PEN Delhi Stands in Solidarity with Assamese Poet Nilim Kumar

PEN Delhi stands in solidarity with Assamese poet Nilim Kumar who is being targeted by a youth organization in Assam, the Tai Ahom Yuba Parishad, for his poem ‘Akhon Asustho City Bus’ (An Ailing Citybus’), published in Prantik. Since the poem appeared, FIRs have been lodged against Kumar and he has received death threats. Several people and organisations have now jumped into the fray and Kumar has been forced to offer an explanation of his satirical poem.

Nilim Kumar is one of Assam’s best known and most popular poets. With seventeen collections of poems to his credit, he is something of a household name, and is known for his deep love of Assam. He is also a translator, and a well known Assamese voice at various literary events, including those organised by the Sahitya Akademi. Among his many awards is the Raza Foundation Award (2009) and the Uday Bharati National Award (1984). Kumar is also a physician employed with the Assamese government and, after taking part in anti-CAA protests earlier this year, he was transferred from Deomornoi Community Health Centre (CHC) at Patharighat in Assam’s Darrang district to Sonari Sapori PHC in Dhakuakhana in Lakhimpur district.

PEN Delhi defends Nilim Kumar’s right to freedom of speech and condemns the attacks against him. It notes also that the threats of violence have created an atmosphere of fear such that Nilim Kumar now finds himself isolated and, even though he has offered explanations for the content of his poem and apologized if he has inadvertently offended anyone, the threats have not died down. Writing, whether critical or otherwise, must have an atmosphere free of fear if it is to thrive and serve the purpose of being the conscience and inspiration of society and human beings.

AN AILING CITYBUS
Original : Assamese : Nilim Kumar

An ailing citybus.
It travels around the city
One gets asphyxiated. Stops sometimes for a while
Standing it by the side of the road. Exhales black smoke.
Sometimes it makes whizzing sound, like one struggling to breathe.
It traverses very slowly
Among the busyness of the city
A city of hurriedness
A city of horn and overtake
A city of two gleaming inviting eyes.
Among these finding the way, exuding black smoke
Comes an ailing citybus.
People embarks and looking at its speed
Disembarks again immediately.
Passengers swear at it – an ailing citybus.

A driver of eight hundred years
A handyman of five hundred years
The driver says his name – Siu-ka-Pha.
Handyman says his name – Gadapani
No licence.
The bus is a headache of traffic police.
A bus that cannot ferry the students to schools and colleges in time.
A bus that gets the women late in reaching the temple.
An ailing citybus that runs with a lifelong licence provided by history.
The passengers gets in by mistake and gets down the next moment
No one wants to get up in that bus
That remains away from the traffic jam of future

Only one young girl is there in the city
Her name Kamalakunwari
Who likes to ride in this bus.
She comes daily, sits by the window
Who never visits a temple.
Who at the time of coming out from home
Plants a thousand years long kiss
On the cheek of her mother.

With the meandering thoughts of history along the streets of the city
Daily plies an ailing citybus
Name of the driver Siu-ka-Pha
Handyman Gadapani

Published in Prantik on July 1, 2020.