Published: 30th June 2021
The very first short story this PhD student wrote won her first place at a prestigious contest. This is how
It might be JoBeth Ann Warjri's first short story, but in no way does that mean that she hasn't been pruning herself for big moments likes these and others to come. Here's how she cracked the contest
Why did we not know about the Warjri clan earlier!', we fumed after our conversation with JoBeth Ann Warjri. But first things first, an introduction and explanation as to why we are talking to her now. So JoBeth is a PhD student with the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad whose first short story ever won first place in the Book Review Literary Trust's short story competition. "I've submitted poetry before but never a short story. So I was absolutely thrilled that I won this," she says excitedly.
Beginner's luck, you wonder? Not at all. Because to write Megalomania, she had to dig deep and introspect. "I think when you want to impose your idea of perfection on others, then it becomes megalomania. So it always emerges as a relation," says the youngster who hails from Laitkor in Shillong where she is back now, owing to the pandemic. After exploring megalomaniac tendencies within herself, the youngster penned this tale, sent it out in August 2019 and then forgot about it, only to be pleasantly (read extremely) delighted when she won the competition and the Rs 10,000 prize money that came with it in 2020. But she is onto bigger things already, which is why we decided to pick the 35-year-old's brain.
The protagonist of JoBeth's story, Megalomania, is a lonely person who is not okay with her loneliness. She wants to escape it by controlling how others live
So JoBeth is from the Khasi tribe, one of the major matrilineal tribes in the state. The clan she belongs to, as her name suggests, is Warjri. "Every community has their own stories, traceable to their primeval ancestors. These are the origin-based mythical stories that I want to track and tell from a diasporic perspective," says JoBeth who is also a Professor of English Literature at Northeast Adventist College, Meghalaya. So the story of her clan is that when a plague ravaged their village, it was the grit of an old woman who sat under a rubber tree that mysteriously ensured that they survived. "It's for this reason that Warjris are not supposed to chop rubber trees, we worship all trees, in fact, because they protected us from the plague," she informs.
JoBeth has spoken to the elders of various clans and has collected over ten such stories and is hoping to fictionalise them for the world to savour. Needless to say, it's a long-term project, but we are certainly excited about it. "Collecting these myths or origin tales from the perspective of women from those clans who trace their narratives back to female ancestors is what is keeping me occupied now," says JoBeth. And by doing so, she won't just uncover tales to satiate her own curiosity, but also educate eager souls like us who long to hear the tales of those women who made sure that even faith did their bidding.