SEDUCING THE RAIN GOD: A MOSAIC OF TRADITIONS AND MODERNITY
Dr. Amarjyoti Choudhury
Seducing the Rain God, a collection of stories originally penned by Smriti Kumar Sinha and translated by Ramlal Sinha carries a powerful voice from the North-East. The stories here are basically of two types. One is with intense local flavour of Bishnupriya Manipuri traditions. The other type comprises stories with overtly all-India themes, albeit from an inverted angle. While the author Sinha is absolutely in his elements in the Manipuri surroundings of his creations, he is equally at ease in the other variety because of his pan-India scholarship.
The stories appear to be simple on the surface. But, on coming close, one observes complicated structures underneath. Indeed the author delves into the fathom of the society to collect the elements of his stories and showcases in a structured way that provides these a universal aura.
The stories are originally written in the Bishnupriya Manipuri language. It is author’s mother tongue and is extremely dear to him. At one point of time, the language was almost in its death throes. It was only through the concerted effort of a group of committed writers that it survived the scare. Sinha is one of those inspired by those valiant predecessors.
The loss of prominence of his mother tongue and the consequent struggle have found a deep and symbolic chord in many of his stories in this collection. Thus decay, and one’s struggle against decay are recurrent motifs in a number of his stories. Flowers Without Fragrance, Death of Carpenter Dhvaja and Choudhury Gopalchan are stories of this genre. These stories too are steeped in Bishnupriya Manipuri ambience.
Seducing the Rain God is another significant and powerful story of this kind. If Garcia Marquez created Macondo, R.K.Narayan created Malgudi through their writings, Smriti Kumar Sinha has similarly created his own Khumolmati in this grandeur of a story. Sabi, the main protagonist of the story, comes out as one of the strongest women characters in Indian literature through her extreme sacrifices. The Thirst of Mandila and God for a Night portray evocative examples of innocent emotions in unique Bishnupriya Manipuri traditions that assume a universal appeal.
Stories like The Reverse Veda, A page from the Mahabharata and Lilavati are from pan–Indian themes, but through different perspectives. The Reverse Veda is an extreme example of subaltern literature. Here the events unfold from the viewpoint of those exploited by gods, including Indra. A page from the Mahabharata brilliantly juxtaposes our contemporary cruelties with those coming alive in a particular episode of Mahabharata, the TV serial. In Lilavati we are face to face with an intense face-off between science and superstitions. We also find the ignominious ends of superstitious practices and rituals in the moving story of In Search of an Immortalizing Herb.
In stories like Fish of a Dead River, Straightjacket and A Tale of Cities we observe the decay, corruption and cruelty of modern metropolises with occasional flashes of concern for others. The Muse of a Modern Poet is similarly totally immersed in contemporary setting of modernity complete with wit.
Fourteen happens to be a number loaded with significance. It requires fourteen days of growth to find the moon in full bloom. Similarly it has taken full fourteen stories to show the author in all the colour and nuances.
The translation by Ramlal Sinha is another plus point of the collection. It has an extremely simple yet absorbing style.
To summarize, here is a collection that appears as fresh, appealing and unique as Siroi Lily- the flower that adorns the cover page of the collection.
* Dr. Amarjyoti Choudhury is a renowned academician, an intellectual, the former Vice chancellor of Gauhati University and presently the pro-vice chancellor of Tezpur University.
* A shorter version of this review was published in The Assam Tribune, October 24, 2015, Page 11