Review Article on: Avinuo Kire’s “The Power to Forgive and Other Stories.”

Review Article on:

Avinuo Kire*. The Power to Forgive  and Other Stories. New Delhi.  Zubaan. 2014. pp. 139,  Price  395/-.

  By Dr. AJ Sebastian sdb, Professor (rtd), Dept. of English, Nagaland Central University, Kohima 

The Power to Forgive  and Other Stories is a collection of twelve short stories presenting various aspects of Naga life, giving the readers a peep into some aspects of life. It also pictures the angst of  the fictionist as she delves into the hearts of her protagonists.

The title story, “The Power to Forgive”, sets the tone of the collection, dwelling on a very painful experience  of a rape victim. In third person narration, the  fictionist powerfully portrays the agony  and aftermath of  the victim, after sixteen years of endurance of shame and pain. She was only twelve years when her uncle committed the heinous crime. After sixteen years, her fragmented  life was getting  cemented with the hope of new life in marriage with a man who was willing to accept her. The narration interspersed with stream of consciousness of the young girl, continues to make the readers share her angst through out

Sixteen  years had passed since. Once a gay and cheerful child, she had now become withdrawn and reserved. She was still a dutiful daughter to her parents but it ended there. Her relationships with other people could be described as cordial at best…. She had heard that her  rapist uncle was now a free man. He had served seven years behind bars Seven years in exchange for devastating her life (Kire, Avinuo 2015:6).

Her father had made the noble gesture of forgiving the man who raped her. Being a minor, she was made to accept the reality of  this much publicised news in the media “FATHER FORGIVES MAN WHO RAPED DAUGHTER… In a supreme act of  Christian  forgiveness” (Ibidem 2). Though over the years, she had not been  reconciled to it as she was forced to accept the traumatic incident by virtue of her father’s parental authority, deciding for her. She could only live with the trauma, bursting into tears and harbouring her anger towards her father who only spoke of  “forgiveness, justice and family honour” (Ibidem 5).   However, as she grew up, her pain continued to bloom with her. “Mother never failed to lament the stigma that had become attached to their family because of her and, at the same time, never  encouraged anyone, her least of all, to revisit the incident” (Ibidem 4). Her mother lived a scared life and developed a detached emotional relationship with her daughter.  She felt that she  had  lost her identity as  she is merely called “Gir1” by her mother. Breakthrough in her molested life comes with the prospect of engagement and marriage to  Pele, though he was unemployed.  At least, she could  escape from the social shame she experienced through a marriage of convenience. The story, replete with psychological  analysis of the protagonist, unearths identity crisis women experience in an androcentric society.

“Solie” unfolds the story of an old  solitary peon-cum-sweeper who is to be dismissed from his contract appointment in the Government Department for little over an year. He  was labelled lazy and inefficient with his irregular  performance of duties as he liked. The omniscient narrator  examines his story as she comes to know Solie’s story from a neighbouring granny, Atsa Neiu who was his wife. It was Solie’s passion for  freedom that began to bring  fears into her life, though he was well employed as a Government school teacher. The story brings to focus the  the freedom struggle and insurgency that plagued Nagaland for over half a century. Solie’s eventual joining the Naga Army, broke their marriage, when she was misinformed of his death in course of military training, leading to  her eventual marriage to another man. The story gives a glimpse of Naga history. The narration  is wound up with the narrator reading the entry in the register of the department and adding her personal insertion: “I wrote: Shri Solie Naga: Peon-cum-sweeper. And Freedom Fighter” (Ibidem 25).

“Remembering Uncle Peter” is a story of  emotional conflicts. The first person child narrator recounts how her father and his sister Vivi  lived an intimate life after their mother’s drunken death.  Being treated like domestic helps, they grew up wth an aunt. Their happy  life was brought to a tragic  climax when the girl Vivi  eloped with  Uncle Peter.  That was the end of brother-sister relationship. The narrator  attempts to bridge the gap between her father and her aunt and uncle. When uncle Peter is diagnosed with cancer, reconciliation begins to  take place and the young girl becomes the pivot of cementing broken emotional ties.  Since Uncle Peter and wife were childless, they doted on the little girl  who became a becon of light in the darkness of the  adults in the narrative. The story focuses on child perception of emotional turmoil in familial relationships.

“Fallen Bird”  surrounds the life of marital conflict between  a wife and her husband belonging to different tribal cultures.   In course of time she finds it difficult to endure her husband’s lifestyle of having too many guest at home. Her   counting fault-lines in his life ultimately leads her to live in suspicion about his  affairs with other women. She fashions her own happiness in  reveries  of the past as the fictionist  deftly goes into her stream of consciousness. Tragedy strikes when her husband is diagnosed with cancer. The disease brings the  conflicting couples  emotionally closer as she feels his love for her  is far deeper  than her imaginations. Her conflicting mind is disected in the narration adding a Jhumpa Lahirian touch to the story. “Nothing moved you any more. Not your husband, nor your children. You thought about your son and daughter who were nothing like you, although they came from inside you. They were too gay, too happy, always  quarrelsome, too thoughtless about everything. No one, including your husband knew who you really were, sometimes not even you” (Ibidem 48). Her  confused state of mind and self-absorption is further highlighted with the  bird symbol the fictionist brings into the story. The strange migratory bird  that comes to her, unable to fly and starves to death, is symbolic of her dead-alive state of mind. “Early this morning, you found your bird on the cold floor with eyes half closed and ants crawling over its limp body. It had ultimately starved to death” (Ibidem 49).

“Nigu’s Red Shirt” is the story of  twenty year old Neingulie pursuing his UG studies at a college in Delhi. He feels   culturally  alienated and the neighbours frowns on him whenever he cooks his strong smelling Naga dish. His parents had pinned their hopes on him while he continues to be warned by the college authorities  for poor attendance. He was annoyed by people  yelling at him ‘Ching Chong’ as though he were a Chinese. His wearing  a  cheap red  T shirt,  purchased from a wayside vendor, drew the attention of a group of visiting tourists from China,  as it had some Chinese writing on it.  He tried his best to communicate to them that he was an Indian, but it was  to no avail. He was forced to  fold and keep it away to establish his identity and by wearing the embroidered  T shirt his mother had given him. The story probes into identity crisis tribal groups face in India.

Love and  pain in marriage is the central theme of “Promise of Camellias,” in which the protagonist Vimenuo ruminates how  her eight year marriage to a wealthy man,  at the behest of her parents,  who refused to let her childhood lover  Theja to marry her, sends chills of confusion into her. Though she had  reciprocated Theja’s love,  wealth and  power made her ignore his proposal. She recollects: “Growing up within a small community, being together had been such a natural progression for us. Theja did not ask me to be his girlfriend at any point of time; he did not need to. It was simply understood” (Ibidem 67). The story furthers as  she realises that her  rich officer  husband wanted her to be  a sophisticated wife who could play hostess at  his regular gatherings. “The final death stroke to our marriage was when  we realised we could not have children….and the doctors mentioned something about  my husband’s ‘insufficient sperm motility…It wasn’t long before he started  his affairs” (Ibidem 74). Soon her marriagre ends and she is  back at her father’s shop, selling flower plants. Flower passages in the story with its title adds emotional link to her own life of love deflowered.

“Bayienuo,” was  the only  girl child  among  seven children of Kekhrielieu, a robust village woman. She and her husband longed for a girl child after giving birth to six boys. While pregnant, they had made a promise that if a girl child is born, she would be named “Mengubeinuo” meaning “A child deeply longed for,” in Tenyidie language.  When her baby was born prematurely in the field, there was no one to assist her. After cleansing herself and cradling her baby in the midst of spring flowers,  she heard a strange whisper urging her to name her ‘Bayienuo’ meaning ‘Spring’s  Child.’ When the naming time came, despite her husband reminding of the promised name, she insisted on calling her Bayienuo. When the girl was sixteen, suitors began to ask for her hand in marriage. Gradually she became an enigma as  she became strange in  her behaviour, spending  time in solitude in the woods. People began to suspect her communing with  forest spirits. Having  forbidden to go to the woods, Bayienuo began immersing herself into routine home chores. After she was married and had two kids, her mother noticed her features undergoing some kind of transformation, giving her a vacant look.  When questioned by her mother, she reminded her of the broken promise of naming her “Mengubeinuo.”  Feeling guilty Kekhrielieu could only shout out in the woods, “Her name is Mengubeinuo, the child I have waited so long for” (Ibidem 90).

 “Mete and the Mist” is also a story with its atmosphere of  spirit stories prevalent in Nagaland. The little daughter of widowed Kevinei-u, a farm labourer is lost in the forests. After weeks of  futile search, she turns up in the woods on a rainy day, reportedly led by an old spirit like woman, who used to feed her. The little girl narrated how a man was crying all along “until his tears flooded  the entire forest. This forced the woman to leave. He then held me by my hand and took me to the edge of the forest and told me wait for you!” (Ibidem 99). Through such spirit stories, prevalent among the Naga tribes, the fictionist dwells on a folk tradition of the hills.

In “The Last  Moonrise” Kire attempts to create eco-consciousness and protection of flora and fauna  of Nagaland in the backdrop of a  hunter who recklessly  takes pride in his game. The rare surviving Sambar is his toast  without realising the harm done to the environment. “The quietly dying Sambar lay in the meadow, its warm life blood slowly seeping away, unabsorbed by the cold earth. He was unaware that he would soon become a part of this land’s folklore” (Ibidem 105).

“Knowing” is a story surrounding Martha’s marriage to Ketou and the mystery surrounding her  loss of identity,  after she recuperates from a vehicle accident. Suffering from a memory loss, she fails to recognise even her own husband, and continues to complain of her being treated like a child, hurting her womanhood. Conflicting thoughts on handling memory loss by Ketou and her coming to her senses bring  to focus the mystery of human behaviour.

 “Dielienuo’s Choice” is a story surrounding  a young orphan girl  brought as a domestic help. She became  very close to the narrator, being of  the same age group, though she was brought as a help to nurse the new born baby brother. The story is an eye-opener to the fate of innumerable young domestic helps in society who live their lonely and suppressed lives.

The final story in the collection “That Long Ago Summer” ends  with a teenage love story.  The young fourteen year old Menguu narrates how she developed a love relationship with Jazo over exchanging comic books. She couldn’t understand how he could betray her being close to Naro, the girl next door. The story climaxes when Jazo’s mother married the doctor  who had been treating his late father after his death. The clandestine  affair was the talk of the neighbourhood, embittering the young Jazo. The story ends as he leaves the village abruptly without a final goodbye to Menguu. “You came to  see me twice but Mother told you I was busy with homework. The second time you came, I peeped through our chiffon white curtains…. But you left, taking nothing and leaving too much behind. Brokenness in relationship runs through the story depicting characters living in conflicts.

The collection is replete with multiple experiences in   emotional turmoil. Several local expressions  in the stories should have been given due explanations. The Stories  revolve  around  minute observations of life with humour and suspense. The  stories  being  elegiac in tone, lead the  readers through a kind of  personal introspection in relationships. Kire  is able to enter into the  thoughts and feelings of her protagonists, like a superb psychoanalyst like Jhumpa Lahiri, as she examines their angst and hope.

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References

Kire, Avino.  (2015). The Power to Forgive and Other Stories.   New Delhi.  Zubaan Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

About the  author

Avinuo Kire  was born and raised in Kohima, Nagaland. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Nagaland University. Currently she serves as Assistant Professor of English at Don Bosco College, Kohima, Nagaland.