Book: Laburnum for My Head
Author: Temsula Ao
Publication: Penguin India
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Dr. Temsula Ao (1945-), Nagaland’s most eminent contemporary folklorist, academic and author was born in Jorhat, Assam, British India. She is a poet as well as a short story writer. She collected Naga folklores and gave them her own innovative touch and identity. She received her M.A. in English from Gauhati University and her PhD from the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong. Later she joined North Eastern Hill University as a lecturer in English in 1975. She retired from service in 2010. From 1992 to 1997, she served as the Director of the North East Zone Cultural Centre.
Her most significant collections are:
Once Upon a Life: Burnt Curry and Bloody Rags (memoir, 2013)
Songs That Tell (collection of poems, 1988)
Her collections of short stories:
These Hills Called Home: from a War Zone (2006) Laburnum for My Head (2009)
She was honoured with Padmashri in 2007 and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2013 for her Laburnum for My Head. Her works have been widely translated into many Indian and foreign languages.
Laburnum for My Head
Her story collection, Laburnum for My Head is a slender volume comprising her eight short stories:
Death of a Hunter
A Simple Question
“ …stories live in every heart, some get told, like the ones on these pages…”
The book is named after the 1st story “Laburnum for My Head”
It is about a middle-aged woman, Lentina. She lives with her family in Nagaland. She possesses an obsessive desire to have a laburnum tree in her garden. She was engrossed and mesmerized by the beauty of yellow followers. But all her efforts to grow such a free in her garden failed. Her family never approved of her passion for such a tree Anyway her suppressed obsession found a way when her husband died suddenly.
At her husband’s funeral, she determined what to do to fulfil her dream of a laburnum tree. She decided to plant a laburnum tree in her grave in the place of a tombstone. So she along with her driver a faithful friendly man) bought a place in the graveyard and later shifted the place elsewhere. There she planted the tree. Gradually she became old and died when her dear tree flourished in resplendent.
Her next story Death of a Hunter narrates the story of a hunter, Imchanok who is renowned for her hunting skill. But the hunter who hunted vicious animals was haunted by their spirit. He finally gives up hunting.
“One day when he was alone in the house, he took out his gun from its sack and dismantled it. The next morning, Tangchetla watched as her husband dug a hole in the backyard humming a tuneless song. And in that gaping wound of the earth, he buried the boar’s tooth, the dismantled gun and Imchanok the hunter.”
We can discuss and interpret Ao’s story from the ground of ecological feminism that probes into the inter-relations between women and nature. Ecofeminism generally portrays the deplorable condition and victimization of women and nature by the patriarchal society. In her stories, Temsüla Ao portrays female characters who protect nature and also protect their identity through it.
“Stories live in every heart; some get told, many others remain unheard—stories about individual experiences made universal by imagination; stories that are jokes, and sometimes prayers; and those that are not always a figment of the mind but are, at times, confessions.”
The stories are narrated with great compassion and tenderness and a deep understanding of the human condition and emotion.
She is more a poet than a storyteller. That’s why her stories are easy to read, simple in approach and poetic in their flow.
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