14 November 1942|
|Died||29 November 2011
GMCH, Guwahati, Assam, India
|Occupation||Activist, editor, poet, professor and writer|
|Subjects||Plight of the dispossessed in India and abroad|
|Notable work(s)||-The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker
-The Man from Chinnamasta
-Pages Stained With Blood
|Spouse(s)||Madhaven Raisom Ayengar (deceased)|
Indira Goswami (Asamiya: ইন্দিৰা গোস্বামী) (14 November 1942 – 29 November 2011), known by her pen name Mamoni Raisom Goswami and popularly as Mamoni Baideo, was an Assamese editor, poet, professor, scholar and writer.
She was the winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award (1983), the Jnanpith Award (2001) and Principal Prince Claus Laureate (2008) A celebrated writer of contemporary Indian literature, many of her works have been translated into English from her native Assamese which include The Moth Eaten Howdah of the Tusker, Pages Stained With Blood and The Man from Chinnamasta.
She was also well known for her attempts to structure social change, both through her writings and through her role as mediator between the armed militant group United Liberation Front of Asom and the Government of India. Her involvement led to the formation of the People's Consultative Group, a peace committee. She referred to herself as an "observer" of the peace process rather than as a mediator or initiator.
Indira Goswami was born in Guwahati to Umakanta Goswami and Ambika Devi, a family that was deeply associated with Sattra life of the Ekasarana Dharma. She studied at Latashil Primary School, Guwahati; Pine Mount School, Shillong; and Tarini Charan Girls' School, Guwahati and completed Intermediate Arts from Handique Girls' College, Guwahati. She majored in Assamese literature at Cotton College in Guwahati and secured a Master's degree from Gauhati University in the same field of study.
Popularly known as Mamoni Raisom Goswami in Assam, she was encouraged by Kirti Nath Hazarika who published her first short stories — when she was still in Class VIII (thirteen years old) — in a literary journal he edited.
Goswami has suffered from depression since her childhood. In the opening pages of her autobiography, The Unfinished Autobiography, she mentions her inclination to jump into the Crinoline Falls located near their house in Shillong. Repeated suicide attempts marred her youth. After the sudden death of her husband, Madhaven Raisom Ayengar, in a car accident in the Kashmir region of India, after only eighteen months of marriage, she became addicted to heavy doses of sleeping tablets. Once brought back to Assam, she joined the Sainik School, Goalpara as a teacher.
At this point she went back to writing. She claims that she wrote just to live and that otherwise it would not have been possible for her to go on living. Her experiences in Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh, an Indian state where her husband had worked as an engineer, was used in her novels Ahiron and The Chehnab's Current, respectively.
Her experiences as a widow as well as a researcher finds expression in her novel The Blue Necked Braja (1976), which is about the plight of the Radhaswamis of Vrindavan who lived in abject poverty and sexual exploitation in everyday life. One of the main issues that the novel touches upon is the plight of young widows for whom companionship beyond the confines of their ashrams and fellow widows become impossible. Their urge to live, as well as the moral dilemma that they face vis-a-vis the order of precepts of religion in this regard, are brought out with astonishing clarity and feeling in the novel. The novel exposed the uglier face of Vrindavan — the city of Krishna, an Hindu deity — inviting criticism of Goswami from conservative sections of the society. It remains a classic in modern Indian Literature. It is autobiographical in character as she says the anguish of the main character Saudamini, reflects what she had gone through after her husband had died. It was also the first novel to be written on this subject. The novel was based on Goswami's research on the place as well as real-life experience of living in the place for several years before she joined the University of Delhi as a lecturer.
In Vrindavan she was involved in Ramayana studies. A massive volume of Tulsidas's Ramayana purchased during her stay there for just eleven rupees was a great source of inspiration in her research. This finds expression in the unparalleled comparative study of Tulsidas's Ramayana and the fourteenth-century Assamese Ramayana (the first Ramayana to be written in any modern Indian language) written by Madhava Kandali in her work Ramayana from Ganga to Brahmaputra.
Goswami relocated to Delhi, India, to become Head of Assamese Department at the University of Delhi under the guidance of Bhabananda Deka who was subservient in the introduction of Assamese Language in MIL Department of Delhi University (DU). While at the university, she wrote most of her greatest works. Several short stories, including Hridoy, Nangoth Sohor, Borofor Rani, used Delhi as the background.
Her two classics — Pages Stained With Blood and The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker— were also written during this period. The other books completed while she lived in Delhi were Ahiron,The Rusted Sword, Uday Bhanu, Dasharathi's Steps and The Man from Chinnamasta.
In Pages Stained With Blood she writes about the plight of Sikhs in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India. Goswami had witnessed the riots while staying in the Shakti Nagar area of Delhi. She visited many of the other sites to complete this novel. She even went to G. B. Road, Delihi's red-light district, to depict the lives of the prostitutes who lived there which forms a part of her novel.
In The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker she writes about the plight of Assamese Brahmin widows in Satra, religious institutions of Assam. This novel was anthologised in the The Masterpieces of Indian Literature and was made into a film, Adajya, which won several national and international film-festival awards. The novel was also made into two television mini-series; Nandita Das played the role of Giribala in one of the mini-series.
At the peak of her literary career she wrote the controversial novel The Man from Chinnamasta, a critique of the thousand-years-old tradition of animal sacrifice in the famous Hindu Shakti temple to Kamakhya, a mother goddess, in Assam. Goswami reported that there was even threat to her life after writing the novel. In this novel she quotes scriptures to authenticate the argument she puts forward in the novel — to worship the Mother Goddess with flowers rather than blood. She said in an interview, "When the novel was serialized in a popular magazine, I was threatened with dire consequences. Shortly after this, a local newspaper, Sadin, carried an appeal about animal sacrifice, which resulted in quite an uproar—the editor was gheraoed and a tantrik warned me. But when the appeal was published, the response was overwhelmingly in favour of banning animal sacrifice. 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, offering instead to publish any other book of mine. But the rest, as they say, is history and Chinnamastar Manuhto went on to become a runaway bestseller!"
Another major piece of her fiction during the period was Jatra (The Journey), based on the problem of militancy/secessionism that has affected almost the entire North-East India frontier ever since Indian independence.
Mamoni Raisom Goswami died in Guwahati on 29 November 2011 at 7:45 AM IST.
She received the Sahitya Akademi Award (1982). She received the Jnanpith Award (2000), India's highest literary award, for writing about the subalterns[clarification needed] and marginalised. Two of the main features in Goswami's writing has been the focus on women and the cultural and political construct of the Assamese society. However, it is also to her credit that she also created possibly one of the finest male characters in contemporary Assamese literature, viz. the character of Indranath in Datal Hantir Une Khowa Howdah (The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker).Her contribution in the Assamese feminist literature is self-evident in this work.She takes up the issue of patriarchy existing within Assamese Brahmin families with an illustration taken from a small place in Assam known as Amranga,Borihat.This work is also encrusted with a post-colonial tinge in it as we see the mimicry of the colonizers among the colonised. It is also to her credit that she made extensive use of the relation between different variants of the modern Assamese language as both signifiers of the politics of social and cultural differences among the various Assamese communities. But the overall emphasis remained on the unity of the Assamese identity. This may be taken as her way of dealing with the nature of contemporary politics in Assam marked by ethnic confrontation, besides the larger politics of the militant secessionism.She also contributed a major sum of the Claus Laureate to a Public Health Centre of Amranga,Borihat in Assam.This contribution is not merely material in its nature but a dream since her childhood, come true. She died on 29 November 2011 after suffering a long ailment in Guwahati Medical College.
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