Sneh Devi
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Sneh Devi

Making a record as a short story writer in the twentieth century Assamese literature and getting Sahitya Academy award, receiving literary pension, Sneh Devi has become a familiar name among the readers of Assamese short story. The real name of the writer who had become famous in the world of literature as Sneh Devi was Snehmayee Devi. Sneh Devi was also no exception from the common women in a conservative society who had been suffering from inferiority complex. That is why to conceal herself she kept her name short in the literary world.

This renowned writer was born in the month of August in 1916. The name of her birth place was Rajamaidam. Sahityaratna Chandradhar Baruah’s brother Nandadhar Baruah was her father. Her mother Kiranmoyee was the second daughter of Lakshminath Phukan of Uzan bazaar, Guwahati. Nandadhar baruah was resolute, steady Nature man without arrogance. He taught all in the family to lead a simple life with high thinking. Inspired by the ideology of her father Sneh Devi hated indiscipline from the core of her heart. Her mother was also an ideal housewife. As an expert cook and a skilled weaver Sneh Devi’s mother was much famous. Sneh Devi’s mother had spun almost all the necessary clothes at home. Growing up in such an environment, the writer naturally became skilled in household works. That was an age to study. But Sneh Devi did not have time to give attention to studies due to the domestic chores. It became late for Sneh Devi to begin her studies as the guardians too had thought that it was necessary to teach a girl all the household work than to make her study. That period was much unfavorable for woman’s education. Society as such was indifferent towards woman’s education and on top of that there was more restriction on a girl from a Brahmin family. Since there was a custom in general to marry off the girls of Brahmin family before they attend puberty teaching them household works rather than educating them. It was not an exception even in the case of Sneh Devi. Sneh Devi carried that sorrow of not getting the opportunity to study in her heart till death. On the other hand she was taught how to weave in hand-loom, how to spin thread in wheel and to cook right from her childhood. Sneh Devi who learns how to spin thread in the spinning wheel at the age of five got the opportunity to spin the thread in the ‘Satyagraha’ (a kind of sacrificial worshiping) by sitting near Bapu when the Father of the Nation, Bapuji came to Assam for the first time. She enjoyed recollecting that till late in her life.

Sneh Devi initially started her learning at her home. After learning the Assamese alphabets at home, she started her student life in the primary school at the age of five. After that she got admitted into Jorhat Govt. girl’s school. She did not get the chance to study there for long. Sneh Devi got married in April, 1928 when she was in class V. She did not even complete 12 years during that time. According to the tradition of Brahmin family she was married to Dr. Dinesh Chandra Barua from Dibrugarh before attaining puberty and she stayed back with her parents for two and a half years and then at the age of fifteen and half she attained her puberty in the month of February in 1931.

At the time when boys and girls seriously get involved with studies she did not get the chance to study during that time. While staying with her parents she developed the habit of reading books and she read almost all the books that she got with rapt attention. She thought in her mind while reading those that if she tried even her herself could write like that. The books that usually she read were mostly written in Assamese and Bengali language. Gradually reading books became her habit.

In 1931 Sneh Devi after attaining puberty came to her husband’s home and she took the responsibility of home as a good housewife. Her husband Dr. Dinesh Chandra Baruah was the only child of his parents. Dr. Baruah was the Doctor of Jaipur Dispensary. So Sneh Devi had to stay with her husband in Jaipur. She gave her husband the opportunity to devote himself whole hardheartedly to his service by taking the responsibility of managing the home of two of them in Jaipur. She had discharged her responsibility with a smiling face. Even her busy schedule could not diminish the urge to read books. That is why after finishing her days work she read books even by lighting a lamp in the night.

This habit of reading books has brought the inspiration to her mind- ‘If I try I can write’ this attitude the made her firmly determined in her mind. But initially Sneh Devi had written one or two poems without the knowledge of anyone and she tore it away secretly apprehending that someone would see it. New women writer’s condition becomes like this. With the inspiration of daughter, her first poem got published in a magazine named "Saumarjyoti" in 1952, edited by Premadhar Rajkhowa after a phase of writing and destroying many poems. The name of the poem was ‘Prayojotan’ (Need). Sneh Devi was encouraged, became confident and inspired to write after that poem was published. Gradually the inferiority complex disappeared from the mind. During that time, her first play ‘Sesh Tipti’ (The Last Satisfaction) was broadcast in All India Radio, Guwahati that made her even more confident. Her plays and stories continued to broadcast in All India Radio.

Sneh Devi’s first published story was ‘Jowarar Pichat’ (After the Tide). That story was published in ‘Ramdhenu’s VIII issues of sixth year. Most of her stories were written when her husband was posted in Naharkatiya. She gathered materials for many stories by intimately talking to the patients who had come to her doctor husband. Sneh Devi liked to share people’s weal and woe and she also liked to listen to the true stories of their real life with genuine feelings of the heart. She presented those stories to readers by giving imaginary color and touch. So it can be assumed that most of her stories were written on real events.

When Sneh Devi continuous imaginary flow stated to come out of her pen, then she started to publish her stories one after another. Since that time she could occupy a distinct place in the minds of readers. Sneh Devi enriched the corpus of stories in Assamese literature without being aware by writing the stories picking up the resources from each incident talking place in front of her eyes. Almost two hundred stories written by her got a place in the Assamese magazines and newspapers. And some of those stories got recognition in pan Indian context. Some of the stories got a place in two collections of Indian stories published by book Trust of India. Those two stories are translated into other language of India. Some stories are also translated into Hindi language.

Her husband had premature death suffering from incurable disease in the month of January 1962. She became ill out of sorrow and depression after the death of her husband. But still she did not stop writing. Initially though she suffered from inferiority complex for having less formal education. Yet she was more inspired and encouraged as her stories were continuously published in various magazines. So in an interview published in ‘Dainik Jamanbhumi’ on 31st July, 1972, Sneh Devi said," I have not started writing thinking of literary practice; writing is my hobby or pleasure. My education is also scanty. When I read some tales and stories during my childhood a question came to my mind- would I be able to write such stories if I try"?

Sneh Devi’s story titled, ‘such and’ got the first prize in Randhenu Annual story competition in 1957-58. Her short stories, tales and plays broadcast in radio are scattered in almost 450 magazines and newspapers at present time. Four collections of stories were also published. The dramatized version of her story ‘Latika’ was produced in Hindi from Delhi Doordarshan in 1986.

In Kamrup convention of Assam Sahitya Sabha Sneh Devi released the souvenir. She was presented with ‘Basanti Bordoloi Award’ in the Hailakandi convention of Assam Sahitya Sabha in 1987. Sneh Devi chaired the open session of Sadou Asom Lekhika Samaroh Samity held in Barpeta in 1988. In the year 1987 she was selected by the Govt. of Assam for the literary pension.

Sahitya Academy of India recognized Sneh Devi as the best literature in Assamese literature for the year 1990 for the high standard of writing and selected her collection of stories titled ‘Akuki Golpa’. But it is very unfortunate that she did not get to know this announcement because this award was announced in the month of December in the year 1990 and award was given to her and her son Pulin Barua received this award from the president.

Sneh Devi’s literary genius:

Four collections of stories by Sneh Devi have been published. The first one is ‘Krishna Dwitiyar Jonak’. It was published by Harendra Kumar Baruah as the collection of the best stories published in various magazines till 1957. Some of the important stories of this collection are- ‘Nirab Sidhanta’ (Silent Decision), ‘Krihna Dwitiyar Jonak’,‘Budhuksha’, ‘Jogajog’, ‘Phula Bai’, ‘Preranar Sadhana’.

‘Mane Mane’ and ‘Dibaswapna’ are her two stories which got a place in ‘Bacharar Galpa’, a collection of Best Assamese stories. The story ‘Janani’ which got a place in ‘Modern Assamese stories’ published by Sahitya Academy is one of the best stories by Sneh Devi. The eternal conflict of human heart is reflected here. Aditya getting charmed by the circumstances of the middle class life and following the suggestions of the heartless wife has neglected his loving mother. Being neglected by own son, the mother with a broken heart pacifies the suffering of mother’s heart by looking at a picture of a mother and a child. Because she does not have the right to take Aditya’s child on her lap. Aditya could realize how much injustice was done to his mother when his child got sick. And, so, he came running to his mother with the child on his arms to beg forgiveness. The universal appeal of the story is heart touching. Moreover, the eternal feelings like love, jealousy, hatred etc in a character of a woman are revealed in this story.

Sneh Devi’s second collection is ‘Sneh Devir Galpa’ (Stories of Sneh Devi). In 1964 this collection of stories was published by Dutta Baruah and sons publishing from Nalbari. The best nineteen stories were included here. Those stories are-‘Adhani Pranar Katha’, ‘Kalamar Khoch’, ‘Apekshar Antat’, ‘Asampta Chithi’, ‘Kuwali’, ‘Mouna Kshama’, ‘Nirbhejal’, ‘Atmasat’, ‘Binay’, ‘Sahajog’, ‘Madhur Bedana’, ‘Jogajog’, ‘Priya Asatya’, ‘Parihsha’, ‘Sukhita’, ‘Unmochan’, ‘Samdhan’, ‘Ati mrityut’, and ‘Pohar’. The writer has presented before the readers the incident that is seen with her own eyes with minute observation, and realizing it with the depth of emotions. The writer has tried to express to express the mental conflict of young women through the character in Sadhana in the story ‘Apekshar Antat’. Similarly the feelings of the mind of the old grandmother and Parmesh were reflected in this story. That is why the former President of Sahitya Sabha Sri Jogesh Das has said about her story that the art of story is that she has tried to present the explanation of some very complex mental conflict. It becomes very significant for the reason that only a few writers have shown interest mental conflict is one of the main supports of Sneh Devi’s story and could enjoy much pleasure out of that pursing it. (Title page, ‘Sneh Devi’s Akukhi Galpa’). On the other hand in an article, ‘Assamese short stories in the last 20 years, ‘ Published in Nilachal (2nd vol, 8th year’ , 70), the writer Sri Upendranath Sarma also wrote about Sneh Devi’s story supporting that view- ‘the social or economic problems hardly appear in her stories. But the way a tune of the subtle feelings of human heart is strongly played, it happens in the case of a very few story writers. The effort to pursue some complexities of human heart based on psychological analysis of human psyche is seen in her stories. In the contemporary story writing the pursuing of feelings of human heart is not proportionately done as the ways of analysis of the problems is done. Sneh Devi has full field a want of Assamese story writing in this regard’ (P.119). So the influence of reality seems to be more in Sneh Devi’s stories though it is colored with imagination.

The third and fourth collections of stories by Sneh Devi are ‘The Best Stories of Sneh Devi’ published in 1981 and ‘Sneh Devi’s Akuki Galpa’ (A Basket of Sneh Devi’s Stories) published in 1988 by Ambikapad Choudhury, the proprietor of Bani Prakash Guwahati. This last collection of stories got the Sahitya Academy award in Assamese literature in 1990. There are-‘Bichitra’, ‘Fehujali’, ‘Teolokar’, ‘Man’, ‘Kotha Asil’, ‘Bakra Path’, ‘Nam Dim Kalyani’, ‘Sair Ali’, ‘Ramalar kotha’, ‘Bhay’, ‘Barma’, ‘Bandhu Tumi Mur’, ‘Tumi Satru’, and ‘Nishar Pakhi’. The writer has portrayed the diversity of the mind of a young woman, Kaberi which even God fails to understand in the story Bichitra’. The mother married Kaberi off to characterless Mahesh expecting her to be wealthy and prosperous ignoring Kanti, who is an M.A. Kaberi too in order to pay back the debt of her mother followed the order of her mother and suffered a lot in her life which she did not express to anyone. In the story ‘Fehujali’ the character of Borbaba is portrayed who gossips about others. It is understood from his speech that he does not like Aparajita Dutta who is an illegitimate child, becoming Ajita Bordoloi with the identity of father. But the young Ajita Bordoloi is determined to "keep reverence for her protector father, undiminished since birth till death. In the story ‘Teolokar Man’, Mrs. Sharma after attending her grand daughter’s marriage regrets telling her husband about the separation of her modern son Jagu and sister-in-law Sumati and both of them with sorrow says, What is happening? Why does it happen?’ Barun wanted to say something to his beloved Kalyani sitting in an isolated place in the story ‘Katha Asil’. Kalayni always shows her inability to give such an opportunity to Barun as they can’t get married because of the relation in the two families found out. Kalayni wrote a letter to Barun during the last days of her life-"It would not be proper to be mentally distress for the things life as it has not materialized during this life". The writer, a believer in next birth has shown the exemplary instance of the depth of love of a woman through the character Kalayni. In the story ‘Bakrapath’, Madhan an adolescent girl has introduced her mother as step mother to her friends feeling embarrassed as her mother is suspected by all as the beloved of Barun. This story ‘Brakapath’ is an example of how the character of parents affects their off springs. A lady who is looking for a bride to match with the son of her sister could hear the conversation in ‘Nam Dim Kalyani’. A young woman named Nitu told her friends that she would not marry a boy who harasses his parents and young in age. On the other hand, remembering the responsibility of looking after her sick mother she wanted to leave without waiting for the groom to come. The lady thought that such dutiful girl would be a proper match for her nephew Rajat and her name would be changed into Kalyni from Nitu. Of course the conservative attitude of the writer is exposed in this story. In this story ‘Sair Ali’ (Road of Ash), Nibaran a young man’s devoted love towards Neera is narrated. Actually no one has seen Neera. All feel as if they have seen Nerra getting Neera’s description from Nibaran. But when Nibaran boarded the train along with his wife, then the writer’s friend Amrit Kumari came to know she was not Neera, but Rani. Then Amrit Kumari understood that Nibaran had been telling them about an imaginary story for all these days. Ramala’s brother-in-law Vinod’s bad character is hinted in ‘Ramalar Katha’ and Ramala’s strong feeling of love towards Sukhen is also narrated along with it. When sober and gentle intimate friend of Basanti’s husband Prabir confesses that he is not a good character man, then Basanti could guess that certainly Prabir has some soft corner in his mind for her and instantly Basnti gets chilled out of fear in the story ‘Bhay’ (Fear). Old Mrinalini has lost her mental balance out of sorrow as her husband betrayed her yet everyone thought this lady, who is everyone’s Aunt is very happy. This was portrayed in the story ‘Barma’. In ‘Bandhu Tumi Mor, Tumi Satru’ (You are my friend you are my enemy)’, the writer has delineated a picture how a young woman Pretty accepted untimely widowhood gracefully and became happy by serving people. Surjit loves pretty. But Preety has seen her husband in Surjit, whom she lost eight years ago. Pretty realizes that Surjit has stood by her as a friend, but like an enemy he is committed to dissuade her vows to widowhood. So Preety has made Surjit to pledge that day would wait till the crisis of the country gets over. Surjit also acknowledges that she has got the inspiration from pretty "to think about greatness sacrificing trivial selfish interest". The last story of this collection is ‘Nishar Pakhi’ (Night Bird) were Dhananjoy marries again after the death of quarrelsome first wife. The second wife is a quiet worker. She did not speak beyond necessity. When Dhanai beats her for not talking to the daughter of Mouzadar, then she sobs, she does not protest. Dhanai realizes that his wife speaks softly in a conducive environment, and that can be compared with the sot songs of the night bird.

When all these stories are analyzed it becomes obvious that the woman characters get priority in Sneh Devi’s stories. It is mentioned earlier that the analyzed of love, envy and conflict in women character is the main subject of Sneh Devi’s stories. Perhaps the last story of Sneh Devi is ‘Bandhabi Sangbad’ published in the Puja issue of ‘Sutradhar’ in 1990. Critiquing the dress sand makeup of modern women, the writer expresses –‘long nails and bright red color on the lips of a new bride-it seems as if a tigress has just come out sucking the blood of prey’. On the other hand the guilt feeling o the writer’s friend is expressed for depriving the hungry young children from food by giving the message of their grandparent’s death. It is believed in Christianity that peace is found out of confession of sin. The writer’s friend has also got peace after eight years by confessing own guilt to the eldest one of the children.

The chief characteristics of Sneh Devi’s story are mental conflict of women characters. Though the writer has presented the psychological analysis of the women characters though her stories, yet she has not stayed away from the real society. The writer’s conservative mind appears almost in all the stories. As an example it can be said that in the story ‘Bandhu Tumi Mor, Tumi Satru’, Preety though being a modern educated girl has accepted widowhood and observed all the rituals of a Brahmin widow. Though Preety loves Surjit, yet she does not wish to get into wedlock with Surjit. Hence, Dr Satyendranath Sharma in his ‘Asamiya Sahityar Samikshatmak Itibritta’ has commented about Sneh Devi’s stories- ‘Sneh Devi’s writing is controlled and her outlook to some extent is conservative. Her stories sparkle with the nutty gritty of domestic life. Various aspects of love have been attractively portrayed though life’s manifestation is not limited to love only’’.

The distinguished writer Dolly Talukdar also acknowledged in her article, "Sahitya Academy Bata Bijayini Sneh Devir Sowaranat", which was published in Asom Bani on 21st December’90, "We get thought provoking subject matter, symbolism, dramatic anxiety, and reverence for the values of old lie and reservation in her stories".

Sneh Devi’s stories have got places in several special collections of Assamese stories. These collections are-

1. Galpa Sangrah (Collection of stories)

Editor: Sri Biswanarayan Shastri(1960)

2. Natun Galpa Sangrah (New story collection)

Editor: Sri Jatin Goswami (1963)

3. Adhunik Assamiya Galpa Sangrah (Mordern Assamese Story collection)

Editor Sri Troloikyanath Goswami (1971)

4. Assammya Premar Galpa (Assamese Love Stories)

Editor: Sri Nirod Choudhury (1964)

5. Assammiya Galpa Sanklan (Assamese Story Collection)

Editor: Sri Homen Borgohain (1976)

6. Kalantarar Kathakata

Editor: Imran Shah and Arun Goswami (1978)

7. Assamiya Galpa Sankalan (Assamese story collection)

Editor: Smti Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi (1979)

Over all Sneh Devi enriched the bulk of Assamese short stories by her life long devotion to literature. Even a small incident that happens in life is presented by her to the readers arranging it with her seasoned outlook. That is why Trolokyanath Goswami has acknowledgment in ‘Modern Story Writing’, ‘To analyze the female character with a sympathetic attitude is a specialty of her stories’. Many critics compare her with the Gyanpith Award Winner, Ashapurna Devi from West Bengal. The publisher of Sneh Devi’s ‘Ahuki Galpa’ comments on the cover page,’ Like Ashapurna Devi in West Bengal, even Sneh Devi with her perseverance and characteristic quality begins her literary life……….." Sri Upendranath Sharmah in an article titled ‘Assamese Short Stories in the last Twenty Years’, published in the 2nd issues of Nilachal in the Eighth year (70) has written, - "many a times the tone of her stories resembles even with the stories of Ashapaurna Devi". On the other hand, Sneh Devi like Ashapaurna of West Bengal having only a title formal education, with her unique talent has enhanced the glory of Assamese literature and she could establish herself in a remarkable position. Sneh Devi’s name will be lasting forever in the history of Assamese short story.


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