Interview with Easterine Kire

    Easterine Kire is the first published novelist in English from Nagaland. Her renowned works include her book of poetry, Kelhoukevira (1982), and several novels, mentioned in order of publication: A Naga Village Remembered (2003), A Terrible Matriarchy (2007), Mari (2010), Bitter Wormwood (2011) Don't Run, My Love (2017), A Respectable Woman (2019) Walking the Roadless Road: Exploring the Tribes of Nagaland, (2019) The Rain-maiden and the Bear-man (2021), Journey of the Stone (2021) and Spirit Nights (2022). She has also written several children's books, articles and essays on various topics. Kire’s works, while bringing out the vibrant Naga culture, also brought out the realities which have changed the lives of Naga women. She has several awards to her name, including, the Governor's Medal for excellence in Naga literature (2011), The Hindu Literary Prize for When the River Sleeps (2015), The Tata Book of the Year and Bal Sahitya Puraskar by Sahitya Academy for Son of the Thundercloud (2018), and the Free Voice Award by Catalan PEN Barcelona.

    Easterine has been interviewed by Sourabhi Dutta Roy.


    This interview will be published in the book compiled under TMYS Review June 2023 project, themed on


    in collaboration with the Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), University of Victoria.




    Q1. Would you like to tell us a childhood memory that brings a smile to you, whenever you think of it?

    Easterine: I don’t have a specific incident to recall. But something I experienced in childhood that kept children out of trouble was the fact that elders would always intervene and stop children whenever they were involved in excessive play, usually play that could end in them getting injured. Children had great respect for elders, not just their own parents and grandparents. This healthy fear kept them out of a lot of trouble.


    Q2. You are the first published author representing the Naga culture and identity in literature. What resource did you access in your growing-up days to know more about the past of the land and its people? How has the rich oral tradition of storytelling helped you in this respect?

    Easterine: I grew up in the sixties and seventies in Kohima, which was a historically important town because the attempted Japanese invasion of India was halted here. The past was all around us in a way of speaking. In my childhood, we found reminders of the Second World War in the form of people’s memories as well as more physical evidences in bullet casings, mortar shells, both exploded and unexploded, and an abandoned Sherman tank. We lived on the border between the Kohima village and the town area, so there were frequent visitors from the village who brought valuable information such as the timings of no-work days and different taboos being observed at the time. Further, I had the great fortune to be around my grandparents and my aunts who were all storytellers who gave me the stories of our people. I have used community memory and family memory to write books on the unwritten history of my people. Our family was Christian but we showed respect for the old traditions followed by non-Christians. It generated good relations between the two faiths. The world I observed around me was my biggest resource.


    Q3. Your book, Walking the Roadless Road, is an intense work on Naga history. The title symbolises the geography and perhaps your personal journey too, in collating and compiling so much information from scratch. Would you tell us about that phase of research and writing, the cooperation you may have received and the obstacles you had to battle?

    Easterine: The title is a metaphor for the journey the Nagas have been walking and the innumerable challenges they have faced down the ages where their identity is concerned. Naga thinker, peace-maker, bridge-builder Niketu Iralu told me: ‘(Nagas) are trying to walk the roadless road with hope for peace.’ I took permission to use it as the title of my book and have explained it in the intro. So it is not reflective of the physical geography of the land, but much more than that.

    It was very hard work to put this book together as many tribes did not have documented information on the areas my book has covered. It involved much travelling and interviewing of people to compile all the information that appears on the Naga tribes. I am grateful for writers like Charles Chasie and Sanjoy Hazarika who had worked very intensely on Naga political history and I could use their work for the chapter on political history. Naga history of the colonial periods are documented so I could use these sources on the chapter about historical battles. I felt fortunate that Naga scholars like V.Nienu and Vizovol Mekro had published books about facets of Naga geology and migration narratives that I could use. At the same time, Walking the Roadless Road was a book that was very different from other books I have written. Whereas I wrote my books of fiction with my heart, I had to write this non-fiction book with my guts. The people I met in the villages that I travelled to, were very cooperative. They gave me a great deal of precious information which is now recorded in the book.


    Q4. Some of your works like Don’t Run, My Love and When the River Sleeps use magic and fantasy, merging supernatural elements with real life. How does the climate and geography, along with human nature and behaviour contribute to the crafting of magic realism in imagination and subsequent writing?

    Easterine: In When the River Sleeps, I drew from hunter’s stories since hunters are the people who go into forest areas that no one has ventured into, and they bring back amazing stories. The myth that rivers go to sleep at a particular time of night, and that any stone plucked out from the water (when the river is sleeping) becomes charmed, is an old hunter’s myth. I drew upon that and used it. I applied my imagination to the forest world of the hunter, and thereby, the book goes beyond what is recognisable as common elements of the spiritual world of the Nagas. My people acknowledge the presence of the spiritual world, so it comes naturally to me to explore this spiritual world in my writing. I enjoy it, but I would not easily give it western terms like magic realism or fantasy. It does not adequately describe our literary imagination. Don’t Run My Love is centred around the myth of selective men becoming dual-souled with tigers. The core story was told me by my mother. It is a Mizo story. However, both books have many spiritual lessons to offer. In When the River Sleeps, the protagonist discovers that spiritual wisdom is far more valuable than a charmed stone that can grant him success in life. In Don’t Run My Love, the relationship of the girl and the weretiger is symbolic of love stories where one partner ends up abusing the other. So you see, the stories are more than magic realism – they have important lessons of life to convey as well.


    Q5. Every community has its own magic – be it scientific or nature-based or spiritual. The audience seated afar has heard about Tribal magic and wizardry but documentation is less on the subject. Do the Nagas have their own practices which can be called ‘magic’?

    Easterine: I haven’t come across Tribal magic amongst the Nagas. We have herbal cures for medical conditions. Certain herbs are good for cuts, bruises, and for malarial fevers, diarrhoea, colds, whooping cough etc. I doubt magic of the kind you refer to was ever practised by the Nagas.

    However, both Christians and non-Christians believe in a spirit world and they talk about the phenomenon of seeing visions. Dreams are another way of understanding the spirit world. In the past, it was a common phenomenon to see spirits in the forest and in the village areas. These events convinced the Nagas of the existence of a spiritual world. Besides that, they did not dabble with alchemy.


    Q6. For every theme of discussion, whatever be it, women always have a different story to tell. More often than not, those are stories of compromise and sufferings. As an author, would you please throw light on how you have used various aspects from the Naga culture, symbolically or literally, to draw attention towards the challenges faced by tribal women in their personal and social space?

    Easterine: Naga society is much more democratic than it is given credit for. I write about women who are able to meet challenges in life and overcome them and carve a worthy life for themselves. In my book, ‘A Terrible Matriarchy’ the protagonist is a young girl who desperately wants to go to school. She achieves this dream and makes the best use of it. The book shows that the girl receives support from her brother and it is her grandmother who tries to suppress her in life. The stereotype that women are suppressed by men or by patriarchy comes under interrogation here. On close analysis, the story shows that older women can also suppress younger women. You will find many women achievers among the Nagas.


    Q7. Tribal communities from various parts of the Indian subcontinent have to battle many levels of resistance in order to make their voices heard and presence felt. Many attempts have been made to silence or intimidate them, especially if they are women. When the basic freedom to tell stories is denied, invisible prisons are created and societies suffer. How do you think the society can develop towards celebrating the tribal ‘hero’ and help the marginalised to emerge better?

    Easterine: I cannot give an answer that can be applied to all tribal areas of India as there is great disparity among the tribal communities. The word ‘tribal’ has been found convenient by the government to describe certain people groups that do not fit into the majority boxes. But we have to admit that the different tribal groups are distinct from each other, even while sharing some similarities of cultural practices.

    Personally, I have learned to value the originality we have in ourselves as indigenous people. I abide by certain rules. For one, I never look at myself as marginalised. Two, I refuse to consider myself a victim. As a Naga writer, I am free to write on subjects of my choice. At the same time, I sympathise with writers from other tribal areas of India who are not able to do this. Don’t write with an agenda. Don’t be overly preoccupied with presenting a tribal ethos. Just write about life as you know it, and that authenticity will speak much louder than any agenda fuelled narrative.


    Q8. Lastly, in your personal journey of unshackling yourself and introducing Easterine Kire as a loved and reputed author, what are some of the stereotypes that you may have had to face because of your culture, practices, looks etc.? Your response would inform the audience of their harmless jokes or ignorant comments that are hurtful and demotivating for a person representing the community.

    Easterine: I have been asked many different kinds of questions which reveal the questioner’s ignorance, bias and prejudice. I do realise that such questions will never stop. And the people who ask them are beyond educating. But truly, they are not important.

    I reserve my respect for the sincere readers who read my books to learn something of the life of my society, because these people are, on their part, polite and respectful, and I think I could be right in stating they are more in number than the first group. This reality shows that we do not have to give undue focus to stereotypical and offensive behaviour.



    Interviewer: Sourabhi Dutta Roy

    Sourabhi Dutta Roy is an avid reader, thinker, music fanatic and a dreamer. She is currently pursuing Masters in English from Loreto College, affiliated to The University of Calcutta. Her prime interests lie in Jane Austen, Feminism, Modernism, Popular Fiction, Myth and Fairy Tales. In her free time, she is either scribbling down her thoughts on paper, obsessing over a fictional character or baking a cake!



    This interview will be published in the book compiled under TMYS Review June 2023 project, themed on


    in collaboration with Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), University of Victoria.




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