Sourabh Chaliha is a pure artist. The appellation sounds strange when used about one who emerged as a Marxist writer when he first appeared on the literary scene (Marxism, Era). But, Chaliha is not impervious to the shortcoming inherent in the human situation. In stories like ‘Bhraman Birah’ ‘Golam’, ‘Ratir Rel’ the impression of social consciousness is abounding. But, he never allows his criticism to get disentangled from the structure of his story. His sense of structure is subtle, there is no slackness anywhere in stories like ‘Accharna’ and ‘Semester Sesh’ (Semester Over) and there is no extraneous material detachable from the structure of the story. Chaliha’s skill in story telling is innate. He creates his atmosphere at the start.“My heart throbbed; I saw, two elderly men sitting in caned chairs, under the dim light of the verandah”. (Accharna) Chaliha is unsurpassed in arousing curiosity and thickening the mood. He can introduce the atmosphere of a serious situation with the minimum of words. Like those of many of his stories, the ‘story’ element of ‘Accharna’ can be summarized in one or two sentences. The vacation is over and the heroine is about to leave for Calcutta. On the eve of her departure the hero (the narrator) goes to meet her only to learn that she has gone out with her elder sister, though she knew that he was sure to come in the evening. A sudden flood of light illuminates the whole situation. He has finally been rejected. His heart is broken. But, he dose not show his weakness before her mother and with superb self control, he leaves the place with a show of pride. He then roams about in the city like a Joycian character. He is a writer and yet he cannot express his loss-this idea pains him. How deep is the consciousness of his loss and how far is it only a mechanical gesture? On the same day he has also lost his old pen associated with a thousand important and trivial associations of his life. How to differentiate the pain of this loss with that of the loss of his love? The psychological novelty of the situation is striking. The writer has shown deep and subtle insight in realizing the painful situation at the beginning of the story. The description of how the tearful throb of his voice gets transmitted into the voice of the mother is presented without any false note. The common theme of romantic love which has been current since the days of the Awahon or earlier, finds expression here, enhance in the light of an entirely new mode of analysis. It appears that Chaliha has accepted the old traditions and shaped them anew after having pulled them to pieces. Chaliha can catch the rhythm of an atmosphere, a situation and a little scenario unforgettably, in a single line or paragraph. In the same way, he can also permanently etch a character with perfect economy of means. In ‘Kendrabhimukhi’ (Towards the centre) he has depicted characters he has met on his way from London to Germany. These show his acute observation and ‘bonhomie’.
The theme and setting of Chaliha’s stories are wide and variegated. He shows equal dexterity in the depiction of overseas characters and atmosphere. ‘Semester Sesh’ (Semester over) has for its setting the ‘camaraderie’ of a small community of students reading in a German University. There is hardly any story element in the composition, yet, we are absorbed from the start to finish because of subtle descriptive touches and the realized warmth of the human heart. The speciality of the story lies in apt and economical descriptive touches. The story begins with a description of snowfall in Ludvigstrasse and ends with a description of the delightful sunshine of the Fiesole in Italy, realized in imagination. Semester is over. Batch after batch of students stream towards their home. Anna is absorbed in the dream of crossover to Italy, by hitchhiking and she is reminiscing about her sunlit atmosphere.
The cruel buffeting of the snow and the wind has not been able to damp Anna’s spirit. The chamber is washed in sunlight of imagination. Though the buffeting of the snow has covered the postcard containing the commemorative stamp of Fiesole; but the touches of Anna’s hand has made the sunshine to glimmer over it.
Chaliha’s themes revolve in a wide and variegated orbit. The depredations of the ‘novoriche’, speedy transformation of city life, gradual blotting out of old landmarks and traditional values are some of the themes of Chaliha’s stories. In ‘Bina Kutir’ he shows how traditional sanctity and loveliness is undermined by wild display of concrete and steel. In ‘Ehat Daba’ (A game of chess), the unsuccessful artist Mishra who has already been defeated in the chess play of life has been deprived of the only pleasure possible to him-a victory on the chess-board, by a seller of moveables, who has also succeeded in life.
The birththroe of an artist’s creation and the sad end of the creative inspiration are depicted in stories like ‘Barcarole’ and ‘Heral’ (Lost). In ‘Bhraman Birati’ a romantic love episode is depicted against the background of a big city scared by violence and in the grip of the death wish. Chaliha is sensitive to the changes of the contemporary society. The harsh ways of city life, its deafening sound and smell, its fluctuating scenario-all this finds expression in his stories. The marriage of reality and fantasy in Chaliha’s stories gives them a strange piquancy. He is careful to coalesce matter and form, so that one may not be disentangled from the other. His stories move rhythmically, and he uses leit-motif with remarkable success in a story like ‘Bharman Birati’. Such musicality and suggestiveness are the hallmark of his style. His stories are also marked by a beautiful irradiation of humour.
The early stories of Chandaprasad Saikia were marked by sentimental idealism. He has written in a straightforward manner about the moral chaos and the loss of idealism in the rapacious post independence period of society. In his stories we meet a poverty striken idealist teacher who is shocked to find his favourite student succumbing to corruption and moral degeneration, simple minded village people wondering at the discrepancy between leader’s words and deeds, a consumptive woman hurt by her lover’s effusive words uttered from a safe distance. Saikia has uncovered the mask of hypocrisy, faithlessness and delusion which hides the contortions of weak humanity. In his stories we also see the pride and subsequent repentance of persons in high positions. In some stories, there is indication of a healthy step taken for affirmation of justice and fairplay.
Search for moral values and suffering caused by the decay of idealism are the central experiences behind the stories of Saikia. His stories gives us the impression of a strong intelligence at work, a commodity that usually goes by default in his times.
Yet, Saikia is not attracted by complex experimentations of forms. His stories move in a straightforward manner, and they have often definite things to say. But, his situations are usually filled with dramatic possibilities as can be seen in a story like ‘Bhai’ (Fear). Niren is an honest and dutiful officer. He was asked to enquire to the file of a lady who has been suspended from service on charge of corruption. One day he stumbles upon the house where she stays and she leaves no stone unturned to tempt him. Niren is sure that his meeting with the lady would be published in the papers and any knock at his door upsets him. One morning the Director rings and rebukes him for the dereliction of his duties. Niren thinks that the Director would rebuke him for his supposedly corrupt move in meeting the lady. He obeys the summons and finds that the Director has been unjustly rebuking him for a file that he had completed long ago, ignoring an ailment in the family. The file is later discovered in the steel almirah of the Director. The depiction of the undutiful arrogance of high placed officers is realistic.
In ‘Ek Adhyay’ (A chapter), the idealistically minded youth Dhiraj wants to marry Purabi, the daughter of a rich and aristocratic family. He spends a night in her house and finds that her family is lacking in sense of humanity. The family lives in comfort in a palatial building, but makes no provision for a secure shelter and a bit of warm clothing for the servant girl who shivers in the cold. He compares his mother’s affectionate nature and the heartlessness of Purabi’s and feels compelled to break the match. We find in Saikia’s world a black and white account of good and evil and the solution he offers to the various problems of life simplistic. Saikia’s style is straightforward and traditional. His prose is marked by clarity and perspicacity and he paints his characters with bold strokes. His weakness for idealistic life and character is well known.
The greatest stories of Mahim Bora are marked by colourful and imaginative descriptions. He paints the life of the village folk in glowing colours. His style is cultivated and is marked by economy of expression and exactly etched descriptive touches. Mahim Bora is a conscientious writer, conscious of his range. He doggedly refuses to stray into a world he does not know. He has eschewed exotic themes and forms as far as practicable.
Bora shows great skill in the delineation of natural setting and atmosphere. His descriptions are never extraneous and they fit into their situations. The way he creates the mood and atmosphere in stories like ‘Echerenga Smritir Jonak’ (A Streak of Moonlight of Reminscence), ‘Ras’ and ‘Top’ is difficult to match from contemporary Assamese fiction. His stories depict the hopes and desires, joys and sorrows, laughter and tears of rural life with great sympathy, under strict confines of the artistic form. In ‘Echerenga Smritir Jonak’ Bora has caught the impression of first love beautifully. His descriptions are marked by colour and rhythm, but there is nothing too much. The description of nature found in the story is presented symbolically. The symbolical suggestiveness of the moonlight reminds one of the symbol of rain in some modern overseas writer. His nature description is brief and self contained.
“The clear moonlight of the full moon night. Like a splash of milk split suddenly on the earthen floor, the moon light has clustered everywhere in pools, drains and all place”.
“As though someone softly emptied a basketful of sand of the Brahmaputra full of dazzling mica over my back”.
In such descriptions the inimitable style of Bezbaroa in classics like ‘Mor Jiban Sowarani’ has asserted itself.
In ‘Tritiya Shrenir Jatri’ (Passenger in the third Class) also we find a comparison of the past and the present, which is expressed in terms of ironical effusion. The story is important as it marks the transition into a materialistic post independence society which was fast replacing older idealistic morals.