Termed as the land of “Blue Hills and Red River”, Assam is the gateway to the north eastern states. Wildlfie sanctuaries, abundant forest resources, home to the fast-disappearing Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the state is also known for its rich culture-infused with the various fairs and festivals, dance and music, languages, arts and crafts and delicious cuisines. And Assam books capture the spirit of this land beautifully.
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Explore more of this vibrant land that gives us the famous tea blend and Bihu through these books from the sentinel of Northeast India.
Title: The Grasshopper’s Run
Author: Siddhartha Sarma
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Blurb: In this brilliantly written debut novel, Siddharth Sarma brings to life a little-known slice of history from the time of World War II in Asia. The time when the Imperial Japanese Army, undefeated everywhere on the Asian mainland, finally invades British India through the east. A fortnight before the main invasion, an ambitious and amoral Japanese officer orders the massacre of a village of the Ao Naga tribe. Among those killed is Uti, grandson of the eldest Ao chief. Gojen Rajkhowa was Uti’s best friend. When Uti’s grandfather declares a private war against the Japanese, Gojen resolves to journey to Kohima, where the battle for ‘The Stalingrad of the East’ has just begun. There, within the heart of the battle which will turn the tide of World War II in Asia, he goes to seek the man who took the best part of his life from him. His quest will take him beyond the edge of his familiar world, through mist and smoke and an ancient Naga legend, into the unknown.
Price: Rs. 169 || Pages: 200
Title: On a Wing and a Prayer
Author: Arun Sarma
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Blurb: Mansoor Ali finds vast stretches of ownerless land in Kuroiguri Sapori, near the tiny Assamese village Sonaruchuk that is predominantly Hindu, and decides to relocate there. This marks the beginnings of a Bengali Muslim settlement to which the poor and the landless from the far-eastern regions of Bengal flock.
The inhabitants of the village and of the settlement bound by their respective religions, customs and traditions manage to live together in peace in spite of the political and social discontent which simmers under the surface. But when Gojen, the hero of Sonaruchuk, decides to bring home Hasina, Mansoor Ali’s daughter, all hell breaks loose.
Set in Assam against the backdrop of India’s freedom struggle, On a Wing and a Prayer touches upon many urgent issues: migration, communal tension and the rights of women. But above all, it explores, with wit and empathy, what it means to be free in a country where most boundaries, literal and metaphorical are difficult to erase.
Price: Rs. 250 || Pages: 252
Title: The Forest Beneath the Mountains
Author: Ankush Saikia
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Blurb: Shaken by the news of his mother’s death, a man leaves his job in Delhi and returns to Assam. Twenty-five years ago, his father, a forest officer here, was found shot dead in his jeep. With the passing of his mother, the man learns new and startling details of his father’s life, and in trying to reclaim an entire life suddenly made unfamiliar, he starts digging into events far back in time, visiting places where his father had served, in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas.
Wandering through what was once the Chariduar reserve forest, the man meets a kaleidoscopic cast of characters—people trying to find an anchor in an uncertain world— some of whom are remnants of a rapidly disappearing past and some from the region’s turbulent present: foresters, elephant catchers, army contractors, insurgents, police commandos, drifters and double-dealers.
Wide, unhurried and immersive, The Forest Beneath the Mountains is a compelling blend of memory, family stories, ecology and history. It is a story of people and places at the margins of the Indian republic, and of the inevitable taming of wilderness by man.
Price: Rs. 343 || Pages: 328
Blurb: This is the story of Rukmini who is married to the District Collector of a small town in Assam, and teaches English literature in the local college. On the surface, her life is settled and safe in the big, beautiful bungalow on the hill above the cremation ground, seemingly untouched by the toil and sufferings of the common folk living ‘below’. And yet, each time there is an ‘incident’ in the district, the fear and uncertainty that grips the town finds a reflection in her own life. Assam is in the grip of insurgency and it is this thread that runs like a dark river through the novel and forms its backdrop.
Price: Rs. 399 || Pages: 376
Title: A Stanza of Sunlight on the Banks of the Brahmaputra
Author: Arnab Jan Deka, Tess Joyce
Publisher: Spectrum Publications
Blurb: A Stanza of Sunlight on the Banks of Brahmaputra is the historic first collaborative Indo-British bilingual book of poetry in English and Assamese, under the joint authorship of novelist, short-story writer, columnist and poet Arnab Jan Deka and poet, blogger and novelist Tess Joyce. Both poets’ themes in this book revolved in and around the banks of the river Brahmaputra, which flows through China, India and Bangladesh. The poems contain both scenic and evocative, spiritual contents, and also highlights the environmental fragility of the river and its surrounding flora and fauna.
Price: Rs. – || Pages: 97
Blurb: Sensitively translated, with detailed notes on the translation, these stories bring to light the human condition that Indira Goswami portrayed in her writing. The lives of the rural poor, the situation of widows, the plight of the urban underclass and various social constraints under which people are forced to live are depicted in these impactful narratives.
The deft use of language, striking imagery and strong characters are a hallmark of Indira Goswami’s writing. The stories in this selection exhibit these unique characteristics of her work in abundance. These nuanced translations bring the literary creations of one of the great writers of our times to new life and a wider audience.
Price: Rs. 365 || Pages: 256
Title: Next Door
Author: Jahnavi Barua
Publisher: Penguin India
Blurb: In eleven superbly crafted stories, Jahnavi Barua takes us into the private, individual worlds of a varied cast of characters and exposes the intricate mesh of emotions so often concealed under the façade of everyday lives. Innocent desires and furtive longings, the complexity of fierce love and the terrible consequences of its betrayal, simple aspirations that compel brave action, life’s startling reversals that reveal deep insecurities and yet pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation—these are just some of the themes played out in these remarkably nuanced snapshots of life.
Predominantly set in the verdant, politically charged landscape of Assam, yet constantly transcending the particular, the stories in Next Door are unerringly human. Subtle and evocative in their telling, they mark the introduction of a highly accomplished voice.
Price: Rs. 257 || Pages: 240
Title: The Hunt for the Buru
Author: Ralph Izzard
Publisher: Craven Street Books
Blurb: This firsthand account of a 1948 journey to a treacherous valley in northern India in search of a mysterious creature is both a classic travel adventure and a graphic record of an amazing expedition. The book chronicles the group’s movement into a remote valley in Assam, where the inhabitants had only recently given up headhunting, on a quest for the Buru—an elusive, monstrous reptile well documented by those native to the area. The Buru, like the Yeti, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster, has captured the imagination of adventurers around the world, and remains a popular subject of cryptozoology—the study of animals yet to be discovered by science. Recalled in vivid detail are treks through hazardous swamplands filled with cobras and leeches, and campaigns through perilous jungles where thumbnail-sized ticks and wild boar are indigenous, all in the hunt for the legendary saurian.
Price: Rs. 1404 || Pages: 176
Author: Tilottoma Misra
Translator: Udayon Misra
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Blurb: Set in mid-nineteenth century Assam when the forces of tradition were being challenged by new concepts of modernity, Swarnalata is the story of three women from very different social backgrounds, each caught in the whirlpool of change, each trying to chart her own course in life, heroically, silently.
As the intertwined lives of Swarnalata, Tora and Lakhi unfold, the reader is taken on a fascinating journey into the social milieu of the times where issues like women’s education and widow remarriage held centre stage. The plight of indentured labour, peasant resistance against colonial exploitation, the reformist initiatives of the Brahmo Samaj and the proselytizing efforts of the Christian missionaries are themes that run through the narrative.
Considered one of the finest historical novels in Assamese, where real historical personages – such as Rabindranath Tagore – are presented side by side with fictional characters, Swarnalata provides a wonderful blend of history and fiction.
Price: Rs. 295 || Pages: 200
Title: No Ghosts in this City
Author: Uddipana Goswami
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Blurb: The powerful short stories in this collection are set against – and frequently driven by – the picturesque yet often violent backdrop of Assam, a province in India’s northeast. In one, a young man attempts to escape the confines of middle-class aspirations, only to be brought up against the futility of rebellion. Another finds a mother sharing her daughter’s pain when social inhibitions finally catch up with her. Others consider the bloody effects of violence: one sees a young girl lose her tongue to the horrors of conflict, while another depicts the destruction of carefully managed ethnic harmony. All are shot through with a desire to understand, to attempt to explore if not explain, the violence and brutality that have long plagued the beautiful land of Assam and left it populated with ghosts.
Price: Rs. 295 || Pages: 128
This list of books is curated by Amritesh Mukherjee for Purple Pencil Project’s Instagram.
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