Saturday 29 December 2012

Support for Nepali community in Nagaland

Are we failing our Nepali brothers and sisters?

The bed was too big for her. Lying in her hospital bed at Oking, the four year old looked smaller and frightened. She shied away from my touch. There was fear in her eyes as we stood around her bed. So this was the little girl who had been raped by a labourer who hailed from Jharkhand. My heart lurched within me and I fought back tears. Her father sat by her side. Her mother came in with her other child on her back. The family looked listless and without hope.

I have never felt so helpless before. I'm sure I was not the only one feeling like that in the room. The others were members of NorthEast Region Services Nepali Association (NERSNS) and Dimapur Gorkha Union (DGU) and Gorkha Public Panchayat (GPP), all men. The doctors said she would be discharged the next day but that she would need to be under observation for one month. She had not completely healed from her injuries and it was obvious that she had been deeply affected psychologically.

What are words when they cannot heal and comfort? Our words sounded like empty sounds, and I stood silently at her bed. The little girl and her parents were from the Nepali community. Her father had been working as a labourer at Senapati where he had taken his whole family. The rapist Raju Sorin, came from Jharkhand, and had worked alongside her father. On the pretext of taking her to see the Christmas carolers, he raped her in an empty shed.

This rape of an innocent child which happened in our neighbouring state, and was brought to our state for treatment, and was featured widely in our newspapers, has not received any condemnation from the Government of Nagaland and Manipur although the media had splashed it on the front page. In fact, the news was hard to miss on the 28th December when most readers were eagerly awaiting their morning newspaper after the Christmas holidays. The DGU had immediately sent information to NGOs and to the government. It followed on the heels of the death of the gang rape victim in Delhi. While the condolences for the Delhi rape victim were quickly forthcoming, there was silence on the Nepali child's case in the days following the report in the newspapers. A Facebook support group garnered one hundred and forty-one names in the space of one night. The supporters were both Naga and non Naga. This article is not written to accuse the government, rather to appeal to it to show that it cares for all its citizens, irrespective of religion or nationality.

The lack of support for the Nepali community is a blot on Nagaland. This is a community that has lived with us for longer than any of us can remember. In the years before the war, their forefathers peacefully existed in Kohima and other towns, contributing to the Naga agrinomy with their milk and vegetable production. They were an accepted part of the Naga community. They fought our wars with us, ousting the Japanese invaders with their Gorkha fighting skills and protecting this land thus. For many of them, the word home evokes Nagaland and not Nepal. Why then has there been no outcry from the social bodies against the atrocities committed on the Nepali womenfolk in the Naga Hills?

The post morten report on the brutally murdered Meena Rai is still not forthcoming. The Nepali community is waiting for justice. Why is this report taking so long? Mother of two Meena Rai was raped by a Bangladeshi national and horribly mutilated. The rape and murder happened two months ago on the 2nd of November 2012.Where is the post morten report? Why has it not been prepared till now? Her children and her community are still waiting for the report.

All that the members of the Nepali community are asking from the government is justice and protection. And from the Naga public, meaning churches, tribal groups, and individuals who care, support and voices that can join their lone cry for justice. The leaders expressly told me that they are not asking for money but emotional support.

The culprits in both cases have been apprehended and are in judicial custody. But for a people who have been greatly wronged, the long wait for a verdict is a violence against justice to the victims' families.

The same rape laws that are put in effect in Delhi should apply in Nagaland and the Northeast. It should not matter that the victim is a Naga or not. To anyone who opposes violence against women the differentiation should be seen as a continuing violence against the female sex.

If we fail to make our land safe for women and children of any caste or religion, how can we ever hope to make it safe for any citizen? The longer we dally in giving justice to the wronged, the more we encourage by our actions those crimes to continue. This is what happened in Delhi. Rapists were not punished harshly. As a result they continued to violate women without any fear of reprisal until it culminated in the indescribable murder of the medical student.

This is an appeal that goes out to all Nagas especially to those who have the authority to make a change. Please care about the worth of the sojourner in your land. They are no longer just sojourners now. They are peaceful inhabitants who are one of us. Our Christianity is to be lived in these situations, by showing love and support for the suffering within your borders, not by remaining deaf and blind to evil around us, and certainly not by allowing love to grow cold by failing to respond to situations that challenge the Christ in you. If you are not a believer, you are still a human being and this is a challenge to your humanity. Come forth, join hands, fight evil. That is the sign that you are a human being. Your tears are important, come and shed them. Come and pray and cry and work so that no girl child will suffer this fate again and that no woman will ever have to go through what Meena Rai did.

Originally published at here and here.

Background: A four-year-old Nepali girl was raped by a 24-year-old youth at Tongpanj Village, under Senapati district Manipur, on Christmas night. Read more about it here

Friday 28 December 2012

The wood apple tree

On a warm summer day in 2010, I was reading out a poem about blue lions and gypsy kings and freedom rainbows to a gathering of 300 people. Afterwards a young man walked up to me. He had unruly brown hair and a stylish black jacket. And he had tears in his eyes. "That poem...that's my poem!" he burst out, his tears uninhibitedly running down his cheeks. "I sat and listened to every word.

How did you know we have blue lions in our culture? You spoke of gypsy kings and rainbows and freedom. I am a gypsy and I am looking for my freedom rainbow!"

I don't remember his name and I may never recollect his face again. But I shall always remember his tears. Tears of gratefulness. It may be too much to call it tears of joy. We smiled at each other in a room full of strangers. And then we parted without saying anything more but with the mutual feeling of having connected, however brief. I have seen a similar sort of connection happening between two of my oral narrators some years ago. They were explaining a folk poem to me when they stopped at a verse and picked it apart completely, both of them rushing in with their own version of the meaning of the poem. They were in agreement on what the poem meant but the archaic language of folk poetry had so many layers to it that they were immersed in peeling off the layers and making sure that I could understand it all. But in that process, how they savoured uncovering the essential meanings of those words and tracing their etymological roots! Ah the magnetic magic of words.

Sometimes they would have different versions of the same poem and that would put me into a quandary as to which version to use officially. In the end I solved that dilemma by having version one and version two of the one poem. Though they gave me different interpretations, the conclusions of the poem always converged into one idea. That is the beauty of words, the beauty of poetry and of story. The coming together of thought and dream and wisdom. And every poem has a story to it. In the olden days, every folk tale was a poem and therefore the term poem-story could most aptly describe it. And all those stories perhaps came from a mother tree way back in time. Think of that. Imagine a wood apple tree in the middle of a winter forest in our hills. The yellow and red of ripened fruits covering the tree and weighing its branches down. A wood apple tree abundantly fruiting in season. The villagers say that the wood apple bears fruit only every second year. Picture that tree as a mother tree of stories, birthing our stories, bringing them to fruition so anyone who wants may come and pluck them from the tree. Picture all the wood apple trees in the forest as mother trees. And all the wood apples as stories. Billions of trillions of stories.

I believe in the unity of stories. A Sami singer once said she knew all my stories and for every story that I could tell, she had one that could match mine. And she did. She had a bear story for my bear story, and she had more stone stories than I could recall. The same thing happened with a Berber woman who throat-sang her stories to my stories. Story is the nicest of connectors. Story has been there from the beginning of time and every human being can find shared elements in Story. Like a strand running through all human lives. Like the wood apple tree from which every generation plucks and eats. Without that connection we wither, we slowly become lesser.

Originally published at

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

Monday 3 December 2012

Please write in English when you are writing in English

The bane of the English language in our times has been youth and the language of the SMS. I was horrified to get an email from a student who wanted information on certain rituals for her PhD work. No it was not the ritual she was enquiring about that horrified me, but the way she wrote her email in SMS lingo made my entrails squirm in repulsion.

It was incredible that a student could conceive of writing a letter of an academic nature and use abbreviated English to pose her questions. I know for a fact that my old English teacher would refuse to answer her question. And she would never leave the case at that either. My old English teacher was a stickler for grammatical correctness. She would definitely have considered that email blasphemous and highly detrimental for young children with their impressionable minds. She would have taken it upon herself to protect future generations by personally executing the offender and burying her in an anonymous mass grave.

Luckily for the PhD student, I am more mercifully inclined. I answered her mail and made it a point to spell each word out in full and not use their abbreviated forms. I hoped I was setting an example which she would catch on (I mean if she was a PhD student, then surely she would have the required intelligence to do as I did, wouldn't she?). No such luck. She replied me after a month with a curt note similar to the following monstrosity:

Thnx xo muj, opin 2 hv a gd tym n opin u r fyn thea.

Yea sure, I'm also opin you will learn to write in English as your research progresses. I didn't press send after I typed that. I deleted it and wrote something more polite. But I wish I had had the guts to tell her to pull up her socks and blooming get her k's and h's together. It looked like she had migrated from the nearest suburb in a great hurry and left them behind her. Each time I open my email I breathe a sigh of relief and send up thanks if I don't see her name in my inbox.

But surely life cannot go on like this. I mean there must be some way of penalising students and members of the public who torture others with short message service emails and messages. I want to know if educational institutions are accepting answer scripts written in SMS. I wonder if nightmares have come true for many teachers as they find assignments submitted like this:

AlXNDR d Grt Nvded Ndya N muj of Urop. Hi ws opin 2 hv a gd tym thea.
Bt hs kapten dyd n mani of hs hrses dyd on d way so hi cud nt achiv wat hi wntd.
In oder wrds hi cud nt hv a gud tym thea.

I truthfully want to resuscitate/resurrect my old English teacher and more of her ilk. I am thoroughly convinced that the English language has to be taught with an iron hand again. And it is not just grammatical abuse; the grammatical failings are the tell tale signs of something much darker in our society. It is a whole way of life and shows how slip shod we have become in our habits. We put in the minimum of effort and if we find short cuts, we use them unashamedly.

Language is a reflection of society. The highest periods in any society have also been the times when its language was at its most prolific. Greece in the 5th century. Elizabethan England and Marlow, Spencer and Shakespeare though the bard was a latecomer. Our oral narratives had some of the most beautiful metaphors but their time is past. We have ingested too much of the written word now to find any room for orature. And we sit by our computers and mobile phones and type out sms trash? Does that mean we are spiralling toward the end of our civilisation?

It is probably linguistically deductable that we are very close to Armageddon now. Our communication abilities show every indication of that. Two letters of the alphabet or even one have come to represent whole words. I infer from that that if we start seeing SMSes sent as punctuation marks, that is definitely our cue to evacuate planet earth or risk total decimation.

Originally published at

Sunday 2 December 2012

Easterine Kire’s new books hit the stands

‘Jazzpoetry & other poems’ and ‘Dinkypu’ released

MLA & Advisor, MTF, Dr Nicky Kire seen here with author   
and poet Easterine Kire during the release of the latter’s books.
KOHIMA, DEC 1: Jazzpoetry and other poems, an eclectic collection of poetry and a delightful children book, Dinkypu, written by celebrated Naga author & poet, Easterine Kire were released by MLA & Advisor, Music Task Force, Dr Nicky Kire today at Kisama Bamboo Pavilion in the writer’s stall, housing several book titles she has produced over the years.

“Jazzpoetry and other poems” is already out in German and is a collection of her poems in two sections, jazzpoetry and the rest of the poems written over the last ten years. The jazz poems are from a concert by the band Jazzpoesi consisting of saxophonist Ola Rokkones, drummer Jon Eirik Boska and poet Easterine Kire.

Speaking to Eastern Mirror, the renowned author said it is a new form of art they are trying for the first time in the Norwegian and European countries and have, so far, performed in Vienna, Oslo and Sweden respectively. She also disclosed that few schools in Nagaland have also expressed interest and, in this regard, expressed hope that they would be able to perform in the State next year.

The other book, Dinkypu, is her second children’s book in the Barkweaver series and has been illustrated by English artist Rebecca Sands and coloured by Kevilezou Z. Kevichusa. Ideal for children aged between 5 and 10 with beautiful illustrations, Dinkypu is set in Northern Norway. The interesting aspect of the book is that it includes Dinkypu’s Song with lyrics by Easterine Kire and Music by James Angel.

Easterine’s poetry has been translated into German, Norwegian, Croatian and Uzbek, wherein some of the poems have also appeared in the European Constitution in verse. The first poem of her newly released book, ‘Trumpet in Tunnel’, is used in the preamble of the European Constitution.

Jazzpoetry and other poems is priced at Rs 120, while Dinkypu costs Rs 250. Both the books are published by Barkweaver Publications in collaboration with Ura Academy.

Originally published at See also the books section.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

November Remembered

On my way back from church this morning
I saw cherry trees blossoming by the wayside
their small pink faces opened out to the cold
I pointed them out to you
and when I turned back
you had cherry blossoms in your hair.

A week ago, I saw a photograph someone had taken of a cherry tree in bloom. Instantly I conjured up for myself the brilliant blue of our November skies over the pale brown of newly harvested fields. In some places the bright yellow sunflower would be blooming fiercely like a Van Gogh painting come alive. I've never thought of it before but November must be the prettiest month in our hills. There is the blue vanda that flowers in this month and even shabby roadside houses are transformed by the blue clusters tied to young trees in the outside yard. I love to describe the month of November to newcomers and strangers. They have no equivalent to our colours and flowers. European cities are cold and bare in November. The trees that were ochre, yellow and russet two months ago are  leafless now. A dark rain has left the streets puddled and dangerous for pedestrians. The sun has long gone and become a distant memory that will be recalled only in the new year. Nature has closed shop and is going into hibernation.

Back in high school, I could not grasp the concept of animals going into hibernation during the winter months. To think of bears and smaller animals sleeping through the winter sounded like something that a Disney movie had made up. I'm a believer now. Hibernation, the state of inactivity in animals and metabolic depression makes absolute sense in the context of light deprived peripheral territories such as the north of Europe. Predictably life slows down and, strange though it might sound, the dark months bring people closer together as they find they have more time to sit around family dinners or simply spend time with friends. In Vienna several Christmas markets  sprout up as early as mid-November. The markets sell food, hand-made goods and Christmas goods. Big areas are decorated with lights and fairy tale themes. In the darkness, the lit up markets and recreated landscapes from Hans and Gretel are every child's dream come true.

Beautiful but very far from our blue-skied month. I close my eyes and think of Novembers past; how the sky would get so blue that it hurt your eyes to look at it, and the cherry trees that made pink blobs upon the forest cover. Many years ago, we climbed Japfü in the month of November, starting our walk after midnight. It was a moonlit night and the leafless trees near the summit appeared ghostly in the light of the moon. At the rest house the dew fell from the roof to the ground in great drops. And in the early morning we reached journey's end and Kohima lay below us like a jewel, tin roofs glinting in the sunshine. It had been worth every bruise in our aching backs.

I don't expect to climb Japfü again in this life. I share my memory of November in my beloved land because nostalgia has swept over me at the sight of that photograph of a cherry tree in bloom. But Japfü beckons younger hearts and legs and backs. Don't disappoint her. Do the journey in November: your memories will tell you did the right thing.

Originally published at

Monday 12 November 2012

The narratives silenced by war: the Barkweaver project of peoplestories and folktales

"Of the many narratives silenced by war, the folk tales of the Nagas suffered a long period of being silenced. This was because folk tales require certain settings in order to be told. The Naga war with India, after military operations began in 1956, destroyed the settings for oral narratives. One may not think that something as simplistic as a folk tale would need to be approached with ritual and ceremony in order that its narration might take place. But it does. The folk tale belongs to eras of relative peace in the village community..."

Read more at "The North East Blog"

Monday 8 October 2012

We want Per!

He reminded me of a hobo, the same hungry look, piercing eyes and four-day-old stubble. Such a jagged quality to him. I thought to myself, oh my, Tom Waits' voice probably looks like that. Sort of smoked, dragged in sand and hung out to dry in an unkind northerly wind. True to form, he shouted out raggedly, "Shut yer mouth!" to the trumpeter introducing the band, Rik og Berømt (Rich and Famous), to the eager audience. It was a rough joke of the type that the band was used to.

I sat expectantly on the edge of my chair: this promised to be more than just another concert of jazz music. The band got underway and they played two songs before Per, the Tom Waits of the evening, got on stage. To my surprise he swung into a romantic number and caught me completely off-guard. Oh he tried to look the part, he had donned a suit like the rest of the band, but he still managed to look unkempt. Wonderful! If I closed my eyes, I could picture a young Frank Sinatra hitting those notes as Per serenaded his audience effortlessly. In the middle of love song, he sprang offstage, sidled up to a blonde and sang close to her ear while still holding the mike.

I however, was a trifle disappointed with his smooth voiced renditions. At the end of the second set, voices went up, "We want Per, We want Per!" and Per came back with gusto to sing a repertoire of songs that were more suited to him. In the middle of another song, he jumped offstage, and sat amongst his cronies, sipped from a glass of beer and then sprang back onstage and continued singing. It was so nonchalant it totally changed my way of looking at concerts. Why shouldn't a singer do just that? Why shouldn't he embrace the audience as Per had just done and make them feel he was also one of them? The rest of it went marvellously well.

The concert came to a close an hour past midnight. The night was no longer young. The ships on the harbour outside were unmoving and autumn rain had left the city streets puddled and gravelly. And a salt wind blew into my face as I walked home. It was just what I needed to end the night with.

Monday 16 July 2012


Listening to a very interesting talk on dreams by Mark Virkler. He says that we spend one third of our lives asleep and that stuff happens to us in dreams, communication is going on while we dream. I want to find out more about this.

The Angamis always say, 'Listen to your dreams,' when they need to take an important decision in their lives, be it marriage, a new business enterprise or travels. Why should that stop being relevant to us in this day and age?

Sunday 15 July 2012

Abandon ship!

I got to chapter 14 of a new novel I was writing when it began to feel all wrong. It wasn't writer's block, it was something much more serious. The story was weighing my spirit down so surely that I began to think, perhaps I should not continue. The more I thought of that, the more the heaviness lifted from me.

I believe that books have souls, oh not in the same way as humans have, but there is definitely something of the soul of a book that passes into the souls of readers and I certainly wouldn't want to give my readers the weighted experience that I had before I abandoned it. I have begun two other new story/books after that and  there is no going back to the old one.

If a book does not offer faith, hope and love or one of these three, it probably should not be written. That's just me speaking. 

Saturday 2 June 2012

A Terrible Matriarchy revised

Very good learning experience this. I am revising A Terrible Matriarchy for the second edition. Nagaland University has it on its syllabus for English Major students as a compulsory paper. Yay! I am editing grammatical mistakes and happy to get an opportunity to revise and edit again. I do subscribe to the school that believes in revision. It is a synonym for improvement and why should anyone have anything against that. That last sentence is  not a question.:P. 

Monday 21 May 2012

Cultural theft vs. the gift of other eyes

Some years ago a plainsman came to the village of Khonoma in Nagaland. He made the acquaintance of an old woman who was a healer and a herbalist. Badgering her for many days and offering her a sum of money that was very large for a simple village dweller he made her part with the secrets of her herbal knowledge.

In a separate incident, a female research scholar from a state in eastern India gleaned a lot of information on Naga women. This took place in the nineties. The focus of her study was the physical and mental problems that Naga women endure in the midst of a political conflict. The scholar sent out questionnaires to several educated people in Nagaland without revealing her intentions. She then used that information to promote herself as an expert on Naga women and was invited to international seminars where she represented the case of women in conflict situations with special reference to the women of Nagaland. By virtue of the knowledge she received from the questionnaires, she made herself an authority on Naga women.

In yet another case, a woman from Vancouver has been regularly traveling to Nagaland to bring back Naga artefacts to sell at a huge Vancouver fair each year. Museums in Europe pay high prices for Naga artefacts sold by non-Naga traders. Cultural theft of Naga lore, that is the treasure of native wisdom, and theft of Naga crafts is happening at many levels.

Cultural theft is a big issue that has not been addressed yet in Nagaland because people are not aware that theft is taking place. Even today, Nagas readily part with their handicrafts and information on their culture because they do not realise that it is being traded for money in an economically global world or for intellectual rewards in the academic world.

It was saddening to see that a writer from another Indian state was used by the department of Art and Culture to write a volume of Naga folktales. The said volume was published by a Delhi-based publishing company funded by the government of Nagaland. I consider that as cultural theft aided by our own government. It is ludicrous to think that a writer from North India could do a better job of writing down the folk tales of the Nagas than the Nagas themselves.

It is equally preposterous to conclude that a non-Naga scholar could represent Naga women and advocate their pain better than Naga women scholars. These are thefts going on without checks. The whole question of cultural theft came to me when I was invited to an exhibition on the Nagas entitled, Jewels and Ashes. It is being held from January to June 2012 in Vienna's Museum for Volkekunde. It is a remarkable collection of Naga jewellery, and material objects of the Nagas by Austrian anthropologist Christoph von Furer Haimendorf. The anthropological collection was done in the late 1930s as well as after the Second World War. Haimendorf was well known to the native population and he paid handsomely for the items he was buying from the villagers. At the exhibition, Haimendorf's collection was supplemented by other museum collections in recent years.

Could the items in the exhibition be considered items of cultural theft? I asked myself. The answer was no. The original collectors had taken immense care to set up an archive for the Naga collection. In the intervening period, the cultural objects have been given legitimacy and new status and identity in Europe. The caretaking of these items by the museum made spiritual repossession possible by its former owners. Added to that, they have increased in value by being imbued with the gift of other eyes. Viewed by other eyes and deemed valuable and artistic by other eyes, they have received new life and become more than just cultural objects.

I observed that the museum's attitude to the objects was completely different from the previously mentioned cases of theft: for the museum, the exhibits are culture-carrying artefacts which should be displayed properly so they can point back to the culture they came from. It elicited deep appreciation in their Naga owners and reinforced the desire to protect the cultural treasures that they still have. It also eliminated the sense of shame that frequently plagues cultures that have been colonised in the past. There are several things that the Vienna exhibition achieves. The foremost is giving visibility to a remote mountain region as Nagaland was referred to at the 2008 basel exhibition. The interest taken in Naga culture by European audiences is becoming contagious. It greatly helps Nagas to try and understand their own cultures and look with new eyes upon their culture. It is an action that participates in a significant way in putting back value into that which was devalued by colonisation.

Cultural theft in the Naga case, has all been about people taking our knowledge and the opportunities that go with it. Beginning with the Naga exhibition at Museum der Kultur in basel, that is being turned around to some degree. The basel and Zurich exhibitions of 2008 gave great visibility to the Nagas. And now, the Austrian media has featured the 2012 Vienna exhibition prominently, with carefully balanced interviews and good reporting. It prioritised the opinions of the owners of the cultural objects and the knowledge that goes with them.

On the items in the museum, some are objects of art carefully wrought by hand. To me it means that people had the time to sit and create things with their hands, that there were long periods of peace where they could exercise the expression of their creative talents. This is such important information because it disproves the stereotypical image of the Naga as the incessantly feuding, bloodthirsty, barbaric head hunter, primarily preoccupied with battlesport. The objects in the museum which have come from a region which is stereotyped even among the Nagas themselves (as the last region of headhunting and barbarism), actually show great artistry and craftsmanship. I love that the exhibition opens up these other  levels of Nagahood. It challenges the onlooker to look at the Nagas beyond the confines of stereotypes. There is more to them than the headhunting. There is more to them than a long drawn out political conflict. There is more to them than the festivals that draw in tourists once a year.

This challenging of stereotypes is another point that distinguishes the exhibition from cultural theft. In the cases of cultural theft, the thief perpetuates the stereotypical ways of looking at Naga culture. It allows room only for the thief's representation and makes no room for the voice of its authentic owners. Fifteen years ago, I was acquainted with a group in Meghalaya who were intending to patent both their botanical wealth and their folklore. Nagaland has no such strategy yet, but the threat of theft is more than real. Closing our cultural borders to outsiders is a strategy that will seem strange to us. But there are few alternatives for protecting our knowledge from those who are using it unscrupulously. In a manner of speaking, they are stealing from our children because they are staking claim to knowledge that legally belongs to our children.

Cultural theft is a generational crime. It is not much different from stealing a priceless heirloom that has been in the family for generations. But it is worse than that because it is actually stealing from the future and creating confusion about ownership. It is an insidious crime because it uses the assistance of government machinery to legitimise it. In the name of research, non-Naga scholars are continuing to commit cultural theft. Naga culture needs all the protection it can get so that the next generation is not doomed to having their culture dictated to them by an 'expert' from another state.

Originally published at The North-East Blog and Eastern Mirror Nagaland

Saturday 5 May 2012

Bitter Wormwood in Hindustan Times

Yes, Bitter Wormwood got a review in the Hindustan Times, but the reviewer sadly defines the Naga struggle for independence as insurrection. Readers, we shouldn't just rejoice when Bitter Wormwood gets some space in the national dailies.

There was on the whole, negative and incorrect information given between the lines. For instance, there is a general statement that implies the entire Naga population supported the Indian National Army and the Japanese during World War two. But the reviewer doesn't seem to know that if not for Naga help given to the British forces, the Japanese invasion of India would never have been thwarted. True, there was a very small group of Nagas with the INA, but the majority of the Naga population in the villages and beleaguered hamlet of Kohima helped the British government oust the Japanese from the Naga hills, and prevented them from reaching their real target: INDIA. When you get the opportunity, read the writing behind the big memorial at the war cemetery, behind, not in front of the memorial.

So read carefully guys!

There is also unfortunately, a hint of the typically dismissive attitude so common in big city journalists towards the Naga case or towards the Northeast, in this review. I think good reviewers are the ones who do not commence to read a book with already formed opinions about the content.

Tuesday 28 February 2012


Every culture uses masks. I guess it is necessary to social survival. We couldn't possibly face each other again if we had seen each other without our masks, could we? If we allow others to see our secret fears, we would feel vulnerable and opened out and susceptible to attack. Wouldn't we or would we?

There is actually freedom in unmasking oneself. It is a feeling that overwhelms with the great sense of being liberated from the thought that there is no need to hide anything anymore..this is a thought I want to develop more later in a book or a short essay.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Let’s hear it for the postal services

The Nagaland post office is in line for a big kudos. Overseas readers report that parcels sent before Christmas reached them safe and sound before New Year’s and just after the New Year. That is very good progress indeed. A far cry from the days when sending a parcel from India was a matter of uncertain and unintended adventure. Misadventure is the more appropriate term because packages went missing and never reached their appointed destinations. Important documents and also packages of a personal nature containing loving gifts would go missing and never be heard of again. Honestly there was a time when sending a parcel was not very different from dropping it into a big black hole. If the postal gods favored you, it would be delivered. If not, ask not where it went or forever hold your peace.

Parcels sent from Nagaland were dispatched to assigned Indian cities such as Calcutta designed to deal with the troublesome north east. I presume there were a team of trained hardcore professionals with looks on their countenances as unrelenting as a registered seal. (You know the sort: their first cousins used to man Immigrations and customs at Calcutta airport). I imagine they sniffed at every parcel from the North east, performing this duty personally instead of assigning the sniffer dogs to it. Perhaps they were sending out anti national elements in all these badly wrapped, marking cloth covered packages from the northeastern states. For whatever reason there be, only one in a million parcels from Nagaland ever found its way to the target.

But now, ladies and gentlemen, glory halleluia, reports are trickling in from the front line of parcels that have made it to the addresses they were posted to! Those brave little parcel-soldiers running past intermittent gunfire and mortar shelling and perhaps guided missiles whilst whizzing their way over Afghanistan or Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan! Cheer them on, come on give them a loud hurrah when you see them coming through! That’s Turkey that they have crossed now. Well done fellows, it’s not long now, not much longer until you are on the safe shores of Mother Europe. Come on, one last heave and we are home!

The applause of the cheering crowds for the parcel soldiers is stupendous. It almost sounds like it would bring down the house. The chairman stands and holds up his hand for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the postal services for this amazing feat of successful parcel delivery! Hip hip hurrah!”

The curtain comes down slowly even as the applause continues unabated. Fade out.