Many-Worded and Many-Souled — Sitting Down With Dr. Easterine Kire
Poet, author, and The Hindu Prize awardee Dr. Easterine Kire visited the North-East Studies Centre in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations of MAHE on the 22nd of January, 2018. After her insightful lecture on Locating Naga Identity in the Globalised World, we got the opportunity to talk to her about her life, writing, and where she’s headed.
Tell me about your journey from Kohima to Norway. What did you learn along the path?
This begs for a long answer [laughs]. I went to Norway in 2005, and I’ve been there ever since. I do come back to India frequently. I had to learn the language and how to use the food that was available there. That, especially, is always a big leap for someone coming from India. In the process of making myself at home there, I discovered that we can be many-souled people. I don’t have just one soul. No one does. For example, now I have a smaller, Norwegian soul, which can understand the culture and the language there.
It’s so important to learn a new language — it’s a journey of self-discovery. It is a key to understanding the other person, but you’re the one who gets enriched.
How did you get into writing? What inspired you to write about Naga culture and identity?
I started writing at the age of sixteen. I wrote poems about love, life, and Naga freedom fighters, among other things. I truly began to want to write about Naga history— especially the oral history— when I read African novels for the first time in university. I wanted to write about Naga culture and identity in particular because we had no written history as a community. Even if we did have written accounts, they were in our native languages, not in English. This meant that others could not read about us, despite having an interest in our culture and history. Ever since I read those African novels in college, I made bringing more attention to the unwritten history of the Nagas my life’s aim.
In addition to that, I have also written children’s books, short stories, plays, fictional novels, and poetry.
That, again, I feel, is a stereotype [laughs]. My writing does not solely revolve around Naga culture. I do write a lot about Naga life because I want to cover all the ages, major events, and generations, which I feel that I’ve done. It’s not just that, though. I am inspired by life, be it here, or in Europe – I take as much from it as I can.
I also write about animals. I’ve written about a very scared little mouse that goes on a journey in Winterland to save his friend. It’s that part of writing as an art that interests me— that you can explore human emotions using animal characters. I like placing these stories in lands far away from India in a world of their own, like Europe, or anywhere else.
Your novels focus a lot on women and their empowerment. Have any personal experiences led to this theme?
I am passionate not just about women empowerment, but about empowerment in general. When you see injustice, it’s never just towards women. It could be anyone. But yes, I am influenced not only by my own experiences but also those of women close to me.
The North East is often excluded from the rest of the country, on grounds of preconceived social and cultural differences. Why do you think this happens?
It’s the history— the political and social history, at least for Nagaland, in particular. It was never a part of either Burma or India, and when the British left, the Nagas asked to be left as an independent unit. This demand was not heeded by the British, and they simply cut up the land and gave half of it to Burma and the other half to India. The opinion of the indigenous people was not taken into consideration at all.
The Nagas have a very unique and striking identity, and they want this to be honoured and respected.
On a lighter note, I read that you have an inclination towards jazz poetry. What does that involve?
I don’t want to be defined and labelled by my writings on social issues. Jazz poetry is something I enjoy doing, and I have several jazz bands. There’s one in Delhi and two in Norway. How it works is, it’s free jazz, initially, and the rhythm comes from the poetry. I think jazz and poetry are a wonderful combination. Poetry in itself is so rhythmic— to add music to it just elevates the experience.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers who want to bring more attention to the intercultural differences and dynamics in India?
If you have money, or if you can acquire funding— travel. There’s nothing else like it. Travel to the places that you only hear about, and are thus fearful of. Go there, and blow those stereotypes away. Nothing opens your mind like visiting new places and discovering what they’re like. Try out the food and experience the culture there. Even the natural landscapes there will be so different from what you’re used to. Go enjoy, and come back enlightened.