Bhumika R while reviewing Veio Pou’s debut novel Waiting for the Dust to Settle, does a thorough justice where she tries to capture the angst of a generation and transition of feelings as the years progress
Veio Pou’s debut novel Waiting for the Dust to Settle (2020) makes an important intervention by registering stories of everyday lives, disrupted during the 1980’s and 1990’s in Manipur.
In the context of contemporary Naga literature, there are very few literary works which speak about operation Bluebird, Naga-Kuki conflict or attempt to engage with the experiences or lives of Nagas in Manipur.
This novel engages with events in the contemporary history of Manipur and narrates stories of how ordinary people negotiated with these events. Also, it foregrounds the way of life, culture and worldview of the Nagas in Manipur.
The plot unfolds through Rakovei’s eyes and narrates how at different points in time, Rakovei and his family negotiate with the events disrupting their mundane life. The narrative traces shifts occurring in the microcosmic space of the protagonist and his family and simultaneously interweaves it with anxieties and changes existing in the larger public sphere in the hilly areas of Manipur during the period.
Importantly, it articulates stories of a generation of youth who grew up negotiating with the anguish and trauma of living in a militarised space.
In the initial chapters, one sees the awe and admiration of a young Rakovei who eagerly waits to see the army convoy passing through the streets near his home.
Later on while he is visiting his grandmother in Phyamaichi village, he witnesses the brutalities by the armed forces on the villagers which leaves many maimed in the mind and body.
Cited is an excerpt from the novel; ‘the headmaster of the government junior high school was severely tortured along with a couple of others. The village remained anxious. (…) Lenny, Houba and Joseph, the school headmaster, were grievously injured while a few others endured various forms of physical abuse. (…) looking at his uncle, now immobilised because of them, a fresh anger sprouted inside him, Somehow, something changed in him that day.’
In the wake of the Kuki-Naga clash, Rakovei who is going home for holidays seems rather anxious during his journey from Imphal to Senapati. On reaching home, Rakovei senses a cold thread of suspicion and fear that has engulfed between those who were friendly neighbours and friends.
Soon after, Rakovei moves to Delhi to enrol in a college and witnesses discrimination towards people from the Northeast. He also realises that it is only in Northeast India that the armed forces seem to be invested with an almost unchallenged power unlike in the rest of India.
Once while travelling in a rickshaw with his cousin in Delhi, Rakovei seems surprised on seeing a man from the Indian armed forces waiting in the signal like everyone else. It is only when his Cousin tells him of the special powers act that he understands about the difference in the nature of power that they wield in places like Manipur.
Towards the end of the novel, one sees a dilemma in Rakovei about the Naga nationalist movement, nationalist groups that claim to be fighting for it, shifts that have occurred in the movement and the peace which seems to elude his homeland.
He reflects on the changes in the Naga nationalist movement and wonders if the pain that many like his uncle Lenny had suffered was for nothing. Cited is an excerpt; ‘His mind wouldn’t stop working and thinking and wondering. He felt he was living between hope and despair.’
Rakovei’s state of mind can be seen as reflecting the dilemma of many others of his generation from militarised spaces in Northeast India who grew up seeing the terrain of their everyday being ruptured.
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A Ph.D from JNU, New Delhi, Bhumika P. taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and IIT Jammu. She has also contributed articles to Cafe DissensusEveryday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She loves to write poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse, platocavesonline; her short story ‘Nameless’ has been published in the borderlessjournal. Bhumika is currently an assistant professor in the school of humanities at Shiv Nadar University, Bangalore.