Scholar Par Excellence
Dimbeswar Neog will go down the pages in the history of Assamese literature as a great poet and historian. Readers and researchers of Assamese literature believes that the total output of his studies on literature, linguistics, poetry, folklore etc. are quite extensive and full of useful materials and information. Shakespeare once said: ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.’ Dimbeswar Neog belongs to the first order. He was born great. He was born genius. As a historian of Assamese literature he had traced the full history of the Assamese language in his New light on history of Asamiya literature. National professor of Humanities, Prof Suniti Kumar Chottopadhyay had mentioned in the preface of the book, ‘His studies have been very fruitful; his magnum opus running up to several hundred pages will form one of the most comprehensive histories of the literature of Modern Indian Language attempted so far (1948).
Professor Jules Bloch, Chaire de langue et literature sanscrites, Paris mentioned in his forword, ‘Before it was printed, as far as I am aware no full description of Assamese Literature was at hand to be compared with the numerous histories of Bengali Literature or the recent exhaustive history of the Maithili Literature due to Dr Jaykanta Mishra. Now thanks to Mr Dimbeswar Neog, all Indian will be acquainted with a new treasure of production due to the Indian mind; and not only Indian but friends of India everywhere.’ Commenting on his achievement, Dr Moidul Islam Bora of the University of Dacca had remarked, ‘Mr D Neog is known to me for along time as one of the best writers of Assamese prose and poems. He has introduced a set of new ideals in his writing according to the needs of the modern age and has shown originality and independence of thoughts and ideas. His literary achievements, in spite of many handicaps and obstacles in a province like Assam, are really wonderful (1939).’
The New light on history of Asamiya literature runs into 465 pages and have six main chapters termed as book one, two, three and so on by the author. Each chapter or book is written distinctively, for example, book one — Antecedents of Asamiya Literature is sub divided into three chapters like (1) The land of Assam, Kamrupa, Pragjyotisha, (2) The race of Aryan and Non Aryan elements (3) Sanskrit and Prakrit and the script.
Another feature of the book is that the author has written down the various verse in English for the benefits of non Assamese readers who can enjoy the metre of Assamese verse.
Dimbeswar Neog’s various studies and research can be said to be of great significance to Assamese Literature. A premier newspaper The Assam Tribune (1943) observed, ‘The author has been able to present us with a fairly exhaustive account of literary tendencies, current and crosscurrents of different epochs of Assamese literature into which it has been divided. Mr Neog has differed on many points from many of his predecessors in the literary research field in the light of more modern research and mature judgment.’
Dimbeswar Neog enriched Assamese literature by his works and every single work of his being magnificent he holds an important place with authority in making the history of Assamese language and literature. In the preface of the fifth edition of Natun Pohorot Asomiya Sahityar Buranji he said, ‘… I feel ecstatic about creating a history of literature which we could call entirely our own. At this moment the sorrow and happiness of the last twenty years is flitting back to my mind.” The germ of the idea for this magnificent work began during his days in Cotton College, he wrote an essay on the history of Assamese literature to be presented at the 8th annual session of the Assam Students’ Association. At that time it was a difficult task to write the history of Assamese literature because of the paucity of materials. He undertook the painstaking task all on his own. While expressing his views, Neog was bold and had faced lot of criticism. But he made no compromise. He stood boldly against all the odds and this made him un popular amongst some of the intellectuals.
His was a mind with ideas, nursed by logic and informed by knowledge. His works are most outstanding. He would never compromise on any fact which he think correct, he preferred taking independent path of his own in his literary creations. As Prof Maheswar Neog had observed, ‘an unhappy sense of frustration, however, came into his critical writing more and more, and sometimes even vitiated his judgement and made his language too much biting and bitter (Essays on Assamese Literature).’
As a linguist Dimbeswar Neog established the fact in his Origin and growth of Asamiya language that the origin of the language is not from Magadha Prakrit as claimed by scholars like George Abraham Grieson, Prof Suniti Kumar Chatterjee etc. Neog said, ‘It is not enough to postulate the pet theory and to show classification of linguistic families and sub-families, but it is essential to study the history of the language with their particular characteristic and traits in close relation to the political, social and cultural history of their speakers. Just like literature, language also does not grown in a vacuum and could not thrive with roots in the air.’ Neog strongly postulated that the origin of Assamese language is from Kamrup Prakrit. Thus he wrote that linguistically, also politically the province of Bengal was suggested by Yuan Chwang finding separate Parkrits for Magadha and Kamarupa and supported by epigraphic and literary records of the Varman Kings from the sixth to the twelfth century. Professor Beni Madhav Barua had also observed in an article in 1947 that had appeared in the Indian Historical Quarterly, ‘the pre-Ahom inscriptions of Kamarupa contains a few other instances of Prakritism that may be taken to indicate the nature and form of the dialect as current in those times, say from the 6th to 12th century AD. I mean the Prakrit language in the historical background of Assamese.’
As a teacher, Late Dimbeswar Neog was widely respected. He was always inspiring. He started his career as a teacher in the Sivasagar Government School on April 19, 1925 and retired as Superintendent of Normal School in 1957. He had mentioned, ‘I have always scrupulously done my level best to serve the cause and it is only the passing generation of students to judge whether or not I am of any use to them.’ Many prominent litterateurs including Syed Abdul Malik, Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharjee, Prof Ajit Kumar Sarma gave credit to their revered teacher Dimbeswar Neog.
However, at times he was not satisfied with himself and sadly mentioned, ‘Besides serving in various places from Dhubri to Lakhimpur I had taught partly in colleges at Jorhat and Shillong, but no where in the teaching community I could observe the dedication that was deemed necessary in the teaching community.
In Neog’s poem we can see youth euphoria, patriotic and secular expressions, emotions and anxieties. These poems are very much inspiring to the new generation.
On his poems Sahityarathi Lakshiminath Bezboroua had observed ‘his poems are melodious. The author had the capacity of writing lucid verses’ Professor Dr Banikanta Kakati had observed on Neog’s Thupitara (A cluster of stars). Thupitara is the fourth volume of small poems published by Dimbeswar Neog. The rapidity with which the several volumes had been brought out during the five years of his college life testifies to his remarkable power of composition. All the poems are noted for choice of diction and flow of verse.’
Neog was a charming conversationalist with a deep sense of humour and had an inexhaustible store of stories, anecdotes and quotations that never fail to cope with appropriate moments from his amazingly retentive memory. Even if someone made a mistake he would point it out humorously.
Dimbeswar Neog passed away on November 12, 1967. He lived 67 years of his life with honour and integrity. He was a man of discipline.
– A Profile by Pranavsvarup Neog