Author: Easterine Kire
Publisher: Harper Collins
Mari is a gentle love story set in the midst of violence - the violence of a forgotten battle for Kohima.
It was a decisive battle that ended the Japanese invasion of India during World War II. It raged from April 4 to June 22, 1944, around the town of Kohima. Some of the fiercest fighting took place around the deputy commissioner's bungalow during the siege of Kohima.
It came to be called the 'Battle of the Tennis Court' because it took place on the front lawns of the bungalow with British and Japanese soldiers digging trenches at both ends of the tennis court.
The outnumbered allied soldiers were helped by the Naga villagers who acted as scouts and ammunition carriers. The siege lasted for two weeks till reinforcements arrived, but it took another two months to drive out the Japanese troops entrenched in the hills.
Easterine Kire relates the true story through her aunt Mari's memories and a diary she maintained during that momentous period. Kire paints a picture of the simple, easy-going life of the Nagas in the green, verdant countryside before they were engulfed in the life-changing war.
Mari is the story of a young Naga girl caught in the midst of the battle. Her family is dispersed as they are forced to leave their village home. Separated from her parents, Mari looks after her younger sisters. Through the weeks of the battle, the young girls move from one hiding to another to escape the Japanese soldiers. Short on food, they forage for herbs and greens in the forest and hide in cattle sheds.
Throughout this difficult time, 17-year-old Mari longs for her fiance, a British sergeant who is in the midst of the fighting in Kohima and is shot dead by a sniper just a day before the siege of Kohima is lifted.
Mari and her emaciated sisters return to Kohima, but the village has been destroyed in the artillery shelling; just three wooden posts are left standing in their house. The deputy commissioner suggests demolishing the ruined houses and building a new village, but the village elders are outraged. Levelling the houses would wipe out the old clan boundaries that are marked by the village walls and paths, and would lead to arguments and fights.
Eventually, the villagers are given timber and tin sheets as building material, and with some salvaged material from their broken houses, they rebuild their homes with each others help. The villagers clear the land of the mortar shells, grenades and other debris. They grieve for their lost kin, but once the mourning period is over, further grieving is discouraged as "it will anger the spirits". It is the Angami way to rebuild life after a calamity.
When spring returns in the year later, new grass covers the craters in the fields and the trees sprout again. And Mari seeks to remake her life and travels to Chandigarh to study nursing.
It is an engrossing story of indomitable spirit which brings to life a forgotten period of history. As Easterine Kire writes, the book "is not just Mari's story. It is the story of Kohima and its people".