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Book Reviews

Pathos of Ordinary Folks

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By EMN Updated: Nov 22, 2020 11:03 pm
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Veio Pou’s debut novel Waiting for the Dust to Settle takes us through a myriad of exhilarating, heart-warming, and plaintive experiences of the young protagonist Rakovei who always wanted to join the army as a child. His fascination for people with weapons and military uniforms faded slowly. He was exposed to their brutality during the infamous ‘Operation Bluebird’ that occurred coincidentally around the time when he visited his native village Phyamaichi in July 1987. This unfortunate incident left a huge negative imprint in his mind of the army in the following years. However, he was fortunate enough to pursue his higher secondary education at Imphal unlike most of his contemporaries. As though misfortunes seemed to accompany him everywhere, his plans to lead a peaceful life was interrupted by the horrors of Kuki-Naga ethnic clash in the early 1990s.

Experiencing horrors and adversity continued to unfold into Rakovei’s life, when he encountered the ugly side of racism like many others from the Northeastern states in his college days in Delhi. He also began to critically evaluate the Naga political imbroglio caused by divisions among the Naga people which is again represented by factions claiming to be the true custodians and denouncing each other. However, he has not given up the hope of Naga political solution but rather dismayed that the younger breed of ‘national workers’ has not been able to garner the trust of the common people like their older patriots.

Veio Pou has introduced many interesting characters in the story apart from the main protagonist Rakovei. One character that stood out and grabbed my attention was Rakovei’s Uncle Lounii (who later became Lenny). Lounii was an educated man who always stood for the right cause with an intermittent temperamental issue. He was given an opportunity to teach at the Government High School in the village but refused the offer after learning that bribe must be paid to the middlemen in securing the job. His thinking was far ahead of his time where malpractices were inevitable to secure government jobs. There was an incident where he assaulted an officer after he was denied unemployment loan for failing to conform to the ‘normalised ways’ of availing loans through bribery. Thus, he became a fugitive and changed his name to Lenny as the Assam Rifles were on a lookout for him.

After several failed attempts to arrest him, Lounii ended up in their bastion where the villagers were held hostages for days following the Oinam incident where the Army check post was attacked by the NSCN cadres. During the interrogation, the crafty army major tried to provoke him by referring to the ‘national workers’ as militants. His disagreement with the major but rather choosing them to call them as “freedom fighters” came with a heavy price of being brutally assaulted that almost maimed him for a lifetime.

The kindness of Lenny came surprisingly when his cousin sister Rakhune’s husband was ruthlessly killed by his former associates in the NSCN. She underwent mental instability since then which bothered him. It was Lenny who suggested his mother to persuade his Brother Khole’s family to adopt the two kids of the slain cadre. The upright man who was stubborn to retain his ethical principles did not shy away from the familial responsibilities unveiling his soft nature.

Veio Pou has tactfully brought folktales alive through the character of Grandmother Toukhue who hardly hesitated to narrate legendary stories to her grandchildren when requested. The brief romance of Rakovei with Awon during their college days is quite intriguing and, no doubt would be relatable to many young people from the militarised region who have fallen in love for the first time. Veio Pou’s attempt to narrate stories revolving around real places and experiences of people bring the fictitious characters alive and real.

Waiting for the Dust to Settle presents narrative “about our political history” as Easterine Kire has rightly pointed out. What makes this novel interesting is the lucid and raw narration of real events and sufferings that common people have endured in the hands of the Indian Army. The protagonist’s character and setting of the environment were perfect to remind the readers of the telltale incidents that can no longer be hidden.

While the novel revolves around different fictitious characters, there are pertinent reflections one can draw when we dig in deeper. The protagonist’s experiences of army atrocities towards his people were a reproduction of real event in the history of the Nagas. It is a brilliant way of documenting the ugly past where innocent Nagas have gone through many sufferings and oppression. Justice remains an elusive and distant dream for the common people even after more than three decades. The informal conversations between Rakovei and Joyson on Naga politics still resonate the actual situation that we are witnessing today. For me, Waiting for the Dust to Settle is not just a novel per se but also a historical book that enlightens readers to reflect through the past and present for better future.

Veilou Paotei

veilou19@gmail.com

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By EMN Updated: Nov 22, 2020 11:03:51 pm