IN RECENT YEARS, there has been a new trend that marks the firmament of Assamese literature and culture – the efforts of a group of scholars living outside Assam, who have significantly contributed towards the State’s development. Amritjyoti Mahanta is one of those scholars who left Assam in 1989 to join Delhi Doordarshan, and has successfully carved a niche for himself in his chosen field of profession. But staying away from Assam has not been able to diminish his interest or love for his own land. Rather, it has intensified his longing to reconnect with his roots. Mahanta is a brilliant translator, creative writer and a thought-provoking essayist on literature and culture. He has been rendering a great service to his own literary heritage by translating eminent foreign literary works into his native language.
Translation is an intricate job that requires both method and practice. Tapat Din Dighal Rati brings out Mahanta’s outstanding translation skills, where he displays his deftness in transferring the subtle cultural nuances from one language to another. While translating, the translator must understand the denotative and connotative aspects of a word and they should also attempt to come to terms with the wide range of associations regarding particular words in particular socio-cultural contexts. Mahanta negotiates with these complex issues and has himself participated and presented well-researched, context-oriented and intellectually stimulating papers on translation theory and practice.
In recent years, he has also been interested in the noble life of Srimanta Sankardeva and has written an insightful essay highlighting the significant novels in Assamese, based on the life of this great saint. Mahanta is also an erudite critic who understands the subtle craft of fiction and his vast knowledge of eastern and western literature enables him to negotiate with a particular text from various perspectives. This critical bent of Mahanta’s mind is borne out in his stupendous analysis of the English translation of Mamoni Raisom Goswami’s novel Chinnamastar Manuhto. The English translation is brought out by the prestigious Delhi-based publication Rupa and the brilliant critique of the novel by Mahanta brings out his literary as well as critical acumen, his in-depth understanding of Assamese society and culture.
Amritjyoti Mahanta has also written two novels. His first novel Adhagara Mahanogoror Probashi is a powerful critique on the gloss and hollowness of the glamorous showbiz world of television and cinema, the ruthlessness and rat-race of urban life, the shameless behaviour and character of the urban elites who suffer from no moral qualms in surrendering their last remnants of morality and humanity, the frustration and sheer hopelessness of meaningless lives. Apart from Anuradha Sharma Pujari’s Hridoi Ek Bigyapan, this is the only novel in Assamese that deals with the glamorous world of media and communication in all its complexities.
Pallav is a simple rural boy who moves away from his roots in search of money, fame and prosperity, and enters the realms of a Government regulated TV channel, where he discovers large scale corruption and curtailment of creative freedom. He falls in love with Nita, who has completely contrasting antecedents, both in terms of background and upbringing, and they decide to get married. Nita, who otherwise craves for love, compassion, human understanding and care, however, finds herself increasingly getting distanced from Pallav after marriage, because of her chosen field of documentaries and films, which compels her to travel to different places. In the meantime, Pallav, too, discovers the hollowness of his own job and joins a private channel to earn more money and freedom. But his emotional life remains barren. The novel also makes a profound critique of the claustrophobic and threatening socio-political situation of Assam during the 1980s, that drove many creative talents away from their native State. However, the strength of the novel lies in the fact that it does not end on a gloomy note. Rather, its ending is positive as Pallav realises that he can create a new future when he learns that he is going to be a father. This search for regeneration and respect for roots has defined the critical and creative ouevre of Amritjyoti Mahanta, and his continuing engagement with Assamese literature and culture is a hopeful sign.