“The happy smiles scattered like sand particles; only one cry stood out in my memory like the coloured snail shell sparkling in the lap of sand.” (Pg.164)
While thinking about the state of Assam, the imageries drawn in our mind are that of the stunning green landscape, the river valleys, the tea plantations and the ecstatic festival of Bihu.
Although, every land has its stories of happiness, prosperity, culture and traditions accompanied by the tales of struggles, sufferings and sacrifices; writers born in those soils are the harbingers of such stories as well as the voices of the people from such distant lands.
One such eminent literary giant is Arupa Patangia Kalita. Recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad Literary Award, the Katha Award and the Assam Valley Literary Award, she is a great luminary in the domain of Assamese literature. ‘The Musk and Other Stories’ is a priceless collection of her exceptional stories.
The book begins with the story ‘Two Days from Phantom’s Diary’ illustrating the disarray in the state of Assam and the predicaments of the innocent residents suffering in between the clash of the extremists and the military. Among the collection, the stories ‘A Precarious Link’ and ‘Aai, the Mother’ also talk about the horrifying conditions turning Assam into a Valley of Death and narrates the disheartening account of a mother who has lost her only reason of existence and the raging fire that has caught hold of Mahohar’s fate. The stories manifest the truth that in every war and devastation, the innocents always have to pay the price.
‘Alekjaan Bano’s Love’ is a saddening story of Alekjaan, her husband Samsoon and the residents of Kasimmari, a land slowly disappearing into the river Brahmaputra.
“It was a piece of lifeless land… they would bring life to this land with their tears and sweat.” (Pg.137)
‘The Goddess’ mocks the ways of the world. A society where people have so much to offer to a Goddess or ‘a clay woman’ but not even sympathy for a helpless living, one is nothing but an ironically civilised mass of people.
‘Mriganabhi’ which is one of the best literary works of Arupa Patangia Kalita, is aesthetically added into this golden collection. ‘Mriganabhi: The Musk’ is a story of Sontara. Sontara had lost her husband who had never been the love of her life, her romeo. Her journey as a single mother suffered in the hands of the circumstances that even affected her mental health. However, one should never leave the hands of hope. How Sontara found her hope and serenity is a blissful read.
Altogether, ‘The Musk and Other Stories’ is a phenomenal anthology of eleven stories revealing the messed-up political situation of Assam, the setbacks in the lives of the people of Assam and the tales of various men and women fighting their own battles. With its arresting and vivid narrative, the book will definitely connect the readers to one of the beautiful states of North East. The appropriate phrase to describe this collection could be – a sheer magic of words.
Bhabya Singh (Columnist, Reviews) is a student of Commerce (pursuing Post-Graduation); however, with a fond love towards literature she thrives to read and write.