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Harekrishna Deka
Date of Publish: 2016-04-02

THE MERMAID

Harekrishna Deka

(Translated from Assamese by Bibekananda Choudhury)

 

Mermaid.

No. The little mermaid. He watched the little mermaid with dazzled eyes for some time. The mermaid is gazing at the sea in a sitting posture. He forgot to enquire about the creator of such a beautiful sculpture. He knew the mermaid was a creation of imagination. This beautiful, imaginary aquatic damsel of the sea has remained alive in legends down the ages passed on through lips of the sailors – a breathtakingly stunning woman with a fish tail. An artist had captured in his sculpture the woman who was never caught alive. This imaginary fish-woman appears alive gazing at the sea with thirsty eyes. He could not have got the chance to be engrossed in imagination watching the sculpture of the little mermaid had he not come to Copenhagen as a representative of a small group for the political conference on climate change.

It is said that the mermaids mesmerised innumerable sailors with their enchanting songs and pulled them into the unknown depths of the sea. Those sailors got enchanted and embroiled in the deadly game of love never to return. But till today, no one could tame a mermaid and bring home. He heard many such stories that used to get passed on from one generation to the next orally. Such stories made the mermaid very attractive for him. So the sculpture of the little mermaid attracted him likewise. He gazed at the statue for quite a long time.

Once, long ago, he had pronounced this word ‘mermaid’ gazing at the waves that were lashing on the white sands of beaches of Kasid on the Arabian Sea. Not audibly loudly, but just to himself. Long ago, there were those hammocks – the swinging beds of rope tied between the coconut trees on the beaches. She was gazing at the sky sitting on a hammock swinging her braids, an opened tender coconut on her hands. On another hammock close by, he and his friend were munching on the delicious, soft kernels of the tender coconuts. Suddenly he noticed the girl was neither drinking the water nor eating the kernel from the coconut she was holding. The tender coconut was just lying still on her hands. And she, oblivious of herself, was gazing at a far point in the sea. After finishing the water and the kernel, he and his friend went running to play with the waves that were lashing the shore. The girl was his friend’s cousin by relation. All three were classmates. They came in a large group to the seashore of Kasid to enjoy a few days after finishing their university course. He and his friend planned beforehead to stay behind after the group left. The girl learnt about their plan on the day the group was preparing to depart and stayed back with the excuse that her cousin brother was also staying back.  

A word spontaneously came to his mind looking at the girl watching the distant waves – ‘mermaid’. But he became conscious before the word slipped through his lips. It did not pass through. At that very moment she looked back at him. They made eye contact. She said, ‘you wanted to say something to me’. He replied, ‘no, nothing’. He was a bit perplexed. He had not pronounced the word at all. But why did she think that he actually wanted to say something? Did his lips move? No, they had not, he was sure. Perhaps she said it just for the sake of it. Would she enjoy it if someone nicknamed her mermaid though she was looking at the sea with such a thirsty gaze? The girl was not only his classmate; she was also the member of the informal group of the students of the university. Outspoken, she likes fun and company. Their group went out to visit sea, hills and mountains, ancient monuments etc. together as and when the chance arose. Now their university course had come to an end. This was their last group adventure. It may be that most of the friends would never meet again in life. That’s why he wanted to spend a couple of days more with his most intimate friend on the sea shore of Kasid. And his cousin sister had also remained with them. She said she was very fond of the sea. These two days most of the time they spent on the beach, running on the sand, sleeping on the swinging hammocks in the shades of the coconut trees, sitting in a princely style on the horse drawn carriages or swimming and frolicking with the waves of the sea.

Yesterday also they were sitting side by side. His friend went out to sea for a swim. They had been just talking and relaxing on the sands on the seashore. Once she shouted at her brother playfully, ‘Hey, don’t swim too much, the mermaid there will catch you. You won’t be able to come back’. It was she who pronounced the word mermaid first. But the fun loving girl turned thoughtful and spent the rest of the time gazing at the sea intently. Her eyes seemed to be fixed at the distant horizon where the sea appears curved, where the skyline appears to merge with the sea. She was picking up handful of sand now and then and making it to trickle down through the gaps between the fingers. The moment the word ‘mermaid’ was pronounced by her, he had the feeling as if she was also a mermaid from the sea. Did any sign of the word get expressed in the slightly perceptible movement of his lips? Yesterday also, looking at him she said suddenly, ‘you wanted to say something?’ he had not wanted to say anything. The word ‘mermaid’ just came to his mind. Why did she ask today also, like yesterday? Did she perceive the word as he thought in his mind? Yesterday just to avoid the issue he had said, ‘Tomorrow will be the last day of our stay. We don’t know where all of us will end up afterwards. Is it not a bit intriguing that even after staying closely together for all these five years, we may not ever meet one another again? Sometimes, may be, at a railway station, while returning from a pilgrimage in our old age, or at an airport waiting for a flight, returning from a visit to daughter and grandchildren, we might have a chance to meet again. Then, we may not even recognize each other. We shall pass by one another like strangers’.  She gazed at his face with an inquisitive look, for quite a while. She said, ‘you did not mean to say this. But perhaps you have spoken the truth. I have decided I shall not stay here’. She gestured looking at the sea, ‘I shall go far away across the sea’. He understood, she envisaged to go to America. Both were studying the same subject, environmental science. The door was open in that country for job seekers. But he did not savour the idea going to a foreign country. He did not belong to an affluent family and, moreover, his research guide kept a post of researcher specially reserved for him in the recently formed but renowned ‘Institute of Environment Science’. His guide was quite impressed with his research paper that dealt with the crisis of ‘climate refugee’, that may be a reality if the sea level rises due to temperature rise and that will put the country in dire straits. He understood, perhaps today is their last meeting. But no, she insisted on staying back at Kasid for one more day, ‘I shall not get this environment and this company any more. Let us stay here for one more day and get some more memories to cherish’. Her cousin said, ‘She has some ‘worms’ in her head, I mean her head is ‘half heated’.

At last their Kasid sojourn came to an end. There was no excuse for them to stay back any more. His friend said, ‘I don’t know if we shall ever meet again. Our profession, place of work, all will be different. Even our paths may not crisscross. But there is internet. Keep in touch via e-mail. Sometimes I shall call you up from some unexpected locations. I shall then surprise you by my reply, ‘I have come to Antarctica to watch the Penguins’. He knew, of course, that, though his friend actually possessed some inherent interest in birds, he would never venture for any such expeditions. He would surely take charge of his father’s thriving business. The girl said, ’It does not matter whether we meet or not, but I will always remember. I love the sea. We spent several unforgettable days together on the beaches here’. Perhaps her inquisitive gaze once again tried to read his lips, ‘You did not utter whatever you wanted to say. I will remind you of that whenever we meet again’. While parting, he felt certain that the possibility of their meeting again was next to nil.

 

A large number of representatives from all the countries, big and small, came to attend the World Summit on Climate at Copenhagen. Even a few months before the meeting, it was said that the developed countries from the west will try to sidetrack from the resolutions accepted at the previous Conference at Kyoto. The top leaders from those countries may try to scale down the importance of the summit by remaining absent and thus play the tactics of shying away from the responsibility. Ultimately, they may try to pressurize the developing countries that they should volunteer to take the responsibility by reducing their industrial carbon emissions. But because of the international public opinion against such move, which had become vociferous, ultimately the top leaders of the developed countries had to relent and decided to attend the summit. His research guide had already been appointed advisor of an important wing of the Environment Ministry and he, as a result of his scintillating research efforts, was picked up as a member of the sub committee under him. Thus he got the opportunity to attend this summit shouldering a small responsibility. It appeared as if suddenly the temperature of Copenhagen has soared. It was not only because of the hectic activities related to the events of the summit. The climate of the place was just superb. It was the political climate that got heated up. Apart from the government members of the representing countries the protestors from non government organisations of various countries also assembled there. They had been quite vociferous. Several thousand protestors congregated with various placards and banners and started moving in processions. He watched the police take harsh measures to disperse the protestors. Though the police did not allow these environment conscious non government organisations to move near the location of the summit, he wanted very much to learn about their opinions. As just a group member in the huge team of representatives, his role was quite insignificant. His job was limited to supply the relevant information to the convener of the group, his guide. There was no scope for him to participate in the discussions. But he felt from the discussions that behind the veil of all these formal, delicate, political arguments, many facets of the real problem remained unattended. And, so he felt strongly from his heart to meet someone from these protesting NGOs. It appeared to him that the difference between the political heat and the heated up natural environment will manifest only through their voices. The political environment got so heated that the summit appeared to end up in a total fiasco. The furore was much more regarding the quantum of the responsibility of the different blocks of countries, rather than the overall disaster looming over the world.

He got some recess after lunch on the third day of the summit. It was decided to finalise the strategy in a confidential meeting amongst four countries and only few responsible members from their group were required to be present in this secret strategic meeting. He utilised the opportunity to attend a discussion at an alternative summit and listen to the proceedings as an ordinary tourist. They named this conference CLIMAFORUM 9. This summit was held far away from the location of the actual summit. Here he heard for the first time the term ‘climate justice’. There only, he got a clear idea regarding the political difference between THE NORTH and THE SOUTH. Rich, developed, European and American countries are THE NORTH and the developing as well as the poor countries, THE SOUTH. He listened attentively to the lectures in the conference sitting beside an African national. He was astonished to notice that regarding the same problem of ‘climate crisis’, there was a wide difference between the views of the government committees and these protesting organisations. The African remarked in an unexpected way, ‘This summit is a total farce. Climate colonialism was being practiced by the Northern Countries. Exploit and dump, and thrust all responsibilities on the Third World’. He felt that the Third World is just not united. Whom does his country or China or Brazil represent? Do the big powers of the Third World think about the threat to survival of the small countries, or do they just extend their hand to protect their own interests?

These political issues were very complex for him. He was in fact a simple, ordinary scientist. His research had only indicated that the rising temperature of the sea water will create unprecedented havoc around the world. And he had just supplied the detailed information to the convener of his sub committee. He, of course, noticed that his guide had utilised these for the sake of the country and tried to punch holes in the arguments put forth by the western countries that tried to influence the summit. In the outlook of every powerful country, rather than its totality, political interest and the possible political reaction back in their own country was found to be more important basic principle.

On the fourth day of the conference it was decided that their sub committee will have a direct discussion separately from the main meeting with their counterpart sub committee from United States. He understood that a conciliatory approach had been adopted within the summit that nearly resulted in total failure. He even heard that some kind of understanding had been reached between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of China. His country also needed to be a part of that understanding as an important country from Asia. That is the reason behind this separate round of discussion between the two countries. There his attention was drawn to this smart, active woman of Indian origin. She has come as a member of the American Committee. Must be an important member; because, she had been seated next to the team leader assisting him with a confident demeanor. He was seated on the third row on their side along with the other members of the sub committee. He did not have any important role and just watched the woman intently. Her face appeared to be so familiar; must have met somewhere long ago. Then suddenly the memory of the episode at the seashore of Kasid came alive as if by a stroke of lightning. The word ‘mermaid’ also came to his mind, - the one that he got separated from long back in Kasid, the sky gazing girl swinging her braids that he felt certain never to meet, is this lady. At that time she said that she would go across the seas. Now he realized that she had reached the ocean. She had been swimming effortlessly in the endless ocean of diplomacy. There is expression of confidence on her face, a smart consciousness. That she has been playing an important role for the most powerful country in the world is very evident in her gestures. She must not have seen him; he has been seated behind the members sitting in the first two rows. He was not required to talk too. Unless needed by the convener of his team, he did not even require getting up. He has already provided his guide with a small note, advising him to mention the matter ‘climate justice’. It did not require to be told that it had been copied from the alternative conference of the protesting organisations. His convener has found a material for a just and logical point. He had also provided his convener with a fresh idea of ‘climate colonialism’(that he heard from the African gentleman), but his convener did not accept it thinking that it may not be diplomatically too pleasant. But he added a lot of impeccable relevant information to the issue of climate justice and presented it strongly. At that very moment the responsibility of argument on behalf of the United States was taken over by the woman of Indian origin - the ‘mermaid’ of Kasid, the girl who forgot even to sip her tender coconut and gazed at a far point in the sea in rapt attention. How she tried to corner their team leader with such strong arguments! Needless to say, the argument of their group leader was definitely highly praiseworthy. It was not only the confidence of a powerful country that showed in her arguments, she had countered the arguments of her former own country i.e. of his country with her fluent, enviable American accent. There was no trace of any hesitation on her part as a non resident. But the picture of the mermaid of Kasid came to his mind over and over again. After the meeting the representatives of the two countries departed through two different exits. There was no chance for them to face each other.

The summit had been over. The teams representing the countries started leaving Copenhagen. He stayed back for one more day. He felt certain that the summit could not arrive at any decision that could save the world from the climate crisis and was scientifically satisfying. But the quorum of four countries developing at a faster pace played an important role in the conference under the banner ‘basic’ and his country was one amongst the four. These ‘basic’ countries arrived at an understanding with the United States and the media termed this as a significant success of this summit. Perhaps it was the objective of these countries. All the countries needed certain arguments to counter the political criticisms in their own country. So he understood it clearly that this decision was certain kind of give and take policy and this was hidden under a solid cover of craftily worded speeches. He noted that the mermaid of Kasid took a very active role during this decision with detailed information. She was satisfied for her contribution in the role played by the United States, at least it appeared so from the distance of his seat. He felt strongly a couple of times to meet her just to make her remember the old times. But the opportunity did not come. His role became insignificant towards the end and he was just playing the role of a mute spectator. She had scaled the peak of success. On the other hand he remained an insignificant representative of his country.

He visited the beach of Copenhagen before returning to his country. And he was watching the statue of the little mermaid, mesmerised. The seashore was teeming with tourists. He was oblivious of the people around him. One question played in his mind, if the water level rises considerably as a result of global warming, will then only the countries like Bangladesh be in trouble, or small islands like Maldives shall simply perish, or this famous sculpture of Copenhagen shall also be devoured by the rising sea. This human effort of capturing the little mermaid in a sculpture with an imaginary vision will then be in vain. As this mermaid vanishes into the sea how many people shall get buried in the depths of the sea(just like the mermaid in the fairy tales took the sailors)- who knows? A picture of destruction flashed in his mind.

Perhaps he was deeply engrossed in imaginations, oblivious of himself. He felt a soft touch on his shoulder. He was surprised as he turned around, totally dumbfounded. The long lost mermaid of Kasid, who took active part in the US team was standing beside him. She addressed him in a normal voice, ’Surprised? I had noticed you in the Indian team and been watching you throughout. I expected you to come over and enquire about my well being’. He felt little uneasy. Two decades has passed by since that Kasid episode. Naturally, his features had also changed. He also could not identify her the moment he saw her, though, of course, it did not take too long. He did not even think that she had remembered him. Though the smart lady who took the extremely busy role like a live wire for US in the discussions at Copenhagen was the mermaid of Kasid, he could not think that she had noticed him sitting idly in the last row, and even if she had noticed, he was totally in doubt whether she would be able to identify him. She repeated, ‘little mermaid, a beautiful sculpture. You also appear engrossed in the mermaid.’

At last he found words, ‘No, the statue is truly attractive.’

Both looked at each other. Their features has changed. Personality too. Both thought so about each other. Confidence level still somewhat less, she thought about him. He thought she has become more beautiful than before. Success has added a special lustre to her personality. Must have attained fame in the job, had been very industrious in research work, had been very intelligent too, still is - she thought about him. None could utter anything for quite some time as they mentally commented about each other.  Then she proposed, ‘Come, let us have a cup of coffee together. There is a nice restaurant over there’.

They sat down and started reminiscing the old times. She had not forgotten anything. The retrospection had been so sweet. It appeared to him that she is still the same girl with the swinging braids.

She asked, ‘Did you marry? What about children?’ He looked at her. Such a successful lady in life must have married and maintaining a happy family.

He said, ‘Got married. But did not last. Divorced. Got a boy. Stays with her. You ?’

She replied, ‘Where is the time? And one has to get someone of choice too.’

And suddenly she asked, ‘You wanted to say something to me. But did not say then. What was it? Will you say now?’ He felt that the old, original look had reappeared on her face. It appeared to him as if she was looking at him with that stare.

What did he want to say? He did not actually want to say anything then. He just thought one word silently, ‘mermaid’. She appeared to him as a mermaid. And the word slipped out of his lips, ‘mermaid’.

She just laughed, ‘You are still thinking of the little mermaid. I am not reminding you of the mermaid. You wanted to say something on the beaches of Kasid. Why didn’t you?’

She looked straight at his eyes with deep, intense gaze. She stared at him in that way for quite some time. Her ears appeared to be eagerly waiting to hear something. The gaze appeared strange. This did not emanate from a very efficient, extremely smart representative of a powerful country full of confidence and a thorough diplomat.

Then he understood.

He understood the meaning of this mysterious question. He understood after so long, why she had stayed back after all her friends had departed. Actually she wanted to hear those words from his lips that she herself wanted to say. But back then no such passion developed in his mind. And, after that the mermaid swam across the sea to the beaches of the ocean.

But what shall he do now with that enlightenment? The thing that did not click in his mind at the right moment, is it not too late now to express the same.  He has been divorced. Still, is he free enough from all bonding to speak the same? And …

And is he prepared now to love and take care of her?

He remained silent. She changed the topic. Again she returned to the language of international politics. ‘Your country would have made a grave mistake, understand? Had you not signed the pact with us your country would have been greatly affected by the climate crisis.’

Your?

The word your appeared very strange on her lips. She had not only gone that far by becoming a non resident, and the mermaid basking on the sun on the beaches of Kasid had not just only moved to the ocean from the sea, she has become a foreigner in the true sense of the term. If his mind tied to the beaches of Kasid has to speak the words that she expected to hear, then one has to go to the US coasts.

He returned to the issue of climate crisis. Said, ‘Whatever you say, climate justice has been blatantly ignored. The fact is we just compromised with your country.’

‘But this was a profitable compromise. Globalisation in the international politics has been made possible only through compromises’, She said.

He did not reply. Is there a necessity for his mind to make an international compromise? It just flashed through his mind.

Both took leave of each other. Without his uttering the word that she wanted so much to hear. But he felt something greatly disturbing his mind. He felt the impact of a wave coming from across the Atlantic in his heart, and it pained.

He started feeling a void in his heart after he returned home. He heard the music of the mermaid wafting from a far away place. It appeared as if the mermaid of Kasid is sitting in place of the little mermaid of Copenhagen and staring from over there at him waiting on the beach of Kasid. But not from Kasid or Copenhagen, it was from the beaches of United States. He found in his research that the sea bed had been constantly rising as an effect of rise of atmospheric temperature. As if the statue of mermaid is slowly getting submerged under the rising sea and will ultimately vanish under the sea. Is it not the appropriate time that he speaks his words?

In one of the follow up phases of the pact signed by his country in Copenhagen in a later year, he got the chance to be in such a team of representatives. The discussion would be held in the United States. He shall surely meet her there. This time he shall not hesitate, he has heard the call of the mermaid. He is ready to go to the deep undersea palace of the mermaid in response to her call.

He went to participate in the discussion held in New York. But she was missing from the US team. She took an active part in all the previous discussions, why is she absent here?

He finally enquired from a lady officer who attended the discussion as their representative, why was she not there?

She answered looking a bit surprised, ‘You knew her? So you did not get the news? She got drowned in the sea last month while going for a bath. The sea suddenly swelled abnormally with enormously high waves. May god bless her soul.’

He was stunned.

--------

If I speak my personal truth in third person like a story, will it appear as truth or a story? I do not have any alternative than to say it in third person. The words that had to be pronounced by lips did not just happen. Let the rest remain a story. Do you agree with me? I am now making a sand sculpture on the shores of Kasid. An inquisitive crowd of onlookers has gathered around me watching the temporary sand sculpture being made. A beautiful mermaid with the rear of a fish.

Many tourists are loitering on the shore. One of them just stopped for a while and said, ‘Mermaid! Beautiful”. A local guide was accompanying the tourist. He uttered in a hushed tone so that I may not hear, ‘He has been making the same sculpture out of sand since last fifteen years. Mad. Look at his clothes, tattered, his hair in knots.’

Though he took care to avoid my hearing his words, I heard.

It is a regular comment from everyone.

I continued making the sculpture. 

 

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Harekrishna Deka (1943) is an eminent poet and fiction writer in Assamese literature. His major colletion of poetry include Swarabor (The Voices) , Ratir Sobhajatra (The Procession by Night) , Aan Ejan (Another One),  Kabita 1960-1980 (Poems 1960-1980), Bhalpoar Babe Exar (A Word for Love), Xanmihali Barnamala ( The Mixed Alphabets), 2010 and Sea-Scare (poems translated into English). His shortstory collection include Prakritik aru Anyanya (The Natural and other stories), Madhusudanar Dolong (Madhusudan's Bridge), Bandiyar (The Captive), Post-modern athaba Galpa (The Post-modern or Short Story), Mrityudanda (The Death Sentence) and Galpa aru Kalpa (Story and Fiction). His novels include   Agantuk (The Strangers) and Yatra. (The Journey). Also an eminent literary critic, he has authored a number of books  of literary criticism. He was awarded Sahitya Akademi award 1987  for his poetry collection Aan Ejan,  Katha award 1996 for his shortstory Bandiyar, and  Assam Valley Literary award 2010.

Excerpts of an interview with the eminent writer by Subhajit Bhadra, who teaches English in Bongaigaon College: 

S.B:  It is believed that every child is a prospective adult and every adult nurtures within him/her a lost child. Childhood as a formative phase of life is always important in case of any individual human being and it becomes significantly special in the life of a writer. Looking back how much do you think your childhood has shaped as a human being and as a writer.

HKD: As a child one begins his imaginative adventures through the magical world of fairy tales, nursery rhymes etc and one looks at the world with a sense of wonder. For a child, his/her entry into language is exciting as he or she learns to express their experiences of the surrounding through a communicative medium. As a child I was sensitive to the way I was experiencing the surrounding world of nature and culture and wanted to acquire the skill of using words expressively. During those early days,  I started following the writers whose language attracted me.  I started loving the rhythm of words and acquired a taste for poetry I had encountered through the learning process of school text books  as well as through those I discovered in libraries or bookstalls where I was delightfully attracted to the rows of books displayed.  I started playing with words and found that I could also write.

In later years, I discovered, my childhood memories were evocatively strong and a rich source of thematic contents as well as metaphors. The childhood was the formative age that lay the foundation of my attitude and sensitivity to the world, and the experiences of later years were only additions to this foundation with alterations and adjustment necessitated by mature experiences of adult life.  There is no break between the child and the man and it can be compared to a tree whose trunks and branches are the continuation of the roots.

S.B.: Did you ever nurture any hidden ambition of being a writer and if so how much you draw from your surrounding.

HKD:  Yes, I wanted to be a writer as soon as I started reading various writings of different authors. I was fascinated by the world of words from the very beginning of my discovery of that world in various texts. The world of words is fictional but it has to draw its images and metaphors from experiences of our reality to which we are exposed through our senses and understanding. The surrounding  filled with people, society, nature & its environment and cultural interactions with them in space-time is the source from which I have drawn most of my building materials for my imaginative world.

S.B.: Did you struggle as a writer during the initial stage? Were you inspired by any idol?

HKD: It has always been a struggle between realization and expression. What comes as comprehension of thought and feeling has to find a structured expression in language. The inadequacy of language has to be overcome by inventive metaphors and in attractive style free from clichés. I had many favourite authors but consciously tried to avoid influences.

S.B.: When you started writing Assamese literature was quite vibrant and fertile. How do you remember those days.

HKD:  We got exposed to a very new trend which later came to be known as modernist literature. There were altogether new experiments, particularly in short story and poetry. It was exciting as well as confusing to begin with. Romantic outlook was replaced by a sharp awareness of the changes brought about by the nation’s post-Independence expectations and excitement as well as conscious understanding of the progress-prospect of modernity with its attendant vulnerability. Literature tried to reflect all these through a kind of experimental literature. In our literature, modernism did not fully break from romanticism. In the Assamese mind the lyrical impulse was quite strong and modernism was a reorientation of axis with romantic fervor flowing as undercurrent.

S.B. : You are basically a poet. You have always striven towards producing fresh images, metaphors and symbols. Did you need to be inventive for that.

HKD: To begin with, my preferred vehicle in younger days was poetry but a story writer lurked behind the poet. You can notice, against the lyrical-experimental trend of the then poetry, I fused narrative elements with lyricism. I was inventive and always looked for fresh metaphors. I avoided the moulds shaped by my predecessors.

S.B.: Your identity of being a poet has overshadowed your other achievements. How do you view yourself a s a poet?

HKD: My poetry and my prose fiction are complementary, though I ventured into prose fiction much later. When I felt that certain experiences needed an overtly narrative structure and poetry would not be a suitable vehicle for their expression despite my bringing narrative elements into some of my poetry, I started writing short stories and novel much later. Imagination plays a strong role in my poetry but most of my inspirations are drawn from the reality I have experience in the social surrounding. Nature comes as a backdrop, and a source of symbols and metaphors. You will find a lot of irony and satire in my poetry but I have written many tender love poems as well.

S.B: You have written a number of important short stories which exhibit your mastery of western literature. How do you view yourself as a writer of short stories?

HKD: I am well-acquainted with western  literature but I don’t call it a mastery. I have made many experiments in fiction, both in structure and language as well as in subject-matter.  I take my fiction writing as seriously as my poetry.

S.B.: You have penned a novel called ‘Agantuk’ and that was a sort of journey as a novelist. Looking back, how do you feel about it? What triggered that maiden step?

HKD: Though I was asked by many people to venture into novel writing for a few decades, I was quite hesitant to write a novel mainly because I got a lot of satisfaction in writing short stories. But Diganta Ozha, a young intellectual who is also an acclaimed writer of socio-historical criticism and was also associated with the editing of a magazine pressed me to write a novel for a special issue with which he was involved. He was so persistent that I had to give in, since I was fond of him. I was thinking of a short story on a theme of an alien’s  view of the civilization we are in. As a short story I conceived it differently but for writing a novel  I had to change the canvas and my orientation. I was surprised that it was received well and even an unknown person wrote a critical article on it. This encouraged me and I was inspired to write my second novel, with an innovative approach. Nothing like my second novel  Yatra has  been attempted in Assamese literature. My third novel is likely to be a detective novel , but with some difference.

S.B.:   You have recently written an experimental novel  ‘Yatra’ which is unique in the realm of Assamese literature. You have also experimented with form and structure of story telling in this novel. Tell us something about such refreshing experiment.

HKD: Yes, ‘Yatra’ is unlike any other novel in Assamese literature. It begins with a prelude which is a short story written by a writer and it is not his own plot. He was goaded by an explorer whom he never met and their encounter was through correspondence. The explorer ,who provided the materials, was not satisfied with the outcome of the story and criticized the writer for his alleged failure to realize the ‘truth’ that literature should aim at through imagination to enhance the knowledge of reality. The writer decides to write the story afresh filling up the gaps in the materials he received from the explorer by using his imagination. This forms the core in the middle of the novel and it deals with a hypothetical tribe completely unknown to the civilized world. The writer imagined that this invented tribe developed a vibrant culture of their own and yet this culture remained frozen in time. The core portion of the novel tests how far a writer’s imagination can visualize a future if he is given some ethnographic material. This runs parallel to another story developed around the ‘core-periphery’ question debated often in a nation like India. Both stories converge at a point where the actual journey taken by the writer to an area of his nation (considered a part of the heartland) comes to an end with a number of adventurous and painful experiences. At this level, the writer himself is one of the two protagonists of the core-periphery story, the second protagonist, being an escort of the writer, himself involved in an agitation on the conflict over a people’s sense of human security and a development plan of the country that does not meet the security expectations of those people. The second protagonist at this level seeks his own answer to the core-periphery relations of a State and it is he who meets a tragic end. Both the protagonists on their journey try to resolve their doubts dialogically but fail to find a common answer. On their journey, they meet a third character, a young woman, socially committed and intellectually alive, who joins their dialogue and provides many inputs shedding fresh light on the core-periphery dialogue. The writer contrives an end for the sake of his core story but the unseen omniscient narrator finds it a contrived ending with questions unanswered.  Hence he calls it an unfinished novel. The writer finally finds a way of finishing the novel by inventing some clues that leads to a love story. Structurally, the novel is sandwiched between two stories with different orientations, both of which have different styles of narration and tonality, distinctive from the core novel. The colonial question has been explored by juxtaposing a modern situation and a hypothetical situation that hints at the disturbing consequences of the civilizing colonial missions of the western civilization. India, Assam and an imagined Amazon-like location form the background of the parallel narratives joined at different points.

S.B.: You are also writing a serialized memoir in a reputed Assamese magazine. How have you conceptualized it and how is it different from your autobiography which you could have written.

HKD: I did not want to write my autobiography serially narrating my life story from the beginning to the present day. An autobiography often becomes exhibitionist and the life’s story always remains unfinished. It is very subjective. I do not want to write such an autobiography. Instead, I have started writing my memoirs of some significant experiences of the past life by drawing out metaphors from those significant moments. These metaphors are made to evoke memories going back to my childhood and returning to the present, often linking my creative self to those metaphors and their significance in my mental growth.

S.B.:  You were an administrative officer who reached the higher echelon of power. You have seen and gathered many experiences in those years. Do you think your writings got some boost from those experiences?

HKD: Immensely. My experiences in my field and administrative career immensely helped me to understand and empathize with human situations and gave me raw materials for my poetry and my fiction. I could not have written a highly praised story ‘Bandiyar’  without my first-hand experience of the insurgency situation in Assam. Many of my poems are responses to situations I witnessed as an officer. Many of my satirical poems and short stories are based on the prevailing politico-social situations observed from a vantage point.

S.B.: You have received the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award and a number of other awards. How do you feel about it.

HKD: I took them as recognitions of my writings but never hankered after any award. I consider the acceptance of one’s writing by a class of discerning readers as the bigger award and I like to shun populism.

SB: You are a voracious reader of world literature rhat is reflected in your writing. Who are your favourite writers and why?

HKD: My favourite writers are too many. I read a lot from the world literature through English and I also read Bengali literature. I do not want to name any particular writer. I keep my taste open and any good writing from the past and the present attracts me. I do not have the modernist inhibition against romantic literature and rather consider some literatures of the romantic age as of enduring value.

SB: In the contemporary scenario of globalization how do you feel about the future of vernacular or regional literatures. Please tell us something about this with special emphasis on Assamese literature.

HKD:  I find a bigger threat coming from market forces taking over the field of literature in order to create taste for mediocre literature rather than the effect of globalization. The space is expanding for populist literature due to very clever propaganda by market forces that variously use media and online sites. They sell low taste as high taste through hype. Globalization has enormously increased the space for international languages but vernacular readership has always been small and these literatures have survived in their own space. One threat is there from another angle. Economic dreams have led the middle class to seek education for their children through English and they neglect mother tongue. But since there is a language and cultural identity for every individual, loss of this identity will eventually have a disturbing impact with consequent effect on vernacular literature. It is the same thing with Assamese literature. My observation is based on the phenomenon I have witnessed in the vernacular scene of Assamese language and literature.

S.B.: What is your future plan as a writer.

HKD: I do not go by any plan for my writing. I will go on writing as long as I feel inspired to write and as long as language does not desert me.

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