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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 36, Dated September 12, 2009
CULTURE & SOCIETY  
literature

‘Younger Writers Have A Pan-Indian Sensibility But Return To Their Roots’

Novelist Jahnavi Barua, 41, is grateful for the context of Northeastern writing in English but embraces the world

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PHOTO : S RADHAKRISHNA

THE LITERARY WORLD in the Northeast has hung on to its silent fault line of ‘authenticity’ for a long time. Opposing groups of language and generations jockey for centrality, each eager to politely neuter the other. Jahnavi Barua skates serenely over it all – a young writer encouraged by the older generation, and a writer in English embraced by the vernacular press.

A doctor by training, Barua’s short story collection, Next Door, longlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Award and the Frank O’Connor award, is based mainly in small town and rural Assam, but she says her stories of family conflict could have been set anywhere. Universality is a big deal for the newer generation, and Barua emphasises that the insurgency is only incidental to her work. “The younger writers have a pan-Indian, global sensibility but they’re also concerned with returning to their roots. Mamang [Dai]’s and Temsula [Ao]’s books are revelations! There’s now a stronger sense of self. Anjum Hasan’s novel is set in Shillong, but it’s also universal like the band East India Company!”

Winning a British Council fiction contest sent her to the UK for a creative writing fellowship. She acknowledges her debt to having a ready context of Northeastern writing in English by the time she was ready with her collection. The North East Writers Forum has been critical here – apart from Jahnavi, its members have included some of the brightest lights in the firmament of writing in English: Mamang Dai, Temsula Ao, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, Easterine Iralu.

Shunning italics for Asomiya words, Barua parleys her affection for rivers and flowers with easy prerogative. Her themes are casually familiar, be they sexuality, or the sheltering of an insurgent, or ageing parents. “Life in this moment is what’s exciting,” she says.

GAURAV JAIN

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 36, Dated September 12, 2009
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