Editorial – 2007

It’s been a while now since the last issue of NEWFrontiers, the journal of the North East Writers’ Forum came out. Five years, in fact. A long time, by any reckoning.

Why did that happen? People have asked if the non-appearance of this journal has signified the demise of the Forum itself. After all, it is not unusual for organizations to wilt away, leaving just memories behind. But let us hasten to add here that nothing of that sort has happened to the North East Writers’ Forum, which has continued to flourish through these years. Various events have taken place, and on a personal level, many members have scaled newer heights of creative literary achievement, and recognition has come to several at national and international levels. The usual devils — lack of funds being alas one of them — have caused this long gap.

Hopefully, from this issue onwards, there will be at least one volume of NEWFrontiers out, two, if funds permit. It is, in any case, a given that a journal is a must for a literary body worth its name. NEWFrontiers has, over the last years, showcased some of the finest talents working in this region, both in original English and in the wealth of local languages found here, in translation. Indeed, translation is the bridge through which a literary body with members writing in English across this region meet up with those who work in other languages, and also with the rich vein of oral literature found here. The NEWF is a very unique organization, for at least two reasons. Firstly, it draws its membership from eight States across the region. Secondly, it is a Forum for writers working in English. Though literary Forums abound in our country, and indeed in this area, too, this Forum is arguably the first and perhaps the only one at present that has as members writers working primarily, often solely, in English. This reflects both the status of English as an Indian language today, and also the importance of English in the evolving literatures of this region, too. a region which, till the other day, had large areas without a script. though of course with a rich storehouse of oral literature.

Over the years, the Forum has become an important organization for those who, for various reasons work in English in this part of the world. In states with very strong written literatures in local languages, especially in Assam and Manipur, writers working in English have tended to be marginalized. They have ploughed a lonely furrow, excluded from the gatherings of other writers because of the language they choose to work in, even though their works have emanated from the land as much as the work of those who write in the local languages. They have sometimes been looked upon as elitist, working in the language of former colonial masters. None of this is relevant, of course, for English in India today is a vibrant medium for communicating ideas about and impressions of life in contemporary India. Life in its totality, that is, and not just the life of a privileged few. For many members of the Forum it has been a relief to interact with others who work in English, to know that one is not alone, and that one is not some kind of aberration in this land of so many languages.

It’s not of course, as though the Forum itself has been somnolent during these years; far from it. One of the reasons that this Forum was formed in 1997 was that writers working in English in the North East region of the country should get together to share ideas, to encourage each other through the reading of and listening to works in progress. This getting together has been happening at regular intervals. Readings, comprising original works and also translations into English, have been as varied as the profiles of the members themselves. The encouragement and empathy that each writer receives from other members of the Forum is often acknowledged publicly to be a spur, an incentive and a reward, all rolled into one, by each member.

Over the years, the Forum has been enriched also by the visits of quite a few eminent literary figures, both Indian and foreign. Among them are Amit Choudhuri, Ron Price, Eddy Harris, Mahesh Dattani, James Dokhuma, and so on. Members have been greatly enriched by the readings and discussions that have taken place during these interactions.

Translation has always been an important part of the work of many of the Forum’s members. Members have always paid their dues to their mother tongues through their sensitive and skilled translations of major writers working in the local languages into English, thus bringing them to a worldwide readership. The Forum decided to harness this formidable pool of talent to focus on the huge storehouse of literature, both oral and written, of the region, in a huge project jointly undertaken with the Delhi-based publishing house, Katha. In a mission that has spanned several years, works that include folk tales, plays, short stories, novellas and children’s stories have been identified, given to well known translators of the various languages, vetted, edited, then sent to Katha, who readied the work after further intensive in-house scrutiny. The huge pool of material is in itself a unique resource that the Forum has identified. As a result of this painstaking work, four books of this Katha-NEWF project have already come out to enthusiastic and highly laudatory reviews in the national press. These books, “Fresh Fictions”, “Asomiya: Hand Picked Fictions”, “First Sun Stories”, and “The Heart of the Matter” are widely acknowledged to have brought something new and fresh and important to the notice of the rest of the world and who have been largely unaware till now of the treasure house of literature, both written and oral, that exists in this region. It is a matter of pride that many of the writers and translators of these volumes have featured in the pages of NEWFrontiers over the years, The Katha-NEWF project is now approaching completion, and the NEWF is justifiably proud of its success. One of the numerous markers of the success the project is the invitation that the NEWF has received by no less a body than the august Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore (CIIL) to participate in a translation project that it has organized.

The completion of ten years is always important in the life span organization. To celebrate the first decade of its existence, the NEWF has planned an Asian Literary Festival. Work is already underway in organizing this Festival, to which poets, short story — writers, novelists and dramatists from countries all over this continent will be invited. Indeed, writers have already been identified. When it takes place, this event is slated to be the first of its kind held in this region, and is being eagerly awaited.

Another plan on the anvil is the institution of the North-East Literary Award, to be given once in three years to a writer working in any language in the North- East. Besides the monetary aspect, the institution of this award, too, involves a lot of painstaking work, and it is heartening that a beginning has been made already.

This current volume of NEWFrontiers has the works of several of its members, as well as of a few non-members. The short story section reflects the variety and heterogeneity of life that is experienced here. Conflict, which is, inevitably, one of the underlying veins of much contemporary literature of the region, finds expression in several works, both fiction and poetry, in original English and in translation. But in spite of the deep sense of rootedness in the land that the stories and poems show, they are also universal in their appeal to what is basic to human nature everywhere. We, the editorial team, hope that readers of this volume of NEWFrontiers will enjoy going through it as much as we did in putting it together.

Mitra Phukan
Srutimala Duara
Rupanjali Baruah.

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