ANANYA S GUHA chats with Sahitya Akademi award winning writer TEMSULA AO
Speaking to Temsula Ao after she was conferred the Sahitya Akademi award for her collection of short stories, ”Laburnum Of My head” was indeed a pleasant tete-a-tete with a teacher and friend. The Professor of English spoke about her creative processes shaped by oral tradition, and myths, the creative intersection between folk narratives, poetry and fiction and the future of North East Indian literature.
Temsula Ao’s first forays into the world of creative writing was with poetry and her first collection of poems ”Songs That Tell ” was published by Writers Workshop Calcutta in 1988. Poetry she says is demanding and sometimes lines were kept in abeyance and she had to go back to them later. In this feverish quest for creative exactness she started writing short stories, after teaching hours (she taught English Literature in North Eastern Hill University for three decades) and often she would write something in her office, and go back home to ‘tell’ another story. So this is how writing short stories had its genesis in her creative armour or oeuvre. Not that poetry languished, she has published five collection of poetry. Temsula Ao finds a close parallel and synergy between poetry and songs hence she has poetry collections titled ” Songs That Tell ” and ”Songs That Try To Sing”. There is no Ao word for poetry she says, but there is close likeness between poetry and songs she avers. Her book ”The Ao Naga Oral Tradition” is her contribution to Naga oral and folk tradition, the Ao myths which she uses with great literary effect in her poems .Her first collection of short stories ” These Hills Called Home” was published by Kali Zubaan in 2005. The award winning collection of short stories ”Laburnum Of My Head” was published in 2009. The ”Ao Naga Oral Tradition” was published by Bhasha Publications in 1999. She is presently working on her memoirs ”Once Upon A Life”.
Professor Ao spoke about the painful history of Nagaland, where the common person is caught between militancy and militarism, but feels that the redeeming and salutary effects of a globalized world has traduced distinctions between ‘Naga and Naga’ and ‘Nagan’ and ”Indian” There is so much talent in the Naga youth she says effusively, which must be explored for a rejuvenation and transformation of societies. She is also planning to collect all her poems in a single anthology which will show case her poetic mettle spanning over two and half decades.
Her ten essays or so on society and culture, their praxis, will also be shortly be published in a collected volume ”On Being A Naga” by Heritage Publishing House Dimapur.Here she speaks about a collective Naga society consisting of all the Naga tribes in their rich diversity and unity. She also highlights in these essays the great potential of North East Indian literature which has been wrongly designated as the literature of ”violence”. She finds in this literature a cultural and literary stolidity as well as a historical and cultural awareness of societal events. Professor Ao’s conversation was marled by honesty and humility. She spoke at length on cultural discourses, the great talent in North East Indian Literature as well as the promise that Indian writing in English holds, thanks to the efforts of publishers such as Writers Workshop, a progenitor of Indian writing in English.
For me as a student of hers I can only say: ”To Madam With Love.”