Set in the turbulent days of insurgency in Assam, the novel follows the life of a young unassuming Karbi scholar Jongom Hanse who is caught in a strange quagmire – the misdirected wrath of rebel leaders and the wrath of the security forces which believe him to be a supporter of the separatist cause. The novel follows the journey of Hanse and his close friend Pranab Kalita as they traverse across the landscape of Assam, trying to evade the supposed safety of their university campus, the rebel leaders and the security personnel in search of them.
In the process, the duo gets to watch firsthand the many dimensions of the vibrant State of Assam, encountering people from diverse sections and knowing them and their way of life, while at the same time encountering a macabre world of ruthless politics – in the administration and in the movement as well. And all along this while, they continue to discover a strange old secret which binds them both in a manner which they never fathomed.
In the course of their journey, Hazarika virtually takes the reader on an enigmatic landscape of Assam – starting from the hallowed corridors of Gauhati University, to the mystical realms of the revered Kamakhya temple, on a scintillating boat ride across the River Brahmaputra to the aristocratic tea gardens of the State, to finally culminate in a nail-biting finish in the largest, yet fast eroding, riverine island of Majuli dotted with its many Vaisnavite Satras.
To dwell more on the story itself would be doing injustice to the stellar piece of fiction penned down by the writer. A bureaucrat by profession and a sensitive writer and person in nature, ‘Sons of Brahma’ reflects Dhruba Hazarika’s deep understanding of the different wings of the Indian administration, the subtle undertones of human sensibilities at play, the deep-rooted fear and anguish of the Assamese race who are themselves caught in a strange civil war-like situation brought about by the secessionist movement as well as the plight brought upon to them by illegal migration from the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.
The writer’s vast travels across the State leads the reader to the turbulent yet majestic Brahmaputra river – often termed as the red river on account of the colour of its waters as well as the number of innocent lives it has seen shot down ruthlessly by its banks, the inherent-yet-inconspicuous nexus between separatists and police officers, the vastly differing emotions of a gentle race of people – ranging from deep-rooted resentment to their quest for salvation, just to mention a bit.
Insurgency in Northeast India, Assam in particular, has been a topic of much interest among chroniclers of the State. As a writer or reader myself, I have not been much in favour of repeatedly highlighting the same plot of violence and apathy. But what makes Hazarika’s latest novel different is his attempt to highlight the socio-political climate of Assam, the mentality of the people of different caste and communities, eternally at conflict with each other, which though seems non-existent remains present in every walk of life.
The novel grips you from the world go and you simply cannot put it down until you reach its befitting end. The manner in which Dhruba Hazarika weaves his story and unravels the many layers of secrets which revolve around it reveals his dexterity as a writer and his humane sensibilities. As a reviewer, I would only say that the copy-editing of the book could have been done in a much better manner as a number of factual errors could be noticed in the course of the narrative.
But all said and done, this is undoubtedly one of the most fast-paced and gripping thrillers that I have read in recent times, and this book is sure to present a vivid and charismatic picture of our land and people to the world outside.
Born in 1956, Hazarika is the founder member of the North East Writers Forum and has earlier written a novel, A Bowstring Winter, and Luck, a collection of short stories. A recipient of the Katha Literary Award, Hazarika, with ‘Sons of Brahma’, has put himself and Northeast Indian writing in English on a completely new pedestal. Definitely a must read, I must say.
(A noted cultural and developmental journalist who knows the Northeast like the palm of his hand, Aiyushman Dutta was previously the Assistant Editor of The Sentinel. He is now Consulting Editor of Eclectic Northeast. He is a research activist and closely follows and documents rites and rituals of different tribes and communities of Northeast India. He is also the director of Guwahati International Music Festival and director of Quaint Essense Productions – a production agency. He has authored a number of books and directed a number of documentaries both for the Indian Government and International NGOs. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org)