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Web-chat with Easterine Kire on IBNlive

Northeast is, more often than not, absent from any discourse on Indian literature. Here's a chance to gain some perspectives on the subject, its uniqueness, its similarities with mainland literature, the painful and violent political history that shapes it. Easterine's latest work, Bitter Wormwood, gives a poignant insight into the human cost behind the political headlines from one of India’s most beautiful and misunderstood regions. The book is published by Zubaan Books.


Excerpts from the web-chat...

Indian academic circles have ignored literature from the northeast. In most courses of Indian Literature, or Contemporary Indian writing, literature from the Northeast is mostly ignored. Why do you think this is, and what should be done?
EASTERINE: Hello, this is an interesting question. About thirty years ago, there wasnt much literary production from the north east in the sense that we were not getting published, we had very little translated literature in English and whatever was available was poetry and writings by anthropologists on the region. So the mainland universities cannot be blamed for ignoring literary input from the North east. But now that so much is being published from the NE, there are no excuses for Indian academia to ignore literature of the NE region.
NE wasn't in Mughal's HINDUSTAN, that's the reason mainland Indian didn't recognize NE ?
EASTERINE: This is a highly politically loaded question because if we go into it, I have to honestly state that during the time of the Mughals, the NE was not part of India and even India was not India as we know it after 1947. Historically speaking, the Naga hills were colonised by the British in the 1800s and on their departure, the British ignored Naga appeals to leave them out of the Indian union. Rather treacherously, the British halved Naga territories and gave the one half to Burma and the other to India. So, there was no cultural connection between mainland India and the NE. There wasn't even a historical connection so it is not surprising that following Mughal Hindustan, mainland India did not 'recognise NE' as you have put it.



"Big Indian publishing houses don't think the northeast will sell" : Easterine Iralu interviewed by Kim Arora, Times of India
Easterine Kire Iralu is Nagaland's first novelist in English, who has written books like A Naga Village Remembered, des-cribing the battle between British forces and one Naga hamlet, and Mari, set amidst the attempted Japanese invasion of India in 1944 via Nagaland. Speaking withKim Arora , Iralu discussed how her state became defined only by conflict, a fine tension vibrating between Naga and Indian identity - and the politics of publishing:

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.

Fresh Off the Press! Latest Titles by Zubaan

Happy New Year Folks!

We're ushering in 2012 with some fantastic new titles that are wonderfully written and make for an excellent read. Poignant, political and provocative, that seems to be the three qualities these titles share with each other.

First up, we have Easterine Kire's Bitter Wormwood. If you're at all interested in the politics of India's Northeast, this book is right up your alley, and if your knowledge of Nagaland is limited to Akhuni and Raja mirchi, then this book is the perfect introduction. You can buy your copy here. Read Easterine's introduction to the book for free right here on The Zubaan Blog.

Next, we have Saswati Sengupta's The Song Seekers. As the monsoon rains wash over the city of Kolkata, four women sit and read and talk in the kitchen of Kailash?the old mansion of the Chattopadhyays where Uma comes to live after her marriage in the summer of 1962.

Her husband s silence about his mother and the childhood tragedy that beckons him from the shadowy landing of Kailash, the embroidered handkerchiefs in an old soap box in her father-in-law s room and the presence of the old, green-eyed Pishi intrigue Uma. But it is only as she begins to read aloud the traditional Chandimangal composed by her husband s grandfather to celebrate the goddess that the smothered stories begin to emerge...

The novel weaves in the history of the militant goddess recast as wife, the Portuguese in Bengal, the rise of print and the making of memories from the swadeshi movement to the turbulent sixties in Bengal as Uma discovers that the foundation of Kailash is not only very deep but also camouflages the stench of death."

You can pick up your copy here

And we have Seventeen, a brilliant new collection by Anita Agnihotri, translated by Arunava Sinha.  By turn intense, brittle, angry sad and torn apart in conflict, the stories bring out the different faces of human hardship and explore the India that is still largely unknown. Set in metros and villages, in small-town India and in international suburbia, the stories run the gamut of experiences both everyday and extraordinary. From deeply personal relationships against the backremove of turmoil to intensely social truths told through the unique life of individuals, each of these stories is a picture of human fragility. This is literary craftsmanship at its best.

Pick up your copy here


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