Mouchak: A honeycomb of life

April 15, 2010 Off By Lord Mani

I don’t know it for sure when I was introduced to Mouchak, but it happened very early in my childhood. It was a conscious decision by both my parents to ensure that I would know how to read, write and converse well in my mother tongue—Assamese—despite the fact that English was my first language in school. I’m so glad they did it that way.
“Age cannot be a differentiating factor between a child and an adult. Children are also human beings and they also think like adults. They don’t think differently. It is the amount of knowledge a person possesses that decides the way (s) he thinks,” said Santanu Tamuly, founder editor of the Assamese monthly for children.
I guess my parents also treated me like an individual with a unique point of view. That’s why they wanted me to be well read and still connected with my roots. Mouchak fomented a cultural revolution for the children of Assam. “We tried to provide inspiration to children, by featuring various good things happening in the world,” Tamuly added.

When Mouchak was first published on April 14, 1984, it became the first Assamese magazine to be printed in offset style. Not only that, it also gave a launching pad to several writers who rose to eminence later. Celebrated names like Ranju Hazarika, Abhijit Sarma Barua, Jayanta Madhab Barua, Rathindranath Goswami, Santanu Kaushik Barua and Indrakanta Karki had all started off with this magazine.
All these writers had different writing styles, not necessarily tuned for a younger reader. So, how did Mouchak tackle this?
“Once, a writer sends in an article, he should understand that it is going to be part of the public domain. So, he has to repose faith in the editor, who has to fine tune the piece for the audience,” Tamuly said.
Today, Mouchak has completed 26 years of existence. It has survived the dotcom boom and the stiff competition in the print market. At a time when every modern reader prefers to read ezines and blogs, Mouchak has still maintained its circulation and standard. How did they do it?
“We try to create intelligent readers,” said the editor-in-chief. A simple and apt answer. Intelligent readers know what they are picking.
Fried Eye spoke to one of the star writers of Mouchak, Rothindranath Goswami, about the role of the magazine as a revolutionary tool for personality and community building.
“It is a path-breaking endeavour. Very few magazines for children could survive the test of time, both before and after Mouchak. This magazine had and still has some inspiring news and features that help the readers immensely. For example, in the third issue (1984), I wrote about pen friendship (O’ Bideshi Bondhu) and how to make a foreign friend. We were pleasantly surprised by our readers who flooded us with feedback, so much so that we had to start a column on the subject. We published letters of pen friends from across the globe in the later issues,” Goswami said.

Artist Robin Barua of Prantik magazine had started his career as an illustrator with Mouchak. He is best known for his illustrated version of the ever popular Burhi Aair Xadhu. According to Goswami, Santanu Tamuly, Robin Barua and he were involved in planning and designing the content in the initial years. “Robin da used to prepare the illustrations, while Tamuli da would cut and paste the mono-compose material. He would sometimes write the headlines himself in his beautiful handwriting. It was a unique experience, I must say,” said Goswami.

Mouchak did not confine its scope to providing ‘fun to read’ content only; it decided to do something substantial for the student community. Thus started Jeebon Gorhar Kormoxaal, an exclusive series on examination toppers, and Aami Kenedore Porhisilu—a section where examination toppers elaborated on their study methods and also solved matriculation question papers.

“Tamuli da and I were having chitchat one day when he asked me out of the blue if it is possible to know how the matriculation toppers prepare for their exams. Without thinking much, I replied in the affirmative. A questionnaire was thus prepared and I travelled to different places to interview the students,” said Goswami.
Mouchak also had several articles and sections exclusive to it. Among them was, Sile Kotha Koi, a section that related the story of this part of the country as revealed by various inscriptions on rock as well as rock-cut sculptures and temples. Another is a travelogue by Bikash Barua where international locations are covered.
Goswami is the creator of two characters Sising and Piping—both brothers and rats. “Sising was one experiment close to my heart. After the first two stories, children started contributing their own stories with the character in mind. Such was the response that the editor decided to take out a special issue on Sising. I do see it as an interesting character in Assamese literature. Recently, the National Book Trust has taken my Sising stories, which they intend to publish in a book format.”

But Goswami had something more interesting to share: “Once while following a story, I learnt about the exemplary courage of two boys from the tea garden community in a face-off with a tiger. One of them was actually injured during the encounter. We published their story, and I appealed to the competent authority in Delhi to consider them for the National Bravery Awards. I was pleasantly surprised when I came to know that the appeal was considered.”
Tamuly cited a particular instance when Mouchak gave children’s literature a new definition. “Once we had published an article on a Pakistani girl child, who was born in prison where her mother was serving a sentence. She spent 11 years in jail for no fault of hers. At the end of the article, we added a line ‘please write to the Pakistani President and request him to rescue the girl’. Our readers responded to it and wrote to the Pakistani premier in overwhelming numbers. The girl was rescued. It was a revolutionary step initiated by the children where we acted as a catalyst. There was no politics involved.”
Tamuly also expressed dissatisfaction with the intelligentsia. “Everybody is talking about conservation of the Assamese Language, but no one is doing anything for the development of the language. We don’t need a dictionary of five lakh words; we need a dictionary where there are 5,000 words of everyday usage. There is also no such book in Assamese that would force a reader to learn the language to read it. We have no classics as such,” he said.
Mouchak has also promoted talent. In the past, the magazine has featured swimmers Mithu Barua and Monikonkona Dutta Barua, and Papori Phukan, who was a magician. “For being a good magician, two things are very important— voice modulation and presentation skills. Since Papori was very young and her voice was not that powerful, we worked on her presentation. We had also choreographed her dance performances in between the magic show, which proved to be a key element in her success,” Tamuly said.
Another Assamese talent featured by Mouchak was NASA engineer Renita Saikia or Jhumma. She was featured twice: first when she was awarded the President’s award for excellence in studies (March, 1987), then again when she joined NASA (November, 1991). She is married to NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who is known for his love of Assamese culture.
Among other ventures undertaken by the magazine include translation of manuscripts for the National Book Trust. It has also organised a spelling bee contest named Banan Mouchak.
Sometimes great brands survive on simple ideas. For Mouchak, it is also about the simplicity of the people running the venture. When we asked Santanu Tamuly if there is any defining moment in his career that he takes pride in, he just said that he feels proud whenever children acknowledge the hard work put in by Team Mouchak.
Rothindranath Goswami, on the other hand, said that Tamuly deserves a Padma award for his contribution to Assamese literature on the whole and children’s literature in particular.
Fried Eye wishes Mouchak all luck for its future.

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