LIVED UTOPIA: A CRITICAL STUDY OF ASEEMAT JAR HERAL SEEMA

Amarjyoti Devnath


1.0  Introduction
All of us are familiar with the famous renaissance humanist, lawyer, social Philosopher, statesman and author Sir Thomas More and his notable work Utopia. But what is a “Utopia”? For centuries, human beings have dreamt of perfect worlds, worlds free of conflict, hunger and unhappiness. But can these worlds ever exist in reality? In 1516 Sir Thomas More wrote the first 'Utopia'. He coined the word 'utopia' from the Greek ou-topos meaning 'no place' or 'nowhere'. But this was a pun - the almost identical Greek word eu-topos means a good place. He was describing a fictional island society in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America.

Utopia is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens. The opposite of a utopia is a dystopia. One could also say that utopia is a perfect "place" that has been designed so there are no problems.

Utopia focuses on equality in economicsgovernment and justice, though by no means exclusively, with the method and structure of proposed implementation varying based on ideology. According to Lyman Tower Sargent "there are socialist, capitalist, monarchical, democratic, anarchist, ecological, feminist, patriarchal, egalitarian, hierarchical, racist, left-wing, right-wing, reformist, Naturism/Nude Christians, free love, nuclear family, extended family, gay, lesbian and many more utopias [...] Utopianism, some argue, is essential for the improvement of the human condition. But if used wrongly, it becomes dangerous. Utopia has an inherent contradictory nature here." Sargent argues that utopia's nature is inherently contradictory, because societies are not homogenous and have desires which conflict and therefore cannot simultaneously be satisfied. If any two desires cannot be simultaneously satisfied, true utopia cannot be attained because in utopia all desires are satisfied.

2.0    About the Primary text
Asimat Jar Heral Seema, published in 1945 and written by the late Bhubanmohan Baruah under the pen-name of Kanchan Baruah is an enormously popular novel in Asam. Bhubanmohan Baruah (1914 - 1998) was a novelist, short story writer from Assam. He wrote many novels under the pen-name of Kanchan Baruah. Baruah served as a member of the Film Finance Board of Assam Government. He was also known as a painter and artist. Moreover, he directed a number of plays. 

The Government of Assam offered him literary pension. He died in Shillong on 10 May 1998. Kanchan Baruah was author of more than twenty other novels and some short stories. Some of his popular novels are: Asimat Jar Heral Seema, Puwoti tora, Mrita bihanga, Joya mohol, Ashanto prohor and Urmilar sokulu.

3.0 Asimat Jar Heral Seema: Story in a nutshell
The novel tells the story of a group of bosom friends whose occupations are different. Together, they plan a bohemian trip to explore the abundant beauty of nature. They sailed to an unknown region following their hearts desire through the Burhi Dihing River, originally a large tributary of the Brahmaputra in Upper Assam. The river originates in the Eastern Himalayas (the Patkai Mountain Range) in Arunachal Pradesh and flows through Tinsukia and Dibrugarh Districts in Assam to its confluence with the Brahmaputra at Dihingmukh. All the four members are equipped with ration and weapons. But one night of thunder-storm has invited disaster to their boat and they were all left in a very strange, unknown area, full of scenic beauty. One of them, the narrator, Pro (he is a Professor) recollects being in this place. His friends find this impossible to believe. They try to bring him to the present. But Pro gives testimonials one after another of him being a part of this place at a previous birth. He in fact draws a map of the place and his friends amazingly find all of it true. Pro makes the Cartography from inside, using his memory and continuously shuffling through past and present.  Hence the past is also a present space, it is immediate and now. Pro’s friends accept him as an incarnation of someone important to that place. Later in the narrative, the narrator tells his friends of a bygone time- almost thirteen hundred years before the story begins. He just describes the happenings of two years of his youth in previous birth. The story-teller, the Jatishmor, i.e. Pro was an attractive young bachelor in his earlier incarnation. Besides he was a Royal office bearer then. People called him Chandan. The narrator recounts the life, love, bravery and friendships of Chandan before his readers. Chandan's childhood sweetheart Champa, whom he is mistaken to be his friend remains a guardian angel throughout his life even when she comes to know that Chandan actually loves Gauri, who is beauty personified. She is no less than a Royal princess, even though she is the daughter of the Chief Royal Office Bearer of Kamalnagar. But the love story of Chandan and Gauri never had time to bloom! Their beautiful life which they wasted in sweet and sour and often massive fights abruptly faced the most dreaded consequence, which is an attack from very ferocious and dangerous foreigners. They dedicated their lives to the great cause of the nation and at the end of the novel they find bliss in each other though physically they no longer remain attractive and able.

4.0 Argument of this essay
Our endeavour in this essay is to discuss how the narrator; i.e. Pro, the Jatishmor (reincarnated one) invokes a lived space; which is a Utopia using his memory from his previous birth and visualising the space where he is now standing on.

The place is a utopia, a place of isolation, almost like the Biblical Eden. I quote from the text:

This space was surrounded by high mountains on four sides with great picturesque beauty[...] far away from the heart of the nation. It was an isolated space and it was a splendid kind of isolation (Aseemat Jar heral Seema 36).

This utopia is apparently a product of nature, being divided equally by the river Kanchanmati which flows from east to west across the city. Both the banks were connected by a bridge, called Boga Dolong(White Bridge). But, there were also abrupt turnings that were actually man made. The northern boundary of the city was guarded by high mountains that rendered all foreign intrusion impossible. Also no one from the place ventured out because there was no such need at all. Other than supplying all its citizens with various products necessary for survival, it had spaces for festivities, demarcated lands which served for ponds for ladies of aristocratic families to take bath.

The pond in front of us was called as Kamal Saruwar (Lotus Pond).It was shaped like the moon of Saptami. Three sides of the pond were surrounded by thin jungle and on this side, where we are sitting on the lawn there was a pucca ghat. I can still remember clearly that there was a staircase of 25 stairs about 30 feet in length and it was very neat and clean. All the ladies of aristocratic families came here to enjoy picnic and participate in swimming competitions held here (Aseemat Jar Heral Seema 38).

The series of exclusions is more distinct in the palatial houses called the Ronga Tila and Rupalipam respectively, sitting on hillocks where the Royal Office Bearers lived. All the other houses are important in so far as they contributed to the collective beauty and grandeur of the city. 

One is immediately reminded of Plato’s allusion of the Cave. The dwellers of the Cave would start at their own images because they had never seen the outside world. Only the most fortunate, the leaders amongst them could go out and see light of the day. Such a world with its exclusive rights, totters upon slippage and is liable to be destroyed. Another fact that appears possible is that Kamalnagar’s geography, with its abrupt turnings mirror the devious ways in which power constructs its space. One can almost imagine this space as a salon, a retreat reserved either for the economically strong or their incredulous subjects. This should explain why none from the place would/could cross the mountains and reach the main city. Such isolation would also serve for the panoptical gaze, a surveillance society whose borders were not porous and required a network of codes-turnings, road signs, lines and boundary markers, a system also marked by ethnic or linguistic similarities for continuation. This explains why Pro remembers being asked to take on the responsibility of the third officer in his previous birth. All that qualifies him for the office is his lineage. He is the son of the erstwhile first Royal Office Bearer of Kamalnagar.

Such was the beauty of Kamalnagar. In Kamalnagar there were spaces for special use. They had Khelmati (playground) for players and public merry making, they had Kamalsarovar for water sport and picnic and indeed they had Devamandir for observation of religious festivals:

The public Devamandir (temple) was located beside Ronga Ali a little southward from Rong Tila. All the religious festivals were observed publicly on the courtyard of Devamandir. The Surrounding courtyard of the Devamandir was big enough to accommodate the population of Kamalnagar in any festival gathering (Aseemat Jar Heral Seema 37).

It was a space for mingling of God and human beings. It was open for all hence a place for public discourse. Eventually in the later part of the novel, the court yard of the Devamandir is used as a space for nursing the injured soldiers of the city. So it is a public space as well as a heterotopia of crisis. Nonetheless, it is impossible to miss the irony of the whole architecture, the spatial practice as also the represented space that demarcates and draws grids. This takes us again to the organization and planning of Kamalnagar. One returns again to the panoptical vision that gives the place both its exclusivity and internalization of restrictions. The law of the patriarch or the father cloaks the generic space or structure based upon a logos of reason, while the subterraneous mapping of the same geography can insidiously disrupt all rational drives for an unending sliding. This reaching back to the womb, the unconscious that is the absence presence governing is visibly present in the imaginings of Pro. At the same time, his three friends carrying weapons and rations inhabit the other sphere of rule, law and force.

5.0 Conclusion
The novelist Kanchan Baruah evokes a Utopia through his narrator Pro. Simultaneously, it invokes a lived geographical location. The dividing line between the real and imagined is obscured. It can be commented that while pre-figurations of a pre-natal life has the effect of hallucination, the argument is also that such a utopia is possible through surveillance. Attack from the invaders need to be countered. But, the logos of a colonizer and colonized hierarchy are subverted because the location is not configured from a distance as such. Also the character of Pro needs illumination. He is an academic and therefore bookish. The implication of constructed knowledge, possible in lecture halls has its own limitations. Primarily is an assumption that truth is a verbal or at best linguistic domain and so hinges on faithful repetitions. However, the text carries a meta-text, wherein, the pond and the rivers become codes: the first of a representated space that subsumes certain power equations-the interiority suggesting certain taboo and segregation. The second and more vital is the symbol of the river, which in its flow, the energy of its waters descending from the high Himalayas denotes flexibility and thus a Utopia. It is a utopia of stagnation, when it comes to contact with outside world, it collapses. So isolation is a prerogative for all utopias. Paradoxically such a utopia is possible only in isolation. A different reading underlines the idea that Kamalnagar is a space both for the mother and father. The father is present in the political conceptualization of space based upon functional distancing. However, because it is imagined and tractable only as a vision implies the feminine principle.

References

About the author: Amarjyoti Devnath is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Bahona College, Bahona , Jorhat, Assam. He is an experienced teacher with the specialization in Indian English Literature .He has published literary articles in various journals and seminar proceedings on diverse literary issues. He has also translated some English Short Stories to Assamese.



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