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An interview by Suryasikha Pathak

Noted Bodo writer, Dr Mangal Singh Hazowary, has been working endlessly for the uplift of Bodo literature and culture. A staunch believer in Bathou, Hazowary talks to Suryasikha Pathak on subjects that are close to his heart. Read on.

The last two decades of the 20th century saw the ABSU led Bodo Movement acquiring important dimensions. Though some important works have been produced on Bodo literature, culture, society and the movement, there has been a privileging of only the political personalities. But there are a few people from the world of literature who have made equally important contributions through the power of the pen. One such personality, Dr Mangal Singh Hazowary, a Sahitya Akademy recipient has been working silently for the cause of Bodo literature and language. Dr Mangal Singh Hazowary in a candid conversation with Suryasikha Pathak shares with us his experience.

Here are the excerpts:

Suryasikha Pathak (SP) : You have been recently awarded the Sahitya Academy Award. It is a great honour. How do you feel about it?

Mangal Singh Hazowary (MSH): I feel that my work has been recognized in some way. Yes, I am very happy about it. After the inclusion of Bodo language in the 8th Schedule, I am the first person from the community to be given recognition by the Sahitya Academy. But I believe that this is not just my personal achievement — it is an honour and achievement of the Bodo people and recognition of our culture.

SP: Your achievement is the outcome of your hardwork and commitment to Bodo literature and culture. Since when did you start writing?

MSH: I remember writing poems and short articles when I was in class VII. It has been a long odyssey ever since. As I grew up I continued writing poems and short stories and plays. Gradually, literature became an essential part of my life.

SP: You write in many genres. What is in your mind when you write a poem or an article, a story or a play? How do you make a shift in your concerns?

MSH: My poetry essentially reflects my feelings and experiences in life. It is quite personal. My first poetry collection Jiuni Khonthai Methai (Jiban Sangeet) reflects my poetic style and my aesthetic expressions. My plays centre around the historical characters like Sambindhan Kachari, Jolia Dewan, Jwhelao Dwimaleu — people who had asserted their will and voice. It is not that these historical plays are bereft of any social content. I try to give a glimpse of the social conditions through language, characters and plot of both modern and earlier times. I try to focus on the contemporary issues in Bodo society and also to give a message to the next generation.

SP: So your work and the Bodo society are intricately connected. How do you trace your roots?

MSH: I was born in Silbari village in Bijni. We were then basically agriculturists. Our entire family comprising my brothers and sisters were part of that work. Since childhood I learned to toil in the paddy fields and learned to plough. There was a time when my elders talked about discontinuing my studies so that I can work in the fields. Times were very hard. Like any other poor family living in village, my parents too had to sell paddy to meet other requirements like buying a pair of pyjamas which was in fashion then. But despite all odds, I was committed to pursue my school education. I enjoyed going to school. I took active part in sports, especially football, I played for a local club of Bijni called Young Star.

SP: Do you remember any interesting incident from your childhood?

MSH: Well, though we hardly get to see them today, in my childhood days there were Jatras in villages where the female roles were played by young boys. Jatra is a folk medium of entertainment. Once my brother lured me into playing the part of a “Chokri” so that he could get some money in return.

SP: So, did you give in to your brother’s whim? MSH : I was very flushed about the prospect and I flatly refused. I said I would better give up going to school if it were a financial problem.

SP: Of course, it is not very easy for a child of a simple peasant family to pursue higher studies. Did you have to face a great deal of hardship in continuing your education?

MHS: Yes, those were hard days. After the completion of school education I got admitted in Cotton College but due to pressing financial problem I had to come back to Bijni. I took admission in Bijni College in the arts stream. I still regret very much that I could not continue my education in one of the premier institutions of Asom. Soon after that, to support myself I joined as a teacher in a Bodo medium LP school in Silbari near Bijni. Everyday I used to cycle about 15 kms to school. Therefore I could not attend regular classes. Even in the face of such hardship, I completed my BA and also BT degrees. I served in the school till 1978. My education progressed along with my professional life.

SP: And what else do you recollect?

MSH: During my school day I became a part of a newly formed organization, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU). I was involved with the ABSU till 1970. When I joined Cotton College my links with ABSU weakened a little. But when I had to come back from Cotton College to Bijni College, I again became active with the Bijni Anchulik ABSU, especially as an advisor.

SP: So, you were actively involved in politics since your student days?

MSH: No. As I mentioned earlier, my association with the ABSU had been sporadic and basically from the sidelines. During my days in Bijni College I was more active with the Borobazar Bodo Sahitya Sabha which was carrying out a movement for having the Roman Script for the Bodo language. My association with the Bodo Sahitya Sabha has been more enduring and I have served the esteemed body in many capacity since 1978. Then again, during the times of the PTCA (Plains Tribes Council of Assam), I participated in the vote boycott and I was jailed for a few days.

SP: You said that you were active with ABSU. How did you then become involved with the PTCA movement?

MSH: ABSU also supported the movement. It became a part of it. In fact for people like us what matters most is the progress of the Bodo people in every aspect.

SP: Since early days as a youth activist to your activities now, you have been an astute observer of your society. You have seen many movements, bloodshed, turmoil and conflict. And now there is peace. What are the major transformations, which have radically changed the Bodo society? How do you see the regeneration and reconstruction of the Bodo society and what role does the writers have in these?

MSH: The most transformative acts have of course been the movements themselves. Almost everybody, in some way or the other, was involved with various struggles, if not overtly then silently. People from all walks of life have experienced it and became politically conscious. Since the days of Kalicharan Brahma, the Bodo society has been changing. The formation of the Bodo Chattra Sanmillani in 1920s and the Tribal League in 1933 saw further growth of a consciousness. The formation of the Bodo Sahitya Sabha and its role in spearheading the movement for the recognition of Bodo language and literature made people aware of the power of the written and the spoken word. I studied in Asomiya medium but the next generation studied in Bodo medium, and it made a whole lot of difference. In 1967 the PTCA started a movement and in 1968 the All Bodo Students Union was formed. These movements made the Bodo people conscious of being Bodo. The struggle for political rights, economic and educational advancement gradually shaped the destiny of the people.

I think writers and intellectuals have a great responsibility in sustaining the peace that has now transpired. They have to play a constructive role in creating proper environment and good feelings among the people and enlighten the mass through their works.

SP: From your own experience as a writer and educationist, how do you see the development of Bodo literature?

MSH: Bodo literature has come a long way but I believe that the best is yet to come.

SP: You have read the earlier writers and you yourself belong to the new movement. What factors do you feel is influencing the new movement and what are the elements of modernity touching upon it?

MSH: I believe that modern literature has taken shape from folk literature. The roots of Bodo literature is also in its folk form. Writers like Padmashree Modaram Brahma, Rupnath Brahma, Satish Basumatary, Tarendranath Basumatary, Ishan Mushahari have all based their works on folk ideas. Modaram Brahma’s poetry collection Barani Gudi Sipsa Aras, Satish Basumatari’s Bibar, Jenthoka or Pramod Brahma’s Alombar are all great works rendered into written form from the oral traditions of our Bodo society. From this juncture, I can see a turn in literature where ethnic identity merges with the variety of modern day life.

SP: It also appears that whether you wanted it or not, politics has always been there in your life. Are you involved with any other organizations as well?

MSH: During the 80s, Bodo people realized that the political movement of the Bodo people not only needs to be strengthen by language and literature but also by a regeneration and renaissance of the cultural and religious aspects of Bodo life. The Bathou Sangathan therefore came up and spread its activities in every district. In 1993 the All Bathou Religious Mahasabha started functioning and I am one of its founder members. The main objective of the Bathou Mahasabha is to bring the Bodo people together under one roof. I travel a lot to spread the message of Bathou religion and create consciousness among the common people. Wherever I go, I sit together with like-minded people and conduct prayers and seek the blessings of our ancestors. I am an avid follower of Bathou and like singing hyms. Since January 2005 I have been serving as the president of the All Bathou Religious Union. Every year we hold annual conferences to sensitize people. I feel it is my responsibility to pass on the traditions to the younger generation.

SP: Can you tell us something about the Bathou practices?

MSH: One of the important objectives of the All Bathou Religious Union is collect fact about our religion. Some of our legends says that earlier animal sacrifice was practised in Bathou religion. But I believe that is a later addition and in the earliest times the worship was done only with flowers. The essence of Bathou worship is Pancha Bhoota, Pancha Tattva, Pancha Darshana. The Siju tree is worshipped and it symbolizes the Supreme Soul. It is derived from an age-old tradition of nature worship, which was integral to our culture. The prayers are performed in a Bathou Bedi around which we have 18 posts representing our 18 Bathou Gurus, Mahapurush to whom we show our respect in lieu of Gods and Goddesses. When we talk about a regeneration of the Bathou religion, it is also about going back to our roots, which is crucial for a community to value. It contains our traditional customs and norms, offers guidelines for leading a virtuous life. All these reinforce our indigenous identity.

SP: From the range of activities you have described, I can gather that you have a very busy schedule. How do you manage to spend time with your family? Tell us something about your family life.

MSH: I have a large family. See, we believe in joint family system. But nowadays, you young people prefer nuclear families. Initially, I did not understand what a nuclear family meant. It took me a lot of time to understand that a nuclear family is restricted to husband, wife and children and it emphasizes on giving personal space to each individual in the family. But in our village we were not very much bothered about things like personal space, individual freedom etc. we lived in a natural pattern of family life. But I have tried to give a lot of space to my children. My family is large comprising of my wife, four daughters, two son and two son-in-laws and also grand children. But studies and work keep taking them to different places. I have always had the full and unfaltering support of my wife. Without her support it would have been difficult for me to manage my family because the nature of my work entails frequent travelling. She takes care of a lot of things.

SP : After the Sahitya Academy Award, what do you look forward to in life?

MSH : I want to continue writing. I might venture into writing a novel or two. I have many projects that are awaiting completion. The Bathou organization also needs a lot of fostering. I still feel young and energetic about my work. But there is so much to do and so many miles to travel — I think I must prepare myself once more for the long journey ahead.....

Courtesy: The Sentinel (2007)

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