Reading Our Way to the Sibling States
A few days ago during a meeting, we started discussing books that bring out the essence of the place they’re set in. We spoke at length about Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul’, Jean Sasson’s ‘Princess’, Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Hungry Tide’, etc., the list seemed endless! We were talking about how these places not only tell important stories but also work as a tour book, as they take us into the lanes, cities and villages of the places the characters of the books are based out of. Suddenly, one of us asked if there are similar books about North East. There was complete silence for the next few seconds. We realized it was so difficult for us to think of books from the North East. Thus, a little embarrassment and a lot of curiosity made us at ChaloHoppo do something about our lack of knowledge regarding books from our region. We decided to start reading and researching!
After weeks of reading a few and researching about a few, we decided to compile and make a list of twelve books, anyone can read if they want to know North East India a little better than they already do. We hope to keep adding more and more books to the list and we are open to suggestions as well. Till then, you can go through the list given below and share your views and add your recommendations to the list in the comments!
1. Janice Pariat’s ‘Boats on Land’
Boats on Land is a collection of short stories that offer a new way of looking at the world, and, in particular, India’s little-known northeast. Set in and around Shillong, Cherrapunjee and pockets of Assam, these tales are shaped against a larger historical canvas of the early days of the British Raj, the World Wars, conversions to Christianity, and the missionaries.
2. Temsula Ao’s ‘These hills called home: Stories From a War Zone’
More than half a century of bloodshed has marked the history of the Naga people. Their struggle for an independent Nagaland and their continuing search for identity provides the backdrop for the stories that make up this unusual collection. Describing how ordinary people cope with violence, how they negotiate power and force, how they seek and find safe spaces and enjoyment in the midst of terror, the author details a way of life under threat from the forces of modernization and war. These are stories that speak movingly of home, country, nation, nationality, identity, and direct the reader to the urgency of the issues that lie at their heart.
3. Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent’s ‘Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains: A Journey across Arunachal Pradesh- India’s Forgotten Frontier’
Travelling some 2,000 miles the author encounters shamans, lamas, hunters, opium farmers, fantastic tribal festivals and little-known stories from the Second World War. In the process, she discovers a world and a way of living that are on the cusp of changing forever. This book chronicles her journey in this forgotten corner of Asia.
4. Phejin Konyak’s ‘The Last of the Tattooed Headhunters- The Konyaks’
The book documents the headhunting and unique tattooing culture of the Konyak Tribe in depth. It reflects on the fundaments of the Konyak culture and the tattoos on face and body that form an inseparable union. The author is retracing the steps of her famous great-grandfather and Konyak warrior Ahon and her own unique culture.
* ChaloHoppo conducts tours where travellers get to live in the author’s home (if she’s free during that period) and understand her motivation behind the book and a close look at her life in the village)*
5. Binodini’s ‘The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memoirs of her Father’
This is a unique and engrossingly intimate view of life in the erstwhile royal household of Manipur in northeast India. The author has in the past entranced her readers anew with her stories of royal life, told from a woman’s point of view and informed by a deep empathy for the common people in her father’s gilded circle. With gentle humour, piquant observations and heartfelt nostalgia, Binodini evokes a lifestyle and era that is now lost.
6. Aruni Kashyap’s ‘The House with a Thousand Stories’
It is 2002 and young Pablo, a city boy who has mostly lived a sheltered and privileged life in Guwahati, is visiting his ancestral village for his aunt’s wedding. This is his second time in Mayong, in rural Assam, since 1998, when he had come for a few days to attend his father’s best friend’s funeral. As the wedding preparations gather pace, Pablo is amused as well as disturbed by squabbling aunts, dying grandmothers, cousins planning to elope for love and hysterical gossips. And on this heady theatre of tradition and modernity hovers the sinister shadow of insurgency and the army’s brutal measures to quell militancy.
7. Sanjoy Hazarika’s ‘Strangers of the Mist’
In Strangers Of The Mist: Tales Of War & Peace From India s Northeast, author Sanjoy Hazarika sheds light on many issues that are currently facing the states in North Eastern India, through a collection of facts, and personal experiences. It is an attempt to bring awareness to a number of sensitive issues faced by Indians living in the North Eastern parts of the country. In this eye-opening memoir, the author presents several enlightening facts, which are virtually unknown to most citizens of this nation. This is arguably the best book written on the issues facing North East India thus far.
8. Kishalay Bhattacharjee’s ‘Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters’
This anonymous confession by an army officer splits wide open the anatomy of staged encounters in India’s northeast, and explains how awards and citations are linked to a body count. Speaking to investigative journalist and conflict specialist Kishalay Bhattacharjee, the confessor tells of the toll this brutality has taken on him. An essay by Bhattacharjee and a postscript that analyses the hidden policy of extra-judicial killings and how it threatens India’s democracy contextualize this searing confession. An explosive document on institutionalized human rights abuse.
9. Avinuo Kire’s ‘The Power to Forgive and Other Short Stories’
In “The Power to forgive”, the title story, Avinuo Kire tells the moving story of a rape survivor who, at the threshold of a new life, looks back on the incident that has shaped nearly two decades of her life and wonders if she made the right choice.
Called from folk and tribal traditions of Naga life, Kire’s stories take us into a world where spirits converse with humans, unsuspecting people are drawn into the movement for Naga independence, a man dies quietly of cancer, a mother wonders if she did the right thing by giving her child a name different from the one she intended…
With insight and compassion, Avinuo Kire draws fine portraits of ordinary people in Naga society.
10. Easterine Iralu’s ‘A Terrible Matriarchy’
Young Dielieno is five years old when she is sent off to live with her disciplinarian grandmother who wants her to grow up to be a good Naga wife and mother. According to Grandmother, girls didn’t need an education, they didn’t need love and affection or time to play or even a good piece of meat with their gravy! Naturally, Dielieno hates her with a vengeance.
Easterine Iralu writes about a place and a people that she knows well and is a part of with realistic portrayals of the spirits of the dead that inhabit the quiet hills and valleys of Nagaland.
11. Åshild Kolås, (ed.), ‘Women, Peace and Security in North East India’
The states in the northeast of India have been subjected to multiple protracted conflicts. This volume sheds light on the successes and failures of the women’s movements in and of the region; women’s responses and engagements with conflict and peace-building; as well as their challenges, aspirations and experiences as agents of change. It adds important insights into the debate on gender and political change in societies affected by conflict.
12. Parismita Singh, (ed.), ‘Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India’
This book brings you a wealth of stories, in words and images, from a part of India known as the Northeast, a term that is widely contested for the ways in which it homogenizes a region of great diversity. Here, 21 writers and artists look at the idea of ‘work’ — from street hawking to beer brewing, from mothering to dung collection — and describe their lives or those of others with humour and compassion.