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 Once a gay and cheerful child, she had now become withdrawn and reserved.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.
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.