"The national media should focus on the good in the Northeast"
Naga author and poet Easterine Kire might be based out of Norway but has her pulse on her homeland. In a freewheeling email interview with Fiona Fernandez, just before being honoured by the Free Voice PEN Catalan International Award, she opens up about why the national media must change their views about the Northeast and focus on its untapped literary and cultural riches instead
As someone who has been following the goings on closely in the Northeast, and has been writing about it, what according to you has changed in the past five years?
First, I need to say that the Northeast is not homogenous and I can only speak largely for the area I know, Nagaland. The biggest change that I have noticed is that people have finally found the courage to voice what it is they want for themselves and their families. The cry for peace and reconciliation has never been as urgent or as loud as it has been in the past five years. The most wonderful thing is that it is through youth organisations like The Naga Blog that moves for change are physically taking place in Nagaland.
Tell us about writers and poets from the Northeast who’ve earned respect and applause for focussing on the region (non-fiction and fiction)?
I may not remember all and don’t want to make the mistake of missing out on others. Novelist Aruni Kashyap has made a tremendous mark with his debut novel on the troubled years in Assam. Anjum Hasan, Sanjoy Hazarika, Robin Ngangom, Mamang Dai, Temsula Ao, Kynpham Nongkyngrih, Kungzang Choden, Mitra Phukan and Dhruba Hazarika have become household names in fiction writing and poetry. This is not an exhaustive list.
By non-fiction, if you mean journalistic and academic writing, I trust the writings of Dolly Kikon, Patricia Mukhim, Sanjoy Hazarika, Sanjoy Borbora and Abraham Lotha.
You travel the world, and carry stories from your homeland. How has your journey moved along?
One always finds a greater percentage of anonymity in a new country. That is not always bad. You receive new inputs and inspiration and very importantly, new perspectives. Travelling out of one’s political and social context makes one more objective. The objectivity has made me become solution-oriented and not problem-oriented. I believe there are human solutions to the Northeast’s political problems.
In your visits to bookstores in your home state, what have you noticed young people reading? What insights do you get in your interactions with them?
Youngsters in Nagaland are interested in what all other youngsters in their age group read around the world. They love comics, magazines on fashion and Pop music and games. But they also love to read books written by their own writers with literary landscapes they can recognise. Many students tell me they enjoy reading books by Naga writers because they can identify with the characters and they live in the same landscape that the writer describes.
How does the youth in the Northeast react to insurgency, political strife, natural disasters and other issues that the region is labelled with, by the media and other elements?
Sadly, the media has always sensationalised and exoticised anything coming out of the Northeast. National media has been responsible for consistently ‘other’ising the Northeast from the rest of India. This is the response shared by most of us, young and old. National media should focus on the good in the Northeast and highlight the good things happening such as the work of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (NFR), Bicycling for a Greener Environment, the very successful public rally in Dimapur by the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) and other people’s movements for peace.
What steps are being taken to ensure that bright minds and writers from the area take the right steps to showcase their work?
In 2004, the Northeast Writers were invited to the Katha International Literature festival in New Delhi. We asked for a slot to talk about literature from our region. The organisers said we would get only two minutes each! It has been a struggle for writing from the Northeast to make its mark in the national literary scene. Universities still do not include writing from the Northeast in their syllabi. Zubaan was the first to publish Northeast writers and believe in their worth. In Nagaland, we are creating our own festivals such as the Hornbill Literature festival, and organising the Hutton Lectures, and the Barkweaver Lectures, which are literary platforms. A few local publishing houses have begun to publish quality writing from the region, which have found a good market at home.
The Free Voice PEN Catalan International Award was conferred on Easterine Kire on November 19, in Palma de Mallorca in Spain. The award was for her writing: poetry, fiction and children’s books. It recognises the literary work that she does to build up Naga literature and also, to having used the opportunity of being a guest writer across various international publications to write the truth about scenarios on the political front and to be a voice for her people.
Mari is the story of Kohima and its people. Easterine Kire brings alive a simpler time in a forgotten place that was ravaged by WW-11 before it was noticed by the rest of the world.