Bal Sahitya Puraskar winner Easterine Kire explains North East's untapped literary riches
Bal Sahitya Puraskar winner for 2018 and a strong Naga voice, Easterine Kire, on the challenges that young readers face, the ignorant perception of writing from the Northeast, and its untapped literary riches
What does this honour by the Indian government for children's literature mean in the larger context of things?
It will be a door-opener and it will become easier to get my children's stories published for a wider market. On the other hand, it is a great honour, which I am very grateful for. It comes not only to me as an individual — I do not think it is for me alone. It comes to the region, to Nagaland and to the Northeast, and that is such a joy on both counts.
Tell us about how Son of the Thundercloud was born?
I wrote a book I loved because it engaged with ordinary people who accepted the spiritual in their lives in a trusting manner and let the most amazing things come to pass via their faith in it. I worked on combining a folk tale with the nativity story, pondered on prophecy and the supernatural, and wove that into the life of a traveller who is, in a way, all of us too. How much do we accept the supernatural? How far can we stretch the imagination and still achieve suspension of disbelief? I guess I was experimenting with these — at the same time, I was also greatly enjoying writing about love: sister love, mother-son love, nephew-aunt love, pure love between a man and a woman, and the deathlessness of love in its purest forms. And the book was born on a sofa in winter with the hope that the kind of love the Raindrop son represented would touch people's hearts.
What, according to you, must change in people's view of literature from the Northeast?
I have heard a term called 'terror lore' from young researchers as a term that non-Northeast persons use to refer to writing from the Northeast. I think that the perception of writing from the Northeast has to totally change. It is born out of ignorance and total apathy, out of the lack of desire to understand the real Northeast. It has come about because some sections of the world are too fond of labelling what they don't understand. There is such a need for the rest of the world to look behind the smoke screen that such labels put up. Genuine scholars are discovering that there is a marvellous variety to what is called the Northeast.
Who are some of the brightest literary talents from the Northeast?
Mizoram is truly blessed, with Mona Zote, Lalteü Cherrie and Lalthangsanga Ralte, and many others. I learn deeply about life from Manipuri poets Bijoykumar Tayenjam Singh and Robin Ngangom. Arunachal has much to offer in established writers like Mamang Dai, but also brilliant unknowns like Yari Rubu. I am a great fan of Janice Pariat and Anjum Hasan, and also Guru T Ladakhi from Meghalaya and Sikkim. Assam has always been a leading light in the region.
What are the challenges you face as a children's book writer from the Northeast in today's times?
In Nagaland, schoolchildren are under too much pressure to finish their academic work throughout the year. There isn't much time to read books during the school year. But among today's parents, there are a good number encouraging their children to cultivate a reading habit and that is wonderful. Communication is a problem in the sense that it's quite difficult to reach children in rural areas with books, but then again, dedicated people are making libraries in the rural villages. For example, the 100-story house is such an inspiration. It is set up by a young couple to give village children a place where they can read books from other places. It is these initiatives that make the challenges surmountable.
For young minds
The second edition of A Terrible Matriarchy by Kire is a textbook edition for students of Nagaland University.
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