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‘It took my mother, Khonuo, exactly forty-five years before she could bring herself to talk about the war.’
These powerful words introduce the reader to Easterine Kire’s stunning new novel, A Respectable Woman. In Nagaland, the decisive Battle of Kohima has been fought and won by the Allies, and people in and around Kohima are trying hard to come to terms with the devastation, the loss of home and property, and the deaths of their loved ones. Forty years after the event, Khonuo recreates this moment, stitching together her memories, bit by painful bit, for her young daughter.
As memory passes from mother to daughter, the narrative glides seamlessly into the present, a moment in which Nagaland, much transformed, confronts different realities and challenges. Using storytelling traditions so typical of her region, Kire leads the reader gently into a world where history and memory meld — where, through this blurring, a young woman comes to understand the legacy of her parents and her land.
“Kire delicately mixes live traditions with new standards.”
— Luis A. Gomez, National Herald
“Hauntingly beautiful and lyrical, Easterine Kire's prose is... [an] example of her effortless hold over words and stories.”
— Swati Daftuar, The Hindu
“… one of the most prominent literary voices of the Northeast.”
— Maitreyee Boruah, The Telegraph
EASTERINE KIRE is a writer, poet and translator. She is Nagaland’s first novelist in the English language. Her book, When the River Sleeps (Zubaan, 2014), won the 2015 Hindu Prize for Fiction. She is also the author of A Naga Village Remembered (2003), A Terrible Matriarchy (Zubaan, 2007), Mari (2010), Life on Hold (2011), Bitter Wormwood (Zubaan, 2011), the Sahitya Akademi-honoured Son of the Thundercloud (2016), Don’t Run, My Love (2017), and The Rain-Maiden and the Bear-Man (forthcoming 2019). She lives in Norway.
This piece was written after the abduction of the author's husband by ULFA terrorists in Majuli, Assam where they worked as social development workers in 1996–97. In this chapter, Ghose explores her experience of learning to cope with the aftermath. Moving from personal reflections to discussing universal aspects of such suffering, she throws light on the far-ranging impact of violence that often goes unacknowledged. She then captures the different stages that an individual undergoes in the period of suffering, and consequently looks at strategies of coping which are effective and can transcend harmful responses. By shifting the focus onto the individual's own reaction to violent events, Ghose is able to break down the mistakes that one is susceptible to making almost reflexively – mistakes that perpetuate a cycle of violence.
Written in the form of a prefaced monograph, the title of this piece is drawn from a short course that the author attended in Delhi, which gave her the fresh perspective and strength needed to make this reflective essay a reality. Ghose's insights on responding to events of violence or conflict are embedded in a critique of certain forms of protest as well as what she calls the commonly held 'victim attitude'.
For Ghose, strategies of coping become methods of achieving much more. In a world full of violence and rage where a vicious cycle of the two is kept alive, it becomes imperative to rise above feelings of aggression and victimisation that inevitably cause more harm than good.
The essay traces the detrimental effects on the health of the people of Nagaland due to excessive militarisation in the region. Ngully puts the idea of 'health' into perspective and examines the implications of the WHO definition, which cites not just physical, but also mental and social well-being as criteria. This is done with regard to the torture, murder, and rape that the Naga people have been subject to in the past years by the security forces, justified under the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
By placing the psychological trauma that the Naga people have faced within a broader context of disorders resulting from large-scale manufactured disasters, Ngully lays emphasis on the scale of tragedy in his homeland. There is a certain universality to the potential effects that such disasters can have on the mental health of survivors, and these can last long into the aftermath. The effect on mental health, then, Ngully argues, is an important component of disaster impact.
The essay also looks at torture as a term used to describe the atrocities being committed by the security forces and briefly draws a picture of its actions, which have effectively led to a war-like situation. Ngully finally concludes with a call to civil society for the various kinds of help that they can extend in order to mitigate the effects of such a crisis.
This touching and at times harrowing glimpse into the conflict-ridden Nagaland is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary. More than half a century of bloodshed has marked the history of the Naga people who live in the troubled northeastern region of India. Their struggle for an independent Nagaland and their continuing search for identity provides the backdrop for the stories that make up this unusual collection. Describing how ordinary people cope with violence, how they negotiate power, and force, how they seek and find safe spaces and enjoyment in the midst of terror, the author details a way of life under threat from the forces of modernization and war.
No one -- the young, the old, the ordinary housewife, the willing partner, the militant who takes to the gun, and the young woman who sings even as she is being raped -- is untouched by the violence. Theirs are the stories that form the subtext of the struggles that lie at the internal fault lines of the Indian nation-state. These are stories that speak movingly of home, country, nation, nationality, identity, and direct the reader to the urgency of the issues that lie at their heart.
Temsula Ao is the Dean, School of Humanities and Education, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
"Temsula Ao, like many of her predecessors has successfully described the experiences of her people. The struggle for freedom and the search for identity have been discussed by many writers and these are pivotal themes of those who had to pay a heavy price for freedom. To this end Temsula Ao must be praised for her successful attempt." -- Shagufta Yasmeen, Dawn
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