Enekoiye Kenekoi Kotau
(How do I thrive, thus and thus)
Dedicated to the women who were raped by Indian Army at Ghumtigaon and Tegheria, by slain ULFA leader Kobironjon Phukon.
Oh my mother dear beloved!
On your bosom let me build
my poem’s edifice, my spry poem of war.
Have I, here, written your life’s struggle;
the soil and its toil – a poem.
Poems, I script here, only for you
at the break of noon, in the midnight dread,
my tortured youth of dismal days.
Shame is the name of a sun, give
me the dark, I need no light.
Enekoiye Kenekoiye Kotau Uretu Jibon? (Through my life, how do I thrive, thus and thus?)
Oh, my dear bosom friends!
On her chest let us keep our greens, our grains,
the enemies had what of my beloved’s defiled,
my land’s chastity.
The midday sun to my kernel’s core – poetry.
Translated from Assamese by Arunabh Debendranath Konwar
The recent killings of two ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) combatants and one Assam Police at Kujupathar, close to the Arunachal Pradesh border brings us back to the memory of insurgency and its post effects. During the popular chai addas as well as in Facebook posts, I try to figure out the reasons behind the romance towards ULFA even though there are some dominant comments which criticise ULFA and their activities that indirectly helps the state. The memory of insurgency is thus not a single memory of a person but it is inscribed in our past and present as a public metaphor.
I met Raabi during my college days who wrote poems against ULFA and was very vocal against the insurgency of the ’90s in Assam. Raabi as a close junior of mine, later described the story of her father and uncle’s death when her mother was pregnant with her. The narratives her childhood carries always blamed ULFA as the killer of her father. She says, “I have never seen my father, but I can feel him as a bold person against the innocent killings in my locality because of which he lost his life.”
While preparing the narikol ladoo (coconut sweet) during the preparation for Bihu, her mother expressed that people used to write about the families who belong to the ULFA combatant. “But no one is there who can draw my sorrow and struggle during a time of insecurity as a single mother.” The narratives of Raabi and her mother justify how their personal life becomes a public interpretation after the death of her father. “The most difficult task for me is saying goodbye to maa while returning to Guwahati,” Raabi says. The 26 years of Raabi’s mother’s Nisangata (loneliness) show me another dimension of memory which linked to the demand of ‘Swadhin Axom’ (independent Assam) by ULFA.
“‘Swadhin Axom’ becomes a myth for my family,” Suranjana says. I met her during a conference when we shared a room in the girls’ hostel at Dibrugarh University. Suranjana carries the memory of her maternal uncle who was a ULFA combatant. “Mama, (uncle) never came back, he disappears just like wind, a wind of an untitled forest,” she says. “But not only Mama, I have also seen many of the young boys during my childhood whose dead bodies came back to the village. My village carries lots of unfinished love stories which are still a memory of many elder sisters.” Suranjana, who calls herself a leftist and frequently criticises Assamese nationalism in social media, blamed the ULFA movement as a source of utopia which gave birth to a frustrated younger generation in the state.
During my MPhil fieldwork, I accidentally visited a designated camp (though my MPhil work did not cover this area but my field sites include the camp geographically) of ex-ULFA combatants near Lakowa, Sivasagar where I encountered the widows, the single mothers, the pregnant wives of the combatants who sat together watching a serial on Star Plus in the dining hall. The guy who inspired me to visit the camp asked the women if they wanted to go back to their previous life. It was an obvious answer from the women when they talked about how they became depressed by staying there without any productive work. One of them replied,“Only reproduction is not the ultimate dream of a woman. When I declared my decision in front of my family that I wanted to join ULFA, my mother was so happy!” Her mother packed her bag with a gamusa and sadar mekhela (Traditional Assamese attire) and said, “Mur suali dekhar babe jujiboloi haju hoise’ (my daughter is ready to fight for her land).”
The younger generation belonging to the remote areas in the state have many such memories which become contested in later political phases. The common element of these memories is revisiting and re-interpreting the discourse of gender as a source of multiple narratives. These narratives, however politically ignored, are personally audacious. The different documentation of the struggle for ‘Swadhin Axom’ by ULFA is thus not only about the combatants who belonged to the organisation. It is also about the other memories which are still alive through gendered spaces and realities. The discourse of the patriarchal definition of ‘Swadhin Axom’ is indeed consistently criticised by the younger generation from the perspective of gender.