The steep hillside is a hard place
With no place to kneel.
Mamang Dai's poetry enthralled us, as she read it in her seraphic voice, in the hush of the Sahitya Akademi auditorium last evening as the day melted into night (2 Sep 2008). This still small voice from the eastern reaches of India in Arunachal Pradesh twittered down to the Capital to proclaim the truth of her people's pain.
We slept by the river
But we do not speak of victory yet.
Her Legends of Pensam (2006)about the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh was mentioned by way of introduction. Dai's so Eliotesque poetry almost had one on one's knees.
We found each other yesterday
After they told us the past was over.
(From 'Prayer Flags 2')
To Mamang Dai's left sat Temsula Ao from Nagaland. In her soft voice which hearkend back to the myths of an absent script of the Ao Nagas, Temsula Ao lamented how the Nagas, once a united community, were riven by factionalism and tribal infighting. The practice of taking tithes - one-tenth of one's earning to be given to the Church - was being misused, as extortionist measures by the underground.
Even now her grandson did not find any meaning in the ancient myths of her people ('The Old Storyteller'). Reference was made to her book set in the hills and villages of Nagaland, These Hills Called Home: Stories from a Warzone (2006).
Nini Lungalang from Kohima, Nagaland stunned us with ordinariness of death:
I saw a young man gunned down
As I shopped in the marketplace.
The dead speak only through old shirts
folded away in the cupboards of memory.
Carolyn Marak shared with us a story set in Guwahati, 'the premier city in the North East' and 'the melting pot of tribal culture.' Rupanjali Baruah read 'Where' for her son prompting Professor Alok Bhalla to draw parallels with Yeats' 'Prayer for my Daughter' in these troubled times.
Moved by the intense sense of rootedness which these writers exhuded in their writing, I met each of them after the event and gave them a printout of my blogpost sampling of my poems from Goa from my self-published book Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa (2006).
I was also moved by the fact that both Dai and Ao - though showcased as poets - had already published short story collections documenting the vicissitudes of their land. Temsula Ao listened intently when I said I visited Kohima last December (2007). She invited me to Shillong where she works at the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). Bob Dylan too figured in a reference to the music of Shillong rocker Lou Majaw. Her eyes lit up when I spoke to her about her poem 'The Doll.'
See also 'Kohima Calling' - blogpost of 16 July 2008