(Soon after Bhupen Hazarika’s demise, Assam suffered another painful loss. Harendranath Barthakur pays tribute to Dr. Indira Goswami.)
The unconquered storyteller of the contemporary Assamese literature, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, (Dr. Indira Goswami) breathed her last on 29 November.
She achieved distinction for her materialist vision and her unique choice of themes. Born in 1942 in an affluent Brahmin family and brought up in a feudal, conservative environment, her life journey was not smooth. In that patriarchal society, she faced many troubles and injustice as a woman. The intellectual prowess she achieved through her single-handed fight against all odds is astonishing. She never compromised with any obstacles.
Her untimely widowhood was a terrible blow to her, but she addressed her loneliness by turning her gaze towards society. She took up her pen as her companion – against decadent feudal values, capitalist exploitation, denial of women’ rights, and the status quo. Her stories and novels look at the life struggles of the oppressed people struggling for liberation.
She did not confine her vision to the social life of Assam, but extended it to the rest of the country. Creations like “The Shadow of the Dark God and the Sin” (Nilakanthi Braj), “An Unfinished Autobiography” (Adhalekha Dastabej), “Saga of South Kamrup” (Datal Hatir Uyen Khowa Howda), “Selected works of Indira Goswami (1988),” “I and my writing (1988),” “Two Ramayanas”, “Selected Short Stories of Indira Goswami” and research on Ramayanas gave her international repute.
Her novels “Chenabor Shrot”, and “Ahiran” dealt with exploited lives of labourers. With the inspiration and assistance of her engineer husband, the late Madhaben Roisom Iyengar, she got the opportunity to come in contact of the working class. Seeing the plight of the working class, her writer’s spirit rebelled. Her novels are among the few in Assamese literature which portray workers’ struggles. In “Nilakanthi Braj” and “Datal Hatir Uyen Khowa Howda”, she narrates the horrific tale of the feudal oppression of widows and discriminatory attitudes towards women. In “Tej Aru Dhulire Dhukhorito Prista”, she discussed the atrocities on the Sikh community after Indira Gandhi’s murder. Her intense protest against animal sacrifices found voice in the novel “Chinnamastar Manuhtu”. Her novel “Saudaminir Katha” is a lively document of the social status of Indian women. Her notd story “Sanskar” vividly depicts the tragic conflict between feudal remnants and modernity. Her writings heralded a new chapter of progressive writing in Assamese and Indian literature.
She was moved by the neglect of characters of Seeta and Urmila in Ramayana to deeply research the epic. In search of knowledge, she communicated with many writers-intellectual around the world and travelled to Japan, South East Asia, Indonesia, Spain, America, Pakistan, Maldives, and Thailand etc. She achieved a PhD degree in “A Comparative Study of Madhav Kandalir Axomiya Ramayan and Tulsidasar RamCharit manas.” She has been awarded with many national and international awards including the Sahitya Academy Award (1993), Assam Sahitya Sabha Award, Bharat Nirman Award(1989), Souharya award of Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sanstha (1992), Katha Award of Delhi (1993), Kamal Kumari foundation Award (1996),International Tulsi Award (1999), Bhartiya Gyanpeeth (2001), Padmashree (2002), Ambassador for Peace Award by South Korea, Principal Prince Club Award of Europe (2007), Gold Plate of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (2008). By translating the two volumes of Stories of Premchand, a Malayalam novel (Adhagonta Samay) and Jatak Katha, she tried to introduce Assamese readers to the literary world of different Indian languages.
Her painstaking research illuminates each of her novels, which have a deep sense of history, time and place. Most of her novels draw on true life stories of oppressed sections of society. She participated in the lecture series on the “Inspiring Life of Mahatma Gandhi For World Peace” in Thailand, and played a leading role in the peace talks between ULFA and the Indian government.
Humanism is the soul of Dr. Indira Goswami’s literary writing. As a writer, she was fearless, unambiguous and uncompromising. We bid heartfelt adieu to Mamoni Raisom Goswami.