We were at Khonoma. A few were given accommodation in the home stay and the rest of us would be closer towards the centre of the village. Victor was the guide. We noticed that even though there was space for him in the front seat next to the driver, he was hesitating to sit because there was an older lady sitting in the front and spreading out the space with her bag, bottles and all kinds of crap. All of us were accommodating except her.
The poor guy was standing holding the vehicle while we were moving. The lady didn’t have the courtesy to budge a bit. Bhim and I got out and made him sit with the driver. I know these could be little things but seriously one requires just a bit of common sense and etiquette and that older Bengali lady had anything but that.
The inn was beautiful and our room was luxurious. The moment Ratan checked in on us, we were like Ratan, you are giving us Uber luxury comfort! A quaint boutique inn made with local wood, local architecture with a view. It was beautiful.
Victor showed us around the village. It’s history was fascinating. The village initially aligned with the Japanese and later switched sides to fight along with the British during the Second World War. He spoke with pride about his Angami tribe and the most famous of them all from their tribe, Zapu Phizo – the founder of Naga National Council and considered the Father of the Nagas.
His conflict, struggle and constant battle with the Indian government on secession of Nagaland. Victor was well versed and I don’t say this just as a guide but he could blend both his narrative along with the history of the village. The village was 100% green and we could see it. Not a single plastic or garbage. Plastic was banned and this was years ago. There were garbage disposal bins everywhere.
The agriculture was wet farming. Each person in the village knew about their lands and worked together as a community. No water wastage. Any water from the village directly went to the fields in step cultivation. Even the forest came under conservation. And the government had no say in it. It was completely overseen by this village. They would allot only a particular land in the forest for farming. The rest was kept untouched. They believed in rotation so no land was over tilled. It was rich and fertile.
Victor took us to different ‘kels’ a community kind of centre, the big huts where young men were sent to know about their tribe history, ancestors, rituals, from the elders. The elders were respected and given their due honour. It was fascinating. I remember one point Victor kept iterating, since we all have become Christians and with technology, we won’t have our traditions and culture to hold onto after sometime. It’s all going away.
He took us to the highest point of the village. This village had the biggest advantage. Covered by a spectacular landscape of hills and lush forests, it could easily be camouflaged and hence was protected. Even neighbouring villages took asylum in older times when there was war because of it’s isolation. To cut through them and reach there was near impossible.
The Nagas were warriors so when an English General managed to reach the village braving many perils on this journey, he was killed by the villagers. There was a memorial in his name in the village built by the British. I asked Victor about the Christian denomination, he was Catholic and in this village they had quite a number of Catholic families along with Baptistes.
It was just 4 pm but it got dark and really cold so Victor took us to a small cafe that served local ‘Uku tea’. Slightly sour, it was heaven when I sipped on it. He also showed us the old gate that protected the village with symbols of weapons and a bull. And I must tell you that in some homes, Dry Tulsi (holy basil)was hung. Yes! And it was fragrant and intoxicating. It numbs your senses.
As we made our way back to the inn, I noticed that the village was filled up with lights getting ready for Christmas. Every nook and corner had that warm glow of holiday spirit. I asked Victor how was their Christmas like? Like all Christians there would be a midnight mass followed by a bonfire where the people would congregate.
The manager of the inn had gone to Kohima so Victor was overseeing the reception. We had asked Ratan in the morning if we could have some rice beer, he said he will look into it. After chatting with Victor for some time, we went to the room to rest for a bit. Around 7.30 pm walks in our man Ratan with local beer and a smile! And then..😊
What can I say about three crazy people getting together and talking about every damn thing under the sun. Over rice beer and stuff, we spoke about being an artist and a genius. Can a artist be a genius? Are all artists genius? The conversation went on where we concluded and contradicted our own statements! I really don’t know how time passed by as we three kept talking, debating, pondering. I guess greens and rice beer do that, makes you question and probe more.😁
It was past 10.30 pm so we three went down to eat. They had kept food aside for us. If I look back at those times, those 3 hours were magic. A light heartedness existed with no baggage or judgement. It was time to call it a night. To be continued..