Lakshmi Nandan Bora is no more.
I met him only once, in 2009 or 2010, as an undergraduate student at the University of Delhi visiting the author’s home for an interview for Janma, an Assamese magazine that some of us used to bring out during those days. He spoke to us – kids of little consequence and importance – for hours with a warmth and intimacy that, later, not only reflected in the pages of the magazine but also kept us beholden.
Born in 1932 at Kujidah village in Nagaon district of Assam, Bora studied at Nagaon High School, Cotton College (Guwahati) and Presidency College (Kolkata). A physics major, he later went on to do his Ph.D in meteorology from Andhra University. For much of his career, LNB – as he was affectionately called – taught at Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat.
But it was for his pen that Bora was so widely loved. Asin Koina, Xei Xure Utola, Gopon Godhuli, Gouri Rupak, Kasiyoli Kuwoli, Dhrishtirupa, Debotar Byaadhi, Kothin Maya, Xehi Anuraag and Erabarir Leseri are some of his short story collections. Having published more than 60 books, the man was also duly and widely recognised by various awards that he won during a lifetime spanning 89 years.
In 1988, he won the Sahitya Akademi for his novel Patal Bhairavi. In 1996-97, he occupied the coveted chair of the president of Assam Sahitya Sabha. In 2008, he won the Saraswati Samman, instituted in 1991 by the K.K. Birla Foundation, for his novel Kayakalpa. Bora also received the Assam Valley Literary Award in 2014 and the Padma Shri in 2015.
As the editor of Goriyoshi, a monthly magazine, Lakshmi Nandan Bora guided and published a generation of writers in Assamese. His own first ever short story, Bhaona, was published in the Assamese magazine Ramdhenu in 1954. As the littérateur breathed his last yesterday morning, I remembered one of his short stories, Biswarup Darshan, published in Asom Bani (Bihu edition) in 2013. A simple yet heart-warming story about ageing yet outstaring age, Biswarup Darshan is a story about a protagonist who, despite getting old, enthusiastically teaches himself to remain contemporary and make friends with his grandchild, much like LNB himself.
In the story, Mintu is a school-going boy – not a dunce nor the brightest in class. His biggest point of irritation comes from being compared with his grandfather, Nikhilesh Pujari. As the story unfolds, we get to know that Pujari has lived an erudite and accomplished life. He was first-class-first in his discipline at Calcutta University and a Ph.D in English from London University.
Later, the protagonist returned home to India and started teaching English as a professor, but gradually turned to history for his research interests and authored a three-volume history of Assam as well as a groundbreaking work on India’s past. But when his wife Sabita died two years ago, professor Pujari turned disconsolate and silent. That one of his two friends too died soon after, and the other met with an accident also worsened Pujari’s mental health.
It is at this moment that an unplanned discussion between grandfather and grandson kickstarts the former’s amazing journey towards computer literacy and an introduction to the Internet. Read in the fluent words of Bora, Nikhilesh Pujari’s story of transformation from despondency to euphoria feels true to life. “Moi xukhi. Mor jiyaai thokar haabiyaah bahise…” (I am happy. My longing to live has only grown…), the retired professor exclaims. The story ends thus, “In the loud applause and clapping of hands by the guests, Professor Nikhilesh Pujari could hear the rhythm of the world moving.”
Obits have called Lakshmi Nandan Bora sirotorun – forever young. That he was, as were his characters like this young-old historian joyfully discovering the cyberspace.
Jyotirmoy Talukdar is a senior writing fellow at the Centre for Writing and Communication, Ashoka University.