Diaspora Diary

"I see no reason why we in the Northeast cannot come together..."

Easterine Kire 06 Jan 2014

When Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory was asked, “Tash, where is home?” He replied, “For the moment, home is a basement flat in London.”  Tash Aw is from Taiwan, settled now in the UK.

Tash Aw’s books were long listed for the Booker Prize in 2005 and again in 2013. I begin with this because I was intrigued by Tash’s answer. What is it to leave a place called home and make another place home in its place? I’m not sure I have done that, or will ever manage that. A sense of home is possible in all the places one chooses to live. Perhaps one can have many homes, in that sense, a generic sort of home. However, not to digress, let me just say this: I left Nagaland in 2005 and came to live in Norway as guest writer of the city of Tromsø in the Arctic Circle.  I need to use this poem to explain my leaving:

Self exile

Yes

I took the easy way out
I left
When I stopped believing
In your truths

The price for leaving
Has not been easy
I will tell that story
Another day
For now
I live unto another truth:
Blood can neither destroy
Nor build a nation.

I don’t need to describe the deep depression the whole of Northeast India has lived under from the 1950s to recent times. I do see that now things are better in some states than in other states.  The programme under which I was hosted offered refuge to writers, musicians, filmmakers, cartoonists who face self-censorship and repression or worse in their home countries.

What has moving away given me in terms of my art? A great deal, of course, and not all of them have been positive. I want to recollect the positive influences of removing oneself from one’s context and viewing it from another place. I always feel that the gift that Europe gave me was the sense of objectivity. For the first time in my life, I could view the social, historical and political problems of my people from the outside. Of course, we all do this from time to time. But there is a freedom about being geographically removed that assists objectivity. Please don’t get me wrong. I include myself in the equation when I say that it is easy to be a victim when you are in the situation. As a writer, I felt it was very empowering to move out of the collective victimhood of my land and people. It was a mental and emotional exercise, not simply a geographical relocating.

I began to understand very clearly that the problems did not lie in laws and government policies alone, but the problems of the Northeast, and all human problems for that matter, had their origins in human sources. Thereby, the solutions could come only through human solutions. I know many say this is an idealist view to take, but the fact that the laws of the land have been made by humans at some stage in history and therefore, can be undone by humans. I have addressed this in my book, Bitter Wormwood where the grandson of the protagonist and his best friend, who is the grandson of an Indian soldier, discuss the concept of deconstructing history to rescue the present. Their friendship demonstrates that when people come together, they learn to understand each other and this human understanding can be the biggest stepping stone to a future without conflict.

The Northeast has suffered from being constantly defined by the various conflicts, all of a political nature, that exist in our region. I have experienced reviews of my books where the reviewer expressed disappointment because there was too little or no mention of the political situation in Nagaland. This happened in my first two books, A Terrible Matriarchy and MARI. I cite this example to state that there is an unfortunate yardstick with which we are measured if we are from the Northeast. I am sure filmmakers from the area and other artists face this problem too. And that is alright. It is what is expected of us and part of me acknowledges the obligation. Having said that, I want to maintain that it is not at alright that we are expected to live our lives perpetually defined by the conflict. Because we are so much more than the conflicts which outsiders use to define and contextualise us.

Look at our beautiful folk tales. They are incomparably lovely. I love the Khasi tales of creation.  And our landscapes of mountains, clear streams, dark forests with magic stones and mystic river folk that create and recreate stories. Our land ‘breathes stories’ - to borrow a phrase from Ben Okri. This is the beauty that politics tries to hide and should never be allowed to. There is so much more to us.

In 2009, I became partner and founding member of Barkweaver, a publication house that devotes itself to recording folk tales and stories of the folk which in Barkweaver parlance is termed, people stories. I love collecting stories of our people.
Moving out of my home has been tough but at the same time it has given me a lot, in the sense I now have this deepening appreciation of my culture and deep love of my people and land. And an abiding sense of pride to belong to a region as beautiful, as creative, and as rich in shared memory as the Northeast. I don’t love my culture blindly. I do see its pitfalls and its need for balance. Nevertheless, it is what has kept my people together all these years and it is irreplaceable.

Something I should probably mention is the work I am doing as a performance poet. I am a member in two bands: the first is called Jazzpoetry which is free jazz and poetry. The second band, Circuspoetry is a performance with one musician and two circus artists, where circus artists interpret my poetry in acrobatic acts. For me, Europe gives these kinds of creative possibilities which are missing at home. (At the same time, I see no reason why we in the Northeast cannot come together and do fusion performances with local artists. After all, music and rhythm are so much a part of our cultures).

Easterine Kire is a poet and a novelist from Nagaland who now lives in Norway. Some of her books include Bitter Wormwood, A Naga Village Remembered, the first Naga novel in English. Her book MARI has been translated into German while A Terrible Matriarchy into Norwegian and German.

 

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