In the first half of the twentieth century, Atul Chandra Hazarika (1903-1986) was a popular name in Assamese literature. Along with Mitra Dev Mahanta, he was the first recipient of Sahityacharjya, a literary recognition from the Assam Sahitya Sabha in 1980. His popularity was primarily due to his contributions to Assamese drama. Birinchi Kumar Barua, in his book History of Assamese Literature, identifies his contribution to Assamese drama as his most significant, to the extent that they overshadow him as a poet and a contributor to children’s literature. I do not wish to rank contributions, but we can agree that he was a prolific writer working across genres and a fidel citizen to the cause of being an Assamese. He was a man of many worlds, and indeed, his work refuses to be settled in one kind of locale, emotion, or people. I shall touch upon some aspects of his persona in this essay. Of particular interest will be his poem Charuar Ukti (A Charuwa’s Proposition).

Born just before the Bengal Partition of 1905, Hazarika was at once a poet, translator, playwright, storyteller, and biographer, to name a few. Atul Chandra Hazarika, the dramatist, was very different from Hazarika, the poet. As a dramatist, his plays have been roughly divided into three broad areas—Puranic episodes and anecdotes, on historical events and an assemblage of miscellaneous things (Barua 1964). Among his Puranic dramas Kurukshetra, Rukminiharan, Narakasur, ShakuntalaChampavati and Sri Ramchandra are some of the popular ones. In these, he refrained from playing around with the frame stories. Barua (1964) adds that he “only dramatized readymade stories and, when necessary adapted and integrated them…with local scenes, ideals and emotions.” His character was drawn both from mythologies and real-life everyday personas. Both myth and the everyday managed an intimacy with the reader. He fused modern drama with that of the Vaishnavite era. 

His historical drama Banij Konwar was an adaptation of the Elizabethan era playwright William Shakespeare’s sixteenth-century English play, The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare’s characters Antonio and Shylock in Banij Konwar are presented as the insider and the outsider. The play represents the political and cultural conflict of Hazarika’s time—the issue of migration and resource that was rife among Assamese nationalists. The characters shared a “deep suspicion and profound distrust” for each other. Significant differences also surfaced on “linguistic and cultural grounds” between them. He valorized the Ahom army in his historical plays and never shied away from singing the “gospel of Hindu-Muslim unity” (Barua 1964).

His spirit of Hindu-Muslim unity is also touched by him in his poem Id Mubarak

ঈদ মোবাৰক

কাঁচিৰ নিচিনা নাচি আকাশত,

ঈদৰ জোনৰ হাঁহিটো মূখত।

কৰিলে প্ৰচাৰ জৰুৰী ফৰ্মান,

এমহীয়া ৰোজা অন্ত ৰমজান।

বিভেদৰ মলি মচি আওখালি,

ভায়ে ভায়ে মিলি কৰি কোলিকোলি,

হ’ব কালিলৈ পবিত্ৰ নামাজ,

ধনী গৰিবৰ এখন সমাজ।

চৰাইখানাত যতেক পথিক,

সকলো বান্দা এজন মালিক।

পটছা ফকিৰ সকলো সমান,

আল্লা আকবৰ বিশাল মহান।

দীন দুখীয়াৰ খুলিব বৰাত,

লভিব ফিৎৰাত,

মিলিব জাকাত।

দিলদৰিয়াত উঠিব তুফান,

হ’ব খানাপিনা স্ফুৰ্টি যে কিমান।

জনাও সবাকে ঈদ মোবাৰক,

ঘৰে ঘৰে সুখ ওপচি পৰক।

জনে জনে হাঁহি গোলাপ ফুলক,

ধুনীয়া দুনিয়া বেহেস্তা হ’ক।

A scythe dances in the sky wearing

the smile of the moon of Id on its face,

making known an urgent decree,

the one month fast of Ramzan has come to an end.  

Having cleaned themselves of the dirt of difference,

brothers come together in embrace.

Tomorrow is the day of holy namaz,

the society is now alike for the poor and the rich,

all passers in the inn of world,

are slaves to the one lord.  

Emperors and mendicants are all one now,

Allah Akbar is the supreme one.

The distressed and the destitute will pour in now,

attaining wisdom,

gaining blessings.

A storm will rise in the heart like a river,  

Id Mubarak to everyone.

Many joys and food will be shared,

may every house overflow with happiness.

May every one smile like the rose.

May this beautiful earth be a paradise.

The political interest of Hazarika in dramas, which connected local histories and contexts, was primarily to resist the monopoly of Bengali playwrights such as Girishchandra Ghosh (a pioneer of Bengali commercial stage) and Dwijendralal Roy (carried a nationalist aesthetics who gave primacy to community over people) in the stages of Assam. Hazarika, along with his contemporaries such as Padmanath Gohainborua, Indreswar Borthakur, and Saradakanta Bordoloi flooded the stages of Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir of Guwahati, Baan Ranga Mancha of Tezpur, Sivsagar Natyamandir and others with mythological and historical epics (Pathak 2011). This was his language of preservation and so were his attempts to compile the works of Jyotiprasad Agarwala (1903-1951)and Lakshminath Bezbaroa (1864-1938).

This also gives us a sense of how the stage and theatre in the early 20th century were fast becoming an important political and symbolic platform of expression of contesting ideas and identities. Among other things, aesthetics became part of not only literature but the stage as well. It became very political. In her recent book Elementary Aspects of the Political Prathama Banerjee aptly puts it that aesthetics gives us a measure of what people can become consciously and politically. It also lends some merit to how perhaps the performativity of myth and epics in a stage played an equal role (if not more) in our society, as did the written word. Or, to be more precise, the Assamese literati at least thought that to be the case.  

The Poet

Hazarika, the poet, maintained a very peculiar flow. His poems were based on “events and occasions”, notes Chittaranjan Pathak, Hazarika’s grandson. Various events marked his poetic collection. Some of the notable ones include the Congress session at Pandu before Independence, the inauguration of a bridge or a journal, the anniversary celebration of a primary school at an obscure village, formation of a literary society, Puja or Bihu, Bhopal disaster, Delhi’s Red Fort or on a fellow writer and intellectual. Hazarika penned this following poem about Ambikagiri:

“The truth or the untruth;  
the popular or the unpopular,
Does not cloud the judgement.
The youth of the young Assam (Deka Asom),
Spirited with their love for the nation,
Tying their hands with determination,
Flocks and marches forward.
Come forward gallant preservers of Assamese culture,
Let’s be Ambikagiri.”

(Translation: Bhargabi Das)

The poem reflects the spirit of Ambikagiri and illuminates his political journey. In his tribute, Hazarika refers to Deka Axom, a magazine Ambikagiri edited and acknowledged his role in preserving Assamese culture. The “songrokhini bir” qualification is added here due to Ambikagiri’s involvement with Assam Preservation Council or Asom Songraksani Sabha. Hazarika equated this poem to be a portrait of Ambikagiri, but a limited one. He wanted to show a dominant and specific side to his persona. Seen from this point of view, Hazarika elaborates in one of his memoirs Smritir Papori that Ambikagiri was an ultranationalist who loved both the nation and Assam. Hazarika qualifies him to be restless, passive-aggressive, and a mono-relist who suffered from a singular view, that too, of his own. Ambikagiri’s pre-occupation with the nation’s thoughts and Assamese jati stuck him with a “comet of pain”, a sadness that he carried to his grave. Hazarika also succinctly asserts that he did not agree with much of his consciousness and work ethic in life. Seen through his memoir “let’s be Ambikagiri” is indeed a paradoxical declaration.

The most powerful motif of his poetry is perhaps that of assimilation, a language of assimilation very different from that of Ambikagiri. He writes very vividly in his another memoir Smriti Lekha about his stay in Barpeta (from 1939-1945) as a schoolteacher and his interactions with Pamua Musalmans (settler Muslims). He elaborates how most Bengalis have become Assamese and was touched by the efforts and enthusiasm shown by settler Muslim students in learning Assamese. One could say that perhaps that proximity through his students gave a peep into their worlds. 

He penned Chaurar Ukti in the year 1928 on the 6th of February.

চৰুৱাৰ উক্তি
মৌঃ বন্দে আলী

কোনে বোলে বঙ্গদেশ মোৰ জন্মভূমি
             লভি যাৰ তিক্ত নিৰ্য্যাতন,
আহিছিল ঘৰ এৰি হই দেশান্তৰী
            পিতৃ-মাতৃ আৰু কতজন !
তেতিয়া আছিল ক’ত দেশৰ কুটুম
           যিসকলে দিছে নেতা ভাও,
বুজিছো সকলো ফন্দী স্বাৰ্থৰ কাৰণে
           তাৰো মাথো শুনি আছোঁ ৰাও
কদাপি নহওঁ মই খাইপাতফলা
           ধৰ্ম্ম মোৰ নহয় তেনেকুৱা,
যি দেশত আছোঁ মই সিখনি দেশৰ
          হিত চিন্তি হ’ম মতলীয়া
যিখিনি দেশতে মোৰ আই-আব্বাজানে
          দুনিয়াত লভিলে আস্মান,
সেয়ে এই মোৰ দেশ সোণৰ অসম
          ইয়াতোকৈ নাই পূণ্যস্থান। 
যি দেশত মাটি চহি ল’লো ঘৰ-বাৰী
          সেয়ে মোৰ আপোনাৰ দেশ,
পৰম পৱিত্ৰ ই যে কোৰাণৰ বাণী 
         নাই তাত অসত্যৰ লেশ।
ইদেশৰ অধিবাসী সৰল নিৰ্মল 
         অসমীয়া আপোন আমাৰ,
সকলোটি মিলি-জুলি এখনি ঘৰতে 
         পাতি ল’ম সোণৰ সংসাৰ।
নহওঁ চৰুৱা মই নহওঁ পমুৱা
         আমিও যে হ’লো অসমীয়া,
অসমৰ জল-বায়ু অসমৰ ভাষা
        সকলোৰে সমান ভগীয়া।
মৰে যদি অসমীয়া আমিও মৰিম 
        তেনে কথা কিয় হ’ব দিম!
নতুন উদ্যমে আমি সবাই যুঁজিম
         ভৱিষ্যৎ আমিয়ে গঢ়িম।
ক’ত পাম এনে স্নেহ এনে সমাদৰ
         ক’ত পাম এনেখনি দেশ,
হালৰ ফালত য’ত সোণৰ চপৰা
         নাই যাৰ মহিমাৰ শেষ।
চেনেহী অসম-মাতৃ দিছে স্তন্যধাৰা
         আনন্দতে নাচে মোৰ হিয়া,
গাওঁ আহা সমস্বৰে—আমি অসমীয়া
        নোহো আৰু মৈমনছিঙীয়া।
‘সীমাৰেখা’ প্ৰয়োজন নহয় তেতিয়া
       একে ভাই হ’লো একে ঠাই,
আহিলে বিদেশী কোননো আমাক লুটিব
        বাধা দিম বুকু ফিন্দুৱাই।

Poet Shalim M Hussain translates Charuar Ukti in the following manner.

A Charuwa’s Proposition (1939)[1]

Maulana Bande Ali

Some say Bengal is my birthplace

And gloat in this bitter accusation

Well, before they came,

My father and my mother and many others

Left their homes, became country-less

How many people belonged to countries then

Who now wear the crowns and masks of leaders?

They are trapped by greed, I know

I quietly observe the language greed speaks.

But I will not tear the plate that feeds me

My faith will not allow me.

This land that I live in

I will revel in this land’s well-being.

The land which my Aai, Abbajan

Left for the heavens

This land is my own, my golden Assam

This land is my holy sanctuary.

The land I scrape to build my house

Is my own land

These are words from the Quran

And in it there is no falsehood

The people of this land are simple, pure

The Assamese are our own

We will share what we have in our shared home

And raise a golden family.

I am not a charuwa, not a pamua

We have also become Asomiya

Of Assam’s land and air, of Assam’s language

We have become equal claimants.

If Assamese dies, so do we

But why will we let it happen?

For newer tribulations we will build new weapons

With new tools we will build a new future.

Where will we find such love, such respect

Where will we find such a place?

Where the plough cuts through earth and reveals gold

Where will we find such a land of grace?

Mother Assam feeds us at her breast

We are her frolicking children

Let us sing in one tune- we are Asomiya

We shall not be Mymensinghia

We will need no ‘borders’ 

We will be brothers 

And when outsiders come to loot us,

We will bar them with our bare chests. Atul Chandra Hazarika certainly wrote Charuar Ukti, unlike how it was assumed to be written by Maulana Bande Ali. The poem first appeared in the Assamese periodical Awahana and was subsequently published in Dipali (1942), a collection of Hazarika’s poems. It later appeared again in one of his posthumous collected works titled Jayatu Janambhuni.

In an interview in the The Wire, Hafiz Ahmed who also identifies as a Miya poetry clarifies about this confusion of authorship. He noted:

“You have to see the narrative from the beginning, from the time of Maulana Bande Ali, who wrote the first poem in Assamese highlighting the sorrows of the Char Chapori Muslims in 1939. Now the controversy is that just days before the storm over Miyah poetry erupted, Homen Borgohain, who interviewed me in his weekly programme Kotha Barta(Conversation) on the local Assamese channel News Live, countered our contention that Bande Ali was a Muslim. We had learnt that he was from Darrang (a district in Assam). But Borgohain pointed out that his real identity was Atul Chandra Hazarika, an Assamese Hindu who wrote under the pseudonym of Bande Ali. This then justifies that during that time itself, he, an Assamese, had shared the sorrows and concerns of the Char Chapori people. Even though he didn’t use the word ‘Miya’ in his poem, the narrative, or the dhara of Miyah poetry began then. Whether he was Atul Chandra Hazarika or Maulana Bande Ali, Miyah poetry owes its origin to him.”

Authorship is important for the sensibilities it creates. At the same time, both fetishization and forgetting (even refusal of the referent) create their own set of responsibilities. Just going by the poem’s text, a Bande Ali writing Charuar Ukti and a Hazarika writing the same changes a lot of things. Each of their identities adds different sociological footnotes to the text and the discourse it generates. Whose voice is Hazarika ventriloquizing? Who was he trying to save in Charuar Ukti? Was writing that poem Hazarika’s moment of grasping the present as history? Or was it the pre-history of the present à la George Lukas? The critical aspect to note here is, apart from the confusion and a need to clarify the same, if Hazarika used that pseudonym, why did he do so? Why was there this need? Does it tell us about the political milieu of writing with such sensibilities that showed the minorities in such a light? What does it tell us about public writing at that period? Despite the availability of the poem in different volumes under Hazarika’s name, Homen Borgohain’s revelation of the “real identity” of the poet also suggests a certain ambiguity that loomed around the authorship. 

Hazarika showed multiple subjectivities, produced contradictions and conflicting texts. He was a secretary and the president of the Sahitya Sabha (in 1959), but also showed such empathetic understanding of the plight of minorities. He was also an assimilator who believed in migrants becoming Assamese. Like his dramas that were filled with heterogeneity, he dwelled not too far from it.

References:

Atul Chandra Hazarika (1981) Smriti Lekha, Assam Prakashan Parishad.

Birinci Kumar Barua (1964) History of Assamese Literature, Sahitya Akademi.

Chittaranjan Pathak (2011) Atul Chandra Hazarika-A Poet for All Occasions, Atul Chandra Hazarika Hostel Golden Jubilee Celebration Souvenir.


[1] Translator’s mentioned date of the poem.

The author Suraj Gogoi is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. He tweets @char_chapori

Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya also writes on the authorship of Charuwar Ukti in this self-published blog in Medium. Further comments from Suraj on writing this article are expressed here.