Much of Indian literature draws inspiration from the country’s rich folk tradition. Folk tales are a treasure trove of generational wisdom. There are tales of survival, of origin, of sustenance, and even of death among a plethora of tales about almost every challenge that life throws up. These tales are disseminated in various local registers through regional motifs which are familiar to the listeners. After all, the tales are quite often invoked when people are flummoxed by seemingly insurmountable problems.
Easterine Kire’s latest novella, Don’t Run, My Love, is a story of survival where the solution to the problem faced by the protagonists is found in a Naga folk tale. Kire’s novella not only reiterates communal beliefs, it is also written like a folk tale. The reader would need to move away from post-enlightenment rationality to compehend the various perspectives from which a simple tale of love can be viewed.
The women recover from the violence the man has brought by finding a solution in folk wisdom, which brings peace to their lives and reintegrates them into their community.
Ensconced within a seemingly simple tale of rural life is a tale of threatening love and transgression. The placid life of the mother-daughter duo of Visenuo and Atuonuo is quite suddenly shaken up by the arrival of the young and handsome Kevi who enters their lives as the much-desired male in an agrarian household which feels the lack of a man during the time of harvest. Kevi can carry the heaviest stack of hay when the two women are anxious about a looming storm. He leaves gifts of sizeable portions of meat for the two women who cannot hope to have such meat without a hunter in the household. He seems to be the ideal mate for Atuonuo. However, he is either oblivious of the customs of courtship or cannot be bothered with them. While the rather independent Visenuo will not let village gossip come in the way of her daughter’s happiness, she is shrewd enough to ensure that her daughter is not taken advantage of. However, the young people find that their attraction for each other is more powerful than the established customs of their community, and Kire hints that they transgress these traditions. This seeming transgression brings about a hurricane in the lives of Visenuo and Atuonuo. The latter runs back to her mother who leads her to safety with the help of folk wisdom.
This short novella is structured in such a manner that the reader is taken by surprise by the turn of events in the story. The recreation of pastoral scenes with lines such as, “[t]he heat brought out the scent of new paddy. It was a sweet and strong smell—like sunshine trapped between husk and grain,” sets the tone for calm enjoyment of the invocation of the sights and sounds of the countryside. It does not prepare the reader for the sudden twist in the lives of two extremely hard-working, self-sufficient, honest and proud farmers who are sometimes rather poignantly made aware of the lack of a man in their household. When the man enters their lives as a friend he introduces violence into their placid lives. Quite suddenly, the reader is starkly made aware of the violence lurking within spaces which are usually celebrated as being nurturing. In true folklore style, the obverse of love is presented in the same breath as love and longing. The narrative reaches a crescendo where the women find themselves in the midst of an emotional storm. The astonishing way in which the women recover from the violence and find a solution in folk wisdom is the coda which brings back peace to their lives and reintegrates them into their community.
There are moments in the narrative when the reader feels that Kire seems to repeat herself. However, it may have been consciously done as a way of following the framework of a folk narrative where the recurrence of a set of events establishes it as a quickly identifiable motif. Repetition also invokes an oral story-telling tradition where it is a useful tool to establish the importance of an event among the audience and works as a good device to connect one event with another. The only weak point in an otherwise well-written novel is the narrative’s inability to explain how a well-integrated village girl of marriageable age is ignorant of some basic traditional practices of the village.
Through this tale, Kire takes the reader through universal emotions of love and its repercussions while establishing the significance of local wisdom in finding the best way to lead one’s life. It presents an alternative to the usual fairy tales and promotes self-preservation as crucial for happiness.
(The author teaches English at Ambedkar University, Delhi)