Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee
The Northeast is again seeing a revival of storytelling techniques with writers like Easterine Kire, a Kohima girl who grew up with her storytelling grandparents was awarded the 2018 Sahitya Puraskar Ball by Sahitya Akademi for Son of the Storm Cloud and The Hindu Prize for Fiction 2015 for When the river sleeps.
Son of the Storm Cloud is an allegorical novel set in a mystical land. A lonely resident “Pele” leaves his village because of a terrible famine that is sweeping the country. His journey takes him to a village called “Villagers of Weavers” considered a safe haven.
Although the story unfolds through Pelé’s eyes, many other characters also serve as spokespersons for the author. The dominant ones are the three divine sisters, Kethonuo, Siedze and Mesanuo, and the protagonist Rhalie. The novel is a story within a story. It has a calm and soothing tone that makes for a relaxing read. It is rich in metaphors.
His major works include A Naga Village Remembered, When the river sleeps, son of Thundercloud, and his last A respectable woman and the latter received the 2019 Print Book of the Year award.
Its greatness lies in the use of the oral tradition of Nagaland found in villages, history, traditions and anecdotes. At fireside gatherings, elders tell stories to young people and these stories relate to Nagaland’s past and they are didactic in the sense that they provide guidance to the younger generation. “Years of listening to stories grow knowledge in your mind” – said Kire and his writings reflect this truth.
Easterine Kire published her first book of poetry in 1982 titled “Kelhoukevira“. It was also the first book of Naga poetry published in English. His novel “Souvenir of a Naga villagepublished in 2003 was the first novel by a Naga writer in English.
Her second novel was “A terrible matriarchy(2007) followed by “Married” (2010), “bitter wormwood(2011) andDon’t run, my love(2017). His latest bookWalking the Road Without a Road: Exploring the Tribes of Nagalandwas published in 2019. She has also written children’s books, articles and essays. Her first children’s book in English was published in 2011. Kire has also translated 200 oral poems from her mother tongue.
In poetry, we get the best of this native literature. Translating oral poetry into colloquial Tenyidi, and then translating the poem into the target language, as early as the 1940s, Tenyidi writers wrote novels, plays, short stories, and non-fiction. But their works have not been translated, even the works of outstanding writers like Dr. Shurhozelie or Neisevituo Sorhie.
In an interview, Easterine Kire opined that people outside the North East region make the mistake of assuming that their literature is homogeneous and that they are all writing on the same political unrest thesis. There are many non-fiction writings produced by Charles Chasie, Arkotong Longkumer, Along Longkumer and Abraham Lotha to name a few.
They wrote about Naga political crises. But the writers of fiction were concerned with life and society and they highlight social issues that need reform. Young writers like Anuo Mepfuo, Avinuo Kire, Emisenla Jamir and Theyie Keditsu bravely give voice to the complications of being born a woman. Life is vibrant, challenging and multi-faceted in Nagaland and this is portrayed by Eastern Kire in his novels, poems and short stories.
Kire never forgot social realities. The story of Khonoma which is an incredible place with an incredible history and the lives of its people stirred intensely familiar emotions in her as she prioritizes the protection of the land and culture of these people.
Kire has always respected the tradition of Nagaland, the habit of listening to the elders talk about their culture and their history. Another aspect is Christianity and the thought of the ancients is marked significantly by Christian symbols, because the Christians of Tenyimia accepted the sacrifice of Christ, making all other sacrifices unnecessary.
Kire covered stories related to historical battle periods and provided a socio-cultural picture of the community. Sometimes, as in the fictionalization of the story of Levi who is an archetype of the Khonoma warrior, she defends traditional teachings. In doing so, Kire never ignored the domestic life of Levi and Piano who were as happy as one would expect.
Kire dealt with the storytelling culture that dominated Naga life before printed literature. Kire grew up with her grandparents in their home by choice. The focal point of the house was the kitchen with the hearth and log fire. And every night after dinner, she listened to her grandparents tell stories. Although she had Enid Blyton’s books, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Anderson’s Fairy Tales, the grandparents stories appealed to her more.
His mother was an excellent storyteller and insisted on the details. This had a big influence on his writing. She sometimes mixes the tribal technique. The only Naga tribe that incorporates music and dance into their storytelling is the Zeliang tribe and the gestures of the dances are an integral part of the story.
Even in media discourses, it is folk tales or tales of conflict or tales of war that hold the greatest importance when we talk about Naga literature. People love to see a superhero story based on Nagaland. But Kire doesn’t like these stories. She refrains from any melodrama in her fiction.
Easterine Kire currently lives in northern Norway, which has an affinity with its northeastern flora and fauna. The majority of his writings are based on the lived realities of the people of Nagaland, in northeastern India.
Her motivation to write is summed up in this statement she made in an interview: “I felt that we should create written Naga literature. We have so many oral histories, but with the disappearance of orality, all will be lost. Kire is very solid in his academic achievements. She did her Masters from NEHU and her Ph.D. from Savitri Bai Phule University in Poona.
A versatile writer who was also popular for her poetry, novels and short stories, she also wrote for children, likely reminiscent of her own childhood.
Kire depends on her mood to write fiction, and she believes writing is good for the soul. She advises, “Don’t write poetry for the money, because there’s no money in it. Write poetry to feed your soul. You need this luxury. His book When the river sleeps is a book that connects the spirit world and the human world.
The northeast is mostly absent from any discourse in Indian literature. But with a writer like Easterine Kire, we get a poignant glimpse into the human life behind the political headlines of one of India’s beautiful and misunderstood regions.
A terrible matriarchywas selected for translation into UN languages. In addition, the books “A Terrible Matriarchy”, “Mari”, “Forest Song”, “Naga Folktales Retold” and “A Naga Village Remembered” have been translated into German, and all of them have given her writings a global character.
Senior Academician and Poet Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee can be contacted at: [email protected]