Book Review: Learning of life through the “Middles”

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Aheli Moitre

A mid day chat with renowned journalist, writer, poet and current Editor of Nagaland Page, Monalisa Changkija, is a good way to take the heat off the sun; it is also a great way to learn from anecdotes she shares from years of working as a journalist in socially and politically conflicted Nagaland State.
But if you haven’t had a chance to have this chat, fret not. Changkija’s recently published book ~ “Middles”~ produces the same balmy feel of learning something new within the cozy confines of a hearth. This little book of long and short thoughts, published by the Heritage Publishing House in Dimapur, is a comforting, yet provoking, read of snapshots worth a serious ponder in Naga society.
For the uninitiated, ‘middles’ were short essays published in the inside pages of a newspaper when, as the author puts it, “newspapers were still newspapers,” and precise writing was attractive. Perfecting the medium, Changkija brings us “middles of yore ~ neither fiction nor poetry,” establishing a free-flowing conversational style of framing issues. They grow into ideas with “individuality,” refusing to follow the fixed forms of narrating life’s stories; much like wild mushrooms growing around the stub of an old tree – both telling their own spiral stories, one extending into the other-the author photographs this and aptly converts it into the cover of her book.
The middles maneuver almost three and a half of Monalisa Changkija’s life experiences, both personal and professional. Journeying her way through the 1980s to the present, she provides astute social theology for the contemporary Naga church in ‘The Sunday Face’ and ‘Hurricane Harvey.’ Few among Naga leaders will shed light on the question Changkija does with a smooth jibe: Is Christian love not applicable to non-Nagas of Nagaland? What theologies do the massive churches in the State practice?
In ‘Date of Birth,’ ‘Employment/unemployment,’ ‘Owning truths,’ the author brings the society’s value-system under the scanner best summarized by the line, “If we can’t own truths, we cannot claim ownership to life.” Truth has been the victim of Nagaland’s economic, social, theological and political conditions but few are ready to take the burden of speaking truth to power. With needles, pins, threads and a pen, Monalisa Changkija takes on this painful task and weaves the rest of her middles, ‘But you don’t look it,’ ‘Reminiscence of an un-mathematical head,’ ‘Community Bonding & Sensitivity’ and ‘Records of failure.’
The last of her numbered middles, ‘Governor Extorts Students,’ really belongs in her next sub-section to the book, ‘Some things personal.’ This is where we enter the closed doors of the journalist experience in Nagaland. Through six personal essays, Changkija delights the reader with the insider perspective on producing the news in Nagaland, also sharing her experience as a woman journalist in the State. Information and knowledge of the people who set up the Fourth Estate of the press in Nagaland remains threadbare; in her nonchalant style, the author gives a quick glimpse of what could one day become an epic.
Read with the first section of the book, the reader sees how the writer bobs in and out of the waves of contradictions that constitute her social space. With her family tucked firmly by her side, Changkija tells us stories of the urban, modern Naga family through a lens on her life. She remains sensitive to her cultural roots yet inquiring of lines that beg scrutiny. The text’s honesty is its biggest appeal, leaving us with long afterthoughts and questions we need to ask around the hearth as well as on the public podium.
Monalisa Changkija’s “Middles” are the perfect appetizer to her memoirs that we, the readers, eagerly await!

Issued by:
Wordsmithereens
(The Nagaland Chapter of the North East Writers’ Forum)