Meet Dr Rita Chowdhury – Assamese Author and Director of National Book Trust of India
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Meet Dr Rita Chowdhury – Assamese Author and Director of National Book Trust of India

Nehal Jain | March 07, 2018 15:30 hrs

Sahitya Akademi Awardee writer, Rita Chowdhury, was recently conferred the Assam Valley Literary Award. Born in Nampong in the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh, she is a celebrated poet, novelist and an educationist. She's currently the director of National Book Trust, India.

Rita did her schooling from different schools due to the transferable nature of her father’s job but she finally passed HSLC examination from Margherita Public Higher Secondary School located in Margherita, a small town in upper Assam.

Rita has been writing since the 1980s. Although she initially started writing poetry, she slowly graduated to writing novels, finding it a more suitable form to tell her stories. Her debut novel, Abirata Jatra (English: Incessant Journey) was released in 1981. Speaking to G Plus about Abirata Jatra, Rita recalled, “I wrote my first novel when I was an absconding activist during the Assam Movement. The Asom Sahitya Sabha announced a competition for unpublished fiction manuscripts. The subject happened to be the Assam Movement itself. I completed the novel, sent it to Asom Sahitya Sabha and won the first prize. The news was announced when I was in Dibrugarh jail. So I was not allowed to receive the prize. My mother received it on my behalf. The novel became popular and it gave me the identity of a novelist. Hence began a new journey as a novelist.”

After Abirata Jatra, Rita never looked back. She has to her credit several novels including Tirthabhumi, Jala Padma, Deo Langkhui, Makam and Chinatown Days. She’s currently working on another novel about forced migration.

Rita was bestowed the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for Deo Langkhui which she calls "a novel of epic proportions about the glorious Tiwa Kingdom of Assam." She said, "Deo Langkhui is based mostly around oral traditions. I decided to write a novel about it because the subject and its history moved me."

Rita was an activist during the Assam Movement. Her life has been deeply impacted and influenced by two experiences – the death of her elder sister at a very young age and seeing her father train the Mukti Bahini freedom fighters of what was then called East Pakistan. When the Assam Accord was signed, she got married to a co-activist who later went on to become a minister in power. When she started to feel that her identity was getting confined to that of a minister’s wife, she decided to get a dignified space for herself and soon applied for a job in the field of education which she got without any recommendation.

She started her career as a lecturer in the Political Science department of Diphu Government College in 1989. Later, in 1991, she joined Cotton College, Guwahati as a lecturer and became a senior lecturer in the same college in 1996. She has been working as an associate professor in the Political Science department since 2001.

Rita shared her thoughts on the school days of her time and the difference that she sees today saying, “My school days were simple. There was no TV, internet or mobile phone. The neighbourhood was like an extended family. But in our present time, I notice how individualistic people have become and thus also very lonely.”

She feels that social media has provided an open platform to writers and a door to creativity. Not only does the internet help writers learn more easily, it also lets them interact with readers at a more honest level, she says.

When asked about the challenges for writers from this region, Rita said, “I don’t think there are any challenges that writers from this region face because of being from this region. For me, it is only the quality of writing that matters. But for regional language writers, the biggest challenge is first finding a dependable translator and then a good publisher.” She further added that although there are fewer opportunities for new writers in comparison to established ones, at the end it is the quality of content that matters the most.

Rita had made headlines recently for a controversy relating to her being conferred the Assam Valley Literary Award. Many claimed that she had received the award because of her husband’s political influence. Clarifying on the issue, she told G Plus, “I received a letter that mentioned I am one of the joint winners of the award and I gladly accepted it. I started getting targeted solely because I am married to a politician and predictable inferences were being drawn. I have been writing longer than I have been married but it seems that the so-called guardians of our society cannot recognise a woman as an independent individual.”

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