This collection of originally Assamese short stories has enjoyed enviable respect and popularity over the years. The subtleties, nuances and sometimes labyrinthine associations of ideas in the stories, apparently giving an impression of eluding comprehension, make the subterranean world of the book all the more attractive. As all ideal short stories point the finger to a 'whole' through a slice of life, the stories in this collection are no exception. The extraordinary power of observation about the values and lifestyle of the middle class Assamese people ultimately throws light to the dark corridors of the psyche, which through its universal qualities in turn, demands at once an audience large than the Assamese readership. While undertaking this journey, the book explores several aspects of life such as a man's relations to the life he has left behind (as in 'News'), inner world of the women (as in 'Famine','Port'), death (as in 'The Grateful one') etc. This collection of stories had won for its creator the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1976.
Dr Bhabendra Nath Saika(1932-2003) was a novelist, short story writer and film director from Assam. He had a PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of London and taught at the Gauhati University. He published novels such as Antarip (The Cape), Atankar Shekhot (At the End of the Panic), and short story collection like Prahari (The Watchman) and Taranga (The Wave). The celebrated feature films directed by him include Sandhyaraag, Anirban, Agnisnan etc. He received Assam Publication Board Award (1973), Assam Valley Literary Award (1990), Srimanta Sankardeva Award (1998) and Padma Shri Award in 2001.
Ranjita Biswas is a veteran Journalists, researcher, editor and translator. She translates fiction, mainly from Assamese into English and is a KATHA Prize winner. Some of her published books in translation are Pita-Putra, Dawn, and As the River Flows.
The introduction to Bhabendra Nath Saikia's short stories is indelibly associated with the years when I was growing up. Though the subtleties, nuances and sometimes labyrinthian associations of ideas in his stories often eluded comprehension of my half-formed concept of human relationships, something about their inner beauty attracted me immediately. Then as I heard connoisseurs of Assamese literature discussing the style and content of Saikia's stories and commending his work as a new direction in modem Assamese literature, it was heartening for me as a reader to find that perhaps I was on the right track.
While reading his collections Sindoor or Srinkhal, the present compilation, in those early years, I could never imagine that one day I would attempt translating one of them. As I read the stories of Srinkhal before embarking on the work, once again I was struck by the way the writer approached the subject, unobtrusively but with devastating effect, and in a language devoid of frills.
I have never ceased wondering at the extraordinary power of observation about middle class values and lifestyle that peppers the author's work Some of his short stories have been adapted to films under his own direction, and especially film like Sandhyaraag (based on 'Exile' in this compilation) reflects that eye sensitive to details.
Another discernible aspect is Saikia's portrayal of women protagonists. He reflects a deep understanding of their inner world ('Famine', 'Port') which is seldom in evidence even in many salutary works. His film 'Agnisnan' is still one of the best films (on his own story again) on empowerment of women.
These are some stray thoughts on a writer I much admire. In no way can I claim to have done justice to a work that is a landmank in Assamese short story writing. The only thing I can say is that I have tried my best.
I am grateful to the Sahitya Akademi for 'having the faith in me to take on the project. I must also thank Abul Lais for taking the trouble of going over the manuscript and offering his valuable suggestions.
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