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Maitri Baruah

By Mamang Dai
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2005, pp. 192, Rs. 200.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 11 November 2006

Mamang Dai’s book is a fascinatingly nuanced account of the life of the Adi tribe of Aruanchal Pradesh. Here is an upland valley, an immensely varied and difficult terrain, and wedged in by the deep gorges and dense forests. The Adis have lived there for ages nurturing their long history and unique ways of life. Many of the stories in the book contain authentic transcripts of the oral traditions of the Adis, all of which the writer relates with unusual insight and sensitivity. One not only comes across the Adi myths and legends but also sees how these originated in the first place.   The story telling mode adopted here is best suited if one seeks to rediscover or reinvent the Adi oral tradition. The stories fill in every significant detail of the life and landscape of the Adi country. A few of the stories are told in the mould of the traditional folk tales; others enact traditional rituals through song and dance. Alternating between stories, myths and autobiography, the book very fluidly merges present and past, individual and the collective to reconstruct the ‘pensam’ — the ‘in-between’ place which is the land of the Adis. For the Adis, memory is, or the acts of remembering are central to the way they live, the proximity to the magical beliefs, which enable them to understand and negotiate change. The writer is part of the audience and is privy to an animated world. The noted oral historian, Luisa Passerini had said that the examination of memory through the use of oral forms had helped her introduce subjectivity to history.   Using forms of oral history, Mamang Dai attempts to give subjectivity to the Adis and the result is a complex exploration of the relationships between history, subjectivity, memory and identity. The book opens with a section called ‘a diary of the world’ with the sub-title ‘we have long journeys in our blood’. The prologue too describes the pulsating landscape as a journey across time and history. The river cuts through our land as before in its long journey to the sea. In spring the red flowers still blaze against our sky. But the old people now, the few of them alive, turn slowly in their sleep as the fires burn down to a heap of ash. In the middle of the night, a bird swoops low and calls out in a wild, staccato note.   ...

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