Interview with D R Michael Buam
D R Michael Buam is an author from North-east India. He has written a novel Lamchwa and other books. He also makes movies in the local language of the place he lives. Born in Assam, D R Michael Buam has attained his higher education at NEHU. You can read an interview with him below.
Alok Mishra: Michael, why did you choose to be an author and tell your stories to the world? Why not anything else? Abrupt, but I would like to begin with the very fundamental question!
D R Michael Buam: I believe that it is in human nature to tell stories. But not everybody writes them. I have always enjoyed stories right from my childhood. My late grand-uncle, Hat P. Buam was a great story teller who used to come to our hut on some evenings and told us stories as we lay down on our bed. His repertoire was limited but he would tell the same story differently such that we never got bored of them. Ever since I learnt to read, I was always hungry for stories and read as many books as I could get my hands on. But writing came as a prodding from within. If an idea or thought comes to me, it makes me restless and I get peace only after penning it down. Therefore, I did not choose to be an author but my thoughts forced me to be one. As a person who enjoys stories – through oral story-telling, books or movies, I also have always liked telling stories and so it was not so hard for me to write. I tell my stories through the films that I make or the articles and books that I write.
Alok Mishra: And once you decided to be an author, did you ever think that you will follow the style or ways or a certain author or you just kicked off all on yourself?
D R Michael Buam: No, I have not considered following the style of any author. I prefer to tell my stories in as simple words as possible. I would like to reflect my thoughts through what I write.
Alok Mishra: Now this book, Lamchwa, seems a tale of the tellers to me. It reminds of those domestic Victorian novels. What inspired you to write the story of Lamchwa?
D R Michael Buam: The idea for the story of Lamchwa came to me during my days as a researcher for a project in 1998 to 2005 in NEHU. I was in Shillong then, the capital of Meghalaya. My experiences on the field in Jaintia Hills added more substance to the story. My colleagues and guides were at that time conducting experiments on anti-cancer activity of selected plant extracts in the lab using standard protocols. This has been reflected in the book through the work of Dr. Khrawkupar (a fictional character). I had a story that I wanted to tell the people to stop being greedy and become more responsible towards nature. Conserving nature and saving the environment is everybody’s job. There has to be a collective responsibility as well as individual responsibility together with government and corporate responsibility. Although I did co-author a few papers with my colleagues and guides, I did not start writing the story of Lamchwa because I had little free time and many responsibilities. After resigning from my position in 2015, I went to set up shop in Jowai town which was the headquarters of then undivided Jaintia Hills district. I began making movies in our local language and during the years that followed several events occurred in the district which heightened my concern. Events, like the partial sinking of a village due to unscientific coal mining, the death of the rivers due to acid mine drainage, the soil and water pollution I came across and the destruction of sacred forests are based on real facts. So in 2011, I first wrote the story in Pnar, the local language, because my message was immediately meant for them. I struggled to weave the facts into the lives of ordinary characters and it took me almost a year to write it. I then made a movie of the story in 2012-13 in the Pnar language. It was only in 2013-2014 that I took up in earnest to complete the English version to reach a wider audience. I have also completed the screenplay for the movie in English and looking for producers.
Alok Mishra:. You know, most of the readers would feel that this is somewhat related to the author himself. Is it true? Is the story of Lamchwa related to real events or yourself?
D R Michael Buam: As I have already stated earlier that most of the events are based on facts; the characters in Lamchwa are all fictional. But they can be representative of real people too. For example, we do have traditional health practitioners who are highly successful in treating difficult diseases such as cancer and paralysis. In the year 1998, while researching on traditional medicine, I met one such practitioner who cured a young man’s HIV infection by using his herbal medicines. The young man’s HIV test report proved it. My belief in traditional herbal medicine is highlighted in the story by Kiang and Maya’s visit to a traditional health practitioner for seeking medicines to treat Lamchwa’s cancer.
Alok Mishra: Michael, do you like reading pastoral stories? This novel of yours, Lamchwa, seems to be a complete pastoral tale with morals attached. What are your reading habits?
D R Michael Buam: I enjoy a variety of stories including pastoral ones. I read fiction and non-fiction. In my younger days I read a lot of fiction ranging across all genres. Later, I read more non-fiction on subjects related to history, biology, environmental science, technology, psychology and modern topics. I still read fiction now and then with an inclination to clean romance and family drama.
Alok Mishra: Michael, your book also can be viewed with from an angle of nature… there is also an instance where Pynhun talks about the worsening condition of the river by the side. Please elaborate this point. You come from an outskirt of Assam and there must the ‘plenty presence’ of nature!
D R Michael Buam: Yes, nature is very much part of the story of Lamchwa. It was a natural disaster that forced Lamchwa’s parents to migrate to another village. And in their poverty, it was nature that greatly supplemented their sustenance through the wild edible fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Nature has its own balancing system but human activities greatly destroy this balance by favouring only the human species while putting other living and non-living things in nature to suffer. For example, the death of two rivers (i.e they are bereft of living things in them) in the Jaintia hills area of our state, Meghalaya (the abode of clouds) is real. This has happened because of reckless mining of coal. The National Green Tribunal has recently taken cognizance of this fact and banned coal mining in the state until a mining policy is passed by the state government. It must be noted that most of the land and forests in the state of Meghalaya are owned by individuals, a clan or the community; so most of the coal mines are also privately owned. Pynhun’s research is relevant to what is happening in the real world. Meghalaya is rich in natural beauty and diversity of living species. But this is under threat due to current irresponsible human behaviour and government apathy. Our ancestors in these hills were a people who respected nature to the point of reverence. They instituted the tradition of consecrating certain forests and preserving them as sacred forests, community forests or village forests. Except in the community and village forests, no forest resource can be taken from the scared forests. It was a tradition that conserved forests and water resources. Now even this tradition is eroding because of human greed. Environment pollution induced by human activities is a reality which harms not just the environment but us too. That is what Pynhun’s research proves and raises awareness on the issue because some people are still ignorant that their actions are harming the environment. With awareness and knowledge comes the will to act as demonstrated by Kiang in the novel.
Alok Mishra: And some people, who read the modern fiction, might say that your book, Lamchwa, offers nothing but some village lore and all about a guy Lamchwa. How would you tackle those criticism?
D R Michael Buam: Well, the book title itself tells that it is about Lamchwa. And of course, it would be delusional of me to think that the story will appeal to all readers. But so far, I have received only positive feedback about the book. I would welcome all criticisms because I know I am not perfect and never will be in spite of my efforts to improve myself every day. How readers connect to the story is beyond my control. I focus on writing lucidly so that the reader understands what I am trying to say. If I can do that, I am satisfied. Stories can take place anywhere in the universe. The story of Lamchwa happens to be in a village and I cannot change him into a city-man. If I do that, it will be another story. In fact, I hope to write 2 sequels to Lamchwa with the focus on Marbood, his brother and Salan, his sister.
Alok Mishra: And how often do you write? Do you write with some routine or it’s just spontaneous like with most of us?
D R Michael Buam: I cannot write as often as I would like to, because writing doesn’t give me bread and butter. I think most writers are like that. Only paid authors and commercially successful authors can afford that luxury. So, I write only when there’s an urge to write or an idea for a scene or story comes to my mind. I then try to fit my schedule into that.
Alok Mishra: Are you writing something right now? What are the possible upcoming titles by you?
D R Michael Buam: Yes, I’m working on a story about a woman executive from Delhi and a village school teacher from Meghalaya who met by providence. It will take some time to complete, maybe a year or so. Then, there is a short story collection I’ve been building on for the past few years. I’m also working on articles to publish on my blog and on our news website www.riluk.com.
Alok Mishra: Michael, how do you see the writing industry in India today? Do you see some kind of divide which distinguishes ‘good literature with purpose’ from the extensively rubbed themes which offer nothing but sheer entertainment for an hour or two?
D R Michael Buam: The way I see it, the writing industry is growing with the opening of new platforms for publishing. The internet and information technology have opened new opportunities for writers to publish their work on a large scale at an affordable rate and even free of cost. E-books and audio-books are also gaining popularity these days. Readers have a lot of choices to pick from as the works of authors are becoming more accessible on various platforms.
But with great accessibility also comes the clutter. Readers are overwhelmed with the number of titles being offered to them. Classifying books into genres does narrow down the list of choices, but a book review helps the reader more in choosing a title. Now, writers have their own reasons to write. They may or may not have their own target audience in mind while writing – which can vary from writer to writer. I think you will agree with me if I say that just as people differ in their tastes for literature (or choice of reading material), there will be writers to cater to those tastes even if they last for just an hour or two. As a reader, I would prefer a book – whether entertaining or not – that gives me something to cherish for a long time even after the pleasure derived from reading it has long passed.
Alok Mishra: It as a pleasure hosting you on AI platform, Michael! Best wishes for your novel Lamchwa and all other upcoming ones!
D R Michael Buam: Thank you. I also wish you well in all your endeavours.