Editor: Aruni Kashyap
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Publishing Date: 25 February 2020
Language: Assamese, Bodo and English
“The curtain is open and, in the open window, the moon is framed. Why does the sight of the solitary moon move Nirmala so? This might she feels a kinship with it that she has never felt before. They are two of a kind: beings afloat in a dark, silent world. No one to talk to and no one to listen to them.”
Whenever we discuss issues of national interests or read newspapers or watch news on TV, the focus is mostly on the Hindi-speaking belt or metropolitan cities. The southern states are generally ignored and the north-east disappears altogether. These seven states have a violent history since the colonial period. One of these states is Assam. This region has constantly been embroiled in insurgency. As a result, their vibrant culture is facing constant erosion, with little representation in mainstream media. Draconian laws like AFSPA, are still in effect in four states in the north-east. This constant inner conflict has reduced the north-east to mere statistics and newspaper headlines in Indian media.
How To Tell The Story Of An Insurgency is a compilation of 15 stories about political and ethnic conflicts in Assam. The stories are compiled by Aruni Kashyap, one of the foremost names in Assamese literature. The focus of all the stories, as the tittle suggests, is about political and ethnic turmoil. The stories deal with themes like family, the idea of home, self-identity, insurgency, freedom, language and belonging. In all the stories, the characters are dealing with religious violence as well.
The depiction of violence is omnipresent in How Tell The Story Of An Insurgency. The stories portray the dark past of Assam and how violence can break out so easily. Out of the fifteen stories, four stories are originally written in English. Jahnavi Barua’s ‘The Vigil’ portrays a mother, who is emotionally torn between her two sons- a militant and a police officer. It was my favourite story from this collection. The prose of ‘Colours’ by Uddipana Goswami is almost lyrical despite its depiction of violence against the Bodos.
The Assamese stories are simple with straightforward narratives. These stories deal with idealism, loss, politics and family. Most of these stories are about families, living under immense pressure as one member of the family is a militant. Some notable Assamese stories are ‘Surrender’ by Anuradha Sharma Pujari. It’s about a former militant, who is unable to reconcile his tranquil domesticity with his violent past. Arup Kumar Nath’s ‘Koli-Burning’ is about religious violence in rural Assam. The are only two Bodo stories in How To Tell The Story Of An Insurgency. Though they center around similar themes, there is a hint of satire in them.
The tales in How Tell The Story Of An Insurgency are angry and courageous. The writing is earnest, almost to the point, as if the writers want to reject any kind of stylization, so the meaning remains clear. These are important stories about a people who have been largely ignored by the mainstream media, there stories need to be told to a larger audience. The stories are deeply human. Their anguish is easily felt and you realise that they are no different than us.
My only complaint about this collection is that there is no proper introduction to these stories and authors. There are no notes, author biographies, publication dates or bibliography regarding the stories. Some context should be given because not everyone knows what it’s like to live under such circumstances. This could have intensified the impact of the stories. Another thing I thought could have been done differently was representation. There are seven states in the north-east, all of them dealing with conflicts, but only the stories of Assam have been included. More inclusiveness was needed.
How To Tell The Story Of An Insurgency is an important book, despite its flaws. It is an unflinching account of a life lived under duress. Once you read this anthology, you won’t stop thinking about it. This collection is also an indispensable part of India’s reiongal literature. This collection should be part of every Indian’s reading.