Sunday, 12 June 2011

Kim's Review: A Terrible Matriarchy

Another book from North East India brought into mainstream publishing and consciousness by Zubaan Books. At the end of last year, I was looking for books on Nort East India and wanted some non-travel, non-political kind of books, so I could hope to get an insight into the culture of this part of India that to me seemed very interesting but not widely known. This was well before my husband even had an inkling that he was going to be transferred to North East India.

I was pretty lax about updating book reviews last year, but this year I'm being more determined to write a short note about every book I read, just so I can refresh my memory easily at the end of the year.

While I had read, A Terrible Matriarchy last year, I flipped through it again when I realised we were soon moving to this part of the country.

Easterine Iralu is also the author of A Naga Village Remembered (2003), the first novel in English by a Naga writer. However I have been unable to find the book on flipkart or Amazon. Maybe I can find it on a visit to Nagaland? She is presently under political asylum in Norway.

The story in A Terrible Matriarchy is that of  5 year old Dielieno, the youngest in her family after 4 brothers. Declaring that her mother is too soft on Dielieno, grandmother insists that Dielieno moves to her house and helps her and Bano (a cousin of sorts) and learns housework.

While Naga society is known to be matriarchal and Dielieno's paternal grandmother is the absolute matriarch of her extended family, it does not make life any easier for the other women in the family.

Grandmother Vibano, is a complete harridan who has a fawning attitude towards her grandsons while loudly declaring that girls don't need education, love, affection, playtime, or even meat with their gravy. A sentiment that resonates in patriarchal societies in the rest of the country.

At one point, Bano also explains to Dielieno that her friend Vimenuo's father is perpetually angry because his wife had only given birth to daughters."Girl children are never considered real members of the family. Their mission in life is to marry and have children and be able to cook and weave cloth and look after the household. If they got married., they would always be known as somebody's wife or somebody's mother, but never somebody's daughter"

It is only because her father finally dares to stand up to his mother and the effort and encouragment by other members of the extended family that Lieno is able to enroll in school and excel in her studies.

The novel continues as Lieno's life moves forward, she loses 2 brothers along the way, one to sickness and one to alcoholism. The narrative flows in such a way as to give the reader a quick overall glimpse at what life in Nagaland is like.

The importance of the church, the kind of matriarchal society that it is, the problems of alcoholism and promiscuity, the general distrust of the Indian Army and its brutality against the youth of the Naga army. The British and colonial influences on Naga society are all evoked and woven into the tale.

This is not a story that will leave you wondering what next, its a story that tells a tale and draws you into a new culture, a new way of life and a new way of thinking.

Rating: 3.8/5

Buy A Terrible Matriarchy from Amazon

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