Indira 'Mamoni' Goswami disliked some elements of Ramayana!

Did you know that the late author Indira Goswami, who went by her pen name Mamoni Raisom Goswami and considered an authority on Ramayana literature, did not like some elements of the epic initially?

"Travelling with Words", a documentary by Delhi-based filmmaker Violet Barman on the Assamese litterateur, who died last year on this day, brings to light many such interesting facets of Goswami's life.

The 2000 Jnanpith Award winner, who taught Modern Indian Languages at Delhi University, did not like episodes in the Ramayana like Sita's banishment, Suparnakha's disfigurement by Lakshman and Bali being stabbed in the back.

However, later on, when she met Camille Bulcke, a Belgian Jesuit missionary in India and a famous Hindi scholar, and her teacher Upendra Chandra Lekharu, she realised that the things she didn't like were actually interpolation of the epic.

Then she began to understand the real essence of the Ramayana. She began reading regional Ramayanas presented in different languages and started participating in a number of international Ramayana conferences and read papers on the subject. She also delivered lectures on the epic at various institutions - both in India and abroad.

Besides, she chaired several sessions at international conferences on the Ramayana and was recieved the International Tulsi Award by Florida International University for her book, "Ramayana: From Ganga To Brahmaputra".

The 29-minute documentary in Assamese with English sub- titles has interviews with Goswami and other people related to her life and works. Violet Barman began the shooting in 2010.

"The film was shot both in Guwahati and Delhi. It was completed about three months before Mamoni baideo's death. I gave her a DVD but could not get her feedback as she fell ill," says Barman.

After suffering a cerebral stroke in February last year, Goswami was brought to a hospital in Gurgaon but later taken back to Guwahati.

The film has been screened at many institutions and festivals like ISFFI Chennai, DBICA and JDCA Documentary fest in Bhubaneswar.

In 2008, she started the South-East Asia Ramayana Research Institute in Guwahati devoted to research on the epic.

She had acquired her PhD in 1973 from Gauhati University for her thesis "Comparative Study of Goswami Tulsi Das' Ramcharita Manas and Madhab Kandali's Assamese Ramayana".

The first-ever Ramayana in the modern Indo-Aryan languages is believed to have been written in Assamese in the 14th century by Kandali.

The documentary also mentions how Goswami donated the Euro one lakh prize money she won as part of the Netherlands' prestigious Principal Prince Claus Award for setting up of a hospital in her native village in Assam's Kamrup district.

It was her father's wish to have a good hospital at Amranga village but due to paucity of funds, it had remained a dream. Goswami had also wanted to name the hospital after a leper she saw when she was very young.

The plight of the unknown leper, who lived on the roadside, cast a deep impact on the late author.

Another interesting fact is that Goswami, considered one of the greatest writers in Assamese whose works have been vastly translated and are part of curricula of many universities, did not know a word of Assamese as she had done her primary schooling in Shillong with English as the medium.

She then learnt Assamese from Kirti Hazarika, the then editor of widely circulated Assamese daily Dainik Asom. Soon her first short story got published in the newspaper.

Noted writer Amrita Pritam once wrote of her, "Indira Goswami is one of those rare souls who have been able to get an insight into the great powers which are working behind this universe."

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