The basis of the evolution of new thoughts and the modernization of modern Indian literature was the union of various factors of the East and the West. The European Revolutions in first half of the nineteenth century in all of Europe and England, and the Renaissance in Bengal in the second half contributed to social, cultural and political changes in entire India. The social and religious views of people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891), Devendranath Thakur (1817-1905), etc. caught the people’s imagination. Slowly, people became aware of the demerits of ancient social systems. During this time, Calcutta (now christened Kolkata) served as the bridge between the Western school of thoughts and the conservative Eastern culture. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first person to successfully cross this bridge, and he was able to pave the way for a modern society with the amalgamation of the East and the West. At this crucial point of time, a few people contributed to the establishment of the modern-cultured society and let their thoughts and ideologies reflect. One such person was Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa (1868-1938) whose talent was expressed by renowned linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterjee as “Lakshminath Bezbaroa was thus an illustrious son of India, and a member of the galaxy of the great men and women who raised high the name of India during the last century” (Lakshminath Bezbaroa the Sahityarathi of Assam, pg-6).
It was very natural that the young Assamese students who went to Calcutta to pursue academics were influenced by the Bengali Renaissance in the nineteenth century. But instead of getting carried away in the wave of modernisation, they developed a deep-rooted love for their homeland, and expressed and propagated their thoughts using literature as the medium. The Western Renaissance not only brought about superfluous changes in the society; it also sensitized the thought process of the Indian writers towards the realities of the human world and the sorrow and pain associated with it. Individualistic thought process and mentality were slowly turning socialistic. Writers developed new thoughts and ideologies in social, cultural, economic, educational, political, religious and linguistic fields. These new ideologies were noticed by the educated youths of Assam which included people like Anandararam Dhekiyalphukan, Gunabhiram Baruah, Hemchandra Baruah, etc. They were among the first to go against the conservative Assamese society and pave the way for a society with modern thoughts. They also laid the foundation of a society with reforms. In due course, the writers became aware of the various problems rooted in the people’s mind and of the social issues like orthodoxy, superstitions and corruption. If the literary works of the last one and a half century is taken into consideration, it is observed that it was during the time of Bezbaroa that literature regarding social reforms became widespread and expedited. Therefore, it is at this one hundred and fifty years old centre of new age Assamese literature where we will find the position and the relevance of Lakshminath Bezbaroa’s works. The primary direction of Bezbaroa’s thoughts and creations was towards modern Indian culture, which in turn, was mainly based on the Western school of thoughts. It was Bezbaroa who introduced many Western ideas of reform regarding culture and literature to the Assamese people. He enriched himself with knowledge regarding science, arithmetic, medicine, astronomy, etc. from various sources all over the world and published his modern thoughts in “Bahi”. If we study the entire work of Bezbaroa, we can get a glimpse of his incessant wish for a reformed and idealistic society, which was his primary aim in life. Through our discussion, we will try to determine the current relevance of Bezbaroa’s literary works and thoughts spanning 43 years2. In order to keep Bezbaroa alive among the current generation, there is a need to analyse his ideologies and work extensively to give them a new face. Only then Bezbaroa’s one fiftieth birth anniversary can be called worthwhile in the real sense of the word.
The basic foundation of Bezbaroa’s ideology of life was nationalism. His nationalistic ideology was dependent on four bondings – namely, linguistic bonding, religious bonding, political bonding and social bonding. He tried to keep the Assamese people united with the aid of these four bondings. The best example of his contribution to linguistic bonding is the articles published under the heading “Oxomiya bhaxa aru xahityo”. The ill fate of the Assamese language due to the incorrect policies of the British government was felt in depth by him. Bezbaroa compiled a series of lectures titles “Oxomiya bhaxa” which were meant to be read out “Oxomiya bhaxa unnati xadhini xobha”. This series of lectures constitute the utmost example of Bezbaroa’s nationalistic outlook in saving the identity of the Assamese language. Study of each of these articles reveals his love for the Assamese language, his appeal to liberate Assamese from the Bengali language and his rationalistic thinking, which creates a lot of optimism in the heart of each and every Assamese. He clearly stated that, “The government has always fought to oust Assamese and make Bengali the official language of Assam. Even today, the Assamese government is looking for an opportunity to cut away the Assamese language at the roots and establish the Bengali language in Assam. The Assam government has a deep affection for the Bengali language.” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol II, p. 1723) In order to prove his point, he gave the examples of the Bengali schools and the Bengali language being taught there which were in every nook and corner of Assam. He realized that the government’s negligence and excessive love for the Bengali language were the hurdles in giving the Assamese language the position it deserved. He also did not hesitate to put the onus on some contemporary middle class people because a class of Assamese people working in government offices did not raise their voice for their mother tongue. But Bezbaroa did not budge from his determination to save the Assamese language. The language in which Shankardeva, Madhavdeva, Ananta Kandali wrote, the language in which Daxam, Kirtaan, Naamghoxa were written and Balmiki’s Xaatkand Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the Bhagwad Gita were translated, the language which boasted of extensive works in religion, history, poetry, and the language which was available for the last five hundred years in the written form with a distinct script of its own , Bezbaroa used rationale to liberate it from the temporary but strong clutches of Bengali language and thus paved the way for developing a distinct identity of its own. At the moment when we prepare to commemorate the one fiftieth birth anniversary of Bezbaroa, there is much to ponder upon regarding the caveats facing the Assamese language. There are grounds to believe that even today the Assamese language has not managed to liberate itself from the ancient clutches. Even in international platforms like Unicode Consortium3 the Assamese script has been unable to free itself from the Bengali script and is yet to establish its independent identity.
Bezbaroa emphasized on the inevitable importance of religious bonding. “The race which does not have the real thread of religion or have it in a redundant form, that race cannot enjoy the real taste of nationalism ever”, he had clearly stated. “If the Assamese race wants to be recognized as a real race then the Assamese people need religious bonding, otherwise it is not feasible. The life giving strength of religious bonding must tie every Assamese into one and only then their nationalism will be long-lived, otherwise not.” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol III, p. 2386). The religious bonding mentioned by Bezbaroa was the new Vaishnav religion preached by Shankardeva. Totally devoid of narrow-mindedness and sectionalism, the Vaishnav religion contributed strongly in the development of nationalism in Assam. That is why Bezbaroa dreamt of an Assamese society based on the ideologies of kirtaan-naamghoxa. Bezbaroa struggled to give a new lease of life to Assamese language and culture with the amalgamation of the languages, art and culture of the various ethnic groups. In the present times, ethnic and religious differences and conversion of Assam into separist regions can be stopped if we are inspired by the ideologies of Bezbaroa.
Bezbaroa was never directly associated with the freedom struggle of India. On the contrary, he criticized many actions of Mahatma Gandhi and gave rational opinions and reviews on many actions of Gandhi. Bezbaroa’s views for creating an ideal race were realistic. Boycotting foreign clothes, trying to save the nation by the imprisonment of thousands of people, etc, were considered impractical emotional actions by Bezbaroa. Rather, he advised the Assamese youth to remain ‘like a shadow to a huge tree’ underneath the British and learn the finer nuances of economy and business. He did not give the advice to give up everything and plunge into the freedom movement of the country. He emphasized on business, art, industry and also on self esteem and humanity. Instead of Congress conference, lecture-discussions and spinning yarn in the spinning wheel for saving the nation, Bezbaroa believed that actually labouring for the cause was more important. To prove his point, he resigned from government service and independently did business for a living. Bezbaroa teamed up with Bholanath Barua in 1895 and started a timber business and he remained a businessman for fifteen years. At that time, their joint assets were worth ten to twelve lakhs of rupees, as mentioned by Bezbaroa himself in “Mur jeevan xuworon” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol III, p. 2331). Owning a business worth ten to twelve lakhs of rupees by an Assamese youth a century back was not a trivial matter. Bezbaroa believed that truth, justice and trust were the only means to be successful in business. Based on his experiences of life as a businessman, Bezbaroa wrote a small yet invaluable book titled “Kaamot kritwitto lobhibor xonket” at the age of 39 years (1903 AD), which was meant for new businessmen. Even today this book can be a milestone for the Assamese youth who are planning to start any new business.
The social system of each and every race has a specific cultural aspect. The uniqueness of each race is demonstrated in its social rules and regulations, behavioural pattern, dressing sense, eating habits, etc. Bezbaroa studied the minute details of the cultural aspect of the Assamese people in depth. He despised the general attitude of the middle class Assamese which included traits like ‘Bengali language, Bengali songs, styling up the hair like Bengalis, wear dhoti-kurta (Mur jeeva xuworon, p. 47), wearing saree instead of riha-mekhela, abandoning traditional Assamese cuisine and with a Bengali novel in arms, going to the local sweet maker for rasgulla, sandesh, kachauri, mihidana, (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol II, p. 1464) etc.’ Though he married into the illustrious Thakur family from Kolkata, he maintained his self-identity as an Assamese even in front of pressures from his sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law who left no stone unturned to convert him into a Bengali. In spite of being dressed on hat and coat, and living in a predominantly Oriya and Bengali society, Bezbaroa never forgot his origins. His dinner table was filled with Assamese delicacies like ‘poita bhaat’, ‘pura maas’, ‘pokatel xona bogorir guri’ and bamboo shoot (khorisa). We can conclude that Bezbaroa could clearly assess the factors capable of causing harm to the Assamese race even from distant Kolkata and the dense jungles of Chambalpur, and by thwarting these factors he visualised to build up a strong Assamese community. He declared a sort of war against narrow-minded nationalism. Even in the present times the sense of inequality among the various ethnic groups is pulling us backwards. But Bezbaroa was way far from this narrow-mindedness. He himself came from an orthodox Brahmin family but married into a Bengali Thakur family. Bezbaroa, in his lecture as the president of the Xahitya Xabha in 1924, spoke up in his own style against narrow-mindedness as follows, “The static water of a pond is stagnant, impious and polluted, and hence the owner of the pond should be always alert. The flowing water of the river is devoid of these perils. Even if loads of dirt and garbage are thrown into the river, its water never becomes stagnant, impious or polluted.” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol II, p. 1861).
When we discuss the literary work of Bezbaroa and his contemporaries, one thing that strikes us is that they did not create literature just for the sake of doing so. They primarily took up the pen to highlight the various problems of the society and bring about social reforms. Bezbaroa was a pioneer in this field. He had a mission associated with all his literary works. It is due to this that his ideology of life is reflected in his writings and it continues to inspire the people and the society. He toiled hard to give a respectable position to the Assamese race in the world’s platform. His undying love for Assam is clearly evident in his article titled “Oxom” where he mentions that, “ The intermingling of the Aryans and the non-Aryans, and the presence of many ethnic groups has led to the formation of the present Assamese race. Assam’s language, literature, history, folklores, sociology, etc. should be the topics of conversation and exploration of the educated youth of Assam. In order to understand the universe, it is necessary to clearly know a limited space in the beginning. The best way to bring the distant near is to move slowly further away. If there is no sense of independence from within then there cannot be proper expression of strength. Before thinking about the tree and the spring of the distant mountain, one must first think about one’s motherland” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol III, p. 2117). Bezbaroa realized that in order to become an ideal race, the language and literature of Assam must be developed. It is a matter of immense grief that today the search for individuality by various ethnic groups of Assam has rendered the identity of Assam as a whole vulnerable. Giving undue priority to matters like indigenous, native, etc. over the motherland has created narrow-minded outlook now. But Bezbaroa never became narrow-minded with regards to race and language.
Today the exodus of Bangladeshi immigrants has made a huge impact in the political, social and the economic scenarios of Assam. This problem has been compounded by the clandestine support by the government and the lack of unity among the Assamese people. In 1867, under the heading ‘Gotaserek kotha (for the non-Assamese)’, Bezbaroa wrote on the 24 Aghon issue of Batori Kakot,“The reason for the affection of the officials for the non-Assamese….It is not known. A lot of things come to the mind, but I remain silent. But these non-Assamese are an eyesore to the officials of their own country. … The Assamese are serene, quiet. The simple and quiet people must always follow the straight path. This will be beneficial for both the parties. Worsening the situation by angering the youth should not be considered.” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol. III, p. 2197). On careful observation, it is noticed that the Bangladeshis who do not get even a pinch of land in their own county are brought to Assam and are conveniently settled on river banks. In this context, as Bezbaroa pointed out long ago, the ‘affection of the officials’ cannot be understood, but the selfishness of the government is apparent. At the end of the article, Bezbaroa has advised the foreigners to live amicably with the Assamese people and work towards the development of Assam.
In the third issue of Bordoisila in April 1865, the article titled “Borboruar dinner tableor pet mosa xadhu” by Bezbaroa is significant in the current context. (According to the write up titled ‘Borboruar dinner table’ in the second volume of Bezbaroa-Granthawali, six people sitting with Bezbaroa on the dinner table took turns in telling stories. Five out of six stories are in pages 1371 to 1386 for the second volume, while the sixth one is in page 2299 of the third volume.). Here, Bezbaroa has revealed the ugly mentality of those people who resort to many unfair means in order to become successful medical practitioners. Even today, many doctors in our society push the patients to the jaws of death instead of proving humanitarian services for their greed for money. This article describes the deeds of Monhari Khataniar who is a doctor of a medical college and who uses cunning and unfair means to practice medicine. When the reader goes through the contents of the article, he/she will feel as if the article was written by Bezbaroa in today’s context. This article reveals how Bezbaroa kept a hawk’s eye on the happenings of the society. Keeping the relevance of the article at present times in mind, a few examples are given below. In the words of the person, Bezbaroa says that-
(1) Whenever I wrote out prescriptions for my patients, I write the names of some drugs which are not found anywhere except my own pharmacy. I was not bothered whether the patients really required these medicines or not.
(2) I secretly made arrangements for my share of commission with the vendors who sold ‘patented medicines’ from abroad. I included these medicines in my prescriptions without considering whether they will be of any use to my patients or not.
(3) I write the prescriptions in such a way that even my compounder cannot see through it.
(4) If any patient already seen by another doctor comes to me, or if I invite myself over to the place of such a patient, I invariably change the prescription with my own. And I do this even if the medicines given by the other doctor is more appropriate than mine.
(5) I feel out of this world if I catch hold of a rich patient. I squeeze out all I can from these patients.
(6) Even if I cannot make an accurate diagnosis, I experiment with many medicines on my patients. This causes economic breakdown of my patients, and ultimately death.
But this man came to his senses when his own wife and son died of cholera and inspite of having a lot of money, he could not do anything due to the lack of appropriate medicines. Though Bezbaroa had given a fictional account through this imaginary narration, the situations narrated befit many medical practitioners of today. It must be acknowledged that keeping this profitable aspect of the medical field in mind, many guardians do not hesitate to shell out lakhs of rupees to educate their wards in medical colleges. Nevertheless, many doctors are also providing selfless service to the society.
Bezbaroa had no belief in the false deceits of politics. In many of his articles, Bezbaroa has revealed the deceptions of contemporary politics. He said, “We have to agree to many matters of politics; there is no alternative to this” (Bezbaroa-Granthawali, Vol. III, p. 2538). In the form of Kripabor, Bezbaroa demonstrated the internal picture of politics. In the article titled “Kerpai aru kripabor”, Kerpai requests Kripabor to become a minister to which Bezbaroa replies, “My dear man! I will not become a minister! The reason is…According to Grimes law, the word ‘minister’ becomes ‘mistress’. Nowadays, becoming a minister is not a masculine thing. One must undergo sex change and become feminine…. Hence, I have no intention to acquire such feminism”. Similarly, Bezbaroa has ridiculed those who are basking in their power as ministers, “Master, we have nothing to eat. Give us meals, give us jobs. Borborua says, keep looking at the distant palace on the hill top with the big bell. Your hunger and thirst will go away. Inside the palace, the king and his followers are prospering.” (Bezbaroar-Granthawali, Vol. III, p. 2311). Through these articles, Bezbaroa’s political views become clear which have got tremendous relevance in the present times.
In Bezbaroa’s “Kahudi aru kharoli”, there are many ways mentioned which can be adopted to amend the education system of Assam as well as of the entire nation. He said, “The upcoming generation of boys and girls should be imparted such an education so that they are capable of putting that education into use. This is our firm belief that the current system of education in schools and colleges are proving as hurdles in achieving this greater purpose. Therefore, there is a need to bring about massive change in the current education system.” (Bezbaroar- Granthawali, Vol. III, p. 2529). This ideology of Bezbaroa is reflected in his story titled “Mukti”. He emphasized on creating an open environment where students could think independently and thus develop their own ideas. Bezbaroa advised to abolish the art of cramming up, to read from abridged ‘notes’ and the system of conducting examinations upon examinations. In addition, in order to become a complete person, Bezbaroa stressed that every student should learn to be in close proximity with the outside world and with nature, and along with this, he also discouraged the use of corporal punishment in the educational system in the form of beatings, verbal abuse and humiliation.
When we study the creations of Bezbaroa, we get glimpses of many a surprising aspect of his ideology of life. Without making this discussion lengthier we have discussed only a few articles of Bezbaroa above. His ideology of life is apparent in all his literary works. But it is a matter of regret that his entire literary creations have not been given their due credit till date and the society has not been able to comprehend his ideologies. Though he used literature as a medium for bringing about social reforms, his struggle never became a reality as he was unable to become a permanent resident of Assam. His every piece of writing consists of the means and ways to create an ideal race, and an ideal society, for every Assamese there is a positive approach to enjoy life, but as he had to stay away from the real scenario, his creations are still imprisoned in the pages of the “Granthawali” even after one hundred and fifty years. Bezbaroa dreamt of establishing Assam in the world’s platform by putting the feeling of nationalism over narrow-mindedness, but that dream still remains unfulfilled. In order to make his dreams see the light of the day, we have to resurrect Bezbaroa from the “Granthawali”. And this will be our most important and the only gift to the great man on his one hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary.
1. As per ‘Mor jeevan xuworon’ of Bezbaroa-Granthawali, Vol. II, AND ‘Mor jeeva xuworon’ published by Bani andir, Bebarua was born in the month of November in the year 1868. But now the Assam Xahitya Xabha has confirmed his date of birth as 14 October 1864. On the other hand, in his diaries published in Bezbaroa-Granthawali, Vol. III (page: 2930), Bezbaroa has entered the following on Thursday, 13 October, 1932, “My birthday, fed Senapatis etc.” Therefore, we may conclude that Bezbaroa’s birthday was on 13 October.
2. Keeping in view the writings in the Granthawalis, from writing Litikai in 1890 to the lecture given in 1933 upon being invited by the Baroda State Education Department, the tenure of Bezbaroa’s literary journey has been estimated to be 43 years. There are many unpublished works too, the chronology of which could not be established due to their non-availibility.
3. Unicode is an international alphabet signalling system. It is run by the organisation called Unicode Consortium. At present, it is mentioned in Unicode that Assamese language is written using the Bengali script.
According to the Unicode Standard, Version 6.1, "The script termed Bengali in Unicode is no exception. It is used for writing languages such as Bengali, Assamese, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Daphla, Garo, Hallam, Khasi, Mizo, Munda,Naga, Rian, and Santali. ….In the Indian state of Assam, the preferred name for the script is Asamiya or Assamese. Although the Assamese language has been written historically using regional scripts, known generally as “Kamrupi,” its modern writing system is similar to that presently used for Bengali, with the addition of extra characters. The Unicode Bengali block fully supports modern Assamese orthography. (http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode6.1.0/ch09.pdf)
1) Bezbaroa, Lakshminath (2005): Mor Jeevan Xuworon, Bani Mandir, Hedayetpur, Guwahati
2) Hazarika, Atul Chandra (Champa) (1968): Bezbaroar Granthawali (Vol. I), Xahitya prokax, Guwahati
3) Hazarika, Atul Chandra (Champa) (1970): Bezbaroar Granthawali (Vol. II), Xahitya prokax, Guwahati
4) Goswami, Jatindranath (Champa) (2005): Bezbaroar Granthawali (Vol. I), Xahitya prokax, Guwahati
5) Saikia, Chandraprasad (Champa) (1981): Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Assam Prakaxan Parixad, Guwahati
6) Neog, Maheswar (Edit) (1973): Lakshminath Bezbaroa the Sahityarathi of Assam, Gauhati University.