Of all things that Bangalore’s much loathed traffic jams have spawned, a viral Assamese novel is probably the last thing one would’ve expected. When Indranee Sharma, a software engineer at IBM began writing JEC on her cellphone on her daily commute in May 2019, little did she think that her serialised novel would acquire cult status in Assam.
Two months and thirty-two posts in, the love story of Aastha and Arnab, set in Sharma’s alma mater Jorhat Engineering College, which lends the novel its name, has thousands of avid readers who engage with JEC in a manner befitting a narrative that began as a serialised set of posts on a closed group Facebook group Ordho Aakaax, and continues to exist exclusively online.
JEC has spawned reams of fan illustrations of its characters (and the author), a deluge of TikTok videos of fans acting out dialogues from the novel, and multi-part Youtube videos of fans reading out the novel in the manner of an audio book. (One such video has racked up over 40,000 Youtube views in two weeks).
But JEC had its beginnings in an unusual online space- “Ordho Aakaax: Ek Ontoheen Jatra (Kewol Mohilar Babe)”, which translates as Half the Sky: An Endless Journey (For Ladies Only), which is a closed Facebook group of over 100,000 Assamese women readers and writers.
“So many women want to write — those who always wanted to write but felt too intimidated to start, those who didn’t know where to publish, those who used to write until life got in the way,” said Joyshree Gogoi Mech, one of the women who started Ordho Aakaax two years ago. “We started this group to give them a platform, and we wanted to make it exclusively for women, especially housewives. I thought people should use their time well since they are on Facebook anyway.”
The group has clear content and moderation policies: No plagiarism, no posts about...