Dr Indira Goswami, or Mamoni Raisom Goswami as she was affectionately known, was among the brightest stars in the vast literary firmament of Assam. The renowned writer and Ramayan scholar, born in 1942, passed away on 29th November 2011.
After her schooling, graduation and post graduation in Shillong and Guwahati, she did her doctoral thesis on the Ramayan, staying at Vrindavan for study. She later joined the Delhi University’s Department of Modern Indian Languages and worked there till her retirement.
Married to Madhaven Raisom of Karnataka, she lost her husband to an accident after only eighteen months of marriage. Overcoming this, and several other setbacks in her life with courage and dignity, she threw herself into her creative and academic work. She came to be highly regarded as an authority on the Ramayan, and indeed, was a respected delegate at numerous international conferences on the epic. She founded and funded a Trust and donated her home in Guwahati for the purpose of housing books on the Ramayan published throughout the world, which today attracts many scholars who are researching the epic. This centre, the South East Asia Ramayana Research Centre is now growing into a hub of Ramayan Studies, with its fame increasing throughout South East Asia.
But it was as a fiction writer that Mamoni Raisom, writing in her mother tongue Assamese, became a literary icon who held up a mirror to the world through her writings. Her unflinching realism was based on a thorough knowledge of her subject, whether it was the condition of widows in Brindavan, the plight of Brahmin women in the Sattras, the anguish of the working classes, men as well as women, the sufferings of the tribal communities, or the issue of animal sacrifice in the temple of Kamakhya. She also set several fictional works in the city she made her home for decades, Delhi. The thoroughness of her research showed her comprehensive engagement with the world around her. But her fictional worlds were always illumined with her deep humanism and empathy. Her novels include “Chenabor Srot”, (The Chenab’s Current) “Nilakanthi Braja” (The Blue Necked Braja) “Mamorey Dhora Tarowal” (The Rusted Sword) , “(Chhninnamastar Manuhto” (The Man from Chhnnamasta) and “Dontal Hatir Uye Khowa Howda” (The Termite-ridden Howdah of a Tusker) which is often referred to as one of the finest novels in Assamese. The award winning film “Adajya” by Dr Swantwana Bordoloi is based on this work. She wrote a large number of short stories as well, which have been collected into several volumes. “Adhalikha Dostabez” is her autobiography.
That her work, though so rooted in this land, resonates across the globe is a measure of her success in touching on issues of importance to people everywhere. Many of the characters she created leave a lasting impression. Her style was lucid and simple, yet evocative, flexible and expressive, simple yet capable of expressing powerful thoughts and ideas.
Awarded with the country’s top literary honour the Jnanpith in 2000, she also received numerous other awards such as the International Tulsi Award, Kamal Kumari National Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Principal Prince Klaus Award, the money from which she donated to a hospital in her ancestral village. The Rabindra Bharati University awarded her a DLitt in the year 2002, the same year she turned down a Padma Shri. Today, her home in Guwahati houses the numerous awards she received, shelf after shelf, cupboard after cupboard of them, a measure of the respect she was held in, worldwide.
A warm, caring and affectionate person, she was “Baideo”, elder sister, for her numerous fans. In Assam, she was adored, by the common people as well as by scholars and intellectuals, though this never affected her humble and caring demeanour. Full of simple kindliness, she was always greatly encouraging towards younger people, especially writers. She kept an open house, and her home in Delhi was always full of students and other young people who had come to Delhi. Her innate sense of humanism led her to take on the mantle of a peace activist who mediated between the Government and the ULFA in a bid to usher in peace to the troubled land that she so loved.
Her works in translation are studied in Universities and colleges worldwide. The precious legacies that she has left behind will endure. The Trust she founded continues to undertake the translation of her previously un-translated work, and have them published, in several languages. In addition, the first Mamoni Raisom Memorial Lecture was delivered recently on her death anniversary by the renowned scholar Professor Harish Trivedi of Delhi University, on the topic “The Ramayan Along Four Rivers: Brahmaputra, Ganga, Kaveri and Chao Phraya.” This is the beginning of a series of annual lectures that are planned to commemorate Mamoni Raisom Goswami’s life and works.
By Mitra Phukan