By Manju Gupta
The Judgement that Never Came: Army Rule in North East India, Nandita Haksar & Sebastian M Hongray, Chicken Neck, Pp 380, Rs 495
This is a book written jointly by a Naga activist and his Indian human rights activist-wife Nandita, who are out to show how military rule has been imposed on the peoples of the northeast by the democratic Indian Government, much to the detriment of the situation in the region.
The northeast of India is geographically connected with the Indian mainland by a territory, which is merely 37 kms wide and is called the ‘Siliguri corridor’ or the ‘Chicken Neck’. This region has been witness to a high incidence of insurgency with almost 100 rebel groups of Nagas reflecting the alienation and grievances of the people living in the eight states. “The tribals are faced with life and death battles for their future survival,” say the authors.
Makhel and Shupfowo are powerful symbols of Naga nationalism. In the villages of this region, the oral tradition continues, nourishing the sense of unity among the Naga tribes. The authors go back in history to the time of September 1946 when the Naga National League was formed to struggle for the unification of Naga areas of Manipur with the Naga district of Assam. When peaceful means did not yield results, the Nagas took to arms under the leadership of Phizo’s Naga National Council and several Nagas joined the Naga Army. The authors say that the government of “Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, did not understand how deep the roots of the Naga nationalism were. It treated the movement as a law and order problem and tried to suppress the aspirations of the people with brute military force.” They say that it was under his premiership that the Indian Parliament passed “the notorious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958.”
In the 1960s, the Assam Rifles visited Dinam village and built a military post when a ceasefire was declared between the Government of India and the Naga National Council. The Assam Rifles and the Nagas got along well but in 1969, when Manipur was constituted by separating the Nagas of Nagaland from the Nagas of Manipur, armed men of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) broke into the Quarter Guard campus, killing three Assam Rifles soldiers and decamping with 150 thousand rounds of ammunition. This led to a counter-insurgency operation named Operation Bluebird when Assam Rifles and security forces launched “large-scale torture of thousands of tribal men, women and children in and around villages, burning, destroying several houses and granary of tribals, preventing paddy cultivation during the season.”
The authors complain against the shocking way the courts have systematically denied the people of the northeast legal justice for so many decades and then go on to narrate stories of human rights violations and also present a study of new civil administration which gets disabled when an area is declared disturbed under the Act. There is a lengthy account of how N. Sekho, the 38-yeard old Secretary of the Khongdei Khuman Village Authority took the witness box in October 1987 and deposed against the officers of the security forces. The authors, who live in Delhi, Goa and Ukhrul document confidential letters, secret wireless messages and curfew orders passed during the operation and try to present an anti-Indian Government picture.
(Chicken Neck, C-127 Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi– 110017; www.biblioasia.com)
Resident Dormitus, Vikas Rathi, Rupa & Co., Pp 196, Rs 195
This is a story about a youngster who steps out of the university to enter a hitherto unexplored territory and tries to merge into the world. He wonders what life would have been like had he gone through it with childlike nonchalance! He thinks that he would have wondered whether he should have passed happiness or let happiness pass life! It however, comes to his mind that from the initial feeling of ‘being lost’, he feels the ‘actual euphoria’ of having arrived getting over.
The protagonist of the novel goes through a series of seemingly disconnected events which culminate into a dawning of realisations. Hailing from a small town, he excels at whatever the world throws at him. He is all set to climb the corporate ladder, but otherwise he is drifting through life when he feels he is leading a lifeless existence. At the same time, he does not know what he expects from life. Finally, he decides to explore life and as luck would have it, his work takes him to Singapore, where a fast-paced lifestyle coupled with a busy travelling schedule takes its toll on him. He admits, “I went through a brief period when my memory was interspersed with dots, black and grey and blank. I was deprived of sleep and I was increasingly abusing anti-depressants.” These help him to cam down but greatly add to his “memory decay”. He is either popping pills or smoking weed, as a result of which his “brain was at a complete loss to organise events in a suitable manner, conducive for easy recall.”
The novel makes us question our existence and the choice we make.
(Rupa & Co., 7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi–110 002; www.rupapublications.com)
A rich collection of poetry
By Manju Gupta
Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1914-2001, WG Sebald, Hamish Hamilton, an Imprint of Penguin Books, Pp 213(HB), £14.99
This is a collection of poems by German poet WG Sebald who had once declared, “My medium is prose, not the novel.” This is a compilation of some of his best poems which breathe love, especially in the later poems which recall the timbre of the narrative voices in Vestigo or The Emigrants. It is here that we begin to sense the poetic consistency of his literary prose itself. The concerns of his later prose works are borders, journeys, archives, landscapes, reading time, memory, myth, legend and the ‘median state’ of the exile, where one is neither fully integrated into the new system nor fully free of the old.
Following the development of poetry from its typical beginnings to the later narrative forms, the book traces the trajectory of the poet’s gradual reach for the epic of his work in the 1990s, which culminated in the tripartite, book-length, narrative poem Nach der Natur (After Nature, 1998). On the way, the reader will come across poems which display their singular achievements – “some puzzling, some dazzlingly hermetic, others deceptively slight or simple, several witty or ironical, each in its different way and encounter with life’s unresolved questions and mysteries with each gazing into the abyss of 20th-century European history.”
WG Sebald began publishing poetry as a student in the 1960s and continued writing throughout his life, publishing many in German and Austrian literary magazines. Among the works he had prepared for publishing slightly before his untimely death in 2001 were the poetry volumes For Years Now and Unerzahlt (Unrecounted) while a host of shorter poems he had intended to publish in the 1970s and 1980s but these did not come to light until after their posthumous removal to the German Literature Archive in Marbach.
In the mid 1980s, Sebald had prepared and paginated apparently for publication, two collections of shorter poems Schullatein (School Latin ) and Uber das Land und das Wasser (Across the Land and the Water) consisting altogether of some 90 poems, neither of which was published. This selection of poems offers a representative view of work from the two unpublished volumes which, at the same time, collect almost all of the shorter poems published in books and journals during his lifetime.
Under the heading ‘Across the Land and the Water’, Sebald writes a poem titled ‘Something in my Ear’:
On the sofa
I hear from a distance
Geese on the radio
Whetting their beaks to pass the verdict.
The mildew grows
in the garden paralysis
spreads a long succession of minute shocks
I feel the blood
At eh roots
Of my teeth.
As I awake
From the other side of the abyss.
In another poem titled ‘Somewhere’, Sebald says:
A spruce nursery
A pond in the
Moor on which
The March ice
Is slowly melting.
With its evocation of a wintry landscape and suggestion of a thaw on its way, this apparently simple poem seems nothing short of idyllic. Says the translator of Sebald’s poems, “Turkenfeld, a small town, indeed hardly more than a village, in Upper Bavaria could be a path which the poet would have taken often enough between Sonthofen, where his family moved from Wertach in 1952 and Munich.”
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017)
Cohen, Pp 211 (PB), Rs 250, Jaico Publishing House, A-2, Jash Chambers, 7-A, Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai-400 001