Sunday, 23 December 2012

My Kohima

Mornings over Kohima town begin shrouded in mist. Most mornings I am awake at 5.00 am and awed by the sight of the mist veiling the houses and hills, giving my beloved town an aura of peace and serenity. I know that the mist as a literary metaphor is over used in our day. I am nigglingly aware of that, yet I need to use it again to convey an image that is familiar to all of us.

Every morning in the past week, as I stood facing southward, I have seen dark hill silhouettes before me with pinpoints of light on its slopes. In moments the scene would be overtaken by a murky morning light that made some of the house-lights disappear. In their place, smoke would begin to ascend from early morning fires.

While it was still dark, I saw a sliver of moon and wondered if that was the last glimpse for some time to come. I made a mental note to check when the lady in the sky would grace us with her return. Hopefully it would coincide with the Christmas week. The dark township reminded me of a phrase from a favorite poem, “Nocturne” written by my guru in the English language, Nini Lungalang. She spoke of her “dream-drenched” child deep in sleep as she drew the curtains of night. I too have seen my Kohima before early dawn, fast asleep and dream-drenched. And I sent a prayer out over its roofs and crowing roosters, the oft repeated prayer on the lips of all who love her as I do. Peace, God's peace over my hometown. Dreams of God's love over her sleeping denizens.

This is the town that Senti Toy calls home and sings of from faraway New York. This is the young-old township that will touch my heart like no other can. There are many others for whom Kohima is not this present sprawling semiurban, hardened cityscape which makes outsiders wonder what we see in her.

I miss you Kohima of my youth and childhood.

One Sunday afternoon in 1973 we borrowed a friend's father's car and pooled in our meager resources to buy five litres of petrol. I gave up my worldly savings which amounted to two rupees and fifty paise, and the neighbour boys and my older siblings chipped in each with five rupees until we reached the grand sum of twenty five rupees. That was enough to buy five litres of petrol.

We drove some distance out of town and parked near a dried river bed and ate some katta biscuits and shared a bottle of banana juice which was slightly fermented. Our outing didn't last long enough because one of the boys suddenly got stung by a bee and his left eye swelled to alarming proportions. So we hurried back into the car and headed toward Kohima. Near the BSF camp, the car sputtered to a standstill. The seventeen year old driver opened the hood and examined every car part he was familiar with. He then tried to start the car. After a few tries, he checked the fuel tank. His face crumpled. We were out of petrol. Five litres didn't really go very far. What would we do now? All of us discussed the matter desperately. The urgency of needing to get medical aid for our stung friend almost overrode the unenviable prospect of a long walk home. But a passing jeep owner recognised our borrowed car, stopped and gave us enough petrol to get home. Thus, all ended well and we were very grateful to our rescuer. It became a wonderful memory of what one could do to have fun if you were young teens and had time on your hands. Simply going for a drive could be so glorious because you were in the company of friends and allowed out for an outing.

The good old days in Kohima were truly good. I feel so privileged to have had the childhood and youth that I have had here. In later days, my friends and I have fondly recollected that Sunday escapade. We don't live in the past: we are grateful that we had a good place to grow up in. I wish I could recapture a bit of that old Kohima spirit and pass it on to today's generation so they could understand why people of my generation feel as we do about this little town. It is in many ways, our private Bethlehem. At Christmas, I pictured the baby Jesus born under a Kohima sky and waking up to church bells ringing as families scurried to church in their Sunday best. I grew up thinking the message of peace on earth, goodwill toward men was heralded to cowherds out in a khuti (cowshed) in a Naga field. And our Lord's Bethlehem was surely ablaze with red poinsettia at every turn in the road at his birth, else why call it Christmas flower?

Memories make a place what it is. Vivid memories of a childhood place where growing up was safe and in its own way, innocent. Now all that is left is to try and recapture it in words and stories because the black and white photographs of that era are not very good at representing how beautiful this town used to be. Still, I rejoice when I wake early enough while my hometown sleeps. I bless you uninhibitedly and love you for what you once were. Perhaps if I get enough people to bless you, my dear Kohima, you will be restored again, not just to what you were, but to a place truly worth loving.

Originally published at