He woke up in the dark interior of an unfamiliar place. There was no bed under him and his searching hands drew back in alarm when he touched cold earth.
Where was he? He tried turning his head around to see but the darkness was all-encompassing; it was as though someone had thrown a blanket over him. A thick darkness, unlike anything he had ever seen in all of his nineteen years, enveloped him. Fighting panic, Oyangmopa tried to get his bearings. He couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed; it made no difference as he could not see beyond the blackness. Groaning, Oyangmopa tried to get up, but he hit his head and fell back. Confused, he felt along the sides and recoiled as his fingers touched something soft and powdery, and the smell of damp soil filled his nostrils. Where was he? Oyangmopa quickly realised he was trapped in a confined space. The beginnings of a scream raced up his throat. It was then he heard voices. Strange voices that didn’t quite sound human, and the words made no sense.
Before he could cry out, a pair of hands grabbed his ankles roughly and pulled him out of the narrow rathole in which they had imprisoned him. Once he was dragged out, relief washed over him at escaping his claustrophobic prison cell. Now he could stretch his limbs and sit upright. Soil particles fell onto his clothes from his hair.
‘Where am I?’ he asked in a weak voice. But nobody answered. A deep sense of foreboding came over him as he looked around and tried to see where he was. Shadowy figures stood close by, seemingly observing him. One came very close to him, and rasped out something, an instruction, but he could not understand what was said.
The place where they had brought him was not nearly as dark as the narrow hole where he had been imprisoned, and he looked in the direction of the shadows. He could just about make out the outlines of the figures that were there. Fear rose and gripped his heart, but he pressed it down. He waited to be addressed or told why he had been abducted, but his captors seemed to no longer be interested in him. They had become absorbed in a heated discussion that appeared to have nothing to do with him. But Oyangmopa couldn’t be sure. He listened. At first, he could not understand anything. His ears picked up a few words here and there, flung out like stray stones. However, as he kept listening, he was astonished that he was beginning to recognise the words—they were similar to the old dialect that his village had spoken many years ago. It was what his grandfather had used to converse with his friends—the old words that always carried a double meaning veiled from the uninitiated.
Oyangmopa forced himself to stay calm so he could remember the evenings around the fire in his grandfather’s kitchen when the old men would sit for hours communicating with each other in the strange dialect they had learned from their forefathers. He was told that his duty was to listen. When the young Oyangmopa paid attention, he could decipher some words and he would ask his grandfather the meanings of the words when all the men had left.
‘Good boy, you are learning fast,’ the old man would say in a pleased manner. But he himself never made the conscious effort to teach the boy. It was Oyangmopa’s cultural obligation to sit quietly beside the men and listen. Not interfering when the elders were talking, not calling attention to himself by moving about the room, but sitting unobtrusively in a corner and listening, listening, listening. The ones who listen with their hearts, learn. That was what his grandfather used to say. And now it was all coming back to him. In this unearthly conversation in an unknowable place where his role was again that of the listener. And listen he did. Until he could finally discern the words that were being repeated over and over:
earth death humans warning
It sounded like a chant. The voices abruptly died down and fell silent. Oyangmopa’s eyes had become a little more accustomed to the dark interior. He discerned more clearly the shapes of his abductors. Only the old one, who had spoken first, was shrunken, the other four held themselves erect and looked almost human. The outlines of their figures gave a faint suggestion of long hair and unusually long limbs. It seemed to him that they were glowing dimly in the darkness. He trembled again. Oyangmopa tried to draw comfort from the fact that they were conversing in the dialect of his grandfather, no matter what their reasons were for abducting him.
Oyangmopa was in the third group of men who came to work in the coal mines. The work was hard but the money was good and now the mine was in the fourth year of operation. The diggers worked out of ratholes, spaces just big enough for a man to crawl through and dig out earth’s dark treasures. The biggest share of money went to the mine operators and land owners. Waiting trucks carried loads of raw coal down to Assam where there was no lack of buyers. But the conflict between the mine owners and the villages next to the mining areas continued to evade resolution. The flare-ups could interrupt a good working day.
The elders were unhappy that the mine owners had turned a deaf ear to the prophecies, dreams, and messages from the spirits of the Earth. The mine owners, in turn, placated the elders at every meeting with the words, ‘Just a few more months,’ but it had stretched beyond that into years. Now the villagers no longer trusted the mine owners.
The coal mines shared boundaries with the spirit forest. There had been talk of exploring coal in the forest as there was a very rich vein running along the boundary. ‘It’s a blasphemous thought,’ the elders declared. But what could they with all their talk and admonitions do against the lure of money? The mine workers feared neither man nor spirit when there was money at the end of their labours. In addition, the drastic changes in the weather bringing unseasonable heat and excessive rains were making farming untenable. Young men were not willing to work the land as their parents had done. Why kill your backs for a meagre harvest at the end of the year? They welcomed the opportunity to earn hard cash, no matter the risks.
And the mine owners were big men with big money. The most vociferous amongst them announced, ‘I will begin the digging work myself. That will finish all this foolish talk of spirits!’ as they began exploratory mining in the territory of the spirit forest. The village elders felt helpless as they saw their men going to work in the mines, unable to resist the promise of earning more money than they had ever seen in their lives.
Not long after he began work at the mine, Oyangmopa began to hear the voices at night. He first heard them in a dream. It began with the sound of marching feet, gradually advancing toward him. As they marched, the voices were chanting one word in unison—Üwang, üwang, üwang—like the first notes of a song being rehearsed—at first the chanting was low, and then it built up as they came closer to Oyangmopa and when they reached him, they were almost shouting it. Üwang—Oyangmopa knew it meant the first. He wondered what they wanted to convey. Try as he might, he couldn’t see the faces of the chanters. Their voices harmonised effortlessly and came together and almost immediately drew apart so that the male voices grew more aggressive as they sang louder, almost as though they were intimidating the ethereal sounding, thin female voices. It reminded him of the warrior chants that preceded battles when tattooed men with fierce faces would march into a battlefield chanting in unison a song terrible to hear, bass voices dominating the baritones and sending terror into the hearts of the hearers, a song of premature death.
Oyangmopa woke up with a start, and even as instant relief washed over him on discovering that he had been dreaming, part of his brain continued to hear the chanting voices until they finally receded.
Quickly he got up from bed and splashed cold water on his face as if to dissolve the memory. He had overslept so he ran across his small room barefoot trying to get ready. As he was hurrying, he stepped on a nail. Half a curse escaped him as the nail made a sharp cut into his skin. He limped to a chair and lifted his injured foot to look at the cut. It was bleeding profusely. He would have to take leave from work and get it treated at the village dispensary. If a labourer missed a day of work, he would not get any pay. Oyangmopa cursed again.
The trip to the village dispensary and the treatment of his injured foot took all afternoon. When it was over, he set out for the camp but when he was in sight of the mines, he saw that work had stopped although it was not dark. ‘One of the young ones has been killed,’ a man said to him by way of explanation. There had been an accident in the main mine. Loose earth and rocks had suddenly collapsed on a worker digging a new portion. They managed to dig out his body but it was too late. The heavy gloom that had settled over the men was almost tangible. Oyangmopa felt a pang in his heart. Who could it be? How many young ones were there? 5 or 6 of them? Where was his friend Methpa? He had left for work before Oyangmopa could go to the dispensary.
Methpa was a keen worker with a ready smile that endeared him to the others. He wanted to earn a good amount of money before he quit. He had told Oyangmopa that when he had saved enough money, he would quit the mining work, and get married.
‘Methpa! Methpa!’ Oyangmopa hurried towards the men, calling his friend’s name. Methpa was nowhere to be seen.
Oyangmopa hobbled over to the look at the body that had been dragged out. Methpa’s limbs, crushed by the weight of falling earth, hung down limply, and his thorax had caved inwards. His face was disfigured from the accident and his matted hair clung to his skull. Oyangmopa could not control himself; he sobbed like a child at the sight of his friend. The older men turned away from this display of grief and carried the body into the house that also served as an office, and laid it on a bench. That done, they wiped their faces on their shirt sleeves and stepped outside. Two men from the group cleaned up the body and replaced his blood-stained work clothes for a clean set of clothes. When this was done, the few men from Methpa’s village began the chanting for the dead. As the men chanted, the dream-chanting Oyangmopa had heard returned to him in a rush—Üwang, üwang, üwang. So this was what the dream meant. It was the first death, the first accident their team had experienced. Horrified at the revelation, Oyangmopa wondered if he should tell anyone, but he didn’t know what to say. Who would heed him? The word of a young man carried less weight than the word of an elder. The men were here to earn money and that sometimes became the overriding factor controlling their lives at the mines. They rose up early, worked hard and long and were suitably rewarded. But deaths like this—it made him wonder if the sacrifice was worth the money. Why did Methpa die? Was it a spirit thing? How Oyangmopa wished he had told Methpa his dream in the morning. But Methpa had got ready in a hurry and the morning hours were never the right time for small talk. Feelings of guilt, grief and remorse swept over him. If he had warned Methpa in the morning, would he still be alive? Who knew? In the camps, the workers were focused only on one thing—work and money. It was as though they had left the teachings of the village behind them.
Methpa’s body was taken to the village and buried in the evening. His mother and sister were crushed. After his father died, Methpa had been trying his best to provide for the family. The mine owners and land owners gave some money to the mother, but they would never hear from them again. But they did offer Methpa’s place to his younger brother.
At the mine, life returned to normal the day after the accident. People carried on as usual, but they avoided the area of the collapse until the owners could investigate it and declare it safe. Oyangmopa started work as soon as his foot healed. He had considered the fact that if he had not gone to the dispensary, he might have died along with Methpa because the two of them always worked side by side.
In the week that followed, the men had debated and discussed what had happened and, in particular, if there had been some way of avoiding it at all. Eventually, when they had exhausted all points to be discussed, they spoke of it less and less, and concentrated on their work. The tragedy of Methpa’s death was soon set aside and if the men talked of it at all, they referred to it as his destiny. On the day Oyangmopa came back to work, an older man joined him and they worked without any conversation. He could hear the man grunt as he scraped at a particularly stubborn spot. A few minutes later, his coworker had filled his bucket with the blackness that his mother referred to as ‘innards of earth.’ The mine owners supplied helmets to all their workers, but there was no reduction in working hours. The men still toiled for a gruelling ten to twelve hours of digging and scraping every day. They were more cautious and the younger lot were no longer so foolhardy as to burrow mindlessly into the soft peat.
The second dream came four months after Methpa’s death. This time Oyangmopa saw the singers. They were tall men in headdresses, marching into the village square in a circular formation. Like the men at festivals, they danced into the middle of the square, and then retreated by dancing backwards. The dancing warriors were divided into two groups. While the first group chanted Nyi, the second group quickly followed up with Nime. Nyi meant two and Nime meant twice. The first group chanting Nyi elongated the word until the second group joined in chanting Nime. It was a heavy, dolorous sound sung slowly as though the singers were weighed down by a great burden. After some time, the singers turned to leave. Half-dreaming, half-waking, Oyangmopa pleaded, ‘Wait, tell me what this means. Is someone going to die? Wait, I beg you.’ He woke up with a start and the first thing on his mind was to warn the others about it. Nobody should work today. Nobody should risk being killed.
He washed his face, clothed himself and ran out to the other sheds. In some of the sheds, the men were awake and ready to leave, and in the others, they were making getting-up sounds.
‘Don’t go to work today,’ he pleaded with those who were leaving in the half-light with their pickaxes on their shoulders. ‘Please, please listen. I have had a dream.’ Men stopped in their tracks and looked at him. He looked earnestly at them and drew back in shock at the deadness in their eyes. They looked like hordes of walking dead interrupted by his insistent voice. Was there any point trying to explain his dream to them? He would try.
‘I had a dream the night before my friend Methpa was killed. Spirits came and chanted ‘Üwang’ over and over again. I did not know what it meant then, but that day my close friend Methpa died in an accident. Last night, the same spirits came back in my dream, and they chanted ‘Nyi, Nime’ almost the whole night. I am sure it is a warning about more tragedy. Please do not go today.’
The men cast strange looks at him, and silence grew between them. They slowed down in their tracks and Oyangmopa looked from face to face. He knew many of them recognised the dream as a warning dream. He tried pleading with them again, but one of them said brusquely, ‘If we don’t work, we won’t eat.’ The man’s words propelled the others forward and they continued their walk to the mine. Oyangmopa raised his voice and called to them but they walked on unhearing, or rather, refusing to believe his dream. They had remembered they had to prioritise work, and if they were to listen to every young man’s dream of impending disaster, they might as well pack up and go home. They didn’t say it, but they thought it in order to press down their own knowledge of the world of dreams, omens and prophecies.
Two of the men were working together that afternoon, digging a new tunnel in turns. They had been working at it since the day before because there was a rich vein running for many meters underground. They would have weeks of coal harvesting when the digging was done. The men paused for their lunch break, and when that was done, they returned to their work. The two men crawled back into the tunnel they were digging. All on a sudden, a great sound was heard—a sound like fabric tearing away—but it was magnified several times. Those men who were able to, rushed outside at the sound. In just a matter of seconds, the mountain had collapsed inwards with a great explosion; muffled screams were heard as the trapped men were buried alive by soil and rocks silencing them almost instantly. Most of the men had run outside at the unusual sound, some of them leaving their tools behind. They did a body count and found the two men missing. When they came back to look, their fears were confirmed by the sight of a pair of feet sticking out under a mound of earth. An eerie silence had settled over the mine.
‘We have to dig them out,’ the oldest of the workers insisted, ‘they are men, not animals.’ While two men were sent to town to report the disaster to the mine owners, the rest worked gingerly on removing the bodies. It was a long process but finally the two mangled bodies were brought out and laid in the open ground. One was a married father of three, and the other was a widower with grown children. No one mentioned Oyangmopa’s dream, and he refrained from reminding them about it.
The mine owners came quickly with two cars to carry the dead to their families in the villages. There was to be no work for two days, they announced.
‘We are arranging to send two men to see to the safety of the mine. You can go home and return on Monday,’ the younger owner told the men. He pulled out a wad of money and said, ‘Here, you might as well take last week’s wages to buy food. Don’t use it all up on drink.’ He made a face, as though making a joke. But none of the men laughed at his attempt.
Oyangmopa went home to his village, along with the rest. The two who had died were from the neighbouring village. They could hear the women mourning them because their village was on the next hill and sound carried easily across the valley. Oyangmopa would accompany the miners from his village who were going to the funeral that was to be held the same day.
His mother had heard the news.
‘Do you have to keep courting death before your time, my son? There will be other ways of earning a living besides dragging out the innards of earth. Come back home. We have enough fields to till,’ she begged. Oyangmopa was his mother’s only son. He had promised her he would not work long at the mines. And now he wondered if he should go back at all. What if the next time was his turn? Because there would be a next time.
‘I don’t intend to stay at the mine long, Mother. I don’t want to die there. A few more weeks and I will be done with that life,’ he replied. She carried the warm water for his bath to the shed behind the kitchen and mixed it with cold water. A bar of soap was ready on the shelf and she hung a clean towel on a nail. Sighing, she left him to get on with his bathing, and went out to the front of the house. At the viewing point she could see people milling around like black ants at the houses of the two dead miners.
‘Please God, let him not go that way,’ she prayed under her breath. At the same time, she was overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. There was not enough land to till. Storms pelted the earth out of season, and the skies refused to give rain when the farmer needed it most. The weather had become a petulant woman, unpredictable, uncooperative. More and more men were drawn to the mines to get money to feed their families.
That night Oyangmopa slept soundly. There were no nightmares to disturb him, no voices chanting warnings of death. He woke up refreshed in the morning and the sounds of the village waking felt so safe and so normal that he almost wished he didn’t have to go back to the mine. At the same time, he had the thought that perhaps it would be fine now on. After all they were sending in experts to see to the safety of the workers. He would go back but he would not stay more than a couple of months.
The next days passed without incident. The mine owners had sealed off the accident site and the workers were instructed to work on the other side. The owners said they would be safe as long as they stayed on the one side.
Slowly things returned to normal, if it could be called that, after the tragedies they had experienced. The men concentrated on digging and they tried to dig as much as possible each day. Their wages depended on how much coal they could collect. Oyangmopa worked as hard as the next man, and when night came, he fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Dreamless nights when his exhausted body repaired itself and his mind stayed away from the invisible world and its claims.
It didn’t last long. When some time had passed, Oyangmopa was awoken in the middle of the night. He went outside, emptied his bladder, and crawled back to bed. He was wide awake for some time but it was pitch-dark outside; no one in his right mind would try to get up now. He lay back and was soon asleep when he heard the voices. Püli-nga, püli-nga, püli-nga in the same chanting melody he remembered so well. Püli: four, nga: five. Four-five, what was the meaning of that? Did it mean more men would die? So far three had died in this mine. Oyangmopa listened intently to the chanting and the longer he listened, the closer it seemed to come until the singers were at his door. How could that be? He was so astonished he woke, still hearing the voices in his room. They retreated and echoed down the road to the mine.
He could not sleep any more after that, but he refrained from waking anyone. The others needed their sleep. They had worked so hard, and they would work just as hard when morning came. Or would they? Püli-nga, four and five—how many would die today? He shivered at the realisation of what the chanting meant. If need be, he would pull them back today from going to the mine.
‘Don’t go! Don’t!’ he begged as he told them about his dream. The younger men were fearful, the older ones indifferent. ‘If not today, we will die another day,’ said the oldest worker. ‘If not here, then another place, another way.’ And the man walked out and other men followed him, hesitantly at first, and then with renewed determination, they walked toward the mine.
Nothing happened all day. No accidents, no mishaps. Oyangmopa had the strangest feeling at the end of the day. He was disappointed! He had interpreted the dream wrong. He felt embarrassed by the whole affair. He would never share his dreams with anyone again. He felt so foolish!
Days passed with nothing unusual happening, and the men were so preoccupied with their work that Oyangmopa’s strange behaviour was soon forgotten. The next day was a clear Saturday morning. The men would work half the day and then go into town, rest on Sunday and return to work Monday morning.
Methpa’s brother was on the team. His partner was an old hand at the mines. They were going to try the new tunnels because they had heard that it was easier to dig there. As Oyangmopa watched them crawl into the rathole, he heard the chanting start up in his head. Püli-nga, püli-nga, püli-nga the steady rhythm held sway over him for a few moments. Suddenly he recognised the chant and snapped out of its spell. He shook his head vigorously, as if to shake the death song out of his mind. He would warn the two men, he thought. But just as he made that decision, the unmistakable sound of earth rumbling downward overwhelmed him. The side of the mountain collapsed, and men ran to safety.
But the two men in the rathole never had a chance. As the terrified survivors raced out of the mine, Oyangmopa could hear the song returning, this time with quickened tempo, püli-nga, püli-nga, püli-nga, high-pitched and frenzied, and it was all he could do to keep from screaming.
It slowly dawned upon Oyangmopa that he was in the presence of the spirit beings who had been warning him through his many dreams. But why him? Why had they abducted him?
‘Tell him,’ said the old one to the others. It was a terse command, expecting to be obeyed. Without ceremony, the tallest of his captors came closer to him and spoke indistinctly. All that Oyangmopa could make out was the word nyümngao, warning. He spoke again, this time in a louder voice still using the old dialect. ‘We warned you and warned you. You listened not.’ Oyangmopa struggled to remember the old dialect so he could, in turn, explain that he had warned the men, and that no one had heeded his warnings. Finally, he strung together four or five words and addressed the old one when he spoke. Haltingly, like a child, and with gestures, he explained to them.
‘We do not understand the ways of humankind anymore,’ the old one interjected, shaking his head. ‘How many times must we repeat what we taught your ancestors?
‘This is the truth your grandfather had told you before: you cannot do without us. we need each other. We who live under the earth and you who make your homes above the earth – are bound by an ancient relationship, one that has been broken. If you fail to take care of us, you will eventually perish along with us.’ He stopped because Oyangmopa seemed troubled by the messages. ‘What is it?’
‘Surely you did not cause the land to fall on the men?’ Oyangmopa had to ask.
‘Do you think we needed to?’ said the old one. ‘Human beings are the greatest threat to themselves. Humanity takes and takes from the earth. You must give as well as receive. That is the rule that ensures continuous life. We are the older children of the same mother, the Earth. The old culture says, bless the womb, bless, do not curse. From it proceeds all life. We do not understand your explanation for this destruction. What blessing can be there in destroying our mother?’
Oyangmopa knew every word was true. He turned to look at his captors carefully as his eyes grew a little more accustomed to the darkness. Their tall, thin silhouettes with spidery limbs that reached to their knees, still frightened him. He could see pinpoints of light where their eyes should have been.
‘What shall I do? What can I possibly do?’ he asked. Oyangmopa thought of the great changes his people had been experiencing in the climate in the past years. It had become unbearably hot in the summer months in the years following coal mining. The elders were alarmed when several of the village cows succumbed to poisoning from the coal residue in the water sources. People drinking water from the polluted source frequently fell ill. No wonder the elders were so adamant that the mining should stop. Possibly they too, had been warned in dreams by the same beings that had abducted him and brought him here.
‘The places you call spirit forest, are sacred to us,’ the old one continued. ‘We dwell in the places shunned by men. We are their guardians. Here we keep in balance powerful forces that, if let loose, will dance death and destruction upon you and your kind. In the past, when men learned that there were spirits in these places, they kept away. It was good. They didn’t need the sacred forest and we were left in peace. But the mining disregards the old ways. It violates the sacred. You must stop this destruction, else in the end all will perish together.’
Oyangmopa cried out: ‘But I have tried! They will not listen!’
He tried again to explain about the failing agriculture, the lure of city lifestyles, money and acquisitions. Haltingly, stumblingly, trying to find words in the old dialect that had no words for such things.
The spirit creatures circled him, all speaking at once, their voices getting louder and more urgent. Their faces pressed upon him, their strange eyes like bright orbs bored into him. Their hairy, attenuated limbs gesticulated threateningly. He screamed like a child, a high wail of terror.
Immediately they fell silent. One of them, the oldest one, finally said:
‘We must give him the sight. He does not understand.’
Oyangmopa felt cold, thin fingers pressing upon his scalp. A shudder ran through him. ‘Open your eyes,’ said the old one.
Then Oyangmopa saw not the cave and the spirit creatures, but a vision of the spirit forest and the spirit creatures leaping and circling around an orb of light. Orbs and webs of light shimmered among the trees. He had the sense that the orbs were concentrations of life-force, charged with tremendous power.
‘Open your eyes,’ said the old one again. And as Oyangmopa obeyed, the vision faded and the weight of knowledge filled his mind.
‘Now you will know. Once, all of your kind understood this. We lived in a relationship of mutuality. You must restore that, else none of us will survive. We have given you the sight. Go now!’
Oyangmopa was ushered toward a faint light at the end of the passage. As he walked, the light grew brighter. Dawn was coming. At the cave entrance Oyangmopa paused and looked at the valley below, and panicked because he could not recognise where he was. He blinked, and looked again at the landscape before him, and relief washed over him when he saw the fields of his village in the far north. He was not so far from home. But everything looked strangely vivid, just like his vision. There were circular concentrations of light moving in the forest. In some instances, the orbs hung between trees, and in others, they connected birds to trees, and animals to the forest floor with threads of light. Oyangmopa realized that he was seeing what his abductors could see! How beautiful the forest was, and how intricately connected was all of life—he could both sense and see the concentrations of the great life force connecting the trees and creatures of the forest with invisible veins. Between the trees, he saw spirit beings carrying orbs containing the precious life-force of earth life. The animals and birds knew this and acted in reciprocal movements. Only humans seemed to resist it, because they could not see it. He longed to be part of this wholeness.
As Oyangmopa marvelled at the sight before him, he heard the faint rustling made by the spirits behind him.
He turned to look at them one last time. The old one appeared to be covered in white fur, and when he moved, Oyangmopa observed that he was almost translucent. He stared at the small figures that were fast retreating into the cave and rapidly shrinking as they went.
‘Wait, wait,’ he cried, ‘I want to ask you one more question.’
But he was too late. They had gone and when he ran to the tunnel entrance and peered into it, there was a sudden darkness, and for a moment he could see nothing at all.
He blinked, and saw again the vividness of the forest, the knots of powerful forces held safely in relationship, in balance. He heard the crash of the bulldozer as it began to level the trees. The sound of falling trees was accompanied by shrill screams coming from the creatures of the forest. As Oyangmopa watched in horror, he saw the veins that held trees and animals together break apart; the falling trees left gaping wounds in the soil. The screams rose from the earth itself, and further afield he saw women and children spilling out of their houses screaming. In the forest, the orbs shattered, and there was smoke billowing above the villages, and the figures of women and children no longer running, but collapsing to the ground, in the throes of death. He saw the entire countryside, the towns and villages, burning, stricken with sickness. Ruined settlements with piles of bones, where hordes of ragged children wandered like beggars.
When Oyangmopa’s vision ended, he lay on the ground and wept loudly, overcome by what he had seen.
‘They who know will be chosen,’ his grandfather’s words came to him as he struggled to understand what he had been shown. He knew without a doubt that he had been chosen to carry the message to the villages; he knew it was because of his grandfather’s legacy as a knowledge carrier. But would people listen to him? For one despairing moment, everything came back to him, his dreams and their terrible aftermath, the look in the eyes of the men—they had gone past caring. How would he reach them?
He looked at the valley again, the immense silence of the forest, the glowing orbs gliding through the trees, like huge raindrops on leaf surfaces joined by lines of liquid light in the forest depths.
He had no idea how he would carry out what he had been entrusted with, but he would have to try. If it took him his whole life to do it, he would have to try.
Easterine Kire, born in Nagaland, North-east India, has a PhD in English literature from Pune University, India. In 2003, she published the first novel by a Naga writer in English, A Naga village Remembered (Ura Academy). It is now a Speaking Tiger imprint with the new title, Sky is my Father. Kire was awarded the Governor’s medal for excellence in Naga literature (2011), and in 2013 Catalan PEN, Barcelona honoured her with the Free Voice award.
Her other novels are, A Terrible Matriarchy (Zubaan 2007) Bitter Wormwood (Zubaan 2011) and When the River Sleeps which won the Hindu Literature for life 2015, and the Gordon Graham Prize for Naga Literature in 2019. Six of her books have been translated to German, and two to Norwegian, and Marathi. Kire’s novels reflect the socio-cultural and historical landscape of Naga society. She has also written five children’s books, several articles and essays. Her book, Son of the Thundercloud (Speaking Tiger) won the Tata Book of the year 2017 and the Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2018 from the Indian Academy of Letters.
Kire is interested in historical writing and continues to record and document unwritten oral history in order to rescue and preserve it for future generations.