A Review by Ms. Anjana Basu
The Last Light of Glory Days: Stories from Nagaland
Speaking Tiger | INR 350/
Nagaland has always been a mysterious place with sacred forests, vanishing hornbills and its associations with war as in the crucial battle of Kohima reportedly supported by bands of head hunters. In the first part of Kire’s collection of 10 short stories, The Last Light of Glory Days, she bridges the gap between the departing British and the arrival of the Indian army and talks about The Disturbance that ensued when the Nagas discovered that the Indians were racist and, unlike the British tended to look down on the Nagas whom they mockingly sneered at as ‘Chinky’ – even though Kire makes it very clear that the Japanese Army at the time of Kohima were equally cruel to the Nagas, despite the physical similarity between the two races. The three stories in the Disturbance are linked and cover the Indo-Naga conflict with rebel husbands, betrayals and told through the women who try to cling to normalcy despite the escalating violence around them – and even the Nagas refuse to acknowledge those who have married beyond the community simply because of what The Disturbance meant to normal life in the hills and valleys like the girl’s grandmother who will not acknowledge her fiancée and who cuts them both out of her life after the wedding.
The remaining seven stories grouped under the title ‘New Tales from an Old World’, Kire reverts to the myths that haunt the mountains of Nagaland, mixing legend and present time, throwing in memory healers and Tekhumevi or weretigers. The spirits of the stories fit into the contemporary time and weretigers it seems can be scared away by hymns while an unearthly light appears to save a girl from her molesting tutor. Not that this is different anywhere else in the vastness of India myths, legends and spiritual influences proliferate at a certain level, mainly in those places that are closer to nature. Love potions too come under the touch of tantrics and are certainly not unusual. While comparisons are odious, Easterine Kire’s Naga fables come to mind, though Avinuo Kire is more contemporary in her approach.
Kire’s stories are written in clear prose, not making too much of the supernatural or striving to find poetry in language but weaving it together deftly with what her characters have to say of their everyday lives, the struggles of women who fight to make their own careers or find love in difficult times with the help of the forests and the spirits who dwell in the glades. She allows her readers to make their own discoveries in her stories even as her protagonists find peace in newspapers and flowering trees seeing in them the last light of happier days gone by.