Biography of Nilmani Phookan
Nilmani Phookan (Nilamani Phookan) is an Indian poet in Assamese language and an academic. His work replete with symbolism, is inspired by French symbolism and is representative of the genre in Assamese poetry. His notable works include Surya Henu Nami Ahe Ei Nodiyedi, Gulapi Jamur Lagna, Kobita.
Nilmani Phookan is considered Assam’s most distinguished living poet. Born in the village of Dergaon in 1933, he started writing poetry in the early 1950s. Inspired by the example of his precursors, Hem Barua, Amulya Barua and Maheswar Neog, he and his other contemporaries, Navakanta Barua and Ajit Barua, took to free verse, exploring and extending the possibilities of Assamese modernism. He has written thirteen volumes of poetry, and has won ten regional and national awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award for Poetry in 1981 and the Padmashri from the Government of India in 1990. He joined the Arya Vidyapeeth College in Guwahati as a lecturer in 1964 and worked there until his retirement in 1992.
Phookan has been described as a “sage-like presence” in Assamese literature. It is possible to see why. His canvas is vast, his imagination mythopoeic, his voice bardic, his concerns ranging from the political to the cosmic, from the contemporary to the primeval. The landscapes he evokes are epic and elemental: he speaks of fire and water, planet and star, forest and desert, man and rock, time and space, war and peace, life and death.
And yet, you find not merely a sage’s reflective detachment here, but urgency as well as anguish and a deep sense of loss. Most importantly, to my mind, the unapologetic preoccupation with the cosmic and existential does not lead to grandiosity or a resort to misty abstractions. For even while the poetry invokes generalities, it does not ignore the scorching particular that has always been such an integral part of the poet’s province. This is poetry that can speak of “the meaning of death/ and the vacuity of living” and “the mothers of five hundred million sick and starving children”, but it can also memorialise another more fragile moment: “the yellow butterflies with wings spread on barbed wires”.
In the accompanying interview, Phookan speaks lyrically of the Assamese countryside, of the rich heritage of tribal myth and folklore, the rhythms of village life, all of which have helped shape his sensibility as a poet. He reasserts the centrality of poetry in “helping man find his soul” – a role that takes on an altogether new urgency in a violent, trackless and progressively utilitarian world. Along with the impassioned defence of the poetic art, however, is the awareness of its insignificance in the larger scheme of things: poetry eventually remains, he maintains, “Nothing more profound/ Than the chirping of the cricket”.
Nilmani Phookan's Works:
Surya Heno Nami Aahe Eyi Nadiadi. Prakashan Ghar, Rangiya1953.
Nirjanatar Sabda. Dutta Barua, Guwahati1965.
Aru Ki Naisabda. Dutta Barua, Guwahati1968.
Japani Kavita. Barua Book Agency, Guwahati1971.
Phuli Thaka Suryamukhi Phultor Phale. Guwahati Book Stall, Guwahati 1973.
Kaint Golap Aru Kaint. Dutta Barua, Guwahati1975.
Golapi Jamur Lagna. Bani Prakash, Guwahati1977.
Kavita. Barua Book Agency, Guwahati 1980.
Gacia Larkar Kavita. Bani Prakash, Guwahati1981.
Nrityarata Prithivi. Barua Book Agency Guwahati, 1985.
Sagartalir Sankha. Selected Poems edited by Hiren Gohain. Lawyers’ Book Stall, Guwahati1994.
Cheena Kavita. Students’ Store, Guwahati1996.
Alop Agota Ami Ki Kotha Pati Ashilo. Students’ Store, Guwahati 2003.
As Poetry Editor
Kuri Satikar Asomiya Kavita. Anthology of Modern Assamese Poetry. Asom Prakashan Parishad, Guwahati 1977.
Aranyar Gan. Anthology of Indian Tribal Love Poems. Students’ Store, Guwahati 1993.
Loka Kalpadristi. An Introduction to the Study of Arts and Crafts in Assam. Publication Board, Guwahati1987.
Rupa Barna Bak. Essays on Art and Artists. Shanti Prakashan, Guwahati 1988.
Silpakalar Upalabdhi Aru Ananda. Critical Essays on the Art of Appreciation. Arya Vidyapeeth, Guwahati 1997.
Silpakala Darshan. Essays on Art and Artists. Book Hive, Guwahati 1998.
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Nilmani Phookan Poems
Don’t Ask Me How I Am
Don’t ask me how I am Down the Kolong comes floating A headless girl For my corpse
For days I have heard only one sound day and night. The burning tyre is stinking.
The Sky Throbs
The sky throbs, I grope for the lamp All of a sudden in full flesh and blood My mother
What Were We Talking About Just Now?
What were we talking about just now? About stone being hard, water cold, About fire burning
That Day Was A Sunday
That day was a Sunday A stream of fresh blood from the butcher’s Rolled over the street to the ditch by its side The tumultuous passers-by took no notice of
In the woods deep in the woods a crane calls
Do Not Ask Me How I Have Been
Do not ask me how I have been I haven’t ask me either down the Kolong flows a young, female torso
The Earth In Her Magnificent Dance
We were two families sharing a single house Time passing through the leaky roofs Night passing water coming down in torrents Sometimes a wagtail
I Am Going Down The Hill
I’m going down the hill It’s getting dark At my heels are some rocks
In the woods deep in the woods a crane calls Open out both your arms let a swarm of stars sink into the aroma of your hair In the pond teeming with lotuses the wind soughs deep inside your body opens a red bud The rain pours down the opening palm frond the blood of your breasts rushes to your lips Now you are awake the face of darkness glows the clouds rumble over the hill
I PASSED THE TATTOOED NIGHT WIDE AWAKE
I passed the tattooed night wide awake looking at myself in the mirror this morning I saw my face was a piece of ice a feeling of coldness ran through me As if I awoke all of a sudden from a dream that writhed in pain wanting to write something I could not find my right hand my hand on which mushrooms grew I have not found the words words I have been hearing night and day in fire under water from palm leaves on eternity's darkling roads wearing a necklace of seven strings amber-coloured low sounds of barren love now hang from your neck all over the bodies of those who are gone who are coming who are ready to go Hesitantly I look into your eyes I go on till turning into a western star I burn in the air to ash turning into ash I come down on your face I have to be wide awake tonight as well perhaps for this night I have been waiting all these days carrying my heart in a sacred copper vessel In your presence I try to hide my face in the midst of rain stones trees children I am now getting submerged in the mossy nights' deep water Looking at my face in the mirror tomorrow morning perhaps I shall see from the riverbank an old man is angling all alone looking at the evening torn into strips The fish jumping on the water seem to be jumping onto the bank a kingfisher would swoop down on the edge of the water
I AM GOING DOWN THE HILL
I'm going down the hill It's getting dark At my heels are some rocks horizontal vertical round And in close embrace are gods apsaras male and female Kinnars men and women all carved primordial nights. A pomegranate plant comes up an orange plant too From the depths of silence of thousands of years emerge a pair of my forefather's hands The cries of a flock of cotton teals quiver on the leaves of waterweeds It's getting dark on the copper coin of my face I am burning On a red lotus a pearl gleams. I'm rock and man I'm clay and man As if standing at the centre of a vast circle I have observed fire water air planets and stars I am a horseman of the sun Taking on a thousand lives I have accumulated in my body every sun of seas of woods of deserts in my rapt consciousness every black sun of every season I am a naked man Ageless with my whole body I have felt some rocks hidden under water and earth some rocks and a planet made of human flesh and blood My lips tongue and innards have felt some rocks In the angular privacy of my prolonged life some rocks horizontal vertical round: Siva rock and man Siva bull and rock bull and man the pulse of time I am rock and man I am a kiss planted by men on a rock Along the flight of stone slabs the married women have gone up the hill of rocks the pristine wisdom of earth and dream the lyrics of dreamy youth The night has begun to fall The moon has come up through the antlers of a barking deer the voices of rocks have gone up spirally to the sky Siva rock and man Siva a burning tower of eternal fire Into the body of Siva Parvati has merged Crying Now it is dawn in the womb of the earth
WHAT WERE WE TALKING ABOUT JUST NOW
1 What were we talking about just now? About stone being hard, water cold, About fire burning And peacocks spreading their plumes About what the world's first dawn was like And why a sweet fruit becomes bitter The moment it is in the mouth About the sky flaring up Like a live ember Just four minutes to midnight About the earth slowly turning to sand And the shadow of bamboo clumps Turning to ash 2 No, I don't remember anything at all now Did you tell me a moment ago That you love me? The Love that is dedicated Only to mankind And only to destitute children Or to what lies hidden Amid the thirsty weeds At the bottom of the sea Or in a chunk of coal Was that what you spoke of On that midnight As you shed silent tears? 3 In all these days I couldn't find a life That I could call my own Or a death that was all for myself Who is it that nibbles to pieces My days and nights? How do I tide over this gory time? 4 Who is that having some celebration So early in the evening? And who among the dead Will attend it? How many times did The calf skin moo? And how many times did they return Reddened with blood? What did they see on their return When they looked back? And who did they not see On that lonely labyrinthine path? 5 Like the wind The horses are wheeling about the courtyard. Listen to their neighing. Last night, a poet like you With a low voice Passed away - One who had realized That there was nothing in his poetry Nothing more profound Than the chirping of the cricket What we were talking about Just a moment ago About water being cold, stone being hard And about peacocks spreading their plumes.
Poetry Is For Those Who Wouldn'T Read It
A poet had stated poetry is for those who wouldn't read it for the wounds in their hearts for their fingers where thorns are embedded
I Am Going Down The Hill
I’m going down the hill
It’s getting dark
At my heels
are some rocks
horizontal vertical round
And in close embrace are
male and female Kinnars
men and women