Friday, April 23, 2021

The space of story-telling

— Monalisa Changkija
It gets tedious to write about the same things over and over again ~ which I’ve been doing for almost 34 years, as a Journalist. Those of you, who have been reading our local newspapers since the time they were Weeklies till now, you may have noticed and could be despondent about the repetitive nature of our public discourses on public issues. Our public discourses on political, social, economic, cultural, developmental and numerous other issues have remained unvarying ~ and most opinions are pretty much of the same people or people from the same classes, of the particular periods of time. Such cyclical discourses lead to mental and intellectual stagnation, which is anathema to any wandering mind constantly searching for mental and intellectual adventures and excitement in any chosen field. This was the malady I was afflicted with for many years. I was suffering from a serious syndrome of tedium, which affected me personally and professionally.
I needed a mental vacation that no arduous treks along alluring snowy mountains or bare-feet walks on the sands of seductive sea-sides could have provided. I needed to write but something different. Poetry needs mental calmness, mental equilibrium. Fiction requires the time to plot and pen. Neither is possible when afflicted with the syndrome of tedium. One day, Dr. Asangla said: “Oya, why don’t you write essays ~ people like essays”. Well, she is the publisher so she knows what she is talking about. So I decided to write essays. But on what? Because my essays would turn out to be pretty much like my Editorials and articles. One evening, after I was done with the Editorial for the next day, I played a few rounds of Solitaire, allowed my mind to go totally blank and felt quite relaxed mentally. Without really planning to I started writing “The Sunday Face” ~ the first “Middle” in this book. I had a relook at what I wrote and decided that this would be my next book. That was on June 16, 2017. I didn’t write the entire book at one go ~ I took me over a year to complete it. In between, I lived through my personal tragedies, which again created mental blocks besides consuming my time on what must be done after a death in the family, as well as dealing with the most inane problems some people were hell-bent on creating.
I needed to discipline myself to get on with life and so I strove hard to complete writing this book. But that was one part of it. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have been standing here today if not for Dr. Asangla Tsudir, Editor of Heritage Publications, and the most wonderful group of intelligent, brilliant, creative, encouraging and supportive young writers and poets ~ the Wordsmithereens, the Nagaland Chapter of the North East Writers’ Forum. I couldn’t have done this without the support and encouragement of Dr. A.J. Sebastian, sdb, Professor (Rtd) & Former HoD, English, Nagaland Central University; and members of the North East Writers’ Forum from various Northeastern states ~ all well-known writers and poets.
“Middles” is story-telling but not fiction ~ and because I am an Editor, I cannot abandon my deeply-rooted predilection for commentary. So, I’m telling true stories here and have used the space of story-telling to comment on issues we confront every day. This book doesn’t fit into the genres of story-telling but I like to believe that literary genres are as unlimited as the human mind would allow them to be. So I have no words or terms to define what I have written and leave it to the reader to decide. And yes, I take the risk of this book being banned because these days some people have discovered great penchant to exercise their right to be offended.
But you see literature must offend because it is also meant to be a mirror of society’s ills and ailments ~ not just a PR exercise of romanticizing and eroticizing society and its multi-faceted interfaces on culture or whatever. Literature must also provoke thoughts and propel change and reformation of the human being if society must be dynamic. Literature must also raise the content and quality of public discourses for writers and poets have always been the conscience-keepers of society ~ which means we have a social responsibility to shoulder, which posterity will assess and arbitrate. Writers and poets are not only answerable to the present but also to the future. Literature then is not a past time or merely a talent but a responsibility and a legacy to leave behind for posterity. I don’t know if I have shouldered this responsibility with integrity ~ I will leave that for you and for posterity to judge. For the moment, if My “Middles” have provoked you to think, I would say that a beginning has been made.
I cannot end here without conveying my sincere gratitude to Reverend Z Keyho particularly and to you for your presence and giving me a patient hearing. I will treasure the gift of time you have given me today and use it to guide me to endeavour to carry forward the light of story-telling to provoke thoughts and propel change.
Thank You.
(This is the speech delivered by Monalisa Changkija at the release of her book, “Middles” at Kisama on 3rd December 2018)