Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Naga Literature: An ignored Shangri-la - Anjan Behera, Asst. Professor English




They say the pen is mightier than the sword.  However, the pen can only be mightier than sword if people read what has been written by the pen. 
Nagaland has a lot of literature that not only tells us of our past but also pulls us into their worlds of sorrow, happiness and love. 


Naga Literature: An Ignored Shangri-la

It was the summer of 2010, and I was in the Kolkata airport, waiting to board my flight to Dimapur. A delay of 3 hours prompted me to pull out a copy of Easterine Kire’s Mari from my backpack. Totally engrossed in the book, I was almost taken aback when a voice asked me what had I been reading. Turns out he was an English Lecturer who had belonged to the state, and yet, had never heard, or read of Kire. The remaining two hours of waiting time was thus spent in telling him all about the wonderful works of Kire. However, my surprise continued even later when I moved back to Dimapur. It was a struggle to find anyone who had read novels and literary works from our own state. People are blissfully unaware of the rich and diverse literature that our state has begun to produce.

There are a couple of factors that have been behind this. Easterine Kire in her interview with CNN-IBN stated, “About thirty years ago, there wasn’t much literary production from the Northeast in the sense that we were not getting published, we had very little translated literature in English and whatever was available was poetry and writings by anthropologists on the region. So, the mainland universities cannot be blamed for ignoring literary input from the Northeast. Things have changed drastically in recent years and more Naga authors have been published. But Naga Literature, still being a fairly new phenomenon, remains largely unknown to the readership population. Needless to say, the westernised mindset also plays a role here, where in local works are deemed biasedly as inferior.  

It is true that Mainland-Indian academia has ignored literary work from the state in the past. But how is it that most of the universities still do not have any literature from Nagaland in their syllabus? Nagaland has produced several notable works like A Terrible Matriarchy, The Gift of the Sand Castle, These Hills Called Home, and Monsoon Mourning. Passing off works by Assamese writers as ‘Literature from the Northeast’ is a brutal attempt to wrongly equalise the diverse literary tradition of the eight states. Novels from Nagaland usually have a very subtle anti-Indian stance. Could this be the reason that Mainland-India has ignored the literary tradition of Nagaland? Probably. But in a democracy, shouldn’t everyone be allowed to express their views and opinions? If controversial works of Ismat Chughtai and Taslima Nasreen are welcomed in academic circles, why aren’t works from Nagaland? Although this does not explain the scrawny popularity of these works in Nagaland itself.

Whatever the reasons maybe, one cannot deny the fact that these literary works are art, art which should be judged on its aesthetic appeal. Literature is the reflection of the society that is written about. Hence, these works cease to be just works of fiction, but transcend into becoming a record of the glorious culture and society. A general characteristic of fiction from Nagaland is the harking back to the past, and presenting the deep impact and importance of the days gone by. The past has taught us valuable lessons, and these works remind us of the struggles our society has undergone; from the World War, to the forceful occupation of the terrain by Indian forces, and from alcoholism, to the changes in culture and religion. How can we then ignore these faithful representations of our heritage and our past?
     
Naga writing in English is still a relatively new phenomenon, but we do have many works in local dialects. Kongshir Ken by S. Longkumer, is a wonderful fictional work in Ao, but has a limited readership since they have been composed in the Ao dialect. To make sure these works have a larger readership, and a stronger influence, they should be translated into English as soon as possible. I realise translated works lose their originality to an extent, but well, something is always better than nothing at all. The writers and publishers need to promote their works better so more people come to know of it. More of these works need to be included in academic courses around the country. Enough of the ignorance! Kudos to the Department of English, Nagaland University for including many works from the state in their syllabus for the Bachelors Degree courses. We live in a society where people are losing touch with their roots and traditions, their customs and its values. These literary works are all that remain that have the power to tie us back to the magnificent past.

The literary works of Nagaland is something that should be read by all people of the state. The budding writers need encouragement, and an increase in readership would encourage the evolution of a rich and powerful Naga Literature. It would also ensure the past is always cherished and treasured, and the sacrifices made by the ancestors of this land is remembered. In times when people are more familiar with Korean culture than Naga culture, these literary works can be a Shangri-La for the legacy of the days gone by, as well as provide wonderful insight to outsiders about the evolving culture of the state.

So the next time you want to read something, skip the Vogue and the Sidney Sheldon, and instead, pick up works by Easterine Kire, Aaron Kikon, Monalisa Changija, and Temsula Ao.

Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. “The views expressed are not a reflection of the opinion of Tetso College. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:

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