Assam poet receives ‘death threats’ over published poem

Literary circles back Nilim Kumar’s ‘spontaneous expression’

GUWAHATI: After the recent publication of his poem, Ekhon Asustha City Bus (An ailing city bus), stirred controversy and sparked statewide protests, contemporary Assamese literature poet Nilim Kumar rues that a “spontaneous call of heart for the love of one’s own language and nationality”, has been misinterpreted.

Published in a widely-read Assamese magazine on July 1, the poem has since outraged Tai-Ahom organisations as they object to Kumar’s portrayal of Swargadeo Chaolung Siu-ka-pha, the founder of the 13th century Ahom kingdom, enduring six centuries, as the “driver” of an “ailing” city bus, and Ahom ruler, Gadapani (Gadadhar Singha) as the “handyman”.

The All Assam Tai Students Union and Tai Ahom Yuva Parishad have meanwhile filed several FIRs against the poet, alleging that Kumar has not only hurt the sentiments and disrespected the Ahom community, but also the greater Assamese society in general.

For his part, Kumar, 58, who claims to have received several death threats over phone from anonymous callers besides being trolled on social media, even tendered an apology “if there has been an inadvertent error to put forward his views concretely.”

“In the poem I only meant to portray contemporary Assam as a state, which is ailing, blinded by the dazzle of globalisation and consumerism. The points of objection are basically an allegory to depict a deeper meaning, wherein Swargadeo Siu-ka-pha, mentioned as the “driver”, is the most important person in leading the Assamese society in the right direction, while Gadapani, as the ‘handyman,’ takes decisions when to stop or move forward,” the poet clarified, while speaking to The Shillong Times on Saturday.

“The Assamese community under their leadership had been prosperous and independent. While Siu-ka-Phaa is an epitome of unity for the Assamese people, Gadapani is a symbol of forbearance, valour and strength. So I wanted to make people remember their spirit and used an epic figure of speech to refer to their spirit and soul as the guiding light to salvage Assam from dire crisis,” he said.

Speaking to The Shillong Times, prominent academic, social scientist and literary critic, Hiren Gohain said, “Considering the volatile situation in Assam at present, utmost care has to be taken by writers, poets or artistes so as to not hurt the sentiments of any community in any way. But having known Nilim, I would say he is not guilty, because he only used a metaphor to describe the socio-cultural situation of Assam. No one has been disrespected in the process. From the controversies generated, I would imagine that the poem has been either misunderstood or intentionality misinterpreted.”

Kumar’s first collection of poems was released in 1985. Till date, 20 collections of Assamese poems, besides a couple of collections in English, Hindi respectively and one in Nepali have been published.

Literary and poets’ organisations of Assam too have been threatened against taking his side, he claimed.

“It is unfortunate that the controversy has lingered on. On the contrary, several eminent poets, critics, painters from other parts of India have extended support and acknowledged that the poem has attempted to expose the socio-cultural situation of Assam and provided a thematic solution to bail the state out of crisis,” he added.



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