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Poetry of the Soul

An interview with Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi
by Arobinda Nath Sarma

        In a glittering choi - studded bullock cart
        whose marriage procession is proceeding…


        Kajal - hued cloud…


        No longings for golden loangles for my marriage…


        Slipperyroad ahead, O friend, step steadily…


        Does the day break
        Because of the sound of guns?
        It breaks
        Because of the cry of the bird…

Yes, these are some of the expressions and images born of the imagination of the poetess Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi, which have such lasting impression on the minds of appreciative lovers of her poetry that they feel imbibed by a divine elation quoting from her popular verses, be it song or otherwise. I remember, one eminent novelist from Bengal, Nabanita Dev Sen, started her address in a writers’ meet in Guwahati quoting from her poem "Does the day break …"

Nirmal Prabha started writing poetry even when she was a child, from the age of nine. The world around her, vibrant with cultural atmosphere marked by Vaishnavite serenity, provided necessary inspiration for her. Moreover, she has greatest regard for her parents. In a poem entitled Shreemayee Ayee she writes,

        To make your existence
        more meaningful
        I must plant
        in the land.

I once asked the poetess, "why should she write poetry?" She said, she does not write poetry just for the sake of writing. She is a committed poetess. She writes in order to improve her mental health and to add to her awareness, with a firm belief in the eternal values of life. According to her, these values will break all barriers of time and space and rouse confidence in the innate strength of the soul. She thinks the greatest obligation of a poet under the present diseased social circumstances is to make humanity live for ever.

One of the eminent critics of Assam, Shri Bhaben Barua, describes Nirmal Prabha as the greatest poet of this age. Authoress of 85 books including nine collections of poems, her fifth collection named Sudirgha Din Aaru Ritu fetched her the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983. According to the estimation of the Akademi, "it is an outstanding contribution to Assamese literature for its rich variety of moods, evocative imagery, its robust optimism and affirmation of human values." Apart from poetry Nirmal Prabha wrote thought provoking essays, plays, juvenile literature and radio skits. One of the significant aspects of Bordoloi’s recent emergence is as a researcher. She has made an in-depth and elaborate study of the original source-materials connected with Tantrik Saddhana of Assam, like Yogni Tantra, Kalika Purana, coupled with field studies of the Thans and temples connected with Shakti-worship of Assam. The result is her monumental work Devi. The book has received wide acclaim. Asom Sahitya Sabha recognised the book as an outstanding contribution in the field of original research and presented her an award. The Sanskirit Samaj of Assam conferred the title Saraswati on the writer for this work. Another highly researched work of hers is Shiva, dealing in the evolution of the cult of Shiva in Assam against an all-India perspective.

The central theme of most of the poems of Nirmal Prabha is the emotional crises which the poetess underwent at the different stages of her life. Her poetry is often marked by her stringent protest against social ills and the establishment. But the dominant note of her poetry is a sad note woven around the main texture of her poetry. We cannot say Nirmal Prabha is always groping in the darkness glorifying the sad notes of humanity. Often she betrays her hope and optimism.

        My name is Aniruddha
        A beautiful dream
        Has enchanted me.
        Nobody can stop my
        Onward march
        That is why I am Aniruddha.

Nirmal Prabha was emotionally involved in Assam’s agitation for identity, the Assamese identity threatened by perilous inroads of migrants from neighbouring erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh. She wrote :

        O my beloved land
        I promise
        I will inflame this night of terror
        With the flame of your courage.

In another poem she writes :

        My mother says
        ‘Don’t play with fire’.
        If fire starts
        Playing with me
        What should I do,
        O my mother?

Nirmal Prabha in also known as a poet of love. But her love is more physical than spiritual or platonic. In some of her love poems she expresses her unique experience of transgressing the body, and thus has left aside the beaten track in Assamese love poetry. To her "Autumn is more love-lorn, more so than the spring."

Winner of the President’s Award for Children’s Literature for her book Chil Chil Chila, the former president of the Asom Sahitya Sabha, Nirmal Prabha as a cultural ambassador represented India in many international poetry conferences. In the International Literary Conference held in Tokyo, Japan, in the year 1983 she was honoured as the president of the poetry section. She was selected by I.C.C.R to represent India as the only representative in the World Poetry Conference held at Kualalumpur. In 1986 in the seminar held in Hamburg of South Germany, she received the award of the best scholar. In 1990 she visited China and participated in a seminar held in Kunamang. Let me conclude my humble attempt at assessment of this poetess, one of the greatest among the living Assamese poets by quoting from her own words about what she thinks of the role of poetry in life… &#quot;There is no greater poem than life itself. Life is an endless poem? a poem of understanding and non-understanding, of moonlight, of storm, of non-fulfilment, of loss after fulfilment, of softness, of hardness, of darkness, of loveliness, of helplessness, of pronouncement of truth, of promise, of beauty, of dream, of exploitation, of burning, of distress, of cries of ferment and tears…" (Introduction to Sudirgha Din Aaru Ritu.)

Nirmal Prabha is very much concerned about the fate of age-old values held in greatest esteem down the ages by the Assamese.

        In the smell of rice fields in autumn
        My father comes back to me;
        In the fragrance of the new scarf
        As I unfold it fresh from the shop
        I find my mother again…
        Where shall I leave myself
        For my child
        O, where indeed.

       (Translated by Hiren Gohain)

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune

Read Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi’s poems

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