Editorial – 2002

This issue of NEWFrontiers, the journal brought out by the North East Writers’ forum, marks a return to the Valley. For the last couple of years, the journal had come out from Meghalaya — Shillong, to be exact. This year, it has come back to Assam again from the Abode of the Clouds to the valley of the Red River.

This has been as per the original plan. A rotating editorship for the journal was envisaged at the very beginning. For though the words “North-East” in the Forum’s name signify homogeneity, the truth, as we all know, is that this region is not a bland, standardized entity with any kind of uniformity. Not at all. Linguistically, ethnically and culturally, there are vast differences between the

States that comprise the region— more so between the Valley and the other States. And indeed, leave alone the inter-State differences, even the intra-State ones are huge.

It is this diversity that marks the uniqueness of this region. An administrator’s nightmare, the very richness of the variety found here in all spheres of life has thrown up a treasure-trove of cultural material. Be it the ethno-music of the region, its many-layered palimpsest of religious and social practices, the languages and dialects, the literature of the place, both oral and written, or indeed, what can be termed the very “mindset” of a specific geographical location-all are as diverse within this region as though indeed contiguous States were actually poles apart geographically.

The bi-annual change in editorship and consequently in the geographical location of the place from which NEWFrontiers is brought out, is a recognition of this wonderful, exciting and unique diversity. For with the change comes an inevitable change in focus, and also in point of view. More than the personal preferences of the editor of the issue, it is this change in geographical location that brings about a distinct change in the overall product, a change that encompasses many aspects and ranges from the thematic to the stylistic.

Unfortunately, outside the North-East, people tend to dump all aspects of the region into a single catch-all phrase: “a disturbed area, full of terrorists”. Indeed, the gun-toting insurgent with vaguely Oriental features has replaced the tiger and rhino-infested jungle in the popular conception of the North-East these days. One cannot really blame the layperson who lives outside the state for this. After all most of the news coming out of this region concerns terrorism. Other aspect of this rich and beautiful land of ours seem to have paled into insignificance. And since literature is a mirror of life, the stories and poems that find their way out of this region also have as their subject matter, the various aspects of terrorism.

As a small counterbalancing act, therefore, a conscious effort has been made to keep “Terrorism” out of the thematic plan of this issue of NEWFrontiers. This has not been an easy task, exactly. Much that is being written today deals, inevitably, with Conflict, and its consequences. And yet, just as life goes on, more or less normally on a day to day basis, so, too, stories and poems dealing with other themes, other subjects, with diverse groups of characters different from the set “Terrorist” one, are being written. These alternate themes are just as valid, perhaps more so, since they speak of the eternal issues that have engaged writers from time immemorial.

The short stories chosen for this issue illustrate this point. The lyrical “Like an Egg” with is insubstantial, wraith-like characters and setting yet illustrates a very basic aspect of life – the importance of relationships. The World of “The Creator’ though rooted geographically in the North East, is light Years away from that of gun-toting insurgents.

Indeed, an effort has been made to make known well-told stories that deal with a variety of concerns. “Wisdom Teeth” has an oblique and topical reference to the Gujarat carnage, but this horror is seen through the agonizing haze of a bad toothache. While “Anamika” highlights the dilemma of medical students, “The Gunrunner of Jorabat” delineates the events that took place in that highway hamlet one hot and dusty afternoon. “The Gold Necklace” no doubt has conflict lurking in the background, an inescapable presence here, but what is riveting about that story is its strong sense of place, its rootedness in the land from which it has sprung.

The focus in this issue has been on prose, especially on short fiction. The two essays in the issue also, in fact, talk of fiction, and of fiction writers. Also, while “Epic of the Hornbill” is told in the ballad style, it is essentially a folk story. told in verse. The poems that have been included deal with a variety of topics. Within the inevitable limitations of space, it has not unfortunately been possible to put in as many poems as one would have wished. Perhaps this will be balanced out in the next issue!

As far as State-wise representation goes, it has not been followed in a strictly mathematical mannet. Indeed, it was not possible to do so – after all, the formula of “one short story, two poems, one essay and a translation from each State…” is hardly feasible. But a representative sample of writers from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur has certainly been showcased here. Unfortunately, the North East Writers Forum still does not have a representative in Tripura who can collect material and send it to the editor of the NEWFrontiers. This is a lacuna that is very regrettable. A search is on for a person from Tripura who will shoulder the burden – one hopes he/she will be found soon, so that the next issue of NEWFrontiers can have stories and poems from that State, as well.

Unfortunately, too, the material from Meghalaya was late in arriving – in fact, it had not reached the editor till the time of going to press. It is a matter of regret that none of the brilliant work that is coming out of that wonderful State could be printed in this issue. Surely next time again.

As always, it was a joy going through all the material that arrived on one’s desk and torture trying to decide what to put in, what to leave out. What does emerge from the annual publishing of NEWFrontiers is that the North-East in all its vast and varied diversity, has a wonderful band of energetic and highly talented writers who work in English as well as in their own mother tongues, and who no matter what their chosen language of literary communication might be. are all rooted deeply in the soil of the North-East.

Mitra Phukan

November, 2002

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