Padma Shri award-winner Temsula Ao has come out with a collection of five poignant stories from Nagaland in which she holds up a mirror to the lives of everyday people beyond the headlines.
With its pared-down prose and gripping, original tales, “The Tombstone in My Garden”, published by Speaking Tiger, reflects Ao’s deep understanding not just of the human condition, but that of all life.
Besides “The Tombstone in My Garden”, the other stories in the collection are “The Platform”, “The Saga of a Cloth”, “Snow-Green”, and “The Talking Tree”.
Among the stories is one about Nandu, a coolie from Bihar working at the Dimapur railway station. There was a dark secret about his adopted son and now Nandu realised that what he did out of love for an abandoned child many years ago had now become a grave threat to their lives because of this.
For this boy, who for more than 17 years spoke almost all the languages that his “father” did, observed all festivals and pujas as a Hindu, was in fact a Muslim from across the border.
Nandu had discovered this quite by accident, during the first forcible bath that he gave the boy some days after bringing him home to his one-room lodging near the railway track.
At first the boy appeared to be dumb; did not utter a word but would exhale long breaths as if something was choking him. And he would simply refuse to touch water, let alone have a bath as Nandu repeatedly told him to.
So one evening he proceeded to bathe the boy himself and it was during the forced bath that Nandu discovered the terrible truth: the boy had been circumcised!
Then there is the story of a rare lily that refuses to bloom year after year because she was moved from her usual position in the flowerbed into an ornate pot.
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Also, there is a tale of a grandmother who finally breaks the silence over her mutilated funeral supeti as her grandson is exiled from the village.
Ao also writes about Big Father, a uniquely misshapen grandfather tree, which becomes the guardian and protector of an entire village.Then matriarch Lily Anne, subjected to racial slurs by her own mother on account of her mixed parentage, resumes her position on the ancient reclining chair in her verandah to stare at the eyesore in her overgrown garden.
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