28 September 2009

‘I Want To Disengage From The Activist Mindset’

Mizo poet Mona Zote, 36, shuns both the overtly political and the sentimental

THE QUICKEST WAY to introduce Mona Zote is to describe her double life: by day, she works in the Income Tax department; by night, she’s a poet. But Mona is quick to refuse easy romanticisations. “It is discordant but having this job keeps me balanced. You meet people with different needs: it keeps you connected to everyday life here”. Reading her poetry, one sees what she means. In ‘What Poetry Means to Ernestina in Peril’, she writes, “Poetry must be raw, like a side of beef/ should drip blood, remind you of sweat/ and dusty slaughter...” In another poem, ‘Rez’, her voice is even more bitter, ironic: “if they ask you about life on the reservation/ if they say they want to hear about stilt houses/ and the dry clack of rain on bamboo/ and the preservation of tribal ways/ give them a slaughter.”

But Zote gleefully informs you that ‘Rez’ came out of an obscure news item about a shootout on a Native American reservation. She does acknowledge she was “wrestling with things here too – but not just the Northeast. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re all in our own reservations.” An IAS officer’s daughter, Mona spent her childhood in Bihar before moving to Mizoram in her 20s. “Maybe I came with fresh eyes,” she muses. “But if you’re sensitive and wield a pen, you can’t help writing about things around you.” The violence, the museumisation of tribal life, the stifling grip of the Church have all figured in her work. But she’s ready to move on. “I want to disengage from the activist mindset,” she says, “but I don’t quite know what will come after.”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 36, Dated September 12, 2009

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