• Talking Books, Spirits, Jazz and Writing the First Naga Novel: Meet Easterine Kire

    I first heard of the writer Easterine Kire thanks to Zubaan Books, ahead of her proposed visit to Delhi this summer. The poet and novelist won The Hindu Prize (2015), presented to her this year in January by the phenomenal writer Alexander McCall Smith, for her novel When The River Sleeps.

    It’s a book I devoured in two sittings, practically, a book I can’t even think of spoiling by writing bout it – it’s much too beautiful, in an understated but powerful way. The story tracks a hunter in search of a particular gift that he can only snatch from a sleeping river. 

    'When The River Sleeps', a novel by Easterine Kire

    ‘When The River Sleeps’, a novel by Easterine Kire

    Our Q&A with Easterine Kire:

    1. Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer — When did you know you were a story-teller; what have been some of the most amazing moments? What have been some of the challenges?

    E: I wrote poetry in my teens and tried writing short stories as well. My first short story was placed in Asiaweek’s fifty best stories list so that encouraged me to continue writing. It was pretty amazing to do theater with my stories and folk songs along with a Sami singer-dancer’s stories and songs as we found so much cultural affinity together. One challenge is following what is in your heart and learning to ignore what the mainstream publishers insist that the readers want to read.

    One challenge is following what is in your heart and learning to ignore what the mainstream publishers insist that the readers want to read.

    2. Do you feel there is a major issues with writers from the North-East being boxed as “writers from the North-East”? Is this similar to how we like to put labels on writers — women writers, lit fiction writers; Indian writers (when you look at it from an international perspective); Indian Writers in English, and so on? Or does this have more to do with biases/ prejudices, and is that changing at all?

    E: This is what I call commodification. Labelling always tries to commodify a person/business/writer so that the writing can be sold to a particular market. It’s very frustrating because we are not
    commodities. But I don’t mind so much being classed as a writer from the Northeast. It is kind of unavoidable and I am from the Northeast. What I don’t like is when the public is taught to expect only writing on violent conflicts from the Northeast. That is the biggest stereotype that the media has given to the region and it is most unfair.

    What I don’t like is when the public is taught to expect only writing on violent conflicts from the Northeast. That is the biggest stereotype that the media has given to the region and it is most unfair. 

    2a. Your novel A Naga Village Remembered is said to be the first Naga novel to be published. There’s clearly a a huge responsibility that comes with that?

    E: It is the first Naga novel indeed. I have heard this comment before about the responsibility thing, but I don’t feel like that. I write from my heart and I share what I enjoy and that fact — that I enjoy what I am writing about probably makes it reach readers and impact them. I don’t need to change that.

    3.​ When the River Sleeps is such a beautiful, powerful story. You bring the characters to life, including the rather scary spirits​. Take us through some of the inspiration behind this book? Are there any folk stories you have captured that you can talk about…For example, could you discuss the weretiger phenomenon that we read about.

    E: Thank you. I am very fond of ‘When the River Sleeps’ too. I have many hunter friends and their stories came together to make this book. Whenever they told me their marvellous and magical stories of the deep forests, it was as though they had been to another world. (And they had, in a sense). I loved that aspect of it and the fact that the spirits that appear in the book are all known to my native audience.

    Many are territorial spirits and local readers have easily identified them. To have a lore that is shared by so many and to be able to use that lore is the most wonderful experience. It is not one folktale, it is folklore, meaning the wisdom of the people and their literary memory-bank.

    The weretiger is a phenomenon peculiar to many cultures in the Northeast. I am going to write a novella about this so I will not talk too much about it here.

    ​4. Who are some of your favourite writers and story-tellers?

    I have been a big fan of Chinua Acehebe and Ben Okri, both Nigerians, and Moris Farhi who is also a good friend and the best Turkish writer I have read. I love the storytelling of Hug Mclennan.

    ​5. I read this lovely piece in Mint about your two homes. You write: ​”​In that sense, Kohima is my home because my umbilical cord is buried there. But Tromsø is just as much home, a place where my days are not dictated by the guilt of a social life, and I can devote days on end to writing.​​” Can you tell us a little bit about feeling at home in both Nagaland and Norway — any interesting ​anecdotes you would share?

    E: One place is my ancestral home and the other is the home that offers me the peace to write and to create. Both are important to me, essential to me. I think there are many like me who have homes in more than one geographical place. Can’t think of any anecdotes right now :).

    6.​ ​​And finally, will you tell me a bit about your band; how long have you been performing together, what do you enjoy the most about it?

    E: Rijo (Thomas) and I met in October 2015 where we performed together after the first five minutes of being introduced. It was magical that we could create so much magic together without getting to rehearse or any of the things people do before they perform! In a way, the performance was a lot like play, as we guessed what the other wanted or needed and filled in the lacunae with words, or drumbeats or let it be. Since that first meeting we have done three more shows joined by our other member, Rijo’s twin brother Jijo. The performances are always different from the actual rehearsals as we do new things on stage. It is so fun that way and we hope to tour other cities after we have done more gigs in Delhi.

    Easterine Photo Band

    Photo and Caption Courtesy: Rijo Thomas
    Easterine and Rijo met about seven and a half minutes before going on stage, performing an entirely improvised set of music for the very first time. Now known as JazzTri

    JazzTri will be performing in Delhi again on July 8, 9 or 10th. You can email hello.rijo[at]gmail[dot]com for more information. A big thank you to Rijo Thomas and  jobrozzzz  Production for sharing a Youtube link of JazzTri playing, as well as photos of the band.