Under the Shadow of Kamakhya

Mamoni Raisom Goswami (aka Indira Goswami) is most well known for her novel The Moth Eaten Saddle (Howrah) of the Tusker, where she weaved the whole tapestry of life around a Vaishnavite satara (religious institution). Her writings represent a some of the finest in the much broader stream of literature from her home state of Asom (formerly Assam).

Under the Shadow of Kamakhya is a collection of eight of her short stories, some of which have appeared in other anthologies.

In all the stories, Mamoni Raisom enthralls one with the kaleidoscopic descriptions of her land and people. The details of the birds, the flora and fauna are vividly described with the flourish of a poet. The characters absorb the ambience of the landscape and are shaped by it:

“Her silk garmets shone like the phosphorescent foam on the turbulent waters of the Brahmaputra during the monsoon”

(Under the Stadow of Kamakhya)

Similarly, the landscape also acquires shades of the characters:

The bulbuls on the Hijol tree started chirping noisily. The sun rose above the Brahmaputra. Wreaths of violet and brown clouds clung to it, making it look like the pinched and pale face of a hapless prostitute, blushing at the thought of having to spend time with an unwanted stranger. The clouds seemed to lay bare the strange combination of helplessness and indomitable strength on this face.

The cinders of the burnout chest were scattered all over the place. In the morning sunshine this resembled the hide of a freshly butchered goat, spread out on the earth to dry.

(The Chest)

The Brahmaputra and the Kamakhya temple occupy a centerstage in the stories.

The most powerful story is undoubtedly the one named in the title: Under the Shadow of Kamakhya where the chief protagonist Padmapriya is sent back to her parent’s home when her husband’s family wrongly suspects that she has an incurable disease. The husband finally comes back to take her home and at his moment of glory of accepting her back is shocked to know about the strands in his wife’s life during the two years of his absence.

In The Chest Toradoi burns the wooden chest that belonged to the man who she believes never married because he loved her but could not marry her because of caste restrictions. Her brother’s revelation about the man shatters the last flickr of a misplaced illusion.

In The Journey, Mamoni Raisom poignantly weaves the personal story of an emaciated tea shop owner and his family in the background of the liberation struggle for Asom led by the ULFA.

The Beasts is about the unpredictability of people, the capitulation of a principled man who sells his trust among a Rubha tribeswoman to an unscrupulous but powerful merchant. The story is narrated through a mute character. It is a strory of betrayal.

Dwarka and his Gun shows the power of an uncertain, open ended story where the reader’s imagination is left free to soar.

Mamoni Raisom displays her mastery over the craft of the short story that would rank her with some of the best in the world today. They also bring out the concerns of this extremely talented writer and illustrate the enduring place for realism.

In Parasu’s Well, a greedy Kabuliwallah moneylender melts when he sees the hard work put in by the dull, almost wretched character of Parasu, and the sad condition of his sick brother.

Mamoni Raisom always manages to rescue humanism from the clutches of the rigmarole, the grind of daily life, misunderstandings and human failings.

[Cross-posted at Desicritics.org]

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6 thoughts on “Under the Shadow of Kamakhya

  1. Bhaswati

    Wonderful post. I have read some of her work and have to agree with your analysis of her writing. Althogh I always had the feeling that something got lost in the translation. Of the stories you mentioned, I have only read Parasu’s Well–in it, she does a terrific job of describing the act of digging the well itself and using that as a powerful metaphor for a desperate man’s struggle for existence.

    The excerpt starting with the bulbul is beautiful. So original.

  2. bhupinder singh

    Oh! I too felt that the description of Parasau digging the well is the most rivetting narrative in the book. And also, it is a marvel that her stories come out so well even in translation. Having dabbled in translation myself, I realize how much is always lost in the process.

    Mamoni Raisom deserves to be more well known both within and outside India.

  3. Anonymous

    its a great reading with lots of analysis..a voice of asom reaching the voice of entire country..the universality comes to the forefront.

  4. pranami

    its a great reading with lots of analysis..a voice of asom reaching the voice of entire country..the universality comes to the forefront.

  5. bhupinder singh

    Glad you liked the review, Pranami. I agree, an an outsider, I perhaps see the universality more than the specificities of the Asomiya life that Mamoni Raisom writes about.

    Incidentally, this review was cross-posted at desicritics.

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