Author Easterine Kire’s latest book professes her love for Nagaland
A gently moving tale of the state's painful past
“I have been writing this book all my life, even though it took me less than a year to actually pen it,” says Easterine Kire about her latest book, A Respectable Woman (Zubaan; on stands now). Based on the oral memoirs of her mother, grandmother, village elders and cousins, the book is about post-war Kohima and how Nagas struggled to regain normalcy after their villages were bombed by Japanese troops during World War II.
Kire juxtaposes misery and devastation against joy and hope, and in her hands, pain becomes an edifying presence. So, while there is a fleeting account involving corpses of Japanese soldiers found in the giant oven of a British bakery, there is also one on a woman’s untrammelled happiness at returning to her gutted house and finding the remains of a plant, whose leaves she can use to make a wholesome broth for her family. Everywhere, survival is the centrepiece, and death and loss are framed with awe and tenderness. Kire’s prose is fluid and light, melding borrowed memories of her people with her own personal observations, shifting between time frames lithely.
Along the way she pauses to peer at politics, the armed movements of the Naga Underground, myths, cultural practices, food habits, wedding rituals and funeral protocols. The unabated violence and strife that sprang from the confrontations between the Indian government and young Naga men laying down their lives for state sovereignty occupy the same painful space in Kire’s heart as the ravages of post-war Kohima did in the hearts of generations before her.
The many books she writes—on fables and on social reality (Bitter Wormwood, When The River Sleeps and Son Of The Thundercloud) are anchored in Nagaland. The physical distance (she now lives in Tromsø, Norway) may have endowed her with clarity and perspective about her home country, but it has not dulled the passionate love she has for it, she says. Nor the hope. “The stereotypical perspective is to conclude that violence will beget violence. But the truth is, young Nagas of today are not violently inclined. They look for opportunities to exercise their creative minds. And when they find it, they excel.”
Photographs: Per Wollen (Easterine Kire), Zhazo Miachieo (Kohima)