“All of you know my brother was a man who was free with his words and sometimes with his fists…” a funeral speech by a younger brother aimed at seeking apology for the soul of his dead elder brother.
Such realistic portrayals of the evolving Naga Society, leaving aside its inherent humour, contextualizes to mind a “non-diary” Anne Frank, a “non thick-book” Roots, by Alex Haley “or less than a hundred years” Garcia Marquez for the consuming references to their umbilical roots, from where its literary spirits beautifully haunt many to this day.
Easterine Kire’s “ A terrible matriarchy” ( Zubaan 2007) has no pretensions, neither magical realism’s, no high-aiming metaphors and clichés , yet it coagulates into a familiarity so strong that one is left to strongly question as to why it took so long for such a story. ( Sorry, it took me 3 yrs after its publication, hence spare me Ad Hominem)
The narrative is in first person which is an elegant part of the novel re-affirming her Naga consanguinity through oral narration of histories, customs and cultures. It’s as though you were closely huddled in a group by the hearth, listening to the narration of an exceptionally strong-willed 5-yr old girl named Dielieno.
Emerging questions would be as strong as those of Dielieno, who exemplifies the quintessential Naga girl, never fighting pro-male privileges, yet gradually managing to pose the quietest interrogations that were to be an eye-opener for the rising status of women in contemporary Naga society. With a quiet rendition of inner strength, Dielieno leaves an undeniable impression with her circumstantial services for a stone-hearted grandmother, who is anti-privileges to a girl child, from a simple treat of jaggery to education. Dielieno, in her own words, hated the woman with vengeance and hence the title of this novel.
Easterine’s fiction prominently displays rich aromas of home-grown metaphors and examples, and each one of these are meticulously put into place to make a reader feel strong lingering realities of the rural hills of Nagaland. You meet an old, tough lady so strong in her own mindset, that she’d cane the scary spirits on their back were they to haunt her; a common well, where usual women drew more gossip than water, an educated grand-uncle on whose written applications depend the village’s official communication, funeral speeches where speakers are carefully picked from the family to avoid social-bloopers, young school girls re-using Christmas cards, a God-sent leftover British ammunition box to bake Christmas cakes, young boys picking up vices in school, semi-modern girls marrying prematurely etc. and most of all, the nursing sacrifices of Bano, an illegitimate girl-child who would epitomise the persevering qualities of a Naga girl despite the prevailing odds of socio-political disorders, with the book offering brief flashes of the ongoing Naga political Movement.
Heissh! As the tough granny would tiringly say, it’s certainly announcing the cementing of new age ideologies that have waited long to burst out through years of pre-dominant patriarchal weight. A must read for realizing that farthest corners of the world where indigenous communities live in close harmony with nature still have a lot to say about societal errors, undying romanticism of the living and the dead alike and certainly about feminine qualities of story-telling that makes even the spooky spirits of the Naga hills in north-eastern part of India, worth a curious visit.
For the Nagas‘ themselves, Dielieno herself is the new face of their story-telling.