Author: rōzumarī saṃsāra
Publisher: Heritage Publishing House; Dimapur, Nagaland, India, 2020
The first time I read rōzumarī’s (born Rosemary Kikon) work (performance poetry) in an anthology by Zubaan, The Many That I Am: Writings From Nagaland. It’s unlike anything I’ve had read earlier. But I’d have never felt the intensity of her emotions and empathy in her written voice had she not invited me to the private book launch in an intimate theatre space in Panchsheel Park, in February 2020.
During my theater days, a director taught us that three things help create a theater performance: actor, audience and space. And whenever I saw a performance, I was analyzing and measuring it with respect to these three pillars of acting. What did the actors do and how? How did the audience respond to this or that? Was the space appropriate for this performance; did it allow the much needed interaction between the actor and audience to happen?
But when I saw rōzumarī’s performance, I was floored. rōzumarī prepared herself by drinking water or some drink from a beautiful brass tumbler. And while performing, she, as if osmotically and effortlessly, became everything. She stood there creating and owning a space of her own; as a moderator, anchor and guide of her performance, she needed no one to act as a conduit for communication; she’s the audience, who enjoyed the performance, and needless to say, she’s the performer.
Under the spell of rōzumarī’s words, each of us in the audience cupped our chins in our palms and were on a trip that rōzumarī was taking us through—sometimes to Kohima, then to the University of Delhi, then to the Nagaland of the 80s, or her childhood days, or Germany.
Divided into several parts with brilliant minimalistic illustrations by Asper Amar, rōzumarī’s book begins with “Defining Childhood”, a poem where you’ve an itinerary of things that she or her siblings associate their childhood with. It’s very telling of this poem that it conveys the limited reliance of our younger selves on things, those were absolute minimum, without which, we just couldn’t do, but carves a lifelong impression on our adult lives.
Then we’re introduced to “The Kikon Sisters”, a unique poem remembering a past, long forgotten, but very much etched in memories of the author. Describing a sensitive geographical region “where 150 years ago war-cries of tribal-warriors echoed on the misty mountains” and “where our parents gave us their most precious gift: their free-spirited genes,” rōzumarī is telling us about her home—where everything happened, where she and her siblings were raised and where they became their feminist selves—“74, Duncan Bosti, Dimapur, 797112, Nagaland, India, Our family house.”
It resonated with Amrita Pritam’s “Mera Pata” (My Address) in a way that at the same time it remains detached from it. In her poem, Pritam is telling us that if you find a free-spirited person, then there you’ll find my home, my address. However, rōzumarī is giving away the address, claiming the space where she and her sisters were educated to become free-spirited.
“I gently navigated my way out
from the opinion-war-zone of human relationships
to continue my journey alone towards my Sunset.”
It goes without saying that the first few generations after the death of James Dean were besotted with him. His death at such a young age made him a cult figure across the globe. And the reminiscences of the same can be found in rōzumarī’s poems, too, when she remembers her brother and all other Naga boys killed during the decades of conflicts. In a way, she’s using a great tragedy as a device to bring home the point that Naga lives were no less than that and mustn’t be forgotten so easily.
“O Blue Jeans
I keep them for a long time
inside my cupboard
hanging on to them,
one can’t easily part from
a good old friend.”
In her poem “Lost In Mother Tongue”, she takes language purists head-on, reminding them of their privilege when she writes: “like you; Mr & Mrs Native English Speakers.”
After saying, I do — long, long time ago,
What is the state of our love now?
We are both shit scared to part ways,
so we pass our time,
slowly dragging without a purpose
this stinky dead donkey called marriage,
out of our sheer boredom
In yet another beautiful poem “Context Lens”, rōzumarī critiques the domination of a few cultures over others, highlighting how ignorant and arrogant people from one geographical location are toward others.
It’s only when we human beings,
a painful mind surgery
to repair our permanent cultural context lens,
that this culturally imposed
false sense of Superior is corrected.
In that beautiful, artistic space, where rōzumarī’s book was launched, I waited to get my copy. I didn’t jump right away, although I was aware that I must leave early as I had to go to northeast Delhi, which was recently turned upside down by communal violence. I realized many wanted to talk to her, hug her and get their copies signed. I meanwhile busied myself to have tea.
When I came to get my copy from rōzumarī, first I got a warm hug. After which the search operation began. I wondered what she’s doing. She said that she’s finding my copy, I told her that I could have any and she can sign it, that’ll be all. But she said she’s especially brought a signed one for me, with my name and a postcard in it. I offered help, and the first book that I picked up was mine. “You knew your copy, see” she smiled, but I figured she’s in awe. It’s one of those moments which she described in her poem “Between SFO & Tokyo” when she lost the “Friday the 8th of January 2016!”
But unlike what the poem says, nothing was “lost among the dead stars”, and no one was “lost in mid-air,” I made my way toward the metro station after learning that a guy who promised to meet me didn’t turn up, that guy who’s so surprised that writers use dating apps, too. In the middle of the rains, I was smoking Godang Garam when the guard outside the theatre asked me, “Ye lambi chalne wali hai na…” (It’s the one that lasts long, right?)
I don’t know what or what will last long in this world, but the memories shaped by violence, discrimination; of love, loss and longing, surely last long, but can only last long till we remain alive. However, through the documentation of those memories, which rōzumarī’s poems are all about—mapping and understanding a vulnerability with a poem one and more at a time—these memories achieve immortality.