Book Review: Authors: Vizovono Elizabeth & Sentinaro Tsuren, Publisher/Year: Barkweaver Publications/2017, ISBN: 978-82-93324-13-3, Pages: 210, MRP: 400/-
Reviewed by : Veio Pou, Asst. Professor
SBSC, University of Delhi
An array of literary works from the Northeast of India have made an impression across the country lately. And Naga writers have contributed their share. What is even more noteworthy is the fact that this spurt of a new interest in written literature also has spilled over into the academia in no time that now different universities across the country are offering courses to read deeper into the writings from the Northeast. This academic boost came at a right time, and a much needed one too, because the region’s culture and society are too little understood by most people. Unfortunately, though, there is a dearth of critical materials to accompany the reading of these texts. It is in this context that the book Insider Perspectives: Critical Essays on Literature from Nagaland by Vizovono Elizabeth & Sentinaro Tsuren came at an appropriate time. It is not always that scholars are fortunate in finding a book much needed in their research work published at the right time!
The catch phrase of the book is “insider perspectives”. For too long Nagas, as also with many other communities of the region, have been written about. Though there has been resistance to such representations by “outsiders”, the preeminence given to the written today and the lack of written works by Nagas have allowed those writings to define the culture and tradition of the Nagas. It needs to be qualified here that the modern form of literary writing came to the Nagas not very long ago. Being primarily of the oral tradition, most of our stories have only being passed on generation to generation through the power of memory. Though the many cultural artifacts tell different stories of importance about the peoples’ history and culture, it has primarily being the memorialized songs and stories that truly hold the explanation to the whys, the hows and the whos of the Nagas. And it is delightful to see that the discourse on oral culture found a prominent place in the book.
Divided into two sections of eight essays each, the two Assistant Professors from Baptist College, Kohima, have covered a wide range of topics. In the introduction to the book, Vizovono Elizabeth, clearly states that their effort to present “insider perspectives” is with the hope that “the need for self-introspection will be emphasized.” Borrowing from the English literary critic Matthew Arnold that “critical activity must go hand in hand with creative activity”, she put forth the argument that Naga literary scholars have their share to contribute in furthering the discourse by critically engaging with the works of the creative writers. She further postulates, “In the process of studying and analyzing these works, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our history, our culture and our present predicaments.”
The first section comprising of the essays by Elizabeth Vizovono gives a broad perspective on Naga literature, giving a panoramic view of the development of literature from the colonial times till date. While Naga writings have been so far dominated by the names of Easterine Kire, Temsula Ao, Nini Lungalang and Monaliza Changkija, it is interesting to discover the new generation of writers finding mention here. Some of these writers, like Vishii Rita Krocha and Avinuo Kire, are doing very well with good readership behind them. The second section has essays by Sentinaro Tsuren which extensively covers Ao Naga literature. Her discourse on myths, belief and customs of the Aos is an appreciable one. And the interview at the end with Temsula Ao sums up the section well.
Insider Perspectives: Critical Essays on Literature from Nagaland is a book which will be a ready help for those reading Naga literature. And for those opting for the paper on Naga Writings in English under Nagaland University this is the ‘go to’ book for its exhaustive and critical background reading. I say this based on my own experience. In July of 2016 I had to opportunity to be invited to some colleges in and around Kohima to deliver a series of lecture pertaining to the paper mentioned. The paper was already on the run for few years but the students faced some challenges, and since I was fortunate to have addressed some of the concerns in my book Literary Cultures of India’s Northeast: Naga Writings in English (2015), I got the chance. Now, I should say, with another book available in the market, students shouldn’t be facing the problem.
Note: The book is available at Crossword and Academic Book House in Kohima and online at www.ilandlo.com