The article, “My sweet memories of Mizos” by S. Gurumanickam (Open Page, August 12, 2012), kindled my nostalgic memories of Nagaland. I was posted as a senior branch manager in Vijaya Bank for a two-year tenure at Dimapur, a few years ago. I was discouraged in every manner by my well-wishers not to take up this assignment as there was no certainty that I would return alive. (Isn’t this true of any of our cities in India?)
On landing at Dimapur airport with my aged parents, I had lots of surprises awaiting me.
Though Kohima is the capital, Dimapur is the largest city and commercial capital of Nagaland. More than 90 per cent are Christians and the rest are people from other faiths. All Nagas are tribals.
For one, I found the Nagas very genial, courteous and caring. The Naga society is very tolerant and welcomes people from other States who have come to earn a living especially in Dimapur.
The nature of my job sometimes took me to remote corners. The hospitality of Nagas is unparalleled anywhere in India. Any family, however poor, will not allow you to leave without having at least a cup of tea. This I found out when I used to visit Nagas for recovery of loans.
Naga women are enterprising and dominant in a majority of the families. They just don’t sit at home, cook and wash clothes. They do so many other things like weaving baskets, raising a nursery, and helping on farms. Women power in Nagaland is to be seen to be believed.
There are at least 10 major tribes in Nagaland. None speaks the dialect of the other tribe. So over the years a common dialect, Nagamese, was evolved. It is a mixture of Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and English. It does not have a script. The official language is English which is spoken by almost all Nagas.
Of course, Nagaland has its own problems. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) are two underground factions which are fighting for autonomy for Nagaland and for integration of parts of other bordering States (where the Nagas are in a majority) into a greater Nagaland. Sometimes, there is a lot of bloodshed with fighting between these two factions. They collect ‘taxes’ from the people to fund their activities. Surprisingly, Central government employees and bank staff are exempt from these ‘taxes.’
Today’s youths of Nagaland are westernised and anyone from outside Nagaland are called “plains people” or “foreigners.”
Once I visited a bar for a casual drink with a local Naga. (Though Nagaland is a “dry” State, liquor is available in plenty and several ‘bars’ are functioning openly.) A young man was having an argument with a teenaged girl at the counter. Suddenly, he smashed the glass counter with an empty glass and threw a couple of empty glasses on to the tables. One such glass narrowly missed our head. Surprisingly, nobody in the crowd was much bothered at what was happening. The girl was heard admonishing the young man for his behaviour. I asked my Naga friend what she was saying. He told me that she was not happy with his behaviour especially in front of ‘foreigners.’ That will give a bad name to Nagas. I told my friend, “Back in Hyderabad this would have created a mini riot and police would have been called and a few arrests made. Here nobody even seems to take notice of the event.”
“Don’t worry. The young man is drunk. He will come tomorrow sober, apologise and bear the costs of the damage,” said my friend calmly.
When we show solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils, Pakistani Hindus, Canadian Sikhs and American Indians, why do we neglect our own people in the northeast? No wonder they call us ‘foreigners’. There is not enough coverage of the happenings in the region in our mainstream media (with the possible exception of The Hindu ). As Mr. Gurumanickam has said, we have a lot to learn from the people of the northeast.
On the day of my departure from Dimapur, a tearful farewell was given by the Nagas at the airport. One elderly woman hugged me and said: “We are sorry you are leaving son. Someday, we will meet again. May God bless you.” That says it all.
(The writer’s email is shivkumar.b1957@