With the north-eastern states, especially Assam, featuring prominently in the daily news, it may be the perfect time to read Arupa Patangia Kalita’s moving tale, The Story of Felanee. Based on real life incidents, the book offers a glimpse into the turbulent times that Assam has been facing right from the 1970s, in the form of ethnic cleansing, insurgencies, communal unrest, and state bandhs.
The central protagonist is Felanee, an Assamese orphan of mixed parentage, who was thrown into a swamp and left to die during a riot. Her name (which translates to thrown away in Assamese) is a reference to the state of Assam itself whose plight has been sidelined for years. As the story takes you through the milestones of Felanee’s life her marriage, motherhood, widowhood the backdrop is provided by incidents of bloodshed and state violence.
Felanee leads a hard life as she gets uprooted from her village, is forced to live in a refugee camp and then adapt to life in a shanty. The author compares her to a weed, unwanted but resilient to the core. The story is also populated by female characters, who live alongside Felanee, and emphasises the fact that wars may be waged by men but it’s the women and children who face the brunt of it.
The Story of Felanee, By Arupa Patangia Kalita (Translated by Deepika Phukan), Zubaan, Rs 395
While Felanee remains an observer in the story, her neighbours make for interesting characters as they peddle puffed rice, illusions (an old woman wears a matted wig to pretend that she is possessed and earn money) and even their own bodies. In the book, the women face a double whammy due to the political strife and their conservative society, which forces them to be subservient to their violent, alcoholic, errant husbands who live off their income and yet make them feel guilty for being born a woman.
While the story is gripping and succeeds in chronicling the troubled times that Assam has been through, it falters in pace at times and the descriptions of the brutalities are graphic. There are typographical errors at certain places and the formal language detracts from the charm of the story.
All in all, The Story of Felanee is hard-hitting and the characters stay with you long after you have finished reading the book. It’s also a story of immense hope where despite the turn of events, people choose to go on with their lives rather than hide and wait for the tide to change. As an introduction to the murky politics of Assam as experienced by the common man, it’s a must-read.