Contemporary Nature Writing in the Pragjyotishpur Literature Festival 2023
The recently concluded Pragjyotishpur Literature Festival ushered an unusual autumn festivity of literature in the heart of the ancient Kamrupa empire of the historical Pragjyotishpura region.
This LitFest attended by many well-known names from the world of contemporary Indian literature and media has been a rare representation of Eastern India’s ancient knowledge and diverse cultural heritage for the entire country.
These three days of intense literary and intellectual dialogue raised many critical issues faced by the contemporary Indian society– the urgent need to rewrite history, the need to overhaul the approach of history writings by making historical studies more inclusive in order to create comprehensive narratives regarding the rich Indian civilization through historical canons, to re-establish connections with our roots, create awareness about history and heritage of Indian civilization amongst the young generation, to explore and document the repository of oral traditions, folk literature, and art of Northeast India.
This is necessary to understand the role of India’s East in the rise and evolution of Indian civilization. This eastern part of India, represented in history by the ancient Kamrupa kingdom has long been a seat of India’s ancient knowledge, religion, and wisdom. The ancient Kamrupa had a wide geographical expanse, with parts of Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, West Bengal and the whole of Assam being part of it.
The glory of Kamrupa kingdom influenced almost all cultures of the ancient Pragjyotishpura. This literature festival is perhaps the first ever organized effort to connect everyone with this Pragjyotishpura and Kamrupa heritage of eastern India.
This LitFest is a bold step towards national integration and the rise of Bharat through empowered roots of Indian civilization. The Pragjyotishpur Literature Festival 2023 is a wake-up call for the descendants of the Kamrupa and Pragjyotishpura legacy to embark on this new journey of self-empowerment through realization of their heritage.
This literature festival is different from all previously organised literary events of this region in many ways. One of its uniqueness is the introduction of new dimensions to the world of literary thoughts, which is conveyed through the enlisted panel discussions in this literature festival– Narratives of empowerment: reading history in search of roots, Exploring traditions through literature, Assam through the cinematic lens, Xamakalin Axamiya xaihityat aitijya aru porompara, Contemporary Nature Writing, Regional Indian literature – lost and found in translation.
All these discussions been enriched with the deliberations of a galaxy of literary personalities from across the country who paved the way for new thoughts and directions for future literary works in India. One of the most significant contributions of this literature festival is the portrayal of Eastern India’s contribution to the rise and growth of contemporary Nature-writing movement in India, through the panel discussion on ‘contemporary nature- writing’.
This is the first Pragjyotishpur literature festival of India and perhaps the first literature festival of the country that have included ‘nature writings’ as a prominent genre in Indian literature. The nature writings movement of Assam and NE India found an opportunity to connect with the young generation along with the respected assembly of writers, intellectuals, activists, and prominent civil society representatives through this LitFest.
This gives hope to the young writers who aspire to contribute to this genre and at the same time it implants the seed of nature writing amongst the youth. This panel discussion on contemporary nature-writing speaks volumes about the evolution and importance of nature writings in Assam.
The panelists included well-known names from the fields of nature-conservation, journalism, creative literature, editing, and publishing from eastern India. This includes – Sri. Soumyadeep Datta, Dr. Bharati Dutta, Smt. Anuradha Sarma Pujari, Sri Nava Thakuria, Sri. Pradosh Ranjan Saha, and Sri. Pankaj Kr. Dutta.
Nature inspired writings has been an integral part of the diverse cultural fabric of Indian civilization. Narratives in ancient literature, folk literature including the oral traditions have laid the foundation of nature writing in our country. The ethnically rich NE India has contributed to this form of literature with its untapped oral traditions which teems with a repository of myths and legends, connecting to many unknown natural mysteries of this region.
At the same time, it provides a rare insight into many Nature friendly practices and rituals prevalent among the many ethnic communities of this region. This rare treasure of traditional knowledge calls for exhaustive future studies which may reveal clues to many unknown aspects of Nature, hidden in this part of India nestled amidst globally significant bio-geographic zones of rich biodiversity.
This storehouse of ancient literature, in both published and unpublished forms has guided our conscience and collective actions to protect Mother Nature in the modern times. There are numerous references to the sanctity of Nature in hymns, prayers, shlokas, mantras, root texts, and other religious literatures of ancient India. The magnanimity of Nature has been honored in classical Indian literatures by great Indian poets, scholars, and writers.
These ancient literatures constitute a very important source of information regarding the natural world of ancient India, it also reflects the inseparable bonding of the people of India with the natural world. This bonding is represented in classic Indian literatures in the form of dramas, songs, poetry, stories, fables, etc.
These nature inspired literatures are depicted in the forms of nature worshiping, narratives using Nature as reference, romanticizing, and at times description and creative representations of the natural world. Smt. Anuradha Sarma Pujari beautifully spoke about this repository of traditional Indian literature.
She spoke about the roots of nature-based literature in Bharatiya dhayana and darshana, citing examples from the repertoire of literary work contributed by Saint Madhavdeva, Valmiki, and Kalidadasa to name a few. Smt. Sarma spoke about the importance of these inspirational literatures, the precursor of contemporary literatures. She spoke about the limitless expanse of Nature which finds place in the human world through our literatures and narratives. She marked the significance of nature activism in nature writing, calling activism the most important ingredient of nature writing literature.
Nature writing has evolved in the course of time to take its contemporary form. The contemporary nature writing refers to purposeful literatures which prepares and motivates the readers to play an active role for nature conservation. It is centered on the cause of nature conservation. Nature writing requires personal commitment on part of the author to the cause of nature conservation.
The one who creates nature-writing literature must evolve from being a dormant nature lover to the state of a nature activist. One cannot create nature-writings without experiencing love and kinship for forests, mountains, and the natural world; in fact, nature-writings requires the courage in the author to walk the extra mile from being a nature-lover to that of a nature-activist.
While love for nature could be satisfying and peaceful, activism for protection of the natural world is the action befitting the sincerity of our love for Nature. Nature-writings is a powerful medium to effectively steer our minds and subsequently our actions to protect and conserve our forests, oceans, mountains, and all the natural habitats for biodiversity conservation.
In the present world of overflowing information, creating effective narratives of nature-writings is a challenge. Nature writings requires a deeper understanding of the natural world and its appropriate reflection in the form of readable literature. It is impossible to separate nature-writings from nature conservation.
The nature-writing movement of Assam is rooted in the growth of the biodiversity conservation movement in Assam in the late 1970s, this literature movement played a crucial role in strengthening the biodiversity conservation movement of Assam.
The rise of contemporary nature writing shows similar trends in other parts of the world. In the post-World War II era, human populations in the west faced steep rise of environment problems. The west drew everyone’s attention to the loss of wildlife, pollution of the natural ecosystems, and threats from environmental degradation to the safety of people and the natural world.
Various ways and methods were used to strengthen the environment movements in the western countries, one of the most effective tools was nature-writing. The western nations, the cradle of industrial revolution which flourished upon the wealth and resources extracted from Asian and African countries during colonialism saw the birth of environment protection movements in the late 19th century.
Ironically USA, the country we know as the biggest violator of environment laws in present day context led this environment movements in West.
Books like Walden, Silent Spring, A Sand County Almanac, all published in USA played a key role, not only in the growth of the thoughts of environmentalism of this period but also in moving governments in making legislations in favour of nature conservation. Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, published in 1962 sold over millions of copies is linked with the nationwide ban on the use of DDT in USA.
These classic examples of contemporary nature-writing literature clearly establish the interconnectedness of contemporary nature writing with nature conservation. Nature writing begins with the inspiration of nature conservation and it guides one towards nature conservation as an outcome.
Modern India saw the advent of environment movements in late 1960s-70s, Indians during that time faced a mammoth task of managing India’s huge population, poverty, economic strife in midst of dwindling forests, and rampant loss of wildlife and biodiversity after independence. The Wildlife Protection Act of India 1972, herald the beginning of environment movements in our country.
Many socio-economic movements took root in India during this time which are known to us as India’s environment movements. While these social movements primarily dealt with the socio-economic causes, it created a great ripple of environment awareness amongst Indians. Many of these movements even led to important environmental interventions too.
These movements thus played important role in sensitizing the Indian people with the growing concerns of nature conservation. However, the growth of environment movement in Assam is a completely different story. A rapid spurt of industrialization and development once engulfed different parts of India during 1970s, with an exception of NE India and certain other parts of India which were earmarked with the remote area tag.
Hence, the ground realties of the growing environment movements of India during 1970s differed essentially with the nature and philosophy of the nature-conservation movement of Assam. In Assam, the ethos of forest conservation/ wildlife conservation was rooted from the age-old love for forests and wildlife deeply embedded amongst the people of Assam.
The fundamental cause behind the rise of the nature-conservation movements in Assam was to safeguard the depleting native forests and wildlife of the region, this was not connected with socio-economic or political needs of the people. The nature-conservation movement grew as a parallel grassroots movement in Assam, it typically remained distant from political aspirations.
On the contrary this movement provided an apolitical social space for the youth and people of Assam during the intensely volatile political arena of Assam during 1970s-80s. This nature-conservation movement of Assam has grown in its magnitude, and scope over these years. It inspired an evolution of intellectual, social, and literary upsurge in Assam. These changes are clearly visible in contemporary social framework of Assam.
This is directly connected with the continuous advocacy, mass awareness and environmental activism of environment organizations like Nature’s Beckon to bring wildlife conservation/ environment protection to the forefront in Assam.
Nature’s Beckon, an environment activists’ group of Assam spearheaded the nature conservation movement all over Assam in the past 40 years through its continuous efforts to protect the natural forests of Assam and lead a unique biodiversity conservation model in NE India.
One of the most significant contributions of this nature-conservation movement of Assam has been the rise of nature-writings in Assamese language from the very beginning of this movement. The Nature’s Beckon led biodiversity conservation movement of Assam played a crucial role in sowing the seeds of nature-writings in Assam.
Dr. Bharati Dutta spoke about the contributions of Sri. Soumyadeep Datta and Nature’s Beckon in leading the nature writing movement in Assam. She mentioned about several well-known books penned by Sri. Datta which truly launched the contemporary nature-writings movement in Assamese language.
She also mentioned about ‘Banabani’, the annual magazine of Nature’s Beckon which encouraged nature-writings amongst the members of Nature’s Beckon. Dr. Dutta spoke about the contributions of prominent Assamese litterateurs, writers, and poets like Dr. Homen Borgohain, Dr. Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Sri. Dhaniram Dutta towards the rise of nature writings movement later in Assam.
It is noteworthy that the first Nature-writing symposium of India was organized by Sahitya Akademi in collaboration with Nature’s Beckon in October 2021 in Guwahati, which was followed by Purvotar Prakriti Sahitya Sanmelan, India’s first Nature writing conference organized by Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati in 2023. This panel discussion on contemporary nature writing in the Pragjyotishpur LitFest marks the third major event for nature writing in Assam.
It is easily understood that Assam is leading the national nature-writing movement of India with rare model of nature conservation not found elsewhere in the country. It is wroth mentioning here that Nature’s Beckon led a literary movement in Assam for creating mass awareness through its publications and educational materials since the beginning of its journey in 1980s– books, posters, newsletters, magazines, leaflets, brochures, etc.
This literary movement has successfully launched ‘nature-writings’ as a discrete, well-defined genre of modern literature in Assam. Nature-writings has been effectively used to lead the future course of public opinion, and community involvement in the nature conservation movement of Assam. ‘The Seed’, Nature’s Beckon’s bilingual e-magazine thrives to give a new direction to this nature writing movement across India, especially amongst the young generations.
This nature-writings movement has encouraged many new writers, and poets in Assam. Many has contributed to this movement with their creative skills.
Sri. Pankaj Kumar Dutta spoke about this inspiration found in the Nature’s Beckon led rainforest conservation movement of Assam, he spoke about his involvement in the initial days of this grassroots of movement. Sri. Dutta spoke about various aspects of nature inspired literature found in Assamese folklore and stressed upon the need to document these traditions in written form.
Nature writing is projected to become one of the most important genres of popular literatures in the coming years. Sri. Pradosh Ranjan Saha spoke eloquently about the importance and urgency of connecting our young readers with nature writing literatures.
Being a publisher, he drew everyone’s attention to the need to diversify this genre in popular literature, make it available to the young readers in various forms, be it novel, open text, graphic novel, travelogues, stories and many more. He stressed upon the need of scientific validation for these published literatures. He called for an acceptance of transition and evolution in the form and medium of published literature which shows a worldwide move towards digital forms. He pinned hope on the growth of nature writing in Assam, the ideal ground for this genre to flourish in near future.
Nature writing may take different forms, and styles but it is necessary to validate the contents with real life natural existence of the subjects. Nature writing may take the form of environmental journalism or green reporting. Sri. Nava Thakuria elucidated the importance of scientific validation of information and contents of such writings. He stressed upon the importance of scientifically validated non-fiction nature writing literature, he called it a revolution in the field of literature.
Nature writings primarily delves into selfless devotion of human minds towards Nature. It is perhaps the purest form of selfless literature, where pursuits of human benefits are undermined for the well-being of the planet’s millions of other living beings. The skill of written language has been an exclusive forte of human beings, literature is an expression of human thoughts, emotions, ideas through written language.
Till the turn of 19th century, the world of literature remained mostly dominated by human centric thoughts and ideologies. Nature writing is an evolved form of literature, it is a form of purposeful literature meant to lead a mind movement amongst human beings by encouraging an altruistic – compassionate attitude towards Nature. Sri. Soumyadeep Datta spoke about the essence of ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom in this connection; he reiterated that the ethos of nature conservation is incorporated in our civilization which spread over the world from India, we are the custodians of this great heritage.
Sri. Datta spoke about the necessity to revive the culture of mind-movement amongst all Indians once again. He called nature writing as one of the highest forms of mind movement. Sri. Datta conveyed the meaning of nature writing by calling it the voice of those who cannot speak, some of them even cannot move but they offer all comforts, all amenities to our materially burgeoning human world. Nature writing is about nurturing the conscience inside us which at times is suppressed by our selfish motives and inclinations.
He spoke about the contributions of Assamese people to the rise and growth of the nature writing movement in Assam. He spoke about Dr. Arabinda Rajkhowa, a writer and educationist who enriched the genre of nature writing in Assamese language by providing academic accreditation to this genre by including nature-writing work from Assam as part of the post graduate syllabus of Assamese language in the North Lakhimpur College.
Sri. Datta also spoke about the gradual rise of nature writing authors and poets in Assam. Contemporary nature writing will be the mainstay of literature in near future, this nature writing movement must continue to evolve and spread in Assam and across different parts of India. This will require genuine commitment to the cause of nature conservation and a resolute mind movement amongst the people of India.
This panel discussion on contemporary nature writing gives hope to all, not only for the arising of wisdom and piling of literary works but for effective nature writing literatures which will move hearts, inspire many minds, and will convince our leaders to protect our forests, mountains, conserve the biodiversity and save our rivers for posterity.
The Pragjyotishpur Literature festival 2023 will be remembered for many reasons in the coming time, one of the reasons for which it will be remembered forever is for recognizing the importance of contemporary nature writing in our world.
(The author is an environment activist based at Guwahati. Novanita_21@yahoo.co.in)
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