Asam Sahitya Sabha president Dhrubajyoti Borah traces the journey of a group of militants towards an elusive freedom and an uncertain future in his first English book.
The Sleepwalker's Dream: A Novel is about June, Ron and several other rebels fleeing their hideout in Bhutan after an army attack along with their injured unconscious leader, who is unlikely to survive the ordeal of their journey towards the Assam border.
With winter approaching, they desperately need to find a temporary shelter and miraculously their leader emerges from his coma and is able to guide them to a cave which has supplies of food and other essentials.
As the only woman in the group, June sometimes feels isolated though she does sentry duty like her male comrades and keeps herself in good physical shape.
But her memories keep taking her back to her long-lost family, her village, her innocent childhood and the tragic circumstances under which she had become an insurgent.
Borah, in his book published by Delhi-based Speaking Tiger, gives life to Ron when he, too, is flooded by his own
memories of his boyhood and the early days of passionate commitment and high adventure.
On his first novel in English and the challenges and pleasures of this transition, the Guwahati-based Assamese writer and novelist said, “It's not really a transition. I am an Assamese Indian writer first. But I had thought that if a good publisher accepts my book then I would at least know that I can write in English.”
“Little did I know that the manuscript has to pass through a tight scrutiny of a strict editor. Writing in English was both a challenge and a pleasure and also a journey of exploration of the possibilities of literary expression and bridge building,” said the writer, who is a physician by profession.
Asked if it was difficult to write about a very complex and misunderstood subject revolving around a group of insurgents, the president of the apex literary body of the state said, “The insurgents are from among us.
They may be friends, friends of friends or their relatives. Some people may have first hand experience of them, others may have suffered grievously at their hands. But they are not a people apart. They belong to us.”
“Their lives are also beset with the same fears, sorrows and uncertainties as us. Only, they thought and acted differently. Middle class prudence and instincts of self-preservation hold many of us back, but they take the plunge in pursuit of their dreams, however ill-advised or wrong they may seem. Understanding them is like understanding one's own self. It is not easy and it needs patience and compassion.”
On how he developed his characters, especially the female insurgent in his novel, Bora said, “A character in a novel is entirely a creation of the author.
With flesh-and-blood experience gathered over the years from different sources and persons (not all of them insurgents).
“A character plays a definite role in the narrative of a novel, in that fictional environment, just like people of flesh and blood play a definite role in the real world. The female insurgent plays a pivotal role in this novel and I have tried to see things from her perspective, believing (I hope I am right) that in this way I can recreate an insightful and meaningful story.”
On which aspect of the story appealed to him the most, Borah said, “The absurdities of human existence in the face of adversity and the ingenuity and desperate courage people call upon to survive; the lust for life and the search for meaning-these elements in the story appeal to me most.”
Asked if any of the characters in the novel were influenced by real-life people, he said, “Nothing can be created from nothing. As I have said, many ingredients go into creating the world of the novel. It has to have its own sun, moonlight, wind, rain and snow.”
“And its own situations populated by its own people, birds, animals and plants. It is filtered and crystallised through the author's imaginative mind and does not necessarily reflect anybody in particular or even the real world”, said Borah, who has a literary career spanning over three decades publishing many critically acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction, including novels, monographs on history, travelogues and collections of articles”.