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Dilemma of dialogues and italics

How are the writings of metropolitan writers different from that of the Northeast? The latter is more rooted to the local culture, felt Manipuri writer Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh as he, along with his colleagues from Assam, Jahnavi Barua, and Sikkim, Chetan Raj Shrestha, discussed the nuances of Writing from Northeast.

As a writer trying to uphold her culture and world before others, Barua did not feel a compulsion to explain every minute detail of local life. “You don’t need to explain yourself all the time. If a story is set in a metro it is more easily understood. Most Northeast writers are struggling to explain, since their rise in the last 15 years. But I have decided to do away with italics. If readers take the trouble to know what lasagne and fettuccine is, they better take pains and find out what mekhala chadar is too. We are also writing about human conditions and universal emotions only in a different setting,” explained the author of Rebirth.

Shrestha struggled most while writing dialogues. “I am yet to find the right balance when I translate a local dialogue in English,” said the author of much-appreciated The King’s Harvest.

From how writing in English is a way of reaching out to a larger audience, though at times it calls for greater explanation, to how Assamese English is as subtle and distinctively different from Punjabi English, the writers opened up the Northeast literary world to the audience.

Not every book stresses on insurgency either. “I deal with domestic issues. I write about what I know. In our middle-class lives we are not in the thick of insurgency. So I don’t write about it much,” Barua said.

As talk veered to translated works and how many things are lost in translation, all the authors claimed that they didn’t mind reaching out in English as they think and feel in the language too, though with a sprinkling of local flavour. “It’s a riot inside when I write. I think both in English and my mother tongue,” Shrestha added.