Centre for Assamese Studies

Translation of Miri Jiyori into English by Dr. Suranjana Barua


Miri Jiyori (1894) is a love story by Rajanikanta Bordoloi set in the Miri (now referred to as the Misings) community. A passionate story about doomed love, it was written at a time when the novel as a literary form was yet in a nascent stage. With a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a young Miri couple who matured from being childhood companions to a deeply committed but doomed couple in love, the novel is also a statement on the Mising community as well as a compassionate plea of humanism.

The novel has been translated for the Centre for Assamese Studies, Tezpur University, by Dr. Suranjana Barua and published by Publication Board Assam in 2012. This translated version includes an extensive Translator's Note that deals with the various issues of translating an epochal text such as Miri Jiyori in view of various translation theories as well as challenges afforded by the act of translation (which include, amongst others, its socio-political, linguistic and cultural dimensions).

A preview of the first chapter of this translation by Suranjana Barua is presented here.

Chapter 1
By the riverside

In the Lakhimpur district of this country of Axam, there is a river named the Xowanxiri. This river, originating in the mountain ranges of the Miris and Daphlas of North Axam, flows through Lakhimpur and falls into the Kherkotiya river of Majuli. Kherkotiya is not a different river - merely a tributary of the Brahmaputra. It branches off from the main Brahmaputra and falls into the Xowanxiri. To this day, the common folks of Lakhimpur and Majuli say that the Brahmaputra comes forward to greet and usher in the beautiful and talented spouse Xowanxiri. The place where the Xowanxiri and the Kherkotiya meet, the place from where river flows, is called the Luit. It is the Luit that flows westward through Lakhimpur and Majuli to fall into the Brahmaputra.

In width, the Xowanxiri is about one-fifth of the Brahmaputra and its water is purer than the latter's. The more one ascends upwards, the more its waters get pure. In fact, the water in the upper reaches gets so crystal clear that one can see through to the bottom. At some places, there is gold mixed in the water. Earlier, the Xowanxiri used to be a major source for earning gold in Axam and even today there are traces of gold in the water of the Xowanxiri. But Axamiyas have now given up gold-washing - the business is extremely laborious with little profit. Only if one gets lucky can cleaning the sands for one whole month get one a xiki of gold. Earlier, during the reign of kings when rice was cheap, one xiki gold could feed the members of a family for a whole month. But nowadays, even five or six silver rupees do not suffice to feed one man. This is why Axamiya people have been compelled to give up on such businesses. However, although nowadays Mother Xowanxiri has kept the poor folks of Axam deprived of the boon of gold, her other qualities remain the same. It is for this reason and for her serene, soft and affectionate love that Axamiyas still praise her. Her beauty knows no bounds. She flows through many a beautiful jungle and her serene winds and pure waters have kept many people inhabiting her banks in good health and spirits.

More than the Axamiya people, it is actually on the simple-hearted Miris from the hills that the Mother showers her love. Innocent by nature, these children of the Miri tribe cannot live without the Mother. These Miris, who have come from cool hilly terrains, cannot but stay beside the Mother. These worshippers of the 'Mugling Mirema', to whom they pray during the Sorog Puja to keep them calm and composed -

Tango lesinaak sinek taango reki besinek besi
Taam konek bidaak bonke sinke takkone
Tutuiya aakiya kimoyka, aasere bibi motoika

('Oh Thunder and Lightning, we pray to thee with this five year, white hoofed and tusked pig. May you be propitiated with this and may you keep us safe. May we not be afflicted by headaches and ailments of the stomach. Do keep us calm and composed')

- the Miris cannot survive sans the cool breeze of Mother Xowanxiri. Their thirst is not quenched if they cannot drink the water of the Xowanxiri; their spirits do not rise if they are not able to frolic aboard little boats on the lap of Mother Xowanxiri. That is why most people of the Miri tribe inhabit the shores of Mother Xowanxiri. Miri villages dot both banks of the Xowanxiri - many a times there would be forests on one bank and Miri villages on the other. Miris would break through such forests to set up their paddy sowing fields.

Towards the western side of one such Miri village, there were two paddy sowing fields for Ahu rice. The fields were a mere 10-12 nols away from the river embankment. Between both these fields were placed two saangs- merely 5-6 nols apart. Atop one of these two saang was a girl of about eight or nine and atop the other was a boy of around thirteen or fourteen. Both held two tokas in their hands and by beating these tokas, they chased away the 'tuni' and 'tokora' and other birds that would alight on the sowing fields from time to time. It was around four in the afternoon and the Sun God went and perched himself upon the western sky. The sun rays shimmered as they fell on the Xowanxiri. The children were sitting alone. It was just then that a bear appeared from the forest beyond. Terrorized, the children broke into a distressed run. They had just run around 8-9 nols when the girl stumbled and fell down. Instantly, overcoming his fear of the bear, the boy came and picked up the girl.

'Are you hurt, Panei?' he asked.
Hearing the boy's words, the girl broke into peals of laughter
'I am not hurt at all Jonki!'
The boy's name was Jonki and the girl's was Panei. Jonki then spoke again -
'Panei, let's not stay here anymore. Let's go from here.'
'Yes, let's go from here', Panei replied. 'It's dusk anyway.'

This duo of a Miri boy and a Miri girl then went aboard their boat. The boy stood at the rear and started rowing with the rear-end oar; the girl also stood at the front of the boat and took up rowing with the other oar. With every beat of the oar, the girl sang -

Take not a sowing field afar my sweetheart,
Take not a sowing field afar...
The slender waist would pain while coming
And the feet would pain while going...
In reply, the boy also sang -
The waters of the big river are pure my sweetheart
The waters of the big river are pure
More pure than that is my little sweetheart
Like the water in a washing-bowl

The boat reached the other shore even as they sang these naams. The two Miri children then left the boat on the river-bank and alighted. As they turned homewards, Panei called out to Jonki

'Oi Jonki! Oi Jonki! There will be some merriment at our home tomorrow. You must come'
'Alright Panei', Jonki replied, 'I shall be there'.