Book Review: ‘The Assamese’ by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

A Nuanced Exploration of Culture, History, and Identity of Assam

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Book Title: The Assamese: A Portrait of a Community
Author: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Number of Pages: 482
ISBN: 978-9391047764
Date Published: Nov. 5, 2023
Price: INR 787

The Assamese by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty Book Cover

Book Review

The Assamese” by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty promises an in-depth exploration of one of India’s oldest and most distinctive communities. As a seasoned journalist in Assam, the author embarks on a journey to unravel the multifaceted layers of Assam’s culture, history, language, politics, and identity. Through a combination of personal anecdotes, interviews, and thorough research, Pisharoty attempts to provide a nuanced and comprehensive portrait of the Assamese people.

The book paints a broad and detailed panorama of Assam, covering a myriad of aspects such as physical appearance, historical kingdoms, linguistic richness, cultural celebrations, the role of the Brahmaputra river, and culinary traditions. Pisharoty skillfully weaves personal anecdotes and pen portraits into the narrative, adding vibrancy and depth to the exploration. Readers encounter the author’s own experiences as well as those of the individuals she encounters, creating an engaging and relatable reading experience.

Written in a lucid and accessible language, the book caters to readers of diverse backgrounds, avoiding jargon and technicalities. Pisharoty’s deep respect for the complexity and diversity of Assam’s culture shines through, acknowledging the multiple influences that have shaped its history. She avoids stereotyping, offering a nuanced understanding of the intricate tapestry that defines Assam’s identity.

However, the book is not without its shortcomings. One notable flaw lies in the uncritical acceptance of the Aryan invasion theory, a controversial hypothesis that the author employs to explain the physical and linguistic diversity of the Assamese people. The failure to acknowledge alternative views and recent genetic studies weakens the historical foundation, perpetuating a potentially divisive narrative.

The book’s perspective on political issues, especially the National Register of Citizens (NRC), reflects a narrow viewpoint. Pisharoty presents the NRC as a humanitarian crisis without delving into the historical context of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the Assam Accord of 1985. This one-sided portrayal neglects the complexities surrounding the issue, such as the legitimate grievances of the Assamese people and the security implications of a porous border.

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The book’s format makes it read more like a collection of disparate pieces than a unified narrative. While personal tales and opinions provide a subjective touch, they may contribute to a less thorough and balanced knowledge of Assam’s cultural and political dynamics.

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