Beastly love

Beastly love

Naga writer Easterine Kire's works - poems, short stories, novels and novellas - are rooted in the folk tales, myths and culture of her native Nagaland - one of the 'seven sisters' among the North Eastern states of India. The misty isolated rural woods and mountains of this region seem ripe to produce literature in the genre generally known as 'magic realism'. This novella is one such - a charming insightful read that ends up being a bit of a thriller, a race against time.

The book jacket is attractively illustrated, throwing out hints, persuading the reader to dip in and test the waters.

Don't Run, My Love is a simple story told with poetic, deceptive calm and grace. There are tranquil sections sandwiched between storms - a rainstorm in the first chapter and a hailstorm in a penultimate climactic chapter. The story thus becomes a metaphoric portrayal of an agrarian arcadia being bedevilled by an unexpected upheaval.

It is a folksy fable about an ancient Naga village Kija, peopled by the Angami tribe, home to a mother-daughter peasant family - a widowed mother Visenuo and the 18-year-old daughter Atuonuo. The hardworking duo have their daily routine cut out, doing whatever the season dictates - be it hoeing, ploughing, planting, harvesting, or using help as needed. When the story opens, the mother and daughter are seen carrying the paddy harvest to their shed beyond the field, all on their own. Suddenly they are being helped in this burdensome task: the helper, Kevi, a handsome self-assured young man - "Anyone who set eyes on him... had to admit that he was a beautiful creature indeed." Kevi turns out to be a hunter with a certain animal magnetism, quite unlike the awkward village youth known to them. Surprisingly and soon enough, the handsome hunter showers the mother-daughter pair with gifts of fresh meat - initially accepted hesitantly. By and by, the mother catches on that the self-proclaimed motherless Kevi is probably in search of a wife, a family. The mother Visenuo is quickly in tune with the young man, agreeable to the idea of his union with her daughter Atuonuo - who is intrigued, drawn to Kevi, yet unsure. In a short while, though, she too comes round to accepting him.

The story simultaneously canters along, speaking of inquisitive relations and neighbours, family histories, the impending harvest festival with its bizarre practices (like frogs being cooked). It's a pastoral setting - suddenly disturbed by high drama. There is rejection of an impassioned suitor, extreme anger, hurt, Atuonuo's attempts to accept again, and unexpected happenings that turn the bucolic setting into a nightmare for the simple farming family. The reader, too, is caught unawares; there is a sharp turn into the realm of the metaphysical; understandable though when one recalls myths about the beastly primal nature of man.

It is a layered story, almost a morality tale. Right from the beginning, the author makes things clear: "...a girl has the right to refuse if she didn't like a suitor." Looks do not make a man; inner beauty matters more. And rejection can unleash inner demons - as currently revealed in true stories from our present, our media's horror stories about spurned love and acid attacks.

The story is told in a manner that leads quietly and purposefully to a climax that is other-worldly and magical, yet believable. "They could recognise the great wood apple tree even in the dark. It stood hulking over the forest, darker than the darkness itself." Incidentally, the author has revealed that the novella is based on a folk tale related by her mother, about tekhuemevi (a mythic Naga figure, a half man, simultaneously tragic and heroic). However, the tale is best enjoyed by not delving into this subject beforehand, lest the hints act as a spoiler.

The author does a good job of creating the right ambience - "They had heard too many stories of spirits waylaying field goers on their way home." As Atuonuo enters the harvest hut at the crucial moment -"There was a powerful stench in the air." The line intrigues.

Other lines reveal the author's lyrical felicity and economy with language: "Fortunately the violence with which the storm broke meant that its energies were soon depleted." And quite frequently, local words are deployed in a manner that makes the meaning apparent. "In the kichukis, the young men were talking loudly after having started off on the homebrew early."

What lingers beyond the simple tale is the author's love for her homeland, as well as judicious use of her simple rural and very humane characters. Particularly significant is the character of the friendly woodcutter Keyo, who makes his appearance twice, just when required, bringing closure and justice.

Ultimately, Nagaland is shown as an enchanting blend of nature and supernatural elements. The remote state of Nagaland thus comes alive through its daughter's book.    

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