“Miracles keep happening …” 

Monalisa Changkija

There’s this song Miracles by Joan Baez. It says:

Miracles keep happening 
The sun rose in the east today 
I sat up and sighed for the millionth time 
As the dawn was phasing a night away 
The blues can last for just so long 
And from the depth 
There will arise another song 
And I’ll sit here in the sea and the sun 
Waiting for that other song to come 
That other song to come 
You don’t have to be black to sing the blues 
From what I gather all you got to be is blue 
Self-indulgence is universal 
Adolescence was merely a rehearsal 
Look around you and you will see 
Everyone has a small franchise on misery 
On misery 
And I will sing you a song 
Just as soon as I get my voice 
When you’re up, you’re up 
And when you’re down 
You really got no choice 
No rain this winter
The Manzanita* reminded me 
We’ve been living in a drought 
And the ocean looks good to me 
Haven’t been in love for a year or so 
Because I get fussy 
And hard to live with as I grow 
Ask the hungry manzanita 
You cannot cross a cypress and a cedar 
And a cedar 
My moods are changing like the sea 
There are a hundred things 
That I’d like to be 
Meanwhile I’ll sit in the sun 
Waiting for that other song to come 
That other song to come 
And I will sing it to you 
Just as soon as I get my voice 
When you’re up, you’re really up 
And when you’re down 
You really got no choice

A lot is being said and written about my book “Middles” ~ and no doubt, much more would be said and written in the days to come. So, today I won’t speak about my book but about how it finally came to shape. Besides going through the agony of the loss of my husband last November, my daughters and I also had to undergo the kind of “cultural and customary” victimization that most Ao women without sons and brothers suffer. This included blatant falsehoods, insinuations and deliberate character-assassination. My daughters and I also had to undergo intimidation and harassment. Although throughout our ordeal a few cousins-in-law, a lot of friends and my neighbours stood by us, the pressure, stress and tension we suffered and endured are indescribable and inexplicable ~ all of which I suffered and endured without even my own flesh and blood standing by me. As a result, I was down to my lowest hence my journalistic and creative works suffered ~ in fact, I stopped working and I was allowing myself to go to seed. This may well be the topic of another book in the future ~ what say you? Ah, but this is not a threat. And, as Joan Baez sings: “When you’re up, you’re up, when you’re down, you’re down, you’ve really got no choice”.
Sometime in June, a group of young people ~ an NGO called the Act of Kindness ~ entered into my life and I decided to sponsor the little literary festival they conduct during their festival Magnum Opus, a festival of the arts, literature, music, etc., they have been organizing for the past four years. I came into contact with young people ~ brimming with vibrant ideas, visions, hopes and aspirations. Naturally, I met young writers and poets, some of Nagaland’s finest, who were keen to become members of the North East Writers’ Forum (NEWF), of which I was a member since the early 1990s. So, besides helping out the Magnum Opus’ literary festival, the writers and poets formed the Nagaland Chapter of the North East Writers’ Forum and called ourselves the Wordsmithereens ~ every Northeastern Chapter of the NEWF are called by a particular name. Wordsmithereens, both male and female, are spread across Dimapur, Kohima, Mokokchung, Delhi, etc. ~ quite a few of them are students.
We would meet almost every other Sunday at my place and discourse on issues literary in Nagaland. These Sunday afternoon discourses led from one thing to another and soon we hope to publish the first volume of poems, short-stories and essays of the Wordsmithereens. Meanwhile, the internationally renowned publishing house Aleph contacted us and expressed its intention to publish literary works of emerging voices of all Northeastern states ~ our emerging voices have already submitted their literary works to Aleph Publications and await the first volume.
My self confidence was at its lowest at that time and I was descending into depression but the enthusiasm of our young writers and poets slowly began to rub off on me and these interactions and activities proved to be great healing salve for my breaking spirit and helped me refocus on my creative endeavours. I dusted the few chapters of this book I had written since June 2017, polished them, wrote a few more and asked some friends here and other Northeastern states to tell me if they are worth publishing and if so, help edit them. The support and encouragement I received from them was a boost to my self-confidence. Before that, I had already asked Father Sebastian’s opinion and as always, he was most encouraging. So was Dr. Asangla, Editor of Heritage Publications. But there was a long pause in the intervening period because of the personal issues I was grappling with.
Sometime early October, Dr. Theyie Keditsu asked me to write a blurb for her first volume of poems titled sopfünuo, which was released at Kohima on November 7, 2018. A day earlier, on November 6, 2018, Dr. Emisenla Jamir’s first volume of poetry Loneliness is an Orange was released at Kohima. Several other books of our writers and poets on numerous issues were also released around that time. I got caught in the excitement and allowed myself to be washed with the literary enthusiasm in the air. Soon, I was pestering my publisher and printer. But I wasn’t really in a hurry to release my book. Then I found that I was no match for Dr. Theyie Keditsu’s enthusiasm and verve. She more or less single-handedly organized my book’s release at the Hornbill Festival on December 3, supported by Dr. Avinuo Kire and Dr. Emisenla Jamir. All this while, none of them knew what I had written.
Not even the Dimapur-based Wordsmithereens, who were no less enthusiastic and hard working ~ particularly Tialila Kikon, Dr. Elika Assumi, Bobita Rai and Aboli Wotsa. And you must remember that all of them are teaching either in schools or colleges and this is the exam season. Aheli Moitra took time off from her heavy journalistic schedule to write a beautiful review, which many of you must have read in our local newspapers. Even if I don’t mention all the names here, believe me there are several others who have chipped in their important bits for us to gather here today. I am basking in their enthusiasm, their faith, trust, dynamism, support, encouragement and solidarity ~ all of which has made it possible for my book to take shape and for me to stand before you now.
In my little speech at Theyie Keditsu’s book launch at Dimapur on November 9, I spoke about generational relay. I said:
“All tangible and non-tangible cultural activities are basically generational relays, not least literature and activities thereof. So, some of us are inspired by the available literary works of poets and writers from across the globe who have wielded the pen before us and those who still are with us ~ therefore the brave ~ perhaps even foolish ~ amongst us dare to write.
“We are also inspired to write because at a very primal level there is this urge and the urgency to tell our stories and of those around us thereby we subconsciously continue the literary generational relay of not only story-telling but also of bringing to the cognizance of our generation and the ones that would follow about the many dimensions of the realities of our lives ~ thereby recording the several histories that happen simultaneously in any community, any society.
“Literature, literary works, has a way of bringing human beings face-to-face with our emotions and our inner selves. Isn’t that why we are also inspired to read and write, and change our perspectives generally about issues ~ about life? We write because we are fortunate to have been exposed to the world of words, which is also the world of thoughts, of ideas and emotions, which are the main ingredients, so to speak, of expanding mental horizons, broadening perspectives, exploring the myriad similarities and differences, which together make the human being and understanding that despite the facades of diversities, inside us we are but one human family grappling with and seeking to take ownership of the same destiny of hope.
“So I feel that this generational relay would not be strengthened as much as it ought to be by simply writing and being published ~ because the objectives of writing are multi-dimensional and so much more than fame and fortune. Mastery over language, unwavering determination, public relations ops, and creating the space to be left alone and write in a community-bound and community-bonded tribal society are often not enough to take this generational relay forward. This is where the fledgling community of poets and writers of Nagaland need to help, encourage, strengthen, uphold and hand-hold each other in as many ways as possible, including critiquing, to enable, facilitate and empower this and the next lap of the generational relay of the literary journey we have undertaken.
“This takes exceptional clarity of purpose and courage of conviction. I don’t know who said this but it has inspired me tremendously. I hope this inspires you too. “You can tell who the strong women are. They are the ones you see building one another up instead of tearing each other down.””
The way my book has come to being is not only a generational relay in action but a prime example of “strong persons building one another up”. And, “miracles keep happening …” ~ I just gave witness to the way Wordsmithereens built me up and upheld me. Believe me, alone each of us can go only thus far and not more but together we can conquer time and space. I also convey my sincerest gratitude to Father AJ Sebastian, who has been more than cheering us in our generational relays ~ and to Father Anto and so many others for being with us on this literary journey. My sincerest gratitude also to Dr. S C Jamir, who so generously made the time to be with us today and for being so encouraging. Moreover, as always, he has provoked our thoughts and propelled us into action. I am also very grateful to Dr. Temsula Ao, who has always provided a strong support-system to us writers and poets.
I have a problem here ~ which actually is the collective problem of Nagaland too. There are so many emerging writers and poets in Nagaland and hundreds being born every second of the day. How do we nurture, enable and empower them to write their names and that of Nagaland across the literary globe in indelible ink? Certainly, much for our state Government, our educational institutions, educationists and Naga society at large to ponder on because literary activities and endeavours ~ indeed all other visual and performing arts too ~ are so much more than an aggregate of an “industry” therefore cannot and should not be reduced to just another “industry”. Literature and all visual and performing arts are also crucial records of history and fundamental components of culture ~ viewed from these perspectives, certainly the state of Nagaland needs policies and affirmative action that would prioritize our people’s innate potentials to create a larger imprint on our lives and future rather than the transient that have been allowed to dictate the course of our lives and future.
I thank each of you present here today, as well as all well-wishers everywhere because by your presence and good-will, you have registered your support, encouragement and solidarity to us and our literary generational relay. I succumb to the temptation of quoting an old classic Me and Bobby McGee by Songwriters: Fred L Foster/Kris Kristofferson: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. Look at this in the context of the freedom that words connote and the space story-telling creates.

*Merriam-Webster Definition of manzanita 
: any of various western North American evergreen shrubs (genus Arctostaphylos) of the heath family with alternate leaves
(This is the speech delivered by Monalisa Changkija during the release of her book, “Middles” in Dimapur on 11th December 2018)