The Other Side of the Story
THOSE HILLS CALLED HOME: STORIES FROM A WAR ZONE
By Temsula Ao
Zubaan/Penguin, India, 2007, pp.147, Rs. 195.00
FRAGRANCE OF PEACE
By Irom Sharmila
Zubaan Original, 2010, pp 56, Rs 125.00
VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 4 April 2011
It was during the heydays of the anticolonial struggle when the Progressive Writers Movement made a foray, indeed a powerful one, into the literary scene of India. The doyen of Hindi literature, Premchand in his inaugural Presidential lecture at the All India Progressive Writers Association Conference stated: All that arouses in us the critical spirit that examines institutions and customs in the light of reason, which helps us to act, to organize ourselves, to transform, we accept as progressive. The movement flourished for quite some time, suffered a setback with the partition of the Indian subcontinent into newly formed nationstates of India and Pakistan, and almost receded into background after that. Presumably, the movement had had its day and time was ripe enough to pen an elegy on its demise. But the critical spirit of the progressive ideology has surfaced many a times in the literature of the Indian subcontinent; it is not dead. The two books of poems and short stories from the troubled northeastern region of India affirm that the spirit is alive and kicking and has risen almost phoenixlike from the ashes!
The problem of insurgency in the hills of NorthEast India has defied solution for half a decade or so. The transition from a tribal polity to a parliamentary democracy left the hills communities losing their political foothold within their own territories. The accession to the Indian state and having the plains people as their new political masters bred discontent in these communities. The resulting insurgence for selfdetermination was dealt with by the state through military means with an overdose of integrationist policies. The poems and the short stories of the two women writers Irom Sharmila and Temsula Ao from this war zone capture the raw pain, hurt, anguish, and the fear of the repressive policies.
Irom Sharmila, a civil rights and political activist, journalist and poet, has been on a political protest since 4 November 2000 demanding the withdrawal of the controversial Armed forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 a draconian law that allows the army unfettered powers in politically sensitive or disturbed areas of Manipur and the Northeast. Her unique battle for peace in her strifetorn homeland has become a powerful symbol for all those fighting for peace in the NorthEast of India. Fragrance of Peace, a thin volume of twelve poems in her native language Meteilon and in English translation, provides a moving account of the underbelly ...
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