Book Review: Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire

What most people fail to see, what most Indians fail to see, are the problems within our country which really matter. Potholes and garbage are albeit big problems which need to be sorted out; and in that vein, so is corruption. But nothing would ever really affect us as long as we are sitting pretty in our own homes, watching the daily news as another life is taken away and another household destroyed.

One of the most significant problems in India is the feeling of belonging, or rather the lack of it in some occasions. Essentially, the core of the country is formed by the northern Hindi speaking states and the rest of the country is just expendable edges. The centre is what matters in our country and as long as the northern states are happy, no one seems to care about the vastly culturally different north-eastern and southern states.

Easterine Kire, a Nagalese author, settled in Norway, writes about the Naga struggle for freedom in her latest novel titled Bitter Wormwood. The Naga freedom struggle, which has expanded well over 70 years, has seen human life laid to waste at the cost of political oversight and military brutality. Bitter Wormwood takes us through the life of Mose, a common man who lives with his widowed mother and grandmother in one of the tribal villages of Nagaland. The heat of the Indian freedom struggle, coupled with the proximity of war and the Naga claim for an independent nation eventually lead to the formation of the Naga Underground  which Mose and his childhood friend Neituo decide to join.

The novel takes us through the life of a commoner, a peaceful man, who joins the freedom struggle because of extreme conditions in his home and community. Moving in and out of the life of Mose, the novel gently explains the hardships faced by the Naga people because of political indifference, military pressure and later factional pressure. The novel also touches upon how Nagaland has its own identity, individual from any state of India, and the drive for being independent which is inherent among the 8 distinct tribes from the Naga Hills. Another important point is the indifference shown to people of the north-eastern states by the rest of the country.

Simply written, the novel highlights important political and social points, the difference between the Naga people and the rest of India, the hardships faced by these people and their right to independence and the intolerable cruelty shown to them in the past and present.

A recommendation for anyone interested in learning about the hidden truths of India, the author has also highlighted some hard-hitting facts in her introduction. She has also given a chronological breakdown of the important dates of Naga political history, copies of important letters sent by Naga leaders to The Simon Commission and by Angami Zapu Phizo to The President of India, an agreement of peace between the Governor of Assam and Naga leaders and a speech made by Naga social worker Niketu Iralu.

The novel highlights how the Nagas have developed with the modern world, but all the same, they need their old customs to provide them with hope and faith for the future.

- Sean Sequeira

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