Guns And Proses

Books by Assamese militants writing from the front tell a different story of the insurgency, says ARUNI KASHYAP

Illustration : samia singh
Chandrakanta Zubaan
220 pp; Rs 295

AFTER THE harrowing Assam agitation of the 1980s, as a generation of young intellectuals took up arms with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), highschool student Uddipana Goswami wrote fiery poems supporting the organisation — while brutal counter-insurgency operations rocked Assam during the early 1990s. In 2009, Uddipana published a collection of poems that critique her early romanticism, We Called the River Red: Poems from a Violent Homeland. During her high-school years, Uddipana confesses, she was smitten by Udipto Hazarika — an ULFA rebel whose poems caught the imagination of her generation. Following in Udipto’s tradition, many more militant-poets have emerged, writing on the extremes of their experience and reporting from the frontlines of insurgency.

Take ULFA publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary (alias Megan Kachari), whose collection of poems, Melodies and Guns (UBS Publishers, 2006), generated immense interest on its release at the 2006 Frankfurt Book Fair. Poet and scholar Indira Goswami, who edited the volume, says, “Books by Megan and other Assamese militants give me a sense of the frustration that still burns in the hearts of a whole generation. The matured style and controlled language tells me that these are people who have been writing from a young age, but have only started to publish now.”

In contrast to Kachari, in a Guwahati jail since 2003 and now out on bail, most of these books are written by former rebels who have surrendered. Samudra Gogoi’s nostalgic A Former ULFA Member’s Memoirs (Students’ Stores, 2008) is critical, but empathetic, towards the organisation and his involvement in the outfit. Set in Bhutan, Roktim Sharma’s Boranga Yan — The Forest Song (Cambridge India, 2006) talks about life in ULFA base camps before ‘Operation All Clear’ in 2003, when Bhutanese and Indian forces overpowered the guerillas. The Fire of Aauling (Basu Publishers, 2007) by Anurag Mahanta, another former militant, brings us the harrowing tale of life in ‘No Man’s Land’, sandwiched between the India-Myanmar border. He depicts the plight of locals who don’t belong to either nation and are tortured by their armies hunting for militants.

These books wouldn’t ever be banned, since they’re more political and less propaganda. They project the lived experience of a generation of students, sportsmen, poets, writers, singers, dancers, brothers and sons. “It is a wrong assumption that there would be aesthetic compromise. I would believe Anurag [Mahanta] was a writer first, and then became a revolutionary,” says author Apuraba Sharma, who serialised Mahanta’s novel in the Assamese daily Ajir Asom. Author Hiren Gohain agrees, saying, “It is very significant, raw, first-hand experience. These are books that can’t ever be written by Assamese middle-class writers who sit at home.” Reportage from ground zero is the essence of their work.

“We can’t ignore these books,” stresses Khanindra Kumar Deka, assistant editor of the Assamese monthly Satsori: “They mirror the most crucial aspect of Assam’s complex history told through the stories of familiar people. The State tells us they are bloodthirsty terrorists and murderers, but their books tell a different story. “They make better writers than militants.” Uddipana says, “If they had seriously pursued writing, you never know — we could have had another kind of revolution.