Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami is a distinguished name in the world of literature. In the year 2000, she was honoured with ‘Jnanpith’, the highest literary award in India, for her immense contributions. She was an eminent writer, a prolific author, a Ramayani scholar, an editor and former Professor of Delhi University.
Born to Umakanta Goswami and Ambika Devi on 14 November 1942 in Guwahati, she was named Indira by her father in memory of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. She was lovingly called Mamoni by her mother. Mamoni Raisom Goswami is her pen name by which she preferred to write.
Indira Goswami studied in Pine Mount School, Shillong in the early years and matriculated from Tarini Charan Girls’ High School, Guwahati. Her first collection of stories Chinaki Morom was published when she was thirteen years of age. She graduated in Assamese Literature from Cotton College, Guwahati and obtained her postgraduate degree from Gauhati University.
She met Madhaven Raisom Iyengar, an engineer from Karnataka, who was then working on the construction of Saraighat Bridge over the River Brahmaputra in Guwahati. After getting married, they moved to Gujarat and later to Jammu and Kashmir where Iyengar was posted.
But unfortunately, just after eighteen months of marriage, Madhaven Raisom Iyengar lost his life in a car accident in Kashmir. They had no children. After the premature death of her husband, Indira Goswami suffered from acute depression, got addicted to heavy doses of sleeping pills and even made attempts to end up her life.
At this stage, she devoted her time to writing and wrote only to live. Her sufferings and struggles in life are conveyed in her book An Unfinished Autobiography written in the style of a novel. It is prescribed as a text-book by the universities in Maharashtra.
Indira Goswami first started her career as a teacher at Sainik School, Goalpara in Assam. Her teacher Upendra Chandra Lekharu persuaded her to pursue research work for peace of mind. According to his advice, she went to Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh and involved herself in the studies of Ramayani Literature.
She worked on her PhD thesis on the topic, a comparative analysis of Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas and Kotha Ramayan by Madhav Kandali. Later, her treatise was published as a book, Ramayana from Ganga to Brahmaputra, for which she was honoured with ‘International Tulsi Award’ from Florida University.
Dr Goswami joined the Modern Indian Language Department of Delhi University and her magnificent phase in life started. She penned most of her works during this period and her books written in Assamese were later translated into English. She went on to become the Head of the Assamese Department and after retirement, she was honoured as Professor Emeritus by the University.
The first novel penned by Mamoni Raisom Goswami was The Chenab’s Current, which she started writing in 1964 and was published as a book in 1972. The story of the novel was based on her experience while she was in Kashmir with her husband. Her experiences in life are also reflected in her novels The Blue Necked Braja and Ahiran.
In 1982, Dr Goswami received the ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ for her novel The Rusted Sword. Her novel The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker was later made into a film named Adajya which received much acclaim and awards. Her famous novels were Dasarathi’s Steps, The Man from Chinnamasta, Pages Stained with Blood, Udaybhanu, etc.
Several short stories were written by the acclaimed author and some of them were The Journey, The Offspring, To Break a Begging Bowl, Beasts, Parasu’s Well, Dwarka and His Gun, Sanskar, etc. Pain and Flesh is her poetry collection which includes her well-known poem Pakistan. Mahiyashi Kamala is her biography on Dr Kamala Ratnam.
She translated many books such as Premchandor Chuti Galpa, Jatak Katha Aru Kalam and Adhaghanta Samay. Her other works include The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar, Shadow of the Dark God, The Budha Sea, Hazy Geishas and Mohammad Mucha etc.
Dr Goswami received numerous awards in her lifetime for her literary contributions. She was honoured with ‘Jnanpith Award’, ‘International Tulsi Award’, ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’, ‘Bharat Nirman Award’, ‘Katha Rashtriya Puraskar’, ‘Kamal Kumari Foundation National Award’, ”Asom Sahitya Sabha Award’, ‘Krishnakanta Handique Award’ and ‘Mahiyashi Jaymati Award’ with a citation in gold.
She also received literary awards from several states of India. She was honoured with D Litt Degree from three universities namely, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Rabindra Bharati University of West Bengal and Rajiv Gandhi University of Arunachal Pradesh. She was a recipient of ‘Sauhardya Award’ from Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sansthan.
Besides, she was conferred ‘Principal Prince Claus Laureate’ from Netherlands, ‘Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar Gold Plate’ from Asiatic Society and ‘Ambassador for Peace’ from Inter Religious and International Federation for World Peace. But she refused ‘Padmashri’ awarded to her in 2002. A film named Words from the mist was made on her life by the national award winning film-maker Jahnu Baruah.
Mamoni Baideo, as she was popularly known as, played the role of a mediator between the United Liberation Front of Assam and the Indian Government. She took the initiative of bringing the banned militant group for negotiation of peace talks. Her efforts laid to the formation of the People’s Consultative Group.
The noted litterateur passed away on 29 November 2011 at the age of 69 years. She suffered a stroke in the month of February last year and was taken to New Delhi for treatment. Later in July, she was brought back to Assam and was treated at Guwahati Medical College Hospital. There she breathed her last following a cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure.
The Jnanpith winner was bid farewell by thousands of mourners at the crematorium. A gun salute of twenty-one shots was fired in the air as a mark of respect. Her niece lit the funeral pyre and her mortal remains were consigned to flames. She was laid to rest with full state honours and her last rites were performed with Vedic rituals.
Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami was appreciated and respected by all not only for her literary talents but for being a great humanist as well. She shall be remembered forever for her celebrated works and also for her charming personality.
[Published in the e-journal ‘Indian Ruminations’ on 10 January 2012]