The Tai Ahom Yuba Parishad, a youths’ organization belonging to Assam’s Ahom community, is now at loggerheads with Assamese poet Nilim Kumar over the poem Akhon Asustho City Bus published in Prantik.
They have lodged an FIR against the poet and many have given him death threat. Experiments landed poet Nilim Kumar always in trouble many times earlier as well. But he claims that he was unstoppable. But this time he came out to interpret his own poem which could be better done by his readers.
What is there so objectionable in Ekhon Ashustha City Bus? Grave concern is there what wounded the Tai-Ahom sentiment and sparked off statewide controversy for which Nilim Kumar himself had to give self-explanation.
It is alleged that the poem which Prantik published on July 1 ‘A Sick City Bus’ contained objectionable ideas and images which hurt the people belonging to Tao Ahom community.
Chaou Lung Sukaphaa is the leader of 600 year old Ahom dynasty and Nilim Kumar imagined him the driver of a broken city bus and Gadapani is made the handyman of that bus. Many intellectuals and poets organizations are roaring fiercely against the poet and even ULFA too came forward with vehement protest. Mrinal Hazarika, a leader of pro-talk ULFA has sought clarification from the poet on the theme of the poem.
Bolin Deuri, the author of Hunting the Hunters tried to analyze that even if it is true that the poet wanted to depict the Assamese society through this poem he should explain why he dared to bring the names of Sukhapaa the leader of 600 year old dynasty and in what capacity.
Bolin Deuri was very critical of Nilim Kumar because he unnecessarily brought the name of Sukaphaa who never told a single word on Assamese nationalism. Why he brought Gadapani in the same bus imagery. He taunted that Nilim Kumar did not have the guts of using the name of Sankardev and Madhavdev or Lachit -Bezbaruah who represent Assamese nationalism.
Many are thinking this poem as a ‘publicity stunt’ of Nilim Kumar as in recent times after his illness his poetic ability is on the wane and he wanted to come to limelight by sparking off a controversy in his poems.
The Ahom community is proud of Gadadhar Singh who is made Gadapani by Nilim Kumar very purposively in the poem. So the city bus poem fails to signify Assamese nationalism.
Many are interpreting the poem as an outcome of his perverted mentality for which he was condemned earlier too for many of his poems. Many again interpreted this poem as his publicity stance as the poet’s popularity is now on the wane. Only a few months ago Nilim Kumar came under the scanner of Assam government for participating in anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests and writing poems slamming the Act.
After the protest he was transferred to Sonari Sapori PHC in Dhakuakhana in Lakhimpur district from his earlier posting at Deomornoi Community Health Centre in Patharighat in Assam’s Darrang district.
Wide controversy over the poem is growing stronger even in the lockdown period all over Assam and the poet is forced finally to justify his poem saying it is misinterpreted.
It is true that Nilim Kumar’s poems are a clear reflection for his undying love for the city of Guwahati. His poem ‘Guwahati’ was included in Signatures a collection of works of 100 modern Indian poets edited by K Satchidanandan long ago and it reminds us of A.K. Ramanujam’s ‘The River’.
Nilim Kumar who remembered all that was good and gay about Guwahati. In the present poem on ‘City Bus’ the poet’s heart is tormented by traffic snarls, bad roads full of potholes, and the urban environs and all this picturisation of Guwahati made him a household name in Assam since his poem Aprajanan was published in 1994.
Widely appreciated, he never minced his words in inviting stark criticism for experimenting too much and bringing mundane subjects and he can devote an entire poem to a trifle thing. He himself repented that his experiments did not often bring him desired results but he was the Mr Unstoppable.
Nilim Kumar , who is acclaimed as a trendsetter in Assamese poetry is trying to tackle the situation by giving his own interpretation. Controversy is not new in his poetic life. But this time Nilim Kumar finally explained the meaning of his own poem which is expected from the readers.
According to the poet Sukaphaa as the bus driver was allegorically imagined as the most important person in leading the Assamese people in the right direction and Gadapani being the handyman was entitled in making the necessary decisions where the people to stop or move forwards.
Nilim Kumar clearly said that the Sukhapaa and Gadapani as driver and the handyman in the poem are imagined as allegorically the most important persons in the lives of the Assamese community and their significance can never be decreased ever in the lives of the community.
Even if we fully support the critics of Nilim Kumar yet we should not forget that in criticizing a poet one should not cross the limits of decency. There can be intellectual arguments but threats and intimidation to gag the voice of the poet, writer and journalist can never be accepted.
Personal attacks are not desirable when the poet himself interprets his own poem to prove his good intention. At the same time one poet should also take care of the sentiments of the people whom he depicts in his poems. This is called ‘responsibility of an artist or poet’.
However it is better to accept the poet’s own interpretation that the objectionable points used in the poem are an allegory having a much deeper meaning. The earlier peace prevails, the better for poetic creativity and peace in Assamese life.
Ratan Bhattacharjee is a columnist and associate professor at Dum Dum Motijhel College. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org