Friday 3 May 2013

Diversity is divine: but division is diabolic

This is a summary of articles and interviews I am reading on the new Pope. There is a sweet movement afoot in the intimate circles around the pope. It is a movement that was initiated in the early 60s when the Catholic Charismatic Renewal had its beginnings. The impetus that the movement has received is in the appointment of the new pope, Pope Francis. Choosing to honor St Francis of Assisi by taking on his name, the new pope brings to the Vatican the spirituality of St Francis whose central passion was to be like Jesus. Pope Francis is openly supportive of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic renewal.


Tuesday 2 April 2013

The necessary violence of Easter

There is something deeply violent about Easter. A necessary and creative violence. How else would you kill death? You can kill death twice: first, you kill death with death, and the second time around, you kill death for good with resurrection, which is like a mighty shot from an enormous cannon releasing unstoppable power and energy, blasting hellish forces and gravestones and any obstacles into dust and nothingness. And we must be clear what death is; it is complete separation from the eternal source of life. Death is life lived in the entrails of darkness. And Easter is the glorious burst-through of Christ's eternal life and eternal love. No wonder it was so difficult for the human mind to comprehend what Jesus was doing in the grave. His disciples could not understand how the powerful leader who raised the dead to life would allow his enemies to kill him. It was a sign of powerlessness. It was, in other words, a sign of death, and death meant only one thing, utter defeat. No wonder Peter abandoned him.

Easter focuses on the resurrection of Christ. But it is profitable to consider what was happening in the hours and days and nights that He lay 'dead' in the sepulchre. I love the way a teacher said that Jesus was not lying passive in the grave. He descended to hell. He went as the warrior of warriors and plundered hell, and wrested back what Adam had given away to satan in the garden of Eden. It was probably not a pretty sight. Imagine Sheol's pitch darkness lit up by the Light wielded by the heavenly warrior; screams as we have never heard even in the most terrifying horror movies would have resounded in those depths and echoed back from its walls. The shrieks of an invaded kingdom. Imagine the kingdom of Sheol trembling, like a thousand earthquakes at the same time, as it realised that here finally was the one who would take back what no mortal man was capable of doing. Now satan could no longer claim that all the kingdoms of the world and their glory belonged to him. For the greatest warrior was taking back his property. This is where the New Covenant begins with the cross manifesting its greatest gifts. Hereafter, are we conquerors because of His finished work.

There is a continuing counter violence in reaction to the violence of the resurrection. An insidious warfare on our minds to steal back what the divine warrior has given us: the peace, love, grace, healing and forgiveness and deliverance gifts of resurrected life. The beauty of Easter is that in addition to the gifts mentioned above, He also gifted us his fiery resurrection power. Easter is much more than white lilies and pink eastereggs and cuddly bunnies. It is such an immeasurably hard-won gift that we ought to do no less than guard it against theft with the assiduous devotion of the soldier. And love as He loved us with His death-defying love.

Originally published at

Saturday 23 March 2013

Chinua Achebe: An African arrow

A great carrier of living history is dead. The breaking news on the morning of the 21 March was the death of Chinua Achebe in a Boston hospital, Massachusetts. If the name Chinua Achebe does not ring any bells for you, try looking him up in Wikipedia.

Achebe was a pioneer amongst African writers in English. He was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor and critic. Often hailed as the “Father of modern African fiction” his first novel Things fall apart is the most widely read book on African literature in universities around the world. It sold more than 12 million copies and has been translated into 50 languages since it was published in 1958. He followed up his successful debut with other novels such as Arrow of God, No longer at ease, A man of the people and Anthills of the Savannah. But literary success came with a great hardship. In 1957, Achebe sent his only copy of his handwritten novel, Things Fall Apart to a typewriting company in London. He enclosed a fee of 22 pounds for typing it. Many months went by with no response from them. Only after his boss visited the company and upbraided them did they type it and send it back to him. Achebe then sent the novel to an agent in London but was rejected by several publishers with the excuse that “fiction from African writers had no market potential.”

Finally it was published by Heinemann and cautious reviews said it was a book that “genuinely succeeds in presenting tribal life from within.” More reviews came in saying it was an excellent book. Thus was African literature in English born in the western world. Achebe’s book filled in the missing Afro-centric perspective on African culture that Euro-centric writers like Joseph Conrad had totally misrepresented. He became the native voice that could not be ignored because it was the voice of the insider and therefore the voice of authenticity. Like every colonised society, a great deal of anthropological writing existed on the Nigerian tribes by western anthropologists. Achebe’s novels offered the other Africa that had not been represented in these writings. He focused on the oral traditions of his native Igbo society as he created a village world with its own metaphors and its own world view. Achebe, like Raja Rao, was translating the reader’s thought patterns to that of Igbo thought patterns by insistently structuring his books after an African ethos. He used the Igbo oral tradition, incorporating folk tales, proverbs and sayings into the narrative. Importantly, Achebe used the oral tradition as a commentary on modern life and as a prophetic discourse on the growing corruption and nepotism of African political life. It is a discourse applicable to all tribal societies in transition. He showed that traditional culture could still be relevant in contemporary life as he used the lessons of orature as it became termed from then on, to teach and convey lessons for life. In Achebe's work we see the continuing relevance of the oral tradition as art and also as social reform.

Achebe explored the confrontation of the old with the new in his own society. Born in 1930, he grew up in a colonized Nigeria where society emphasized western education and devalued tribal ways of thinking. He attended the St Philip's Central School where his teacher noted his intelligence. As a child Achebe loved to listen to the stories of his people. His interest in his cultural roots and folk-ways has carved a permanent place for them in African literature. Along with Ngugi wa Thiongo, the Kenyan novelist, Achebe worked to decolonise the literary culture of Africa, putting back value in the culture that had been suppressed by the colonial powers. The beautiful consequences of their efforts can be seen in the many courses on African writing in universities worldwide today. What Ngugi was theorizing about in his essay, Decolonising the Mind, Achebe put into practice in his novels and storytellings on Igbo culture. He explored the myths of colonisation and exposed the thefts of land and mind by the coloniser.

Chinua Achebe and the African writers have been intrinsically relevant to writing in the Northeast. They placed value in the tribal story. They proved that the stories of the indigenous people were beautiful, unique and yielded meaning. Achebe infused courage in tribal writers by writing unashamedly about his culture and his village world and exposing colonial lies. He Africanised the English language peppering it with Igbo words and borrowing the structure of Igbo in the dialogues of his colourful characters. For the first time, both western and non-western readers heard the voice of the colonised and got to understand the cultural meanings of the practices that were dismissively labelled barbaric and savage by the coloniser. Thanks to Achebe the inclusion of books by native writers in the school syllabus was begun as the trend of mental decolonising reached even the Northeast of India. Research on Northeast writers is beginning to pick up in Indian universities.

The Igbo proverbs that he uses are easily applicable in a conflict torn Northeastern context: “When two brothers fight, a stranger reaps the harvest” (Arrow of God 1964:131), or, “If one finger brought oil, it soiled the others” (Things fall Apart 1958:114). At the same time they are for all cultures, tribal or not. He brought the Igbo proverbs to life in their English selves: “Wisdom is like a goatskin bag; every man carries his own.” Achebe the writer, opened that goatskin bag of wisdom which every Igbo carries. And by doing so, he gave dignity to the stories of all tribal peoples which were repressed by centuries of colonisation.

Originally published at

Sunday 10 February 2013

Apuo Zhavise: The inheritance of living history

I have been so fortunate to spend time with Apuo Zhavise who turns 94 this year. His clear mind and perfect memory power never fail to amaze me at every meeting. Apuo is Zhavise Vihienuo, elder brother of the late Rev Deo Vihienuo and father to Thejao Vihienuo, former Registrar of Nagaland University.

Apuo has recently brought out a book entitled A runa dze, The story of my village. It is a valuable record of village settling and the rich lore of the village which he had received from several oral narrators. Although he has been a resident of Kohima for more than seventy years, Apuo's heart is in the village of Chiechama and he never misses any opportunity to visit for a few days. Apuo's house in the village sits at a central point, a warm old wooden structure where he and his wife used to welcome visitors with good food and open hearts. His wife has since then gone ahead of him.

The house is still there, as welcoming as ever, a legacy they have passed on to the next generation. In my mind's eye I can still see the porch with the white paint peeling off the banisters, the swampy ground to the right where a blue weed was blooming in abundant clusters while a puppy chased a neighbour's young pig into a fenced garden. We were there to film the legendary stone of Chiecha village from which the village had gotten its name.

Apuo was presently joined by three more of his clansmen, regally dressed in their black lohe and red gaonbura blanket carrying walking sticks that gladdened my heart because they looked like spears on camera. Apuo led us to the house of his ancestor Rio, with the stump of the stone sticking out of an abandoned kitchen. There he began his story with his friends looking on and making additions where they felt necessary. This was the gist of the story:

Once upon a time, our ancestor and his wife dwelt here in this very spot. This was their bedroom and this was their kitchen. The man and his wife had a rooster, and a hen with her brood of young chickens. The stump of the stone that you see was a magic stone that grew every day and our ancestor's wife beat it down with a big stone. However, one night the man had a dream and the stone spoke to him saying, 'Tonight before your rooster can crow I am going to grow until I touch the sky.' The man woke up with a start.

He narrated his dream to his wife and when evening came, they sat around the stone and waited. To their surprise the stone began to grow and grow, and it did not stop until it was ab out to touch the sky. Suddenly a weak crowing was heard. It was not the rooster but it was one of the young chickens. At the crowing, the stone ab ruptly stopped growing and began to crack until finally it fell to the ground in many fragments. The top of the stone landed in Lazami village and the middle portion fell into the village of Gariphe. The stump of the stone can still be found in the ruins of our ancestor's house, and this is how our village came to be named. It has ever since been called, Chiechama, the village of the long stone.

Apuo's storytelling went into a documentary called Stone Stories. It was late afternoon when we finished shooting and drove back home. But Apuo's story stayed with me a long time and cast a hue over the village which I had never known before. The ruins of the abandoned kitchen harkened back to times when the spiritual was at the heart of the village. I hoped to return to listen to more stories and cultural nuggets that we are always too busy to relish and gather from. Most of all there was the realisation that Apuo and his clansmen were repositories of living history. They were carrying the history of the village, and several other histories in addition. Elsewhere in other developed nations, men like Apuo would have been considered as national treasures and their knowledge and lore of the land properly documented. I hope it won't be too late for us to start such a project too. There are still a considerable number of storytellers with us from whom we can glean native wisdom as well as let them know how valuable their existence is to the community.

From Apuo I learned the tale of another of his ancestors named Vihienuo, the great warrior whose fame had made his village impenetrable to enemy attacks for many years. It was not a tale of blood and gore, it was a tale of a noble hearted ancestor who took on the task of defending his village against enemy warriors so that his villagers could cultivate their fields free from harassment.

This Christmas Apuo and his 'co-brother in law' Rükhier Rio hosted the village. Apuo Rükhier is Apuo Zhavise’s cousin. They were born in the same year and married two girls from their village who were sisters. This made them co-brothers-in-law, a term used only in Indian English but works to explain kinship and the exact relationship of two people. Together they feasted the village to celebrate the fact that all members of their village had become Christians in their lifetime.

While he was working under Deputy Commissioner Pawsey, Apuo took an additional story to different parts of Nagaland where he was sent to inspect the possibility of opening schools as part of the Post War Development Scheme. He inspected very many villages in Angami, Chokri, Zeliang, Sumi, Kuki and Lotha areas. His travels took him by foot to far flung areas where there were few or no churches. With the perseverance and gentle strength that is characteristic of him, he taught the gospel of peace in all these areas. His reward was seeing these people come to Christ in the course of ten years, abandoning age old conflicts to embrace a more peaceful way of life. Spears and daos were laid down by feuding groups who then joined hands to build up the church. Not all of these stories have gone into his book, because Apuo is modest by nature and many of his adventures and achievements are not recorded. It needs the patience of a long evening to draw out these stories from him. It is at such times they are narrated and received in mutual trust.

At one point of his adult life, Apuo served in the Assam Regiment and trained as a motorcyclist, an event hard to imagine now when I see his shock of white hair and careful steps aided by his cane. But he still carries himself like a former soldier, shoulders straightened to lend dignity to his posture. I can't ever recollect seeing Apuo looking shabby. In the early years I always found him seated in his study, neatly dressed in immaculately ironed shirt and trousers matched by shining shoes, reflecting the best qualities of the soldier.

Apuo belongs to that species of the old world Naga, men with gracious good manners who did their part in life and felt it below their dignity to stoop to corrupt ways. After meeting him again, I felt that Nagaland should consider itself a blessed place when we still have men of his ilk with us. And learn from him. Learn how to love our fellow men and serve them unselfishly, simply so we can have a better world to live in. Learn to appreciate the inheritance of living history that he carries with him as carefully guarded treasure to share with the rest of us. In this day when we are so bereft of heroes, he is one of my heroes and I stop to let myself be inspired by his life and the principles he lives by. I perceive that like his ancestor, the warrior Vihienuo, Apuo has chosen to forget the times he has been treated ill. In our long exchanges, I cannot remember him ever naming a litany of foes.

Apuo's hearing is perfect and his sight the envy of much younger men. The health he is enjoying in the autumn of his life is evidence of a spirit that has not harboured grievances and injustices. Long may he live reminding us of the blessing of a gracious life.

Originally published at

Thursday 7 February 2013

Shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize

"The second nominee, Easterine Kire for Bitter Wormwood, published by Zubaan Books, has written about “a neglected part of Indian history.” “As the introduction of the book says, it is about ‘ordinary people whose lives were completely overturned by the Naga struggle’”"

Five books shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize -
Read the interview at

See also:
Easterine’s ‘Bitter Wormwood’ shortlisted for The Hindu Lit Prize -
Five books shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize -

Update 17/2: The Hindu Literary Prize goes to Jerry Pinto

Friday 18 January 2013

A killer called self-pity

I knew a woman widowed from her youth. She would always stop me and recount her woes. It was a constant litany of how her in-laws had mistreated her after her husband's death, how she struggled alone to feed her children and how workmates made her job a living hell. When her name came up in conversations, I visualised a visage drawn backward by pain and self pity both real and imagined.

Did I ever see her smile or laugh at a joke? I really can't recall. I'm sure she did, I mean one can't go through life without ever laughing even against one's will, can one? Sooner or later one has to laugh at some Naga joke or other. As the years went on, people began to studiously avoid the company of this woman. They went out of their way to get out of her way. Can one put it like that? I mean that if they saw her coming one way, they went another way. And it wasn't funny. She grew lonelier and lonelier until she shrivelled up and died. Not in the natural. But she died spiritually. The last I heard of her she had become inundated in debts and lost the few friends she had made along the way.

Self-pity is a killer. It is an ongoing quarrel with the world. It operates as an addiction. If you are addicted to self-pity, you will find occasion every day to feed your addiction. People will cut you off on the highway, shopkeepers and salesmen will be rude to you and restaurants will serve you last. It is not hard to predict. If you expect others to treat you badly they will pick up those vibes and behave accordingly. When all his misfortunes came upon him, Job declared, “What I feared has come to pass.” If you expect to receive favour, you will get what you hope for but if you expect abusive treatment, the same will come to you.

There are some self-pitying beings who see an offence in every action, word or deed of others. Such an attitude is even worse than that of the first lot. No matter what you do or say they will be offended. So you can never get away without hurting their feelings.

Self-pity is rooted in extreme self absorption. It is constantly putting self interest first that creates the perfect environment for self-pity. There is only one antidote for self pity. That is turning one's attention from oneself to something or someone else. Becoming God-absorbed instead of continuing to be self-absorbed puts God at the centre of our focus, and not ourselves. We become finer beings and are able to lift ourselves above the crass pettiness that sometimes is a part of life on earth. Hopefully becoming God-absorbed would help us realise that life is not really about us but about something much bigger than us.

Originally published at

Saturday 29 December 2012

Support for Nepali community in Nagaland

Are we failing our Nepali brothers and sisters?

The bed was too big for her. Lying in her hospital bed at Oking, the four year old looked smaller and frightened. She shied away from my touch. There was fear in her eyes as we stood around her bed. So this was the little girl who had been raped by a labourer who hailed from Jharkhand. My heart lurched within me and I fought back tears. Her father sat by her side. Her mother came in with her other child on her back. The family looked listless and without hope.

I have never felt so helpless before. I'm sure I was not the only one feeling like that in the room. The others were members of NorthEast Region Services Nepali Association (NERSNS) and Dimapur Gorkha Union (DGU) and Gorkha Public Panchayat (GPP), all men. The doctors said she would be discharged the next day but that she would need to be under observation for one month. She had not completely healed from her injuries and it was obvious that she had been deeply affected psychologically.

What are words when they cannot heal and comfort? Our words sounded like empty sounds, and I stood silently at her bed. The little girl and her parents were from the Nepali community. Her father had been working as a labourer at Senapati where he had taken his whole family. The rapist Raju Sorin, came from Jharkhand, and had worked alongside her father. On the pretext of taking her to see the Christmas carolers, he raped her in an empty shed.

This rape of an innocent child which happened in our neighbouring state, and was brought to our state for treatment, and was featured widely in our newspapers, has not received any condemnation from the Government of Nagaland and Manipur although the media had splashed it on the front page. In fact, the news was hard to miss on the 28th December when most readers were eagerly awaiting their morning newspaper after the Christmas holidays. The DGU had immediately sent information to NGOs and to the government. It followed on the heels of the death of the gang rape victim in Delhi. While the condolences for the Delhi rape victim were quickly forthcoming, there was silence on the Nepali child's case in the days following the report in the newspapers. A Facebook support group garnered one hundred and forty-one names in the space of one night. The supporters were both Naga and non Naga. This article is not written to accuse the government, rather to appeal to it to show that it cares for all its citizens, irrespective of religion or nationality.

The lack of support for the Nepali community is a blot on Nagaland. This is a community that has lived with us for longer than any of us can remember. In the years before the war, their forefathers peacefully existed in Kohima and other towns, contributing to the Naga agrinomy with their milk and vegetable production. They were an accepted part of the Naga community. They fought our wars with us, ousting the Japanese invaders with their Gorkha fighting skills and protecting this land thus. For many of them, the word home evokes Nagaland and not Nepal. Why then has there been no outcry from the social bodies against the atrocities committed on the Nepali womenfolk in the Naga Hills?

The post morten report on the brutally murdered Meena Rai is still not forthcoming. The Nepali community is waiting for justice. Why is this report taking so long? Mother of two Meena Rai was raped by a Bangladeshi national and horribly mutilated. The rape and murder happened two months ago on the 2nd of November 2012.Where is the post morten report? Why has it not been prepared till now? Her children and her community are still waiting for the report.

All that the members of the Nepali community are asking from the government is justice and protection. And from the Naga public, meaning churches, tribal groups, and individuals who care, support and voices that can join their lone cry for justice. The leaders expressly told me that they are not asking for money but emotional support.

The culprits in both cases have been apprehended and are in judicial custody. But for a people who have been greatly wronged, the long wait for a verdict is a violence against justice to the victims' families.

The same rape laws that are put in effect in Delhi should apply in Nagaland and the Northeast. It should not matter that the victim is a Naga or not. To anyone who opposes violence against women the differentiation should be seen as a continuing violence against the female sex.

If we fail to make our land safe for women and children of any caste or religion, how can we ever hope to make it safe for any citizen? The longer we dally in giving justice to the wronged, the more we encourage by our actions those crimes to continue. This is what happened in Delhi. Rapists were not punished harshly. As a result they continued to violate women without any fear of reprisal until it culminated in the indescribable murder of the medical student.

This is an appeal that goes out to all Nagas especially to those who have the authority to make a change. Please care about the worth of the sojourner in your land. They are no longer just sojourners now. They are peaceful inhabitants who are one of us. Our Christianity is to be lived in these situations, by showing love and support for the suffering within your borders, not by remaining deaf and blind to evil around us, and certainly not by allowing love to grow cold by failing to respond to situations that challenge the Christ in you. If you are not a believer, you are still a human being and this is a challenge to your humanity. Come forth, join hands, fight evil. That is the sign that you are a human being. Your tears are important, come and shed them. Come and pray and cry and work so that no girl child will suffer this fate again and that no woman will ever have to go through what Meena Rai did.

Originally published at here and here.

Background: A four-year-old Nepali girl was raped by a 24-year-old youth at Tongpanj Village, under Senapati district Manipur, on Christmas night. Read more about it here