AUTUMN 06 Featured Writer: Easterine Kire Iralu
Added: August 2006 to ICORN Featured Writers
ICORN Guest Writer in Tromsø, Norway.
Easterine Kire Iralu originally comes from Nagaland.
In her own words:
I was born on Easter Sunday, 29 th March 1959 and educated at the Baptist High School, Kohima, for the first ten years of schooling. I continued my studies by getting a pre-university degree at the Kohima College, a BA degree from Shillong and a year of Journalistic studies at Delhi followed by occasional writing in a column for the local newspapers. In the next two years, I worked on a Masters Degree in English Literature. With a first class MA in Literature, I was appointed as Editor in the State Government of Nagaland's Directorate of Information and Publicity. But after two years, I resigned from the editorial job to become a teacher at the Kohima College and then moved on to a more permanent teaching job at the North Eastern Hill University, Kohima.
While teaching at college and university, I continued to write a column for one of the local newspapers, The Nagaland Observer. Aged 22 in 1982, I published my first volume of poems, Kelhoukevira. Written in English, it was the first volume of poetry to be published individually by a Naga poet. The main poems mourn the warriors of Nagaland killed in the Indo-Naga conflict. In the fifties, I had lost an uncle to the conflict and was to lose two more in subsequent years.
In 1997, while working towards a Ph.D degree, one of my dreams of making a music CD of my poem-songs was fulfilled. I worked with Daphne Kent and Niu Vihienuo. A second dream was fulfilled in 2001 with publishing a volume of poems and short stories with accompanying sketches by good friends of mine, artists from the North-east of India. My niece, Kevi Z. Savino did most of the colour illustrations. In 2003, I wrote a book with an Australian co-author, Ernie Wombat and the Water Dwellers a fun book about a wombat who falls into a waterway and is pulled by strong currents till he surfaces in Dzüleke in the Naga hills. The book introduces Nagaland through the eyes of an Australian animal and we were happy to look at the Nagas and their habits through the uninformed eyes of a newcomer.
In the same year, I wrote my historical novel A Naga Village Remembered, an account of the last battle between the colonial forces of Britain and the little warrior village of Khonoma. Also categorized as historical fiction, this was again the first novel in English by a Naga writer. Before this, Shürhozelie, the literary pioneer of literature in my language, had already written three novels in Tenyidie. So, literature in Tenyidie, my mother tongue, already rich with both oral and written literature, was a source of inspiration to me. Growing up in Kohima in the 1960s, the conflict fought close to the Naga villages, was never very far from us, the town dwellers. Aged 5 years, my first memory of the conflict includes lying flat on a cold cement floor with my younger brother, when shots reverberated round our neighborhood. While my Grandfather and brother were in bed, a bullet whizzed over their heads and went through the wall. My father was shot at but the bullet hit my cousin in the thigh instead. Curfews and continued periods of gunfire were all part of growing up in Nagaland. Frequently, men came to my Grandfather's house with stories to tell of captured men being tortured and killed. But the conflict took on a much uglier face with the emergence of infighting in the 80s. In 1987, a school friend was killed in the heart of Kohima town. Ever since then, the cycle of killing and counter revenge killing has not abated. Two levels of violence exist in my homeland. On one hand, Indian army atrocities continue. A military convoy began shelling, at random, civilian houses in Kohima in 1995 where many were killed and maimed, including children. A few years before that, many houses were burnt in another town, Mokokchung, resulting in loss of many civilian lives. Civilian killings by the army continue to occur on a smaller scale. On the other level is the infighting from ideological differences between the Naga freedom fighters.
From 2000- early 2005, I personally experienced the stress of living in a house that was stalked by armed men at night because of the political writings of my spouse. Threats were also directed at me when an article of mine appeared in the papers protesting the killings. The abnormality of life was something I had resigned myself to, tapped telephones, every movement of my family closely monitored and the horror of sitting up in the night with a double barrel gun to protect my children against stalkers. The brutality of life in Nagaland, especially the brutalisation of many young men made me fear for the safety of my children. My older daughter was traumatized on a short trip when their car was stopped and they were held for questioning by a group holding them at gunpoint. Her sister came within five meters of being shot when armed men began to indiscriminately fire at their human target, felling an innocent citizen. My grown son was kidnapped for three days.
After a trip to Norway, I received information about the International Cities of Refuge Network. In 2005, I took the offer of being put on a program as Tromsø's first Fribyforfatter and moved to Tromsø, Northern Norway in March 2005. The one year in a city of refuge, and freedom from a life where it was normal to hear gunshots in the night, every night, and be in constant fear of death has been very positive for me. I have written six books during my stay in Tromsø, of which two are being published in 2006. I continue to pray and dream of peace for my people and reflect it in my poetry. At the same time, I am now able to admit and talk about the long-term damage to my people the years of protracted conflict have inflicted and I have slowly begun to address this in my new writings. While many of the writers in cities of refuge have experienced prison physically, my people and I have been living within an invisible prison for many years, denied freedom of expression, freedom to nationhood and most painfully, freedom to life itself. I am now thinking of new ways to help my people, especially the young, because this period away has from my homeland has to be utilized positively. And I am so grateful for the opportunity to have wider contacts and experience new avenues of empowerment. I feel that our only hope is in our young. Their futures should not be shadowed any longer by the conflict. I hope I can sufficiently contribute to enabling them to move away from the bitterness and vicious cycle of killings and transcend the present gun-culture of my society. They deserve a better life than what we have known.
Read Easterine's short story The Storyteller