For a northeastern it’s always a pleasure to be connected to her roots, here in my case now I have been reading novels set in my land. The experience is amusing, as you get mesmerised by the vivid description and the vibrant literary tradition.
Until 2007 there wasn’t much a buzz about the novels from Northeast in the Indian Media. Suddenly by the mid of 2008, national magazines and journals have taken unprecedented amount of interest in writings from this region. The profusion of literature from Northeast has also generated immense interest within and outside the nation. Publishing is brimming with new novels from here. They are fresh, different and they reflect the incredible diversity of the land.
Some novels which are to be applauded and are at par with their counterparts throughout India namely, poet and journalist Mamang Dai’s The Black Hill (Aleph, 2015) marry history and imagination. It is a doomed love story of a girl from the Abor tribe and a man from the Mishmee tribe, which is set against the vivid backdrop of 19th century Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The two recorded pegs: “A priest (who)... walked across these hills carrying a cross and a sextant” and one day disappeared, and the execution of a Mishmee tribal man, Kajinsha, for his murder. To connect these two dots, Dai weaves a rich tapestry of characters, landscapes and incidents. In the process, she resuscitates a chapter largely ignored by mainstream historians, those custodians of memory; breathes life into people and a way of life that rarely finds representation outside the region; and, at the least indicates the wealth of inspiration that this land offers. It provides an opportunity for its readers to explore if we would only look.
Janice Parait’s Boats on Land (Random House, 2013), are fifteen sublime short stories set between Shillong, Cherrapunji and Assam which undertake fictional re-imagining of the alteration that swept through Northeast India during a period of three centuries, starting in the 1850s.Weaving together local folklore and tradition with unfolding social and political events.
Mamang Dai from Arunachal Pradesh was awarded the Padma Shri for Literature in 2011. Prajwal Parajuly, who grew up in Gangtok became the youngest Indian to secure an international book deal. Janice Pariat won the Sahitya Academy Yuva Puraskar. These writers can be called Northeastern because they belong to Northeast but each of their work are just as different from each other’s as their individual cultures are.
This window into contemporary writing from the Northeast shows rest of the country, what an exciting place it is to be in; backed by a strong, vibrant literary tradition, and surging with fresh ideas. Readership in both English and local languages is growing, regional publishing is strong and awareness of what comprises “good” writing is not in doubt.