BOOK EXCERPT

Read the novel from Nagaland that's won The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction 2015

Easterine Kire’s 'When the River Sleeps' offers a 'beautiful narration of a loner’s battle against evil seduced by a mysterious dream', said the jury.

“The forest is my wife,” Vilie had forcefully stated to them time and time again. Yet, his aunts continued to nag him relentlessly on the subject of marriage. He had said it only once to his mother, but his tone so shook her that she would never raise the issue again. In a way she understood her son despite her own longing for grandchildren. His aunts, however, persisted long after his mother had given up. The idea of a man living his life out in the forest – away from the communal life of the village – was so alien to them.

The village was the only life they knew, and Vilie had stopped trying to explain why he preferred living on his own. It often made no sense to him either. He still went through months when nothing could touch him except that great loneliness that howled through his being like the wind baying up the valley, relentlessly beating at the wooden house and rudely blasting in through cracks in the walls. The sense of isolation was almost enough to make him abandon his life in the forest and return to the village.

In the second year, he felt so lonely he stopped all construction work on the shed. He still remembered the day he had been making a stone wall. He built it on the western side of the shed to shield it from the strong winds. It was then that the bleakness of the life he had chosen hit him. The feeling did not pass as it used to in the first months. It stayed like a persistent fever and settled into his bones.

Though it was still light, Vilie gathered up his tools, placed them on the shelf and walked away from his house. What was this choice he had made? Was this really what he wanted for the rest of his life? Thoughts came to him of the village and what people would be doing in the late afternoons. Those in the fields would still be working under the open skies, perhaps chanting work-songs in a “call- and-response” way so typical of his people, to add rhythm to their toilsome labour.

Life in the village would perk up as the old and the very young prepared to welcome back the singing field-goers. Vilie could picture them – the old women prodding at their hearths to get their fires burning for the evening meal. The melodious workers would be heard approaching from afar, homeward bound to warm evening meals and a well earned rest.

“It is those things that I miss,” he thought to himself.

Not so much the festivals and feastings and the community gatherings, but the ordinary things of village life: the children fetching water in their small water-pitchers; the neighbours calling out to each other; and the village animals being shooed from the paths before they soiled them.

“Who or what would stop me if I should walk back to that life? Nothing and no one! I’m not answerable to anyone. The Forest Department can easily find someone else to come out and camp here at intervals and keep track of the tragopans.”

The village council too had earlier coped without his help in looking after the gwi. He was not indispensable. But the question remained: what was stopping him from going back to the village? This question nagged him into the next day and prevented him from finishing the work on the stone wall.

“The forest is my wife.”

He had said this many times to his relatives back at the village. Now he had the sensation that he was being an unfaithful spouse. He began to think that leaving the forest would be the same as abandoning his wife. Though it was an unsettling thought in his soul, he found he had actually nurtured it for a long time.

The following morning as the twinges of the all too familiar feeling of loneliness crept in, his own words returned to him.

“The forest is my wife, and perhaps this is what marriage is like; with periods when a chasm of loneliness separates the partners leaving each one alone with their own thoughts, groping for answers,” he thought.

Strangely, these thoughts calmed him. He felt clearer in his head. He had strived so hard after something that was still elusive. Perhaps the answer lay not in striving but in being. In simply accepting that the loneliness would never be eliminated fully, but that one could deal with it by learning to treat it like a companion and no longer an adversary.

It had been many years now since he had thought of the girl he had loved, Seno. Some days he could not remember her face. It became a blur to him and he had stopped trying to put features to the blur. So it was not a hankering after her that brought on this loneliness. It was just a part of being human.

The previous night’s dream had momentarily brought back the same feeling of despairing emptiness. But he fought it hard, and this time it made him get up and collect the items that he would need for a long journey. He had an old canvas travel bag that one of the hunters had given him. The fabric was sturdy enough, so he flung it on his bed and began to fill it.

He sheathed his hunting knife and tucked it into the bag. The knife was followed by a roll of tobacco and tobacco leaves in a pouch. He then packed a small packet of salt, a pouch of tea, some rice and dried beef and venison. He fetched a box of bullets that was half-empty, and added a handful of pellets and buck shot as well as six slugs. He added the two slugs on the table for good measure.

Vilie sat down momentarily and scanned the dark interior to see what else might be handy on a long trip.

He noticed a long rope hanging by the side of the window. He reached for the rope, coiled it and threw it into the bag with the other things. He topped off the bag with a rough woollen blanket, then closed it and tied it up with a leather cord and set it aside. He would need a day or two to put the shed in order before he could set out. He would plan an obligatory detour to the Nepali wood-cutters who were his only neighbours. Their settlement was four hours walk from his shed. From time to time, the woodcutters brought him sugar and tea from their trips into town.

His sudden impulse to pack had a significant effect on him. As he finally lay to rest that evening, he felt as if an enormous weight had just rolled off his back. He felt light- headed imagining his departure. It occurred to him that perhaps something had changed. Perhaps now he would stop dreaming about the sleeping river. As his eyes closed, his thoughts dwelt for a time on the question of the sleeping river.

“Is it possible that only forest dwellers can understand such things exist in the places not frequented by man? Will the magic of the river work only for a believer? Would it work in spite of lack of faith?”

The next day he mended the hole in the wire fencing around the house. The fence was intended to keep pesky animals away from his food rations. He reinforced it with medium sized posts. It was in fact high enough to deter larger animals. Then he turned his attention to the porch, where some planks had rotted in places.

To prevent it collapsing, he pulled out planks from a pile of quarter- sawn pine boards he had purchased from the Nepalis. Vilie sawed them into four-by-four inch planks to match the existing ones. He then cut away and replaced the rotted planks. The work took most of the day, and it was dusk before he could prepare his evening meal. Nevertheless, it was gratifying to have finally finished work on the house that he had postponed all summer.

Excerpted with permission from When The River Sleeps, Easterine Kire, Zubaan Books.

Also read

Anuradha Roy wins the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016 for her novel Sleeping on Jupiter: Review and Excerpt.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.