A look back at INDIRA GOSWAMI’s most iconic and humane works.
Dr. Pritima Sharma
Indira Goswami, popularly known as Mamoni Raisom Goswami,recipient of the Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award,endears her readers with a number of thought-provoking and heart searching novels. She was a prolific author, a Ramayani scholar,an editor and former professor of Delhi University.
She was one of those few regional language writers in the country who transcended all barriers. She has peopled her novels with characters drawn from different linguistic groups and diverse social backgrounds. Professor Hiren Gohain once wrote about Indira Goswami that when one reads her work, that sense of devotion (to her subject and her craft) shines through. Goswami was born on November 14, 1942, at Amranga in South Kamrup, Assam,and having celebrated her birth anniversary recently, we discuss her most iconic, humanist works.The first novel penned by Indira Goswami was The Chenob's Current (Chenobar Srot), which she started writing in 1964 and was published as a book in 1972. The story of the novel was based on her experience of living in Kashmir with her husband. The plot is set around a construction site for a bridge on the Chenab River, and it deals with the people working for that construction company.
A similar subject of worker's exploitation formed the basis of Goswami's plot in The Rusted Sword (Mamore Dhora Torowal), published in 1980. This novel earned her the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983. Her experiences in life are also reflected in her novels The Blue Necked Braja (Neelkanthi Braja) and Ahiron. In The Blue Necked Braja, she examines the social and psychological deprivations of widowhood. Published in 1976, it is the first novel where Goswami highlights the exploitation and poverty of widows dumped in a sacred city under the guise of religious sanction and tradition. This novel is an amazing narrative, combining fact with fiction, autobiography with reflection, as Goswami tries to depict the confusion and mental agony she herself experienced after the death of her husband through the character of Saudamini. Indira Goswami is probably the first Indian novelist to take up this theme and reveal the cruelty, violence and pathos that surrounds the lives of these helpless women. In Ahiron (1980) as well, Goswami boldly depicts the sufferings and exploitation of women and labourers employed in the construction of an aqueduct in the Ahiron River in Chhattisgarh. Goswami's Mamore Dhora Torowal is a fine blending of the emotional and social conflicts of the plight of the protagonist Narayani, a Harijan girl.
It is the story of Narayani as a woman, a Dalit and a petty worker, all fused into one. It is the story of her dreams and frustrations, her inevitable compromises and a burning rebellion on all the three fronts.Then there is Dantal Hatir Unwe Khowa Howdah (The Moth-EatenHowdah of the Tusker), which is Indira Goswami's masterpiece. The Sahitya Akademi claims it as a modern Indian classic. This novel is a bold,detailed and realistic tale of a Vaishnavite family, which is in charge of a satra. It exposes the lives and sufferings of three Brahmin widows in the satra. Indira Goswami has used an excellent symbol for the suppression of sexuality through the description of the family elephant on musth. The musth elephant is both a part of the story and a symbolic superstructure. This novel was later turned into a film — Adajya, which received much acclaim and awards.
In Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtho (Pages Stained With Blood,2001), a young female teacher visits the neighbourhoods of Delhi, deeply affected by the anti-Sikh riots in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Even as the story bears witness to the bloodshed in Delhi, it also personalised the political impasse with a humane narrative. The novel is in the form of a diary of the woman protagonist living all alone in Delhi and the events she witnessed are a first-hand record of the riots of 1984.This book rings true to its title, the pages are dripping with blood and tears, with blind rage and injustice, with human suffering and also, human empathy. This is a very important document depicting the Sikh riots in Delhi. It is relevant in the sense that it speaks of the failure of democracy, the failure of civilisation.In the more recent Chinnamastar Manuhto (The Man from Chinnamasta,2005), Goswami writes about animal sacrifice at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. The novel condemns the practice of violence and slaughter in the name of religious rituals, and questions the role of religion. In this novel, she quotes scriptures to authenticate the argument she puts forward — to worship the Mother Goddess with flowers, rather than blood. She said in an interview, "When the novel was serialised in a popular magazine, I was threatened with dire consequences. I also had to contend with rejection from a publisher who was initially keen and had promised me a huge advance, but who later backtracked. But the rest, as they say, is history and Chinnamastar Manuhto went on to become a runaway bestseller." Her recent works include The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar (2009), a novel based on the battle against the British for Indian Independence by a section of Bodos, under the leadership of Thengphakhri.
She writes about this legendary Bodo woman who worked as a tehsildar during the British tenure, and Goswami depicts her as a brave lady who can be compared to the Rani of Jhansi, Mula Gabharu or Kanaklata Barua. We see that in all the works of Indira Goswami, she talks about history, politics, sociology and folk tradition. But the most distinguishing feature that comes out from her agitation and deep melancholy is the annihilation of humanity and loss of human values in society, the torture and depravity, cruelty towards the low classes, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Her concern has always been for reform and redressal,and for hope and aspiration. Her literary vision is all about humanity. It is her imprint as an exponent of humanity which shines with a golden lustre.