Reading Easterine Kire’s Son of the Thundercloud

Son of the Thundercloud. Easterine Kire. New Delhi: Speaking Tiger Books, 2016.

Easterine Kire’s latest novella, Son of the Thundercloud, is a fascinating narrative in the mould of low fantasy. In blending Naga myth of creation with the redemption story of Christ, Kire inaugurates the beginning of a new era of literary experimentation in Naga literature in English.

A couple reviews on the book readily available online describe the work as an allegory of hope. The author herself certainly conceived it that way. She has reiterated this intention publicly. After reading the book myself, this categorisation of the book is not amiss. However, there is more to the book than mere allegory. In truth, Kire’s book reads better as a timeless tale of hope narrated through myth and dialogue.It takes us into a timeless place of the myth of the son of the Thundercloud with the archetypal hero-traveller, Pele, on an undisclosed quest. The story ends with a poignant counter-narrative to the threats of mortality, and all that is evil. There is a closure to the tale, but Pele’s journey does not end there. And as he has become part of the tale, the myth continues. To read Thundercloud as mere allegory is to restrict the range of meanings the story offers as a myth.

The title of the book is a curious one as well. From it one would be led to think that the story is about the son of the Thundercloud, Rhalietuo. It is in a way. He is the protagonist of the tale. But is he of the book? The eponymous title gets deflected somewhat as the focus zooms on Pele in the Blurb. And starting with the Prologue, one gets the sense that the story is going to be about the ‘little one’ – Pelevotso, a name given by a prophetic grandmother. She envisioned greatness for her grandson. And as adventure is a stock requirement for greatness, the subsequent famine in the land becomes an opportunity for Pele to travel and live his name – faithful to the end.

Structurally, it is fair to say Pele is the protagonist of the book. It is his quest. He permeates the narrative from start to finish, preceding and outliving in the course the physical son of the Thundercloud. The entire story is framed through the lens of his experience. The regeneration of the land too begins with his arrival in the abandoned village. It is he who brings the rain that hydrates the parched land, and from this event the miraculous Son is conceived. In a certain sense, Pele symbolises virility. He plays a supporting (decisive) role in the fulfilment of the prophecy concerning the Thundercloud’s son. But he is who the reader follows, not Rhalie. He partakes in the reenactment of the tale and comes out of it as the central figure of the book.

The book also presents the possibility of two parallel worlds: that of Pele’s and the tale’s. Pele and the famine are common to both. And though Pele’s crossing over of worlds is not specifically mentioned in the narrative, the fantastic elements in the world of the tale are unlike anything he has encountered before. They assume mythic proportions. In this world a famine can last seven hundred years on end without wiping out the entire inhabitants; trees and plants can reach their full heights overnight, etc. Except for the ceramic mug instance (p.119), we get the distinct sense that the agrarian setting of the book is of a time far removed from Pele’s own (and our own). The image of the land before the rain is dystopic(T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ springs to mind). It functions as a cautionary portraiture of the future as well as the prop against which the recreated myth unfolds. The past, present, and future are merged to give a timeless, and hence mythic, dimension to the narrative.

Thundercloud marks Kire’s evolution as a story-teller who is unafraid to recreate myths drawing from sources other than Naga, while giving it local colour. It is unlike any of the other works she has produced. With this work, Kire has added a new literary dimension to her repertoire. And Naga literature in English stands to gain much by it.