“The happiness of the drop is to die in the river”– Al Ghazili
I recently had the honour of being invited to attend the North East Writers’ Forum (NEWF) Annual General Meeting (AGM) that was held in Guwahati on the 23 and 24 of March. Setting out from Shillong on the 23 at seven in the morning, my travel companion was no less than ‘the’ Robin Sing Ngangom, renowned poet, critic and teacher in the North-Eastern Hill University. The subjects of conversation during the journey included poetry, society, politics and indigenous cuisine. We were joined in the conversation from time to time by a friendly and enthusiastic fellow passenger who provided interesting anecdotes for the various topics we discussed. We were unfortunately caught in bad traffic and missed the first session of the AGM. The second session was just about to start when we finally made the venue at Circuit House and Robin, his ears still ringing from the long ride, was ushered into the conference room where he was part of the panel for the proceeding discussion.
I sat quietly at the back, ‘strategically’, according to Pankaj Thapa, rather awe-struck by the company around me. Mitra Phukan, Dhruba Hazarika, Guru Ladakhi and Mamang Dai, to name a few (and I do so love dropping names), were there to talk on the Role of the Writer in India’s Northeast, in Relation to Society. After papers were read out by members of the panel, the floor was opened for discussion. Different views, opinions and questions were thrown about, both on the topic and other issues that were raised by the different participants. One of the most memorable parts of that session, for me anyway, was probably when one college girl stood up and honestly admitted that she and her friends didn’t know who most of the people in the room were. We all had a good laugh out of it.
Later, we were taken for a boat ride on the Brahmaputra with live music and the party carried on to dinner where our esteemed members decided to let their hair down. Some sang, some danced and those without the skill for either, clapped. Mostly out of beat. The next day began with a reading session where we were treated to a few of the finest that the Northeast had to offer in both poetry and prose. This was followed by a quick lunch and the final session which entailed the business end of the AGM. The President’s address and Secretary’s report were read out and also, a tentative schedule was made for various events to be held during the year. With the conclusion of this session, the AGM came to an end. After the essential photo sessions and prolonged goodbyes, we parted ways with the usual promises of keeping in touch from time to time.
This isn’t my first time being at such a gathering but what still fascinates me so much is the camaraderie and the sense of fellowship among these writers. Each one of them comes with an individuality and quirkiness that Pankaj Thapa, cartoonist and resident fun-in-charge, would humorously caricature in his jokes and imitations. Yet, inspite of the many differences in character, culture, religion, accent, liver, noses, eyes et al, the honesty and warmth with which they interact is inspiring. Mitra Phukan, the president, made it a point to express in her address that the NEWF is a flat organisation with no hierarchy of any sort. Not that this is unique to this organisation only but here, the reality has so far proven that this is more than just some sort of socialist adage.
The session on the role of the writer in relation to society proved to be quite interesting as each writer tried to realistically grasp what impact they have upon society. The discussion was lively and moved on into even grander questions as to why a writer writes. However, before it all goes to our heads, the aforementioned college girl stands up and confesses she had no idea who most of the people in the room were. We all crashed down to earth in laughter, I thought. It is a rather sad fact though that this is true, not only for this particular college girl, but for most people in the Northeast, that we do not know of these incredible treasures we have in our own backyards.
The after-party or the ‘un-wine-ding’ as we call it now is always memorable. Besides the main party that carries on as loudly as ever, it provides an opportunity for more intimate and personal side conversations with all these ‘great’ (I hesitate to use the adjective as most seem to prefer ‘crazy’) minds. So in this particular ‘un-wine-ding’, I had an amazing time listening to stories about theatricals, Chinese jewel-sellers, being cultural ambassadors in the Philippines, rivers that flow upstream, living with elephants, and of course, writing. The immense passion that they have for writing is probably the strongest bond shared between them and is the reason why this sense of kinship permeates throughout. On the way back to Shillong, Robin, continuing on one of the topics discussed during the AGM, expressed that more than any attempt to impress anyone or proving himself to the ‘outside’ world in the mainland, he was quite content just sharing his thoughts and poems with writers and fellow enthusiasts anywhere. Perhaps this is the whole point after all. The happiness of the drop.
Lalnunsanga Ralte is a young poet and PhD scholar at the North Eastern Hill University.