The third event of Bricolage II, a series of online lectures and conversations organised by the Research Scholars of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad, featured author, translator, teacher, Aruni Kashyap from University of Georgia, on 1st February, 2021. Aruni Kashyap has authored two novels, The House With a Thousand Stories (2013) in English and Noikhon Etia Durot (2019) in Assamese, and has edited a multilingual anthology, How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency: Fifteen tales from Assam.
For this session, Kashyap read “The Skylark Girl,” the opening story from his short story collection, His Father’s Disease (2019). The story works with a braided narrative where one strand retells the popular Assamese folk tale of Tejimola, the girl who lives, and the other strand struggles with what it means to be a writer from the North East of India through the character of Sanjib. Kashyap remarked that he is “tapping into a very long tradition in Assamese literature” citing the works of Assamese authors Mamoni Raisom Goswami and Indira Goswami when he uses the metafictional trope of reflecting on stories and their purposes.
Responding to a question, Kashyap explained that his choice of peppering Assamese words or words from other North Eastern languages is not an attempt at representation: “If I think about representation, I would never be able to write fiction…I take delight in the use of language.” For him, the task of writing an Indian experience requires “moving between languages.”
The conversation then moved to the work of ‘minority literature’ and the restrictions and expectations such a category entails. Kashyap was both wary of using the term ‘minority’ to describe certain literary cultures, and of the burden of representation it imposes on the writer. According to him, to read writers and poets as representatives of their homelands amounts to “a failure of imagination.” Kashyap proceeded to read from his forthcoming book of poetry, There is No Good Time for Bad News (2021), a collection which reflects on “what it means to live under the duress of violence.” All the three poems Kashyap picked- “ALPHA URSAE MINORIS,” “My Grandmother tells me about the Earthquake of 1950” and “An Invitation to Murder Me”- correspond to landmark moments in Assam’s often violent geo-political history. When questioned about the depiction of violence in his writing, Kashyap stated that he did not believe in the “aestheticization of violence.” Reality in a land caught between insurgency and state-sponsored violence could be often grimmer than fiction, and for Kashyap, sanitising this reality was simply not viable. Seamlessly moving between readings and conversations, the session yielded an engrossing discussion on the writer, the reader, and the many expectations in between.