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The Assamese by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty: An Attempt to Capture the Essence and Diversity of Assam

The Assamese: A Portrait of a Community

Author: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Genre: Geographical Biography

Published by Aleph Book Company

Pages: 454

MRP: Rs. 999/-

Thank you @alephbookco for a review copy of the book.

The Assamese is a book that claims to provide a comprehensive and nuanced portrait of one of India’s oldest and most distinctive communities. The author, Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, is a journalist who has covered Assam for many years. She attempts to explore the diverse aspects of Assam’s culture, history, language, politics, and identity through personal anecdotes, interviews, and research.

The book provides a broad and detailed overview of various aspects of Assam’s culture, history, language, politics, and identity. It covers topics such as the physical appearance of the Assamese, the multiple kingdoms and rulers of the region, the Assamese language and its rich linguistic provenance, the folk beliefs and celebrations of Assamese culture, the significance of the mighty Brahmaputra river, the quintessential food, drink, and cooking techniques to be found across the region, and the many distinctive forms of cultural expression that are found nowhere else in the country. The book is enriched with personal anecdotes and pen portraits that add color and depth to the narrative. The author shares her own experiences and observations, as well as those of the people she has met and interviewed, which make the book more engaging and relatable.

The book is written in a lucid and accessible language that makes it easy for readers of all backgrounds to understand and appreciate. The author avoids jargon and technical terms, and uses simple and vivid descriptions to convey complex ideas and emotions.The book shows a deep respect and appreciation for the diversity and complexity of Assam’s culture and identity. The author acknowledges the multiple influences and interactions that have shaped Assam’s history and people, and avoids stereotyping or generalizing about any particular group or community.

One of the major flaws of the book is its uncritical acceptance of the Aryan invasion theory, which is a controversial and contested hypothesis that posits that the Indo-Aryan people migrated or invaded India from Central Asia and imposed their culture and language on the indigenous people. The author uses this theory to explain the physical and linguistic diversity of the Assamese people, without acknowledging the alternative views and evidences that challenge this theory. For instance, she ignores the recent genetic studies that show that the Indian population is largely derived from two ancient groups, the Ancestral North Indians (ANI) and the Ancestral South Indians (ASI), who have mixed extensively for thousands of years, and that there is no clear trace of a large-scale migration of Indo-Aryans into India. She also overlooks the archaeological and literary evidences that suggest that the Indo-Aryan culture and language developed indigenously in India, and that the Vedic civilization was not a foreign imposition, but a native expression of the ancient Indian ethos. By relying on the Aryan invasion theory, the author not only perpetuates a colonial and divisive narrative of India’s history, but also fails to appreciate the complex and dynamic nature of Assam’s cultural and linguistic heritage.

Another flaw of the book is its narrow and skewed perspective on the political issues of Assam, especially the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is a list of Indian citizens in Assam. The author portrays the NRC as a humanitarian crisis that has rendered millions of people stateless and vulnerable, without examining the historical and geopolitical context that necessitated the NRC in the first place. She does not mention the long-standing problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which has altered the demographic and cultural landscape of Assam, and has threatened the identity and rights of the indigenous people. She does not acknowledge the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the Assamese people, who have been demanding the implementation of the Assam Accord of 1985, which promised to detect and deport the illegal immigrants and protect the Assamese culture and language. She does not address the security and sovereignty implications of having a porous and disputed border with a hostile neighbor, and the potential risks of infiltration and radicalization. By ignoring these aspects, the author presents a one-sided and sensationalized account of the NRC, and fails to understand the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.

The book reads more like a collection of disjointed articles, rather than a cohesive and comprehensive narrative. The author also relies heavily on personal anecdotes and opinions, which are often anecdotal, subjective, and anecdotal.

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