Tales of misty mountains
Somewhere on the easternmost corner of India lies a land I call home, its mountains covered with blankets of cloud most of the time. The mornings are filled with chatter of little boys and girls on their way to school. It’s a small town, as idyllic as they come; little joys of life in abundance. Like eating jhal chana sold by an old couple whom I have known for as long as I remember. During the festive seasons, you would hear people on the streets late in the nights, singing old Bollywood songs. On rainy days, little boys, and even young men, run to the nearest ground to play football. And then everyone would go down to the stream to clean up. When they come home, there’s fire to keep them warm, accompanied by our classic strong black tea we call pika cha.
Country roads…they are broken!
For a very long time, I wanted to leave this place; not because I hated it. But because I thought I could never fit in with the town’s friendly people, being the introvert that I am. And yet, the breathtaking scenic views along the roads through Assam, that connects Mon with Nagaland’s commercial capital Dimapur and other places, always drew me back. It also meant that any disturbance in Assam, like a bandh call, would cut us off for days and weeks. But nowhere in the country would you perhaps find roads as broken as in Mon. Once in a while, there would be some sort of repairs but it is a miracle if they survive even six months. If only our roads were better, I wonder how much development they could have brought to our land. Maybe, our people wouldn’t have to travel so far to get better health facilities. Maybe there wouldn’t be so many cases of “it’s too late now”.
Life’s hard lessons
I remember sitting with a group of high-schoolers from our neighbourhood and listening to them as they ranted about how they wish to leave school and simply be. Another kid once told me how he hates a particular subject because he can’t understand what he’s being taught. And yet, in this remote district with almost none-to-little availability of basic needs, one would rarely find any literate people wanting to live here, let alone trying to teach in government schools in these villages where few can speak English. No wonder so many of our people aren’t even aware of the existence of AFSPA or what the draconian law truly means. But we know that our young men killed in Oting were innocent. I’ve had my fair share of being a witness to people taunting us for how “unsophisticated” or “backward” our people are. And I don’t say this with any bitterness. What can we do? We are geographically located in one corner of the country with so few resources or infrastructure to build our lives. Most of our youths are sent to earn a living, daughters sent as domestic help to bigger cities or towns to support their families, while young kids are employed as baby-sitters just so they can pursue their education in a better school. Every December, you will see bus counters in Dimapur and Kohima with the longest queues of people rushing to get tickets to home to Mon for the festive season.
Daughter in the land of kings
Naga society is patriarchal where women are usually given lesser opportunities in all walks of life. But the old order is gradually crumbling, trends changing. The challenges for a female in a tribal society is to give one’s best to overcome all obstacles. Sending a girl child to school was rare two decades back. Maybe, if I was around at that time, I wouldn’t have had this chance to share my story. But in the present scenario, females in a way are doing much better than their male counterparts. Broad-minded parents are now discarding the traditional custom of leaving out girls from inheritance rights. I’d say it’s a blessing in disguise to be born as a daughter in the land of brave warriors, especially in this era when we are witnessing constant changes in society. For, we know we can contribute towards building a better and stronger foundation for the coming generations.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Mon Diary")
H. Kemya Yanlem is pursuing her Masters in English from IGNOU