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Late Verrier Elwin’s unpublished works released in Shillong

Attempts being made to set up musuem for late Elwin’s works in Guwahati

Lila Elwin releasing the collection. Also seen Som Kamei (L), ashok Elwin (2L) and former minister RG Lyngdoh

SHILLONG, Feb 22: A little known aspect of the life of pioneering anthropologist late Sir Verrier Elwin, one of the founding father’s of the Indian Government’s policy towards tribals, was brought to the fore when a collection of his poetry was released in Shillong on February 22 last. The collection, 28 poems, was released in Bookmark, a small bookstore in Nongrim Hills, by his wife Lila Elwin, son Ashok Elwin and NEZCC director Som Kamei in the presence of a host of litterateurs. The publication of the book was facilitated by the North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC).

Born on August 29, 1902 in Dover, Kent, late Sir Verrier Elwin came to India as a missionary. A visit to Sabarmati Ashram and a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi changed his life and he became a staunch supporter of the Indian national movement. Although not trained as an anthropologist, his studies about the tribals and his writings on their customs, myths, folklore, poetry were pathbreaking for both anthropology and for understanding the rich cultural diversity of our nation. He spent a considerable amount of time with the tribals of Northeast India and finally settled down in Shillong.

from left: Robin Ngangom, Ananya Guha, Desmond Kharmawphland and Ashok Elwin

the gathering

Releasing the book, Som Kamei said that the royalty collected from the sale of the book would be given to the Elwin family. He also presented a cheque of Rs 25,000 to his son Ashok Elwin and Lila Elwin, wife of late Sir Elwin.

Kamei further said that his department was trying to set up a musuem displaying certain memoribilia and souvenirs from the late anthropologist’s personal collection in Shilpgram in Guwahati. “Sir Elwin protected the rights and cultures of the tribals of Northeast India to a huge extent. The manner in which we perceive the Northeast and the way we live today has been determined by his efforts to a huge extent. We hope our plans to set up a musuem in his memory become a reality.”

Ashok Elwin, son of late Sir Verrier Elwin, said that he was thankful to NEZCC for facilitating the publication of the book. “My father’s writing about the tribes of Central and North-eastern India definitely had an impact on the policies of the Indian Government towards the welfare of tribes of Northeast India. The collection ‘28 poems’ was first published in 1956 for private circulation only and it was only because of a chance meeting with Som Kamei that resulted in its formal release today,” he said.

A number of noted poets and critics dwelt on the significance of the poetry collection. Noted folklorist and poet Prof Desmond Kharmawphlang said that late Elwin had a deep understanding of the relationship between folk and the narrative which was evident in his poems. “The manner in which he used the power of narrative to depict simple issues having such deeper significance is simply amazing,” said Kharmawphlang, the head of the department of folklore and creative studies of North East Hills University (NEHU).

Dwelling on the collection, noted poet and critic Dr Ananya Guha said that love was one of the most significant elements in late Sir Elwin’s poetry. “Love in all its many different forms is one of the many recurrent themes in his poems,” said Dr. Guha. Another acclaimed poem Prof Robin Ngangom also read some of the poems from the collection.