I worked as a clerk in a tea plantation company. While in Jorhat, I attended night college and completed my graduation from night college. It was in Jorhat that I was exposed to the world of Assamese literature and I would read the poems of stalwarts like Nilomoni Phukan, Hiren Bhattacharya, Dr. Nagen Saikia, and others. Living in Jorhat and being exposed to such rich Assamese literature made me start writing poems in Assamese.
Q. You have around 14 collections of poetry to your credit and all are highly acclaimed by your readers as well as critics. Can you please tell us about the journey from your first collection?
Ans: My first first collection of poetry, ‘Ujjwal Nakhatrar Sondhanot’ was published in 1981, followed by ‘Moi Manuhor Amal Utsav’ in 1985, ‘Nizor Biruddhey Sesh Prastab’ in 1990, ‘Sabdat Othoba Sabdahinotat’ in 1993, ‘Mrityur Agar Stoppageot’ in 1996, ‘Toponito Ketiaba Barisha Ahey’ in 1997 and ‘Dhuan Sair Sopun’ in 1999. After a gap of three years, my collection ‘Dirno Bosontor Saurav’ was published in 2002, which was followed by ‘Apuni Apunar Hotey Yudhha Koribo Paribone’ in 2004, ‘Moi’ in 2008, ‘Mur Nirabhoron Atmar Sokaboho Sobdobur’ in 2010, ‘Kailoir Dinto Amar Hobo’ in 2013 and ‘Mur Priyo Sopunor Osore Panzore’ in 2017. Besides these copies, a bulk of my poems have been translated and collected in the book ‘Selected Poems Sananta Tanty’ by Dibyajyoti Sarma in 2017.
Q. You have received a number of awards. Can you please tell us about the awards that you have won? Growing up in a tea garden family of Karimganz, did you ever think that you will earn so much popularity as a poet?
Ans: As a child, I never thought that I would become a poet, and that in Assamese language. But destiny has played its part. However, even as a child I was very strong-willed and full of determination to success. Despite being surrounded by poverty around me, I knew deep inside me that I would make a mark in something or the other.
Coming to your first question, awards and recognitions do help a person to improve himself but I have never wrote any poetry with the hope of winning an award. Nor have I lobbied for any award, which is usually seen in this type of domain. My first public recognition was the Mrinalini Devi Goswami Award which was conferred by Asom Kavi Samaj in 1992. After that, I received the Beer Birsha Munda Award by Dalit Sahitya Akademi in 2002, Osman Ali Sodagar Samannya Award by Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad in 2011, Krantikaal Samman in 2014, Nizora Kavi Sailadhar Rajkhowa Award by Asom Sahitya Sabha in 2015, SIRISH-OIL Literary Award by APPL Foundation in 2016 and Pandit Padmanath. Bidyabinod Smriti Sahitya Puraskar in 2016 by Ramanath Bhattacharya Foundation.
Q. The Assam Valley Literary Award 2017 by Magor Education Trust, Assam was conferred on you recently. Can you please tell us what inspires you to write poems, something which you had so beautifully described in the award acceptance speech?
Ans: I am an ‘aangbang’ person. ‘Aangbang’ in Assamese means innocent or someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the world. I am ‘aangbang’ because I don’t understand politics and the management of life. I do not even know how to compromise with my time. My IQ is so low that I sometimes think over these words, not twice or thrice but hundreds of times. However, at the end, I feel like a zero. And as such, I avoid participating in discussions relating to life, politics, literature and criticising others.
I am a small person with big dreams. I am a dreamer, a big dreamer. I sometimes dream so big that I cannot control myself from taking the measurement of time, look closely at my surroundings and my position as a human being. I begin to express myself through the window of my heart. My readers say that these expressions of my heart are poetry and they call me a poet. Of course, I am obviously proud of being called a poet.
As an ‘aangbaang’ person, I have only one fascination in my life – the fascination of hope. I love hope. From the beginning to the end of the day and from the evening to midnight till I go to sleep, I always think about hope, hope and hope – the hope of a beautiful mind, hope of a beautiful society and hope of a beautiful world. And I live with the hope of a beautiful future for mankind.
Q. Your optimism towards life is truly exemplary. On a personal note, you have been suffering from Cancer for quite some time now and have had to face a lot of hardships to fight the dreaded disease? When were you diagnosed with the disease and don’t you feel discouraged at times?
Ans: I was diagnosed as suffering from Cancer in 2009 or 2010 and since then, I have been taking treatment to fight this disease. I guess I am in what they call the third or fourth stage now but I have still not given up hope. And as far as disappointment is concerned, I do not let these feelings come into my mind. It has been a very tiring journey for me and my wife, Minoti Tanti, and our two sons, without whose support it might not have been possible to come so far. But the hope and zeal for life pushes us to carry on, despite all the odds that are facing us.