Originally published in Assamese as Jangam
Imprint: Assam PrakashanParishad, 1982
Author: Debendranath Acharya
Translator: Amit R. Baishya
About the Book
Jangam is a fictional account of the long forgotten march of Indian refugees from erstwhile Burma to British India in World War II. The march was a culmination of a series of anti-Indian communal riots that had been raging since the 1930s. Although the it is represented briefly in Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, Jangam is probably the only sustained fictional treatment of this historic incident of mass displacement
Burma had been finally incorporated into the British Indian state in 1885 after a prolonged spell of wars between the British and the Burmese.. The Indian migrants to Burma, some of whom migrated voluntarily and others who were coercively taken as indentured labourers were of mixed socio-economic status.. They became the most visible figures of the colonial exploitation of Burmaone of the major reasons for the attacks against them in the 1930s and 40s, impelling many to flee in panic.
During the march, an estimated 450,000-500,000 Burmese Indians walked to Assam and Bengal, somewhere between 10,000-50,000 people died during the journey because of the brutal traveling conditions and the diseases they contracted on the way. Jangam the captures the lives and the modes of survival they adopted to get to British India.
About the Author
Sri DebendraNath Acharya was an eminent engineer and notable scholar with a dynamic personality. Despite acquiring in-depth technical knowledge, he was gifted with scholarly aptitude towards Assamese literature
Initially, he started penning satirical articles for newspapers under the pseudonym- ‘Dronacharya’. Literary works include various essays, short stories, poems, children’s literature and a few significant novels.
His novel Jangam, posthumously received the SahityaAkademi Award (conferred by India’s National Academy Of Letters) in 1984. Another famous novel Kalpurush in 1978 received the Assam PrakashanParisad Award. He went on to receive the Premadhar Dutta Memorial Award in 1975 for ‘Children’s literature’ from the Assam Sahitya Sabha.
About the Translator
Amit R. Baishya specializes in postcolonial literature and cultural studies. He teaches courses on postcolonial literature/theory, world literature, cinema, comic books, and popular culture (including courses on zombie cultures and mutants). He is currently completing a book manuscript on violence, terror, and survival in post-1980 fictions from northeast India. He also translates short stories and novels from Assamese to English. Planned future projects include a book on cultural memories of the Japanese invasion during World War II in northeast India.
A tiny village surrounded by undulating hills of varying height. It appeared very beautiful when viewed from the ArakanYoma range–as if a green riha laid out in the mild morning sunshine, and decorated with embroidered patterns of a red hue was playfully waving in the wind. Cultivated fields lay at the foot of the smaller hills, in between a level area populated by numerous huts. A thin, winding road twisted its way through the village, merging with the paved highway in the neighboring village of Mitukan, and finally arriving in Mandalay weaving its way alongside the banks of the Irrawaddy.
A village of twenty families: Manku actually was a small neighborhood, a hamlet of poor farmers and laborers. An impoverished colony of Burmese and Indian peasants and day laborers who expended the sweat of their brows toiling for half of the produce of the land that they cultivated for the rich landlords, and who sated their hunger for six months of the year while enduring an acute shortage of food during the other six. The Indian peasants had been transported by the British monarch to increase the wealth of the Empire by cultivating the pure and verdant lands of Burma. They weren’t loan sharks like the Chetiyars–peace-loving, hardworking peasants. At one time, the Burmese families were landowners, old custodians of these low-lying paddy fields. Desirous of increasing their fame and status by indulging in gambling, singing and dancing, drinking jousts, musical soirees and massive, showy feasts open to the public, they were reduced to penury after pawning their paddy fields and harvests and losing all their land to the high rates of interest charged by the Indian Chetiyars from whom they had taken loans. A group of hapless people cursing their fate, forced to sell their lands and foundations, surrender half a share of their harvest to others, and impelled to have one meal only to skip two more as a consequence of transferring the burden of tending their fields and cultivating their lands to Indian day-laborers. They were people who immersed themselves in gambling and other pleasures, and consequently got buried neck-deep in debt– like a herd of mute beasts staying barely afloat when beset with the unbearable weight of life. A group of unknown, unacknowledged, yet indispensable ordinary folk that, in the midst of the cornucopias in their dreams, woke up to the painful realization that they were now destitute, wiped away their tears, and counted the number of days they would probably survive on their fingertips. Inhabitants of the lowest realms of society undiscernible to the collective gaze, they were a group of vanquished soldiers defeated by the battle of life, surviving in anonymity to hide the shame of being poverty-stricken.
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