We, at Fried Eye are extremely sad at the demise of Mamoni Baidew. Below, we present almost verbatim an interview that baidew gave for the Silver Jubilee magazine of Christ Jyoti School, Nagaon. We are extremely grateful to Junak Kashyap (at present studying in Tezpur University) for providing the interview and the pictures.
Mamoni Raisom Goswami, a Jnanpith Award winner is the most famous littérateur of the present day Assam. Her keen interest in bringing peace to the North-eastern region and efforts directed along this direction are widely appreciated by the political analysts across the country. The following is an excerpt from the exclusive interview with Mamoni Raisom Goswami by Junak, Prantrishna Bharali and Mr. Rajom of Christ Jyoti School.
Prantrishna Bharali (PB): You were born on a special day, the 14th November which is celebrated as Children’s Day throughout India. Would you like to share with us some of the special memories of your childhood days?
Mamoni Raisom Goswami (MRG): Yeah.Yeah.. you know my real name is Indira Goswami. This was given to me by my father. He always wanted to remember Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru and 14th of November itself was Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday. So, in his memory, he kept my name as Indira…(laughs). But my mother was very fond of me. My relationship with her was tremendous. She lovingly called me Mamoni.
PB: How were you as a student?
MRG: I was a very disciplined student. I was very fond of my teachers and they were very fond of me too. I was not very lovely but lovely to some extent. I received my early education in Latashil Primary School and then I was in Pine mount school, Shillong. In pine mount School, we had the Bible course. But the Hindu, the Assamese and the Muslims were exempted from the Bible class. However, my father said that I would learn about Christ if I attend the Bible class. I was the only Hindu girl attending the Bible class with other Christian students. When I was in Class VIII, I scored the highest marks in Bible class and thus I developed a love for Christ. At that time I was a painter too. Once I painted Christ’s picture very beautifully. Do you know what my teachers did? They took my painting and showed it to the whole class. They all clapped and I was very happy that I could paint Christ so well.
Junak Kashyap (JK): What did you like in Christ’s life most?
MRG: Christ taught me a lot. I learned from him the value of sacrifice. He even donated his blood stained shirt to the people during his death. It was Christ’s life that instilled in me the value of sacrifice right from my childhood.
Rajom Bora (RB): Ma’am, you’ve been involved in the teaching profession since long. What are the differences you find between the modern education system and that of the olden times? Do you think the same ‘Guru Sishya’ relationship of those days exists between teachers and students nowadays?
MRG: There exists a vast difference between the present day education system and that of the past. Today, we do not find the same teacher-student relationship that existed in India in the olden times. Sadly, due to lack of spirituality among the present day students, this kind of relationship no longer exists in the world. The teachers do not have sufficient time to spare for the students.
JK: Ma’am, earlier you were a teacher in the Sainik School of Goalpara and now…
MRG (Interrupting): No, actually in the beginning I was a teacher in St. Mary’s school. The management was well pleased with me and I was invited by the sisters to teach the students of their school. That was my first teaching experience. Then I got married, but 18 months after my marriage , my husband died. I was broken-hearted after his death. My mother wanted me to go to America but, I rather insisted on staying in Assam itself rendering my service in one way or the other. At that time I was offered the post of a teacher in Goalpara Sainik School and I gladly accepted it. In Goalpara Sainik School, the post of an English teacher and that of a History teacher were vacant. But I had completed my M.A. Only in Assamese. But, as soon as they saw me they were so intent on taking me as a member of their staff and I was appointed an Assamese teacher there. Actually I am glad that in my life wherever I went for an interview, I was always successful.
JK: It is completely out of my curiosity that I am asking this question. Ma’am, what other profession would you have engaged yourself in, if you were not a teacher?
MRG: Oh! I wanted to be nothing else, but a very good person. I wanted to marry a very good person and be a good wife to him. And by being a good wife, I wanted only to be a writer and nothing else. I think, writing was in my blood.
JK: What kind of a feeling does spending time in the midst of children give you?
MRG: It is lovely you know. Nothing gives me more pleasure than spening time with children. Children like me very much and that is why you find a lot of children coming to my house even at this age of mine.
PB: Do you think the modern educational scenario requires any renovation to keep pace with the changing time?
MRG: Of course, I really do. I think that the syllabus should be prescribed in such a way that it keeps pace with the syllabus prescribed by the centre.
PB: Are you happy with the syllabus of SEBA?
MRG: No. No, I am not at all happy with the current syllabus of SEBA.
[Editor’s Note: At present SEBA has decided to follow the NCERT syllabus and it has been implemented with moderate success.]
PB: What kind of changes would you like to see then?
MRG: Actually, you see, states like Kerala and countries like England, teach their regional language in such a way that if you go to England and meet some of the students or teachers there, you will find that they will not like to hear you speaking about Shakespeare. They would like to hear from you about Sankardev of Assam and so on which means that they want to hear something new. But they are very conscious about their own culture.
JK: In many interviews toppers remark that language is no barrier in the pursuit of higher studies, What do you have to say in this regard?
MRG: Mother tongue is obviously necessary but English is a must for all of us. Now spoken English is taught from the 1st standard, onwards. If you complete your studies throughout in Assamese, you become a master in Assamese. From the beginning, both mother tongue and English must be taught.
PB: Which route do you consider is more promising- writing in mother tongue and later on having it translated into other languages or writing directly in English like Jhumpa lahiri and V. S. Naipaul have done for a rewarding career?
MRG: Writing in English is always much better to attract greater number of readers. But writing in mother tongue is more convinient as it helps you to express yourself properly. But I have written poems always in the English language.
JK: You’ve gone to several countries of Europe for studies in Ramayana. Could you please tell us about your research on the Ramayana which earned you international acclaim?
MRG: Yes. Yes, but more than European countries, I actually went to South-Asian countries like Mauritius. People there are very poor and lead a miserable life. The Ramayana was a great source of inspiration for them. They compared their lives to that of Rama. Just as he went into exile for a period of 14 years, they belived that they too were on exile and always hoped that they would return one day to a good life. Thus the Ramayana has become a great source of inspiration for them.
PB: Do you think that the modern generation is promising?
MRG: Yeah..yeah. The modern generation is very daring and promising, much more brilliant and intelligent as compared to other generations. But I think that there is one thing lacking in them and that is spirituality, the quality which people possessed in olden times. There were namghars (a place of prayer and worship of the people of Assam.) where the Bhagwad was recited which aroused a spiritual awareness in us. But now how sad!, it has all vanished. Without spirituality, it is very difficult to become real human beings.
PB: How can spirituality be inculcated in students?
MRG: Mother is the best teacher in the whole world. She has to play a great role in this regard. And the schools should take the initiative in inculcating spirituality in students through the teaching of Moral Science and so on.
JK: What is your opinion regarding the exodus of Assamese students to other cities like Delhi and Bangalore?
MRG: Yes, Yes, I understand, that’s a very good question. Nowadays, everybody wants to go out. Crores of rupees are being spent on the education of the students by the government. It is a pathetic situation. But it has a brighter side too.
PB: What have you learnt from your life?
MRG: The great thing I have learnt from my life is that first of all, we have to be a good human being. It is a futile exercise to crave for name, fame or other material things. They are meaningless and can’t give you everlasting joy.
JK: Being a member of the PCG, you are now acting as a mediator between the Government of Assam and the ULFA for peace negotiation. How far do you think that the process of negotiation and dialogue can help in solving the problem of terrorism in state?
MRG: Yes,Yes, that is the only way forward. Only dialogue can help in sorting out these issues. Actually, these boys want independent Assam. They argue that it was not a part of India. So they do not recognize Assam as a part of India. But it is not the Same Assam now. Why did these boys become terrorists? The answer lies in problems such as unemployment, poverty and unlawful occupation of their land.
So, dialogue is the only way to bring them back on track. I am not a mediator , as you think between the government and the ULFA; I am rather trying to find out a term for myself.
JK: (interrupting) Might it not be appropriate to cal you a ‘messenger of peace’ then?
MRG (Smiles): Right now, I am working in the MIL department of Delhi University. Dr. Manmohan Singh is also very closely associated with Delhi University. He is a very noble person and a good friend of mine.
And then to continue with your ideas of ‘messenger of peace’. You know, there was a lot of blood shed in Assam and I wanted to write a book on it. Everybody knows that I always write books on the marginalised. I never really write a book without having a personal experience. So I went to the houses of Paresh baruah and his brothers and sisters, Rajkhowa and of many others. It was then that I realised the ground reality. They led such a miserable life. Some of them lost their loved ones in encounters. I also realised that writing books was not the solution to this problem.
When I recieved the Jnanpith Award, Paresh Baruah telephoned me. They loved the Assamese language very much and congratulated me on enriching the language. I was surprised that a person who never recognised the Constitution of India was slowly coming back on track. So, I seized the oppurtunity and told him that Assam would never develop with all these disorders around. Paresh agreed with me that there should surely be development in Assam. At this, I tried to initiate the process of dialogue, which was at first opposed by the ULFA. However, I continued with my effort and started contacting many politicians. Dr. Manmohan Singh promptly responded to the offer and supported me in my endeavour to start a process of dialogue between the Central Government and the ULFA.
Subsequently, I wrote several letters to the ULFA. Although, the first letter was not accepted, the second one, which sought to settle all the core issues was amicably accepted,
In this manner, I initiated the dialogue between the Government and the ULFA. I have the honest feeling that I was successful to a great extend. I am happy that the people who never respected the Indian Constitution came forward for interaction for the first time. I have the sense of satisfaction that I could contribute my share of effort towards the solution of one of the major problems that has rocked Assam in recent years.
PB: Do you have any future pkans to complete your unfinished autobiography ‘Adhalekha Dastabez’?
MRG: Yeah…actually, I have decided to make 10 more parts of the book. I have published 2 parts already.
[Editor’s Note: Sadly, this will remain unfinished.]
PB: What is the secret behind your reciveing so many awards?
MRG: Awards…yeah. My books are being translated into so many other languages because of which people are able to read my books in their own language. I had starting writing from the age of 12 and till date, I have not left my pen. Many of my books are in various universities of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
JK: What is the final message that you wish to give to the students especially of Christ Jyoti School, Nagaon?
MRG: I would like to repeat what I said earlier that whatever you become in life, you must alwyas try to become a good human being. You must always try to develop human qualities in you.