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Life is a river of separation: Indira Goswami

Author-activist Indira Goswami shares rare moments of her life in a tete-a-tete with Sudeshna B Baruah.

books Updated: Aug 04, 2007 18:38 IST

When she was born, a seer had declared the child inauspicious and said the baby girl was worth dumping a few months after her birth. But some higher power had other plans for the child who grew up to win the Sahitya Akademi and Gyanpith Awards.

Meet the writer, teacher and social activist Ms Mamoni Raisom Goswami a.k.a Indira Goswami, in conversation with Sudeshna B. Baruah.

Tell us about your childhood.
My childhood days are something I consider a treasure trove. So to say the best period of my life. Although born in South Kamrup, Guwahati, I enjoyed my trips to my ancestral home in a remote village in Assam. The most appealing thing in the idyllic environment were the elephants. The bathes in the village ponds, the rides on tuskers, et al are some of the memories that shall remain etched on my mind forever. I am sure very few people get to enjoy their childhood as I did.

So you must have definitely given them a space in your writings?
In fact, one of my internationally acclaimed classics, 1988 novel Daantal Hatir Une Khoa Howdah (English version: The Saga of South Kamrup) has imprints of my childhood days. It delves deep into the cruel methods of breeding elephants.

Was writing a passion since childhood?
My house was a literary hub. Many noted litterateurs of the time used to conglomerate at our place. This had no doubt aroused in some kind of interest in literature. But it was painting more than writing which was my favourite hobby And most of my drawings of that time featured elephants - my favourite animal.

And how did writing begin ?
Well, roughly speaking at the age of five. One day our principal asked us to write an essay on any topic. And I wrote about that one incident which was clear on my mind. It was about an elephant which ran amok and was stabbed to death in front of my eyes. That scene of ruthlessness was so vivid on my mind that I could not but jot it down for the assignment. My teacher was so impressed with the write-up that he informed my parents of it and encouraged me to take up writing as a hobby. I shall remain ever grateful to my school principal Late Kirtinath Hazarika for what I am today.

A melancholic note runs through most of your writings.
I am a born sensitive. Be it cruelty against animals or the sudden deaths of my dearest family members, including my father anything that is painful fills my heart with gloom. I feel, death though inevitable, should have a time of occurrence too. Most of my novels, therefore, have the pains which I felt and saw around me. So, if Nilkantho Brojo depicts the pain of widowhood, it was because I had seen my own aunts bearing its brunt. So does cruelty imposed on animals in the custom of animal sacrifice finds depiction in Chinna Masta. You can say depression is my second name and there have been times when depressive thoughts led me to suicidal tendencies.

So you would say the writer is not separate from the person ?
Definitely. No doubt some kind of fiction does go into writing a piece. But the essence has to be something that is genuinely felt by the author. My earliest writings, be it on sex, labourers, chowkidars, all had elements of truth in them.

Any specific reason behind taking up the pseudonym Indira ?
Indira was in fact my real name. My father had kept it. There is a story behind it. I was born on the same day as late Jawaharlal Nehru - November 14. Hence my father kept my name after his daughter late Indira Gandhi. In my later days I used it as a pseudonym.

Widowhood has been a recurring theme in your novels.
As I have said, I had seen my own aunts as widows as a child. Besides, turning a widow myself at the age of 26, took me into the malpractices attached with widowhood. Like she has to keep away from men, from foods considered aphrodisiacs. But what took me into its depth was the plight of the widows at Burundian. The widows here made me realize that the pain of widowhood is the same everywhere. It is like leading a half-dead life.

Do you believe writings can bring about social changes?
To a great extent. My writings on widowhood and my raising a voice against its malpractices did bring about an attitudinal change towards the widows of South Kamrup. There are indeed a good number of writers who write to bring about social changes rather than for pleasure.

The number of readers have been declining. More so, for regional literature. What do you see as the reason and a possible solution ?
A child's journey to the literary world begins from home. It is only when a child is introduced to books and is made to respect them that reading can turn into a habit. And this has to start with the mother. A mother is a great teacher. It is, therefore, her responsibility to introduce a child to his/her mother tongue and cultivate a habit of reading books on regional literature.

Is there a tendency to write to cater to a particular market or do we have truly individualistic voices?
Yes. On many occasions the publishers try to raise mediocre writers to a cult status. This is a trend which in my view started around twenty years back. Individualistic voices do exist.

Your advice to today's youngsters?
Besides, being involved in career development, youngsters should have a spiritual dimension to their life. Compassion for animals, for elders is something they should add to their personalities. So also, hobbies should form an integral part of their lives. Hobby has the power to divert negative thoughts towards positivity.

How does India Goswami best express herself - a writer or teacher?
A writer at the best. It has been my staff after my husband's death. I would say writing flows in me like blood in my vein. And the writer in me shall never be satiated till I die.

Indira Goswami - a socialite or a recluse?
I am basically a loner. Friends are always there, but at the core it is an all-pervading loneliness I am engulfed in. That explains why I never planned a family after the death of my beloved husband.

Life to you is........
Although full of experiences, it is what I call a river of separation. We never know when it might separate us from our near and dear ones.

First Published: Oct 14, 2005 18:05 IST