Verse is the first level of literature of human civilization. Perhaps thousands of years ago, as the mother or grandma made an effort to pacify a crying baby by humming some soulful tune some words fell into place making something meaningful and pleasing to the ear.
That turned popular as it was memorized by people and recited elsewhere and people got the idea of a poem. That is perhaps the reason we get all the epics in the form of verse. Another advantage is that, it is easy to remember and when recited in correct tune the listeners also get mesmerized.
Our ancient texts were memorized by people and recited on relevant occasions. Even in present phase too here, in Assam, in the Naamghar, the devotees offer their prayers reciting entire chapters from Naamghosa and Kirtanghosa completely out of memory.
Ojapali, is also another form of performing art through which an entire episode is recited with graceful movements. As per available records Caryapadas composed between seventh to twelfth century A.D. are the most ancient literary treasure in Assamese language. Poems composed since the time of Ananta Kandali, Madhab Kandali and Sankardeva and Madhabdeva (Considering Borgeets as devotional poems) has crossed various phases like romantic poems, modern poems, post-modern poems. As per some, the present phase is post-post-modern poetry.
Jiban Narah is a known name in the field of Assamese poetry and he has already carved a niche among the present leading poets. He has been playing an important role in representing Assam at national level.
In this collection he has made a special and enviable effort by putting together English translation of his poems by all the leading translators of Assam right from Padmashree Dhirendra Nath Bezbarua, Dr. Hiren Gohain, Pradip Acharya, Krishna Dulal Barua, Lyra Neog Bora, Nirendra Nath Thakuria and Dibya Khataniar.
This has added a unique dimension to the book. In the very brief translators note it is mentioned that Jiban Narah has made a distinctive contribution to Assamese literature in including many facets of Mising language and culture in his poetry. The forward is written by – one of most leading poet – litterateur of India, former Secretary of Sahitya Akademy and also a former editor of Indian Literature – the bi-monthly prestigious literary journal of Sahitya Akademy Sri K Satchidanandan. The introduction is written by Prabhat Bora.
The opening lines of the forward reads thus – Jiban Narah is easily one of the finest Indian poets writing in Asomiya today. Though heir to the great modernist tradition of Navkanta Barua and Nilmoni Phukan in his language, Jiban creates a poetic world of his own as he also inherits the older Vaishnavite Bhakti tradition of Sankardeva and Madhabdeva as well as the rich oral tradition of Mising and he works his way through tales from Bhagavata and Mising myths and picks his colourful images from the riverine tribe that lives in bamboo stilt-houses and thrives on agriculture.
The beautiful complexity and the splendid fantasy of the poems spring from these multiple traditions his blood carries. Jiban represents a new voice in Indian poetry that springs from peripheral people and dialects and creates languages interrogating the status quo poetic idiom as well as the standard language that is considered the ‘mainstream’.
Eminent Assamese scholar and critic Prabhat Bora writes in the introduction – Jiban Narah, one of the finest and most gifted poets of contemporary Assam, was born to an impoverished Mising family in a small village of northern part of Golaghat district in Central Assam. Morongial, Jiban’s village, surrounded by three rivers, the Brahmaputra and its three tributaries – Dhansiri and Gelabeel, is so beautiful and vibrant with oi-nitom, the Mising traditional love song that it would turn even a man with a most prosaic heart into a poet at least for some time….I can still remember how on my way back I was haunted by the Wrdworthian feeling as though I returned from a visit to the Wye Valley, and surely a new Tintern Abbey would have been to me credit if I had been gifted with a sort of serendipity.
One must thank the publisher as well as the poet for the very rare forward and introduction which actually stands as a model for other writers to follow as it reflects the wide area of study by two eminent people and the way they present the comparison and bring in references of other writings.
This collection includes one translated poem by Dr. Hiren Gohain, four by Dhirendra Nath Bezbarua, twelve by Pradip Acharya, three by Nirendra Nath Thakuria, ten by Krishna Dulal Barua, three by Dibya Khataniar, and the maximum of eighteen by Lyra Neog Bora. The title poem has been translated by Lyra Neog Bora.
The sample of works of different translators are put below for a glimpse
My rhythmic body passes / To and fro / Through the echoing song / Feet quicken into movement/ Hands beat like wings/ And in the night’s courtyard/ Observed by thousands/ A dirge rises from my throat ~ RHYTHM ~ Dr. Hiren Gohain
Someone has said/ The universe will collapse/ Alongwith the sun and earth// In any case, the universe exists/ Only till people are not dead/ Just as the earth water and the sun do // What happens after that / Are the fables of scriptures// There is happiness in fables;/But even they are what Man creates ~ MY IMAGINARY STORY-TELLER ~ D N Bezbaruah
You’re reading your face/ in your palms// In the mirror of your palms/ falls the shadows of veins// Bearing in that shade/ the eyes furtively search for/ days and nights/ for another pair of eyes// You lay your face on your palms/ on another face ~ MIRROR ` Pradip Acharya
Men and poets aren’t the same/// Men have masks/Poets haven’t / For it’s masks that poets are made of// Men have blots/ Poets haven’t/ For its mishaps where poets made of // Men have mishaps/ poets haven’t/ For it’s blots that poets are born ~ FACE AND MASK~ Krishna Dulal Barua
The orange hill/ Is rushing// With their young ones/ the pigs are screaming// The fire is flying its red flames//The red flames/ are devouring/ the tips of the trees// The pigs are running after the oranges// The men are running / with bullet and blood ~ THE ORANGE HILL ~ Lyra Neog Bora
Your face/ a door to divine love// Your eyes/ spread over the sky// You are there in that village where you were born/ yet you are here//A face soft and serene/ my mother/ Take me into your arms ~ YOUR FACE ~ Lyra Neog Bora
With the globe on its back/ an ant is running// After it runs our daughter/ and her friends// Following them/ are the sun and moon// Day and night//The globe on an ant’s back/ running/ running ~ THE GLOBE ON AN ANT’S BACK~ Lyra Neog Bora
O Buddha/ in what language/ do we read dreams/ in sleep at night/ What’s the difference/ between your ‘sunya’/ and Aryabhatta’s ‘0’/ The earth is round/ not exactly round/ roundish/../ Are you awoken/ O Buddha/ Someone calls at fever pitch/ snapping apart the wood/ a green shroud is trotting about// Where’s the sun/ has it flopped down/ on the bed of the wood ~THE BUDDHA~Nirendra Nath Thakuria
The day I met her/ distant clouds hung from the boughs/ basking in the sun // Drawing its sap from the rain grew/ that road bend of memory/ loaded with leaves and branches// Now shadows of loaded trees/ are growing long and luxurious/ on either side of the grave~CORPOREAL THOUGHTS/2 ~ Dibya Khataniar
Each translator has one’s unique style and has specific place of reputation. So one gets a wide variety of taste as regards use of words and expressions, and it takes out the monotony. Though the poet is the same because of the mixed platter of translators, it has got a different dimension. To get all the eminent translators of a State between the same covers is also a unique achievement for the poet as well
This compilation has been dedicated to two departed stalwarts of literature – one is Late Nabakanta Barua from Assam and the other eminent Malayalam poet, literary critic, teacher and scholar Late K Ayyappa Paniker. We are hopeful that this unique translation effort would soon be considered as a milestone in establishing Assamese literature in the world forum.
Bibekananda Choudhury is a translator and critic based in a Guwahati.