Thought Box



by Utpal Datta May 14 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 22 secs

A Fresh Perspective on Queer Studies in Assamese: ‘Tritiya Akash’. Utpal Datta introduces this unique anthology of short stories compiled and edited by Dr Prapti Thakur.

"Tritiya Akash," translating to "The Third Sky”, is more than just a title; it represents a bold venture into uncharted territories. Dr Prapti Thakur has compiled and edited this anthology of short stories in Assamese, delving deep into the lives, struggles, psychology, and obstacles faced by the queer community. While Queer studies are gaining traction in various writers and researchers communities, this anthology stands out for several reasons. In Assam, Queer studies in the academic field and other creative pursuits are in the infant stage. Unlike most academic institutions that confine their publications to the prescribed syllabus, our institution has dared to publish such a book as part of our academic endeavour. Additionally, this anthology seeks to challenge the prevailing norms by openly discussing a topic that remains taboo for many.

It's noteworthy that Sarupathar College isn't nestled in the bustling city but rather situated in upper Assam, distanced from the intellectual hub of the state. Dr Prapti Thakur, the principal of the college, deserves commendation for advocating such a radical academic approach.

The anthology comprises thirty-one short stories penned by writers from across the state, spanning various age groups. However, it's noticeable that only two senior writers have contributed to it: Sneha Devi (1916-1990) and Dr Gobinda Prasad Sarma. Sneha Devi, primarily a homemaker, wasn't extensively involved in literary social circles. Hence, it's both surprising and heartening to witness her empathy toward such a significant topic, especially amid limited discussions. On the other hand, Dr Gobinda Prasad Sarma, a former Professor of Guwahati University, known for his scholarly creative works and openness, has bravely tackled the social taboo and addressed the theme of lesbians in his story. While the other writers explore diverse themes and issues, delving into such a topic is not so unusual for them. It is worth mentioning that not all the stories are of high literary standard, yet they should be applauded for the themes they chose and creative openness.

Dr Pori Hiloidari has contributed a comprehensive critical preface, dissecting the thematic and structural nuances of the short stories. This preface serves as a guiding light for writers, enabling them to grasp the essence of the theme and craft more impactful narratives from varied social perspectives.

This collection has sparked numerous questions, prompting us to seek insights from both the Editor and the Principal of the college, Dr Prapti Thakur.

What inspired you to edit and publish this anthology?

The inspiration behind curating this anthology stemmed from the recognition that queer subjects, despite having been incorporated in the English literature curriculum of Delhi University, remain largely unaddressed within the Assamese literary syllabus. Consequently, this project aims to bring these narratives to the forefront, fostering a broader discourse on queer representation within the academic landscape.

Considering that the Queer subject may not be part of your college syllabus, how do you anticipate this collection contributing to academic discourse?

Although queer subject matter may not currently be a part of the prescribed college syllabus, this collection holds the potential to enlighten our students about the diversity of Assamese short stories. The content of this anthology is socially significant, and I think our students will become aware of an important issue, which is still regarded as taboo. From an academic point of view, it can be said that presenting a diverse array of narratives that explore queer experiences, prompts critical engagement and encourages intellectual inquiry into the multifaceted dimensions of gender and sexuality in the Assamese context. This anthology provokes scholarly discussions, challenging existing paradigms and enriching the intellectual landscape.

How have your colleagues and students responded to this anthology?

The reception of this anthology among colleagues and students has been overwhelmingly positive. They were enthusiastic from its inception as they felt that our college was going to do something radical. Without the support of my colleagues, it would not have been possible to publish a book on such a topic from an educational institute.

Could you share the reactions of both readers and writers to the collection?

The reactions from both readers and writers have been equally commendable. During the anthology's release on January 7th, 2023, in the presence of several esteemed writers, noted gender activists, and readers, the project garnered widespread acclaim and appreciation for its significance in amplifying marginalised voices and promoting inclusivity within the literary norm from an academic institution.

Were there any obstacles encountered during the production process?

Remarkably, the production process was devoid of any substantial obstacles. All the writers participated in the project with great support for the cause. Dr Pori Hiloidari, a leading literary critic of the state, wrote the preface of the anthology at my request. I am sure this preface will stand as a major work in Queer studies in the Assamese language. 

What are your plans regarding publishing books on this topic and others?

Our Sarupathar College is very excited to publish more books on queer topics and other important socially significant and literary themes. We are committed and determined to keep working on projects to benefit our students' community and society.   

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.