How did you start writing?
I'm a reader. I started as a bookworm. I loved books. It came naturally to me to write at some stage. At university, i was reading African writers. Those were encouraging...African literature resonated in me. It made me feel it was possible to write my own novel. When i was 22, i did my first volume of poetry, the first such collection published by a Naga in English...I did short stories, then A Naga Village Remembered, the first novel by a Naga in English. I kept writing because i felt we needed to create written Naga literature. We have so much oral narratives but with the oral dying out, it's all going to be lost.
Speaking of writing narratives, please tell us about your folk tale project.
I'm a partner with two others in a publishing house, Barkwea-ver. For us, it's important to have folk tales written down...we're encouraging youngsters to bring them to us...I tell my young friends - if you're interested, sit with older people and get their stories...as they listen to these, youngsters learn their culture.
Do you think young people aren't learning their culture?
Yes - because of the lifestyle they have. Kohima is too urbanised. You no longer have the village setting where in the evenings, you sat with the elders and they told you stories. Youngsters don't do fieldwork which isn't just labour - you learn so much about nature, seasons, birds, native names, etc. Hopefully, they'll learn these things when they write down the stories. It's a lifelong project.
Why is rich Naga literature so under-represented in wider Indian writing?
Because of the politics of publishing - for many years, the media presented us as the region of conflict. The culture was underplayed. Ordinary life was not valued. We became defined by the conflict. It's so irritating - infuriating actually!
This is one way of showing there's more behind the conflict. The people and their lives are interesting...there are people whose stories need to be heard but the big Indian publishing houses don't think the northeast will sell. For many years, they didn't want to publish books from the northeast. It's not just Indian publishing but publishing over the world - but i've proved them wrong with a wonderful market in Nagaland and others outside. There is definitely a market.
You mentioned the Indo-Naga conflict - are Nagas getting over this and integrating today?
I don't believe people from my generation or my children's generation will ever feel that they're Indian. We will always feel we're Nagas. There's a huge cultural difference. But we are able to embrace India, understand Indian culture...only if you're a Naga, you will understand. You have a sense of belonging to a smaller degree to India. Your identity is always as a Naga...you can have a sense of belonging to India. But you know that because of the history and culture, you'll never really be Indian. You'll always be fully Naga in your mentality...we should actually build up on that - the levels of belonging, the levels of Indian-ness.