BHABANI PEGU is creating waves with her new novel.
Among the contemporary fiction writers of the Assamese language, Bhabani Pegu is a new name but she pocketed a prestigious award with her debut novel – Ejak Dhumuhar Pisot. Her second novel – Oipulir Xopunor Desh, has found a place in the bestsellers’ list and has created a ripple in the fictional universe of Assamese language. In this novel, she has used imagination and intellect to create an extremely readable narrative. She has plumbed the depth of psychologically challenged characters to create a subtle and nuanced novel.
Excerpts from an interview:
Childhood as a formative phase of life is always important in the growth of a person. Tell us about your childhood.
Looking back, I recall a house (chang ghar). I still have vivid memories of the house and the big campus which was surrounded by mango trees, jackfruit trees, pomegranate and banana trees, and a part that was darkened by bamboo trees. That was the house where I spent most of my childhood. A house that was small, yet so humble. As the only daughter of the house, I was much loved by my father. He was a strict man. And it might be because of his strictness and his concern for us that we did not have many friends. I was not allowed to roam around or mingle freely with people. Probably that’s why I was shy, submissive and a little reserved. But I was never lonely. My parents had decent government jobs, they had responsibilities, yet they always had time for us. They often took us to the paddy fields. We would indulge in the scent of the mud, the drizzling rain, the greenery.
In our backyard, there was a fast flowing river where we often sailed on boats made of banana plaintains, or made sandcastles on the river bank. Sometimes when our father went fishing, we would run after him with khalois. In the evening, we used to study under lamp light. After dinner, we used to sit outside under the bright moonlight. My mother and grandmother would tell us stories. And at the end of each story, I had endless questions. In the morning hours, when my parents were busy with household work, I would read the newspaper for them loudly. They made me read the Ramayana in the same manner. And I remember completing that in three nights.
Your novel Oipulir Xopunor Desh has created a sensation. Tell us about the genesis of this novel.
I recall a woman. Her parental home was located near our school. She had thick, long braided hair, and a very beautiful complexion. Whenever she came out of her house, someone would just come and pull her hair, and beat her with bamboo sticks. Those incidents were a regular affair. There was gossip all around. She had a child and a husband. But she had been thrown out from her home. People called her pagoli. She was mentally ill. I recall another woman roaming around the market. She had yellowish jute-like hair, and her dresses were torn. She did not have a home. She used to eat whatever was offered to her. Later we noticed that her belly was growing big; she was pregnant. I felt terrible. Who on earth was responsible for that rape and unfortunate pregnancy? Later, she gave birth to a baby. And we noticed how she cared for the child by singing lullabies to him, begging for food to feed him.
During the course of my BSc Nursing, I got to meet many other mentally ill patients. So, mental illness and the pain of a mentally ill person is one important aspect of the novel. There were other incidents too. I recall a young girl (13/14 years) who had delivered a baby in the hospital. Later, the family absconded. And the newborn was found in the backyard of the hospital. It was dead. That incident shook me profoundly. During our ward postings, we got to see many other such incidents of teenage pregnancy and childbirth. They were all associated with rape. All these incidents had one tag on them – “illegitimate”. I was not ready to accept the term. The act was “illegitimate”, but the embryo which forms as a result of that act is purely innocent. This thought actually led to the origin of the novel.
You have also pocketed a prestigious award for your debut novel. Tell us about that.
My writing journey began in the popular Facebook literary group “Ardha Akash”. By reading the stories there, I was motivated to write. I started to observe the things around me. My little experiences, the pent-up emotions and observations, I started to pen them down in the pages of a diary. And later, I started to post them regularly in “Ardha Akash”. The central plotline of the novel Ejak Dhumuhar Pisot is college, hostel life, love, romance and the risk and problems associated with it. It could bag the prestigious Dr. Dondinath Choudhury Award in 2018. And later, the book was published by the Bindu Prakashan Gusthi.
What do you think about the relationship between literature and globalisation?
I would love to answer this question as a reader, rather than as a writer. As we know, literature is the reflection of a society and culture; by reading world literature, we can understand and connect ourselves with the world around us. The world is full of diverse cultures and languages. But literature still centres on a few dominant languages. More and more literary works should be created in regional languages, displaying their tradition, culture and social systems. And these local works need to be taken seriously, and translated in the purest form to other national and global languages.
Do you think literature needs to be taken more seriously to free individual and social mentality from narrow viewpoints?
Yes. By reading literature one can develop a better understanding of life, culture, values and society. We can admire the good things, and avoid the bad things. One can restructure his or her own beliefs and imaginations, and thus bring about positive personal changes. When every individual brings about a positive change in themselves, gradually societal changes will follow.
What are your future plans as a creative writer?
I am working on two projects at the moment. Writing deep romantic fiction was one of my dreams. And I am working on it. It is nearing completion. Another project for which I am gathering data is about tribal socio-cultural issues and superstitions.