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Short Stories Collection Tell Human Stories From Assam in the Time of Violent Conflict

Book Name: How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency: Fifteen tales from Assam

Author: Aruni Kashyap

Published by: Harper Collins India

Fiction: Short Stories


Book summary:

A former militant is unable to reconcile his tranquil domesticity with his brutal past. A mother walks an emotional tightrope, for her two sons—a police officer and an underground rebel—fight on opposite sides of the Assam insurgency. A deaf and mute child who sells locally brewed alcohol ventures into dangerous territory through his interaction with members of the local militant outfit.

‘How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency’ is an unflinching account of a war India has been fighting in the margins. Written originally in Assamese, Bodo and English, the fifteen stories in this book attempt to humanize the longstanding, bloody conflict that the rest of India knows of only through facts and figures or reports in newspapers and on television channels.

About the Editor:

Aruni Kashyap writes short stories, novels and poetry in Assamese and English besides translating from Assamese. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian UK and The Hindu. He is Assistant Ptofessor of creative writing at the University of Georgia, Athens.

About the authors:

This short story collection features the works of Arupa Patangia Kalita, Jahnavi Barua, Arup Kumar Nath, Nandeswar Daimari, Katindra Swargiary, Hafiz Ahmed, Juri Barual besides others.

My Review:

With a title like ‘How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency’ you might well think this collection of 15 tales from Assam is a non-fiction work that talks of the why and the how of the conflict and violence in Assam. But what do the stories of people living in a state of crisis and trauma brought on by decades of conflict, strife and violence have to say? Would they all be about mainland bashing? Would they be about victim versus martyr status or would they be about the politics of the state?

Edited by Aruni Kashyap, the 15 short stories in this collection feature writing from Assam written in English, Assamese and Bodo with the central theme of insurgency in the state. Each of the story featured in this collection are impassioned in their calls for humanity even as the semblance of life is torn apart by violence and gore outside, as much as the internal fear, prejudice and hate that keeps apart people from the close kinship that has tied everyone for generations. In this collection, you will get to read authors whose works you have been familiar with but you will also end up discovering the works of authors whose writings that have not reached you yet.

The stories are brutally honest, they sear through you for they are about suffering and pain and suppressed trauma that the most vulnerable try to cope with: aged parents, elders, young children, women and men bristling with ideals who do what they must to survive or try to. The socio cultural fabric of life as it was once is seen in the stories around community rites and observations while the politics of the Assam agitation over the years peeks through in the mention of marches and protest rallies and the way the mood of the people is reflected. There are stories that looks at roots and identity, whether shared community ties can be cast aside by modern notions of nationhood that divides geography, whether different religions mean different mindsets, whether there is hope and what means to try and move on despite the despair.

Told in unique voices, each story in the book looks at every hue of life in a conflict zone. It’s been put together very well in its pick of languages and the writing styles. This book is a powerful narrative of a state caught under the tumult of political violence and it’s people who suffer in so many different ways. It is difficult to pick one favorite from the lot for each story has a voice that is unique in the way the authors have crafted them and set it up under the shadow of the gun. But the two stories originally written in Bodo stand out for me personally in the way the writing borders between socio political satire on one hand and dark comedy on the other.

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