Books bring a certain kind of comfort that many mundane things in our everyday life fail to provide. Before the advent of television or the internet, way before streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime came into the scene, people still had ways to escape the harsh realities of life.
Here are some iconic books written by amazing writers from the Northeast that you need to add to your reading list.
The Collector’s Wife by Mitra Phukan
Set against the backdrop of the Assam insurgency, it tells the story of Rukmini who is the wife of the District Collector of Parbatpuri, a small town in Assam. She seems to be living a rather comfortable life in the big, beautiful bungalow on the hill above the cremation ground, oblivious and untouched by the sufferings of the common folk living ‘below’. Yet, each time an ‘incident’ breaks out, the fear and uncertainty that grips the town finds a reflection in her own life.
Mitra Phukan is a renowned author from Assam who won the UNICEF-CBT award for children’s writing for her book Mamoni’s Adventure (1986).
The House with a Thousand Stories by Aruni Kashyap
It is 2002 and young Pablo, a city boy who has mostly lived a sheltered and privileged life in Guwahati, visits his ancestral village to attend his aunty’s wedding. Amongst gossiping aunts, the shadow of an insurgency looming over, in the days leading up to the wedding, which ends in unspeakable tragedy, Pablo finds first love, discovers family intrigues and goes through an extraordinary rite of passage.
Aruni Kashyap is a writer and translator of Assamese origin, and is currently an Assistant Professor (Creative Writing) at the University of Georgia, Athens.
A Respectable Woman by Easterine Kire
Set in post-war Kohima, it is a coming of age story of two generations of Angami women who make decisions against convention and tribal customs. In the beginning, the focus is on the memories of Khonuo, who was 10 years old when the Japanese invaded Kohima, and the time the story gets to the birth of her daughter, the focus is shifted to Kevinuo, who is also the narrator of the book. What makes the narrative special is that the deaths, marriages and relationships in the family are all set against the backdrop of key moments in Nagaland’s history.
Easterine Kire is a poet and author who currently lives in northern Norway. The majority of her writings are based in the lived realities of the people in Nagaland.
Once Upon a Life: Burnt Curry and Blood Rags by Temsula Ao
Like all her other books, Once Upon a Life: Burnt Curry and Blood Rags is also an amazing piece of art. This book is essentially a memoir capturing the author’s tumultuous early life. From losing her parents at a young age and being sent off to boarding school, her life was marked by pain, hunger, frustration and loneliness. Her solace came in the form of education, and an odd liking towards burnt rice mixed with curry.
Temsula Ao is a poet, short story writer and ethnographer from Nagaland. In 2013, she received the Sahitya Akademi Award for her short story collection, Laburnum for My Head.
Fragrance of Peace by Irom Sharmila
It is a collection of Irom Sarmila’s poems, translated into English from Meiteilon. This collection of poems provides a moving account of the underbelly of one woman’s lone struggle for peace. It is the glorification of simple acts, which are so gratifying for this ‘Iron Lady’, like drinking water or brushing her teeth.
Irom Chanu Sharmila, also known as the “Iron Lady” or “Mengoubi” is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur.
The Maharaja’s Household by M.K Binodini Devi
A unique memoir about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of Manipur, told from the perspective of his daughter Princess Wangol, who is more popularly known as Binodini. She not only shares her own memories and anecdotes about her father, but she also portrays the other people in his large household who are often forgotten, but were responsible for keeping the place running.
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi was an Indian novelist, short story writer, playwright and a member of royal family of Manipur.
Zorami: A Redemption Song by Malsawmi Jacob
Generations of Mizo people know emotions like fear, pain, resentment, and acute loss all too well, having lived through years of insurgency. Although the scenario has changed over the years, these emotions continue to stay fresh in their memory even today. Through her book, the author depicts the story of a young woman and the influences of the political unrest in her life.
Writer and poet Malsawmi Jacob is first ever Mizo author to have penned a novel in the English language.
The Nine Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat
It tells the story of one woman as seen through the eyes of those she has loved or been loved by. Nine characters recall their passionate relationship with a woman, the same woman. Through the accounts, readers can gauge the character of the woman who seems very real in certain moments and dreamlike or mysterious in others. The novel explores the nature of intimacy, and how each connection you experience help make who you are.
Janice Pariat was born in Assam and grew up in Shillong. Boats on Land, her debut collection of short stories, won the 2013 Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award for the English language and the 2013 Crossword Book Award for fiction.
Letters of the Street by Jasper Elias
It is a collection of letters written by a man who lives alone in an old apartment on the 14th floor. The letters record time in the apartment, and deals with the man’s memories and his battle to escape the consequences of getting sucked into his past. A struggle that is experienced by all human beings.
Jasper Elias writes poetry that is insightful, soulfully accurate and culturally informed. Hailing from Meghalaya, he holds a degree in Business Administration and is the owner of a small “Mom & Pop” store.
By Divyana Das