KB Veio Pou
Author: Easterine Kire
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Month/Year of publication:
The latest novella from Easterine Kire titled Son of the Thundercloud is a fascinating read right from the start. I read it just before Christmas, and I could immediately see it as an allegory of the biblical story. Coming up fresh from winning the Hindu Prize 2015 for When the River Sleeps there is certain anticipation from the readers. And Easterine didn’t fail to awe them! There is an interesting thematic connection between the two fictions as they both are closely sourced from the time tested legends that continue to wield its influence in the present imagination of the Naga world.
The plot of the novel is a straight forward narrative of a man, Pele, who left his village after severe famine took his wife and children away. He became a traveller to the unknown, partly to escape the distraught of the pain and loss, partly to escape death, but not sure if he would survive the journey. His path led him to a drought affected “abandoned village” where he met two sisters who were several hundred years old and had been living on “hope”. They told him of their wait for a prophesy, the birth of the Son of the Thundercloud, which would regenerate the land to its fruitfulness once again. While there with the ancient sisters the rains came extraordinarily. Shortly, he travels with them to the Village of the Weavers, where the third sister, known to others as the tiger-widow for her husband and seven sons had been killed by the tiger, has been impregnated by a “single drop of rain” that fell from the thundercloud. Pele continues to stay on as the guardian of Rhalie, the Son of the Thundercloud. True to the prophesy Rhalie kills the tiger, but also dies in the hand of his friend who became envious of him.
It is interesting to discover how Easterine seamlessly weaves the biblical narrative of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ with a Naga creation story. Any Naga reader would be able to decipher that the birth of the Son of the Thundercloud is closely drawn from the oral story of the primal woman who was overcome by a cloud and gave birth to the proverbial three brothers. As a myth it is told with latent meaning to explain how things came into being and its relevance in understanding of the world around us. And in the Naga cosmology even today there is a close proximity between the worlds of the animal, spirit and man. In fact, they continue to interface, though not in a friendly way as it used to be. Things have become more violent. This is where Son of the Thundercloud has a lesson for us.
Metaphorically, the story of Pele is the story of mankind in search of a meaning in life. The two sisters of several hundred years old in the famine struck village of seven hundred years stood for mankind’s wait for a saviour to reverse the tragedy. The prophesy has it that “… the great hope of the ancestors who used to say that our ancient misfortune will end when the Son of the Thundercloud is born. Everything will be transformed then” (p. 19). Their watch over the stars every night for the sign of the promised birth reminds us of the Magi who followed the stars to pay homage to baby Jesus. The birth of the Son of the Thundercloud was shrouded in suspicion and distrust from the people of the village, much like the people during Jesus’ time was steeped in disbelief. The birth of Rhalie restored the land to prosperity but the people refused to believe the signs. On the contrary, his own friend Viphrü grew jealous especially after he killed the tiger.
Interestingly, the tiger is “no ordinary being”, it is spirit tiger that cannot be killed with “worldly weapon”. The “well-tempered spear” that the two sisters kept for Rhalie was the only potential weapon to kill the tiger. By its sheer power to incite fear the tiger has influenced people to make sacrifices to it. In essence, the tiger is the embodiment of the evil that has dominated the imagination of the people. This again, echoes how the Bible warns that the battle against the devil is a spiritual warfare which has to be principally fought in the spiritual realms. Rhalie was able to kill the tiger because he has no “pride” and his “heart was pure”. Just as his name mean “the redeemer”, his killing of the predator brought relief to the people. His mother, Mesanuo exclaimed, “what joy you have brought to all of us!” But men loved darkness instead.
The arrival of Son of the Thundercloud is quite timely. Christmas is the time of celebrating love, peace, hope and joy. It is a reminder of how God loved the world dearly that He sent His only Son to redeem it. Easterine’s story reveals the shortcomings in human beings and their inability to change the reality. Only a divine intervention can reverse the tragedy. And while that message is being powerfully told, the novella is also beautifully woven together with many endearing wisdoms of cultural specificities. The generational transmission of knowledge is shown time and again in the older ones’ conscious teaching of the young Rhalie. The people’s need to preserve and protect God given natural resources for a sustainable future are asserted through the various conversations. And one of the most enduring picture is the ‘hope’ of meeting the departed loved ones in the afterlife.
To that end, the story has many anecdotes on love, life and sacrifice that will be impressed upon the minds of the readers for a long time. Living in a time of so much mistrust and diminishing hope, I think, Son of the Thundercloud is a wonderful allegory of redeeming the goodness of men. May you walk into the new year with love and hope!
(The reviewer is Asst. Professor at SBSC, University of Delhi, and author of Literary Cultures of India’s Northeast: Naga Writings in English)