Batman: Reason (A play in one act by Ranju Dodum)

It’s been seven years since the Joker tortured and killed Jason Todd, only the second Boy Wonder to don the Robin costume on his young shoulders, and also the first to die doing so.

After an uncharacteristically quiet night in the dark alleys of Gotham, Bruce Wayne aka the Batman is taking slow sips of some of the finest that Tennessee has to offer.

Sitting slouched and with his back to his information centre, cowl undone, a look of remorse plastered across his face, this is not Batman. This is not The Dark Knight. This is not the legend that for two decades has instilled fear into the hearts and minds of the criminally corrupt and insane.

No, this is a man. A broken man. This, as he had always feared, underneath that mask is who Bruce Wayne really is. Broken.

Bruce Wayne: I should have killed him when I had the chance instead of putting him in Arkham Asylum. I should have killed him many years ago when we encountered so many times in the past.

Alfred Pennyworth: Would that have absolved you of your guilt, Master Wayne?

[Even in this moment of anger and grief, Bruce Wayne aka Batman keeps his calm and refrains from taking a rushed swig of the whiskey.]

Batman: No. No, Alfred. Perhaps not. But it is the not knowing that’s killing me. Paradoxical as it may sound, the knowledge of not knowing if I would have felt any less guilt had I killed him is the thing that’s killing me.

Alfred: Perhaps sometimes it is best to not know some things. Perhaps, there is some truth in the old adage that ignorance truly is bliss.

Batman: You know there’s no truth in that as well as I do, Alfred. If knowledge is power than doesn’t it mean that ignorance, not knowing, is weakness?

Alfred: The absence of sorrow does not mean the presence of happiness, does it now, Master Wayne?

[He ponders upon Alfred’s words. Alfred, who’s been with the family since his father Thomas and mother Martha were married and took over the role of running Wayne Manor from his father, Jarvis. Alfred, who made sense when the rest of the world refused to. Alfred, who now Bruce Wayne wished didn’t make sense.]

Batman: What fuels a man like Joker, Alfred? What drives so much insanity in one man?

Alfred [Pauses]: …who knows… Maybe a traumatic childhood or a series of failures as an adult. Who knows…

[Bruce takes a quick sip from his glass, walks towards the glass case housing Jason’s Robin costume.]

Bruce: He was troubled. Ever since the first day I met him, and till the day he died, he was always troubled. I don’t know if I ever did enough.

Alfred: You did all that you could, Master Wayne. Do not let the weight of responsibility and guilt bring you down. I don’t mean to imply that Master Jason was so far gone that he couldn’t be repaired but perhaps he was so damaged much before you caught him trying to steal the wheels of the Batmobile that night that he would have had to been remoulded from scratch. And if you did, he would not have remained Master Jason anymore. Perhaps he would have lost the essence of what made him, him.

[Alfred’s words sink in, slowly, into both Batman and Bruce’s consciences. Painfully.]

Bruce: Are you saying that the essence of who Jason was, that his very soul was corrupted to the extent that no matter how hard I tried or how much effort he put in, beyond redemption?

[Pursing his lips, Alfred takes out a votive glass, walks to the desk of the information console, and pours himself a stiff one. He takes a deep breath, and in one single gulp, downs the Bourbon.]

Alfred: Master Bruce, I don’t like to think that the world is divided into just two kinds of people; that from out of all the billions of people living and breathing today that one half of them is one way and that the other, another. That applies to the dead too.

Bruce: So what do you think?

Alfred: What I think is irrelevant, Master Bruce. What I believe is that at the end of the day we always have a choice how we play the cards we’ve been dealt with in life.

Bruce: Life is poker?

Alfred: In a way, yes. You can lose to someone who has a pair of deuces even if you have a chance of a royal flush. Now, you can wait for the river card but the most important decision is what you decide to do in turn.

Bruce: So we deal with the hands we’ve been dealt in the best way possible?

Alfred: Yes. And sometimes, we aren’t sure what the best way possible is. Not all of us are capable of owning the cards we’ve been dealt.

[Bruce Wayne morphs into Batman once again as Alfred’s words play on repeat in his head. Realising that his glass is now empty, he walks to the bottle.]

Batman (pouring the drink into his glass): What cards do you think Joker was handed?

Alfred: Perhaps we should have this conversation in a more sober mood.

Batman: Perhaps I wouldn’t want to have this conversation when we are sober.

[Some things need to said. Some conversations need to be had. Many of them, drunk.]

Alfred: I believe, Master Wayne, that the cards the Joker was handed are irrelevant. I believe that no matter what he had in his hole, no matter the flop, he would have gone all in before the turn and the river cards were ever shown.

Batman: Do you think he had a troubled childhood?

Alfred: As I said before, what I think is irrelevant. What I do believe is, is that two people may undergo the same experiences but that does not necessarily mean that they will react to those experiences the same way.

Batman: Do you believe he had a troubled childhood?

Alfred: Maybe he had a troubled adult life. But for your sake, I’ll say that maybe he did indeed have a troubled childhood. Maybe he grew up in Gotham and his parents too were killed on the same cursed night that your parents were.

Bruce: So maybe, that’s his motive. Maybe that’s what drives him. Maybe that’s what makes him the Joker.

Alfred: You had a troubled childhood.

Bruce (With a smirk on his face): I also had an Alfred to comfort me through the difficult times. Maybe he wasn’t heir to a multi-million dollar empire.

Alfred: Did that make it any easier for you?

[Silence engulfs the Batcave. In the dim greyness of this cave, the pain of the two men is echoed more than ever. What only lasts a brief minute, seems to stretch on forever.]

Bruce: Clearly not. I play dress-up every night and haunt the streets and skyscrapers of this city. Clearly, I am the maniac here. I’m the psychopath.

[Chuckling, Alfred pours himself a last peg; a large one at that.]

Alfred: No arguments there, Master Wayne, but here’s the difference- you chose to act differently. Maybe the Joker did indeed watch his parents die the same way you did. Perhaps they suffered an even worse death. Maybe he had and has his reasons for being and behaving the way he does. But that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s killed hundreds of people in his lifetime.

There are families grieving today because of him. Wives who are eating their mac and cheese alone because of the Joker. Young boys who will never play catch with their fathers or little girls who won’t get to braid their fathers’ hair when they read them bedtime stories. All because of one man’s actions.

Perhaps the two of you did share a similar childhood but you chose to defend a city that took away your world. He seeks to destroy it.

Bruce: You are saying…

Alfred: I am saying, Master Wayne, is that when you have every reason to become corruptible and yet you choose not to, that’s what makes you who you are. When you have every right to do the wrong thing and yet you choose not to, every night, every time you put on that mask, that is what makes the Batman, Bruce Wayne. Not the mythical, dark, hiding-in-the-shadows psychopath who clearly needs to see a shrink. But the choice you make every night is what defines you.


 

Note: September 15 is celebrated as Batman Day by fans of the truest superhero of all time.

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Colossal and the demon in me

A few weeks back I caught the Anne Hathaway-starrer, Colossal, and identified with it in a way that I least expected.

Colossal poster

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t watched the film yet but wish to, you should probably not read any further.

OK, with the mandatory spoiler alert warning set aside, let us begin.

Basic premise: The movie begins with Hathaway’s character, Gloria, coming home in the morning to her boyfriend after what was an alcohol-fuelled night out with her friends. Apparently, this has happened too many times in the past and her boyfriend, Tim, has her stuff packed and tells her to leave. Is this a break or a break-up? I don’t know and honestly who really does?

I mean, what does it even mean to be on a break? Or on a break-up? Does a break-up ever leave anyone feeling ‘up’?

I digress.

Gloria takes her things, moves back to her hometown where she grew up, moves into her parents’ old home that is now empty, and quickly runs into Oscar (portrayed brilliantly by the funny Jason Sudekis), somebody she went to school with.

After his father’s death, Oscar has been running the family bar where he takes Gloria in for a few drinks where he introduces her to his two friends, Garth and Joel.

During the course of the night, it becomes evidently clear that Gloria is kinda attracted to Joel, who happens to be a nice enough guy but someone who won’t really be able to hold an intelligent conversation for too long. But who am I to judge?

As one would expect, Joel tries to make a move on Gloria and for some reason, she pulls away. The timing is bad for Joel since that is when Oscar happens to walk back from the bar and to the table and sees Gloria backing out.

Now, I don’t know what the director and the script writer had in mind when they wrote that scene in but in my interpretation, Oscar isn’t too thrilled about his friend hitting on the girl whom he clearly likes. With men who hold themselves to a silly code of honour, not hitting on someone his friend likes is a no-go zone. Perhaps that’s what Oscar thought, I don’t know.

Anyway, after a night of drinking, at around 8.05 in the morning, Gloria gets out of the bar and begins making her way home. On her route is a park where she strolls around for a while before falling asleep on a bench. She then wakes up and heads home to sleep some more.

Around nine hours later, she wakes up to a call about some mysterious event on the other side of the world- a giant monster towering above skyscrapers has shown up in Seoul, South Korea, out of the blue making weird gestures. As she watches the news reel videos of the giant monster on TV, Gloria realises that she shares a connection with the monster halfway across the world and her actions are reflected by the creature.

Doesn’t take a genius to realise that this physical imitation of Gloria’s actions are also meant to be metaphorical- as the monster’s movements across Seoul leaves in its wake a trail of destruction, killing people and levelling skyscrapers -much the same way that her alcoholic ways damages her relationships and leaves a debris of dust behind her.

Did I see the parallels to Gloria’s behaviour to my own self-destructive pattern that has dominated my life for almost a year, now? Absolutely.

Whether individualists like me like it or not, people around us are affected by our actions. As much as we may wish for that to not happen, the actions of ours do end up impacting our families, friends, former friends, haters, lovers, and the ilk.

Our actions have a ripple effect, and the ripples do not just run linear or inwards- there are collateral damages.

What happens unfortunately is that for some of us, that pressure of knowing that our actions impact others only makes us spiral deeper into the rabbit hole.

I am an alcoholic.

I may have said this before but earlier I drank for no reason; now I have many. Am I making an excuse? Most likely, yes.

It would be nice to have our actions not have consequences but that’s not how the world works. But must we conform to every way that the world wants us to?

I am an alcoholic.

A couple of nights ago during a night filled with alcohol, rage, tears, and some misguided behaviour, I lost my little messenger bag which contained everything I had- my phone, power bank, watch, an external hard drive filled with films, and a wallet that contained little to no money but all my ID cards; for a few days I had no identity, so to speak.

It isn’t the loss of “things” that left me upset. No, it was the idea of what the incident represented that had my heart and head aching- why is this happening?

My wallet contained very little cash and ATM cards for banks accounts that had a total of 723 rupees in them. Meaning, I lost very little in terms of tangible value. What I did lose were two photographs of memories of what once was and what will probably never be.

Not to sound too self-serving or self-pitying, but I’ve been trying to pick the pieces of my life for about 12 months now in the most unhealthy of ways- drowning in alcohol. The morning after (and since) that night, I’ve asked myself several times- how low and how many times must I fall before I learn to rise up and walk?

I wish to confront the monster inside me in the same manner that Gloria did in the film when she flies out to Seoul and faces another robotic monster, and in a way faces her own inner demon.

In the final scene of the film, we see Gloria, having conquered her demon so to speak, enter a bar and order water. It seems like the moment when she has finally defeated her monster when the bartender puts a beer in front and she pulls a face.

The film’s director, Nacho Vigalondo, explained it best when he said: “I think it would be too cynical if she drinks again, and it would be too naïve if she prefers not to drink. The thing is when you’re dealing with addictions, I want to make something that people suffering an addiction can relate to and can understand. Sometimes in a movie when people stop drinking or stop taking drugs, or stop having a bad habit just because, that sounds really, really [neat]. So I have to leave the door open, because it’s not that easy.” (sic)

That’s the thing: many of us when we are damaging ourselves and wish to do something about it but not all of us can quit cold turkey. The intent is there, the action, not always.

Of course, we’ve all heard it more often than not that words and intent mean nothing if they don’t translate into actions. That the intent does not matter and only the actions do. But can every action in life be seen through those lenses? That the intent is inconsequential and the action is what matters? Are the two detached? Is my monster simply a manifestation of one aspect of my personality or perhaps, deep down, that is just who I am?

Rotten Tomatoes review: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/colossal/

 

Purple Days or (No Lasik For Life)

It’s just two minutes shy of 10.30 on a Tuesday night. The purple haze from what was surely meant to set a sexy mood feels like how every seedy place across the globe does. As in everywhere else, a familiar scene plays out here too: Young men trying to cavort with young women and old men trying to cavort with even younger women.

Some will succeed. Some will go home to the comfort of their right hand; snug in the knowledge that tomorrow is a new day and that tonight will be forgotten by the time the birds begin to sing.

The bartender lives up to the stereotype: moving about, chatting to customers, shouting out orders to his subordinates- the ones who aren’t on the same level of bartending skills as he is.

I once heard a character in a movie say that a quiet bartender can make patrons nervous. I agree.

My new frames seem to mask my identity a bit. No one bothers me until they get a close look under these lights.

I know, choosing a bar where I half-expect to know half the patrons and wishing to be left alone doesn’t make sense. But here we are. Here I am.

A young lad I am acquainted with looks through me, not recognizing who I am. For now, I let it be.

A young bunch of people I am supposed to know are sitting across the room behind me. But with my back to them, I don’t know who is who until one of them walks up to the bar to get the next round of orders. He doesn’t recognize me.

Thankfully.

Some days, I want to alone by myself. Some days, I want to be in solitude. Today, I’m not sure what I want.

My life, so far, has been a series of extempore speeches. Stumbling from one sentence to the next, leaving in the wake a line of “aahs”, “umms”, and “wells”. Not the most eloquent, I know. My autobiography wouldn’t read well. At all.

“Ranju Dodum: A Life in Extempore Speeches”.

Punctuated with ellipses; exposing the uncertainty that is my life; attempts to hide my insecurities, my fears, and all of that sadly makes up who I am.

Am I ashamed of who I am? On most days.

The new glasses may change the way I look, but can it change my vision metaphorically? Correct it even?

I suppose there is No Lasik For Life? I suppose not. #NLFL

Why do I write? I have never given that any thought until I find myself sitting on a bar stool with a pretty young girl who subtly asked me to move my messenger bag from the stool next to me so that she could sit there.

No, she’s not the least bit interested in me. No, her attention is reserved for the men beside her and her equally young friend. All of them bespectacled and half of me- both in age and in weight.

I would like to think in intellect, too. That’s one of the things I like to hold on to.

Although age may take away my youth, and the sparkle in my eyes may fade (the glasses help me hold on to them, barely), I hope to retain my mind with its memories and experiences (both the horrific and the honourable).

I think I write to unintendedly chronicle my life. What will we be if we didn’t experience all that life could offer? And not remember the life we’ve lived.

After all, that’s the one thing older people have an advantage in- a head start in life.

It is an hour into the night, hip songs off of Bollywood films have been blaring through the speakers. The dance floor holds up well to the stomping of high heels and platform shoes.

My mind wavers into thoughts: Do Arunachalees realise how indoctrinated they have been to what is mainland Indian culture?

Two hours into the night. Five pegs of whisky and one shot later, the mood is lifting, subtly.

But only momentarily.

The alcohol is doing what it’s meant to. My words are losing their way. The sentences, becoming shorter.

These “chapters” are getting smaller. Right now it is almost 3 AM. I am home. The rice has been set at the electric rice cooker with the faux chilly chicken resting easy inside the carton.

This is my night.

The sequel to depression

So, it’s been about a week since I uploaded that post about depression and ever since, I’ve had people reach out to me telling me about their own struggles with depression and/or asking me how I’ve been holding up. So I want to address a couple of things today.

Until I uploaded my post and people read it and gave me their feedback, I didn’t realise how rampant and widespread it was. People who have always seemed so jovial have been fighting the evils of depression for the longest of times; people who I always looked at and said to myself, “man, look at him, such a happy-go-lucky-guy”. Well, turns out I was wrong.

You see, depression doesn’t have a face. At least, it doesn’t necessarily have a sad face. More often than not, it hides behind a beautiful smile. That’s what I learnt in the past week.

Today is an especially hard day for me. I just wept my heart out. Writing this isn’t easy. I don’t know why I am doing it but here we are again.

Unlike the last post, there are some more serious issues I want to talk about today.

In the last post about depression, I wrote about what the heart feels and what it goes through. Today, I want to talk about what the mind makes you want to do.

As I said in the last post, I’m not an expert so my writing is simply just an expression of my own experiences and not/cannot be quoted for any academic writing of note.

SIDE NOTE: I have not made any progress in terms of moving away from alcohol to cope with my depression; in fact, this rant is a result of today’s development and a heady mix of beer and whisky.

So, I feel like I missed out on a few things the last time around.

While I did talk about the kind of emotions and experiences that someone like me goes through during depression, I did not touch upon the actual mental state that we experience.

Depression is real.

I hate to admit it, but it is. What I hate the most, is how being in a state of depression makes you feel lowly, unwanted, and unworthy. That is exactly what I feel right now.

What is worse is how your mind reacts to try and cope with those feelings of unworthiness.

The way depression works is, at the end of the day, you want to stop it. And depression’s answer to ‘ending’ it is by ending yourself.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t worry, I am not going to commit suicide and you will not be accused of abetment. I am too much of a coward to commit suicide. The best I can hope for is a head-on collision so that I don’t get blamed and also get absolved of my misery.

Disclaimer aside, suicide is also very real.

We all have our ways of dealing with depression, not all of them healthy, but we do. Many of us take to taking our own lives.  I would be lying if I said I did not contemplate that thought myself a few times. And if I was brave enough, I may have gone through with it.

But I am not.

The thing is, over the years, I have come to realise that our actions have a way of manifesting themselves not just in our own lives but also amongst those around us. And while as a younger man, I was always content with being content with myself, I have come to the realisation that my actions affect others.

We may be pre-teen kids whose seemingly innocent words may hurt an adult, or we may be adults whose actions may hurt children. We may think our acts are secluded and segregated from each other. But they are not. In order to satisfy ourselves, we are hurting so many other people around us that we do not even realise it.

Suicide, therefore, is not the answer.

Killing oneself is one of the ways to absolve/redeem oneself of their own deeds and misdeeds. Ultimately, we have to face our demons.

Have I thought about it? Of course, I have. But I know that ultimately, it will do more harm than good.

Until then, cheers!

 

The thing about depression is…

Depression is real.

I’m no expert on the subject so I will steer clear from the jargon (mostly because I am not familiar with them) and speak of my own personal experiences. How is it that someone so closed like me has chosen to write about it and put myself in such a vulnerable position? For a couple of reasons: a) I realised a long time ago that I am at my expressive best when I am writing instead of talking; b) we do not talk about depression enough; we do not have conversations about it enough; and c) while this is, I am hoping, a step towards healing myself, I also hope that anyone out there going through the same thing as I am should know that you are not alone and that you should know that.

And with that, let us begin.

First of all, let me skip the part about what is causing my depression because regardless of the reason, it is the experience of depression that I want to explore. We all may have our reasons- loss of a friend or relative, the end of a relationship, getting stuck in a professional rut -it doesn’t matter. What matters is how heavy the heart feels.

Depression, for me, really does not have a timeline or a time frame. The bouts of depression do not announce its arrival or end after a certain amount of time has lapsed. Those bouts come and go as they please. And only if you have experienced it, can you understand how the heart seems to sink during that time.

The best parallel I can draw is that it is similar (but not same) to the kind of mellow anxiety one feels before embarking on a journey. Using the words ‘mellow’ and ‘anxiety’ together may seem oxymoronic but that’s how (at least) I feel. A slow sadness overcomes your heart before it takes over your mind, and eventually over the rest of your body.

You are unable to think straight; your mind wanders off into the abyss; you can read a book a thousand times over and yet not grasp the plot.

Depression is real.

Your shoulders drop; you cannot hold a conversation well; you cannot look into someone’s eyes when you can hold a conversation.

Depression is real.

The heart? It slows down. It sinks before it slowly and painfully shrinks. You can feel it shrinking within the confines of your chest, showing no signs of expanding.

Depression is real.

How does one deal with it? I don’t know. I really don’t.

I drink.

I abuse my body by drinking an unhealthy amount of alcohol, slowly poisoning myself. Is it the best way to deal with the problem? Of course not, but it is the only solution I know of at the moment.

In a way, drinking to suppress my depression is the same approach I use to deal with any emotion other than love (love, I embrace)- to block it out, to run away from it.

I’m non-confrontational by nature and facing my issues, is the last thing I wish to do. I know that I cannot run away from them forever, but facing them doesn’t seem to solve them either. Not for me, at least.
Do not get me wrong; I am not in any manner of speaking endorsing that one should abuse their bodies the way I am doing. But I do hope that those of you out there experiencing depression can find your escape.

For those of you who are at a better place and have never experienced the darkness of it, know this: Depression is real.

Rewriting records and retelling history

A massive carnival concluded recently at Gujarat, seemingly to celebrate the ‘ancient’ link between mainland India and the country’s mostly-neglected Northeast region (a term that is more reflective of a region rather than a single cultural unit).

On March 25, on Ram Navami, the annual Madhavpur Mela kicked-off at Madhavpur (Ghed) in Gujarat’s Porbandar district and lasted till March 28. What caught most people’s attention, thanks partly due to the unending tweets by Arunachal West Lok Sabha MP and Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju, was that this year’s fair would ‘re-enact’ the ‘heroic kidnapping’ of princess Rukmini by Lord Krishna. While plays depicting legends and myths are a regular fare at religious carnivals, what made this year different is the ‘revelation’ that princess Rukmini was a member of the Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh!

The ‘legend’ of Rukmini being a member of the said tribe has been propagated since around the 80s, thanks mostly through schools in the state that later even managed to make its way into the official information brochures of the state government’s tourism department.

While most sources state that Rukmini was the daughter of king Bhishmaka of Vidarbha (in present-day Maharashtra), a myth has persisted in Arunachal Pradesh that she was, in fact, an Idu-Mishmi, probably sporting the traditional bowl haircut that was prevalent amongst community members earlier.

Where did this myth originate? No one within the community is quite sure or willing to go on record. The basis of the myth, however, is the ruins of the Bhismaknagar Fort, located near the Arunachal-Assam inter-state boundary around 25 kilometres from the Lower Dibang Valley district headquarter of Roing.

Falling under the jurisdiction of the Guwahati circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the fort is believed to have been built by the Bhismaka dynasty of the Chutiya (pronounced Sutia) kingdom that had a stronghold in the Sadiya region of present-day Assam and the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. The kingdom is said to have existed from around the 12th to the 16thcentury.

bhismaknagar

PC: Guwahati Circle of Archaeological Survey of India website.

D Dutta, deputy director of the state directorate of research (archaeology), said that the remains of the fort have not been carbon-dated and could date back to the 9th century. Archaeological evidence too, he said, suggests that there is no connection between the style of that found in the Arunachal Pradesh site to that of those in Vidarbha.

“Perhaps there was another king by the name of Bhismaka and perhaps his daughter’s name was also Rukmini,” Dutta said.

Ginko Linggi, president of the Idu-Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society, informed that he and his friends began hearing about the myth when they were in school in the eighties.

Linggi said that there are no records or mentions of such a myth as per the traditional oral history of the indigenous tribal community.

Like many others from and outside the community, Linggi said that proper scientific research is required before any conclusion can be made on the veracity of the myth. One of those was Vijay Swami.

Swami has been a long-time resident in Arunachal Pradesh, having previously worked with the Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalaya for 15 years and is now the executive director of the Roing-based Research Institute of World’s Ancient Traditions, Cultures & Heritage. More importantly, Swami acted as a liaison between the state government and organisers of the Madhavpur Mela and was in attendance at the carnival.

Having reached Guwahati from Gujarat, Swami informed that a team of 22 people, including 15 members of the cultural troupe, five tribal shamans called igu, and two community elders, had attended the event.

While admitting that the myth does not match the archaeological evidence (considering that Lord Krishna was supposed to have ‘left’ Earth somewhere around 3100 before current era (BCE) and that the fort ruins are from a much later period), Swami said that stories of the myth are a recent trend.  Detailed studies, he said, are required and that the fair is an attempt at ‘national integration’.

And therein lays the crux of the matter.

IMG-20180327-WA0032

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu rocking a pagri (turban) at the fair.

Myth or fact, the idea of ‘re-enacting’ the ‘heroic kidnapping was clearly driven with the motive to promote ‘national integration’ which would help cement Northeast’s ‘ancient link’ with the rest of the country and thereby somehow defy China’s constant claims over much Arunachal Pradesh’s territory.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, Pema Khandu, is reported to have said that the fair is a way for people “in far-off frontiers will have a sense of belonging and relate to rest of the states”.

One news report quoted Khandu as such: We watch in news channels today that some other country is claiming some part of Northeast. But nobody can change the history and the ancient history says that Arunachal was not a separate state but entire Northeast was one. For centuries, we have been with India, mainland India. This is our strength.

As the mela concluded, a letter arrived from the ASI stating that the Bhismaknagar Fort is not demarcated and that the ASI does not have a revenue map of the site. The letter, erroneously addressed to the deputy commissioner of Dibang Valley district instead of Lower Dibang Valley which was created in 2001, sought “information regarding the demarcation of boundary, revenue map, and land records”. The letter further noted that it had “on many occasions earlier faced difficulties in taking up developmental works at the monument/sites” and directed the government to schedule a joint-inspection.

As myth and history were being inter-woven in Gujarat, the foundation on which the legend is based on suffers from a lack of attention.

K4 Kekho: Small man casting a long shadow

Sporting two long fringes that run down to his ears and despite not being the tallest man in most rooms, Kekho Thiamkho casts a large shadow. But then again, it was not his looks that shot him into semi-stardom.

Kekho Thiamkho, better known by his stage name K4 Kekho, hails from the small hamlet of Chinghan in Tirap district along India’s international border with Myanmar in Arunachal Pradesh. A relative unknown in a state with a population of around 15 lakh until two years ago, K4 Kekho became a viral sensation when his song, ‘I am an Indian’, began circulating on WhatsApp.

Sung partly in English and a dialect of Hindi unique to Arunachal Pradesh, the song deals with issues of racism and ignorance about the state and the Northeast that people from the region often face in ‘mainland’ India.

Although the song deals with serious issues, it is the satirical tone of the lyrics and the catchy tune that leave a lasting impact on listeners.
The song opens with K4 Kekho’s signature ‘ollo’ (more on that later) and introducing himself before he goes on to the first lines of the song: Arunachal Pradesh ka mein. Kya yeh jegah China mein (I’m from Arunachal Pradesh. Is this place in China)?

K4 Kekho during a performance. (PC: 4K Studio and CCRD)

The ‘China’ reference acts as a double innuendo on China’s territorial claims over the state and sets the tone for the rest of the song.

Midway through the song, Kekho sings: Institutions lok hum logo ko yaha mein padhne ao boltai. Phir roadside mein koi-koi lok jegah se jao boltai (Educational institutes induce us to join their academies. But people on the street tell us to go back).

Those lines are an expression of what many from Northeast, especially those who venture out to pursue higher education, continue to experience in places like New Delhi and Bengaluru. Incidentally, Kekho never spent any significant amount of time outside the state for his education, having completed his graduation from Don Bosco College near Itanagar. However, he had heard enough from his friends to feel confident to write and rap about the issue.

“I used to listen to my friends who were studying outside talk about their experiences. They were so angry and frustrated with what they had to undergo at times,” he said.
On January 27, K4 Kekho was at the lawns of the Hotel Donyi Polo Ashok in Itanagar for the launch of a six-part poetry-themed web series called The Vivid Project where he is one of the six featured poets.

Post a brief appearance on stage, K4 Kekho took time out to wander around when I introduced myself as a fan and told him that he was the reason I came for the launch.
During the conversation, he talked about how he was introduced to music through his father’s collection of old Hindi film songs on cassettes. He even sang one of those songs on stage one year in school.

“The teachers and the older people in the audience liked it but the young students were bored,” he said. The next year he switched to rap music as a more immersive art form to connect with the younger crowd. That decision appears to have paid off.

He is now somewhat of a minor sensation in his home state (‘minor’ meaning that he isn’t exactly getting swamped by fans on the streets looking for selfies or autographs). While he does seem to be living the good life now with him becoming a regular at local gigs, life wasn’t always easy.

Kekho said that as a child he had to walk for two hours from the administrative circle of Lazu to reach his home. Not much has changed as motor-able roads still haven’t been made that find their path to Chinghan.

Kekho doesn’t rap much about subjects that do not have social relevance in his eyes and cares for issues that are close to his community and his home.

He comes from the small Ollo tribe of Tirap district in the eastern part of the state that has been inflicted with insurgency and opium addiction among young men for years. Kekho said that he is currently working on songs that address these issues.

That evening, he gave us a sneak peek to a new song he is working on.
It begins: Ollo. I was born in a village called Lower Chinghan, located in the border of Indo-Myanmar, where one cannot speak for the rights he deserves, afraid of AK-47 loaded real guns. Ollo!

The ‘Ollo’, he said, is a tribute to his tribe and can mean anything from ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, and ‘friend’.

By this time, a few of his ‘fans’ had become part of our conversation and listening intently to what Kekho had to say.

Continuing the conversation, he maintains a humble demeanour while his hands constantly wave about front and back, left and right, as if he’s engaged in rap-battle and says that his limited English-language vocabulary makes it difficult for him to freestyle. He also informed that a video for ‘I’m an Indian’, the song that birthed the K4 Kekho sensation, is in the works.

By the end of the evening, our conversation steers towards his height.

“I’m not quite five feet tall. Around 4.8 or 4.9,” he tells us.

One of the people listening in on the conversation quickly adds, “You may be small but your words are big.

Women in Nagaland politics: A question of ‘mind-set’

‘Mind-set’, ‘change’, ‘society’, ‘hope’- these or some variation of these words are often repeated in Nagaland when discussions about the role of women in politics (or the lack of it) are held. With the stage set for the state legislative assembly elections scheduled for February 27, those words have begun resurfacing.

Come February 27, a total of 195 candidates will be hoping to secure a place in the 60-seat assembly. Amongst the 195 candidates, there are just five women who will be hoping that this time a woman will be voted into the state legislative assembly.

Home to 16 recognized tribes, the role of women in Nagaland’s political history can be difficult to understand viewing it from an outsider’s perspective. As in several tribal and indigenous communities in the Northeast, women in Naga society have a lot of freedom and are not systematically suppressed by men (or at least it’s not evident at first glance). However, freedom does not necessarily translate into rights, especially property rights where a father cannot pass on his ancestral land to a daughter. That is just how it has been for ages.

Another aspect of life in Nagaland where women seem to have little to say is in politics.

Ever since the first legislative assembly was formed in February 1964, no woman has ever been elected to the House. The only time a woman was elected to office was when Rano M Shaiza became a Lok Sabha MP back in 1977. Since the state’s creation in 1963, just 30 women have contested the state elections and never once managed to win.

This time around though, there is ‘hope’ among some.

Making up just a little over two percent of candidates going to poll, five from a pool of 195 hardly seems like a number to get excited about. And yet, there is an air of excitement, especially among women (unsurprisingly) that this time may be different from earlier years.

Rosemary Dzivuchu, advisor to the Naga Mothers’ Association, said, “we are following the five women candidates with great interest and hope to see women legislators this time”.

Dzivuchu, a vocal women’s rights activist, said that women contesting elections will make a difference, “more so because of being educated and sensitive to issues”.

Tasugntela Longkumer, the assistant manager of the Dimapur-based English language-daily, Nagaland Page, is also optimistic.

“Will Nagaland ever have a woman MLA? Definitely and hopefully by these elections,” she said when asked about the chances of seeing a woman inside the legislative assembly building in Kohima as an elected member.

Hope and optimism aside, why has success in electoral politics remained so elusive for women in Nagaland?

Awan Konyak

Awan Konyak is marking her debut in electoral politics following in the footsteps of her late father Nyiewang Konyak.

Dr Hewasa Lorin, vice-principal of Tetso College in Dimapur, said that people’s ‘mind-set’ needs to change if women are to ever think of being voted into power.

“Ours is a society where elders are always respected and so during village council meetings the voice of the elders overpower those of the younger ones,” she said during a conversation following an academic event at the college recently, adding that such is the norm that men’s voices end up suppressing those of the women’s. Like many others, Lorin also said that times are changing and is hopeful for the future.

Dzivuchu, who is hopeful too, said that women in Nagaland are “not treated at par” with men, clear from the fact that they are “not visible in decision-making bodies or tribe councils or, village councils”.

This, she said, is one of the main reasons no woman has ever won an assembly election and that they are “not given party tickets by political parties or discouraged” from contesting.

This election’s tally of five women candidates is an improvement from the last elections when only two women contested. They are: the BJP’s Rakhila; independent candidate, Rekha Rose Dukru; Awan Konyak of the Nationalist Democratic People’s Party and; the National People’s Party candidates Wedie-ü Kronu and Dr K Mangyangpula Chang.

Their candidacy has been widely reported in the state media since the nominations were cleared. But it still begs the question why there has never been a woman in the legislative assembly.

Rita Krocha, a Kohima-based writer, recently wrote that while a woman in Nagaland “may be allowed to pursue education, follow her dreams, to even marry the man of her choice, we all know with absolute certainty that when it comes to politics (or even the apex tribal organisations for that matter), a woman’s place is never, ever given, or considered with seriousness”.

She wrote that patriarchy is “deeply rooted” in Naga society and the low participation of women in politics is a “sheer reflection of this sad reality”.

Krocha’s take on deep-seated patriarchy within Naga society isn’t something a lot of men tend to agree with. The general discourse being that women in Nagaland are much more ‘free’ than their counterparts in ‘mainland’ India.

One incumbent MLA while appreciating the fact there are more women contesting this time around, said what is an oft-repeated line: that women in Nagaland are not suppressed.

“They run the home but the old thinking was that running the village council is a man’s job. Our forefathers did that but we are not following them blindly,” he said at his campaign office run out of his house.

“Our Naga women are very capable. We have deep-rooted customs and we feel for them,” he said, adding that women in Nagaland are “catching up” when it came to electoral politics. But here too, he is quick to add that they are not discriminated against and that men by nature are proud.

“Mind-set,” he said, “takes time to change”.

Wedie-ü Kronu

Wedie-ü Kronu made a name for herself as an activist and wants to see more women in enter politics.

While there are those who say that women are given same standing as men, not everyone agrees.

“The reality is that it’s a strong patriarchy deep inside,” said Dzivuchu, adding that “times and mind-set (there’s that word again) need to change with the rest of the world in terms of gender equity”.

One (male) journalist referenced last year’s violence that was allegedly triggered after the government’s decision to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in urban local bodies as an example of the patriarchal ‘mind-set’.

While activists such as Dzivuchu are blunt and direct in their criticism of patriarchy within society, the women in question take a more measured approach.

Awan Konyak, who is marking her début in electoral politics following in the footsteps of her late father Nyiewang Konyak, said that ‘change’ requires time.

“Nagaland is a state that is deeply defined by its traditional culture and roots and traditionally the role of village leader or elder was mostly held by men because in olden days it meant being responsible for the safety and security of the village and the people,” said the 38-year old.

Now though, she said, security comes “through economic stability, development, and accessibility to services”.

Konyak said that women in Nagaland do not have anything to prove to themselves and that “it’s now for the people to realise this paradigm shift and to embrace gender equality even in politics”.

For a functional democracy she said, women politicians “can and must be a part of the system to ensure that it is a healthy democracy where all sectors and genders of society have a voice”.

Wedie-ü Kronu, an activist associated with the Nagaland Public Rights Awareness and Action Forum contesting the Dimapur-III seat, chooses not want to blame anyone for the low participation of women in politics and is careful with her words.

“Women have been looked as housewives who should take care of the husband and children. Even those ‘lucky ones’ who are in government services are expected to do the same,” she said over the phone while taking out time from hectic campaigning.

Kronu said that not encouraging women to venture outside family matters has become a tradition and a way of life for women who never complained about it.

“These days the mind-set of our women has changed,” she said, using that keyword.

But does she blame men or society at large for the current state of affairs?

“No, no, no. It’s not about blaming society or tradition. Maybe somewhere, somehow we have not encouraged women to come out,” she quickly added.

While she is optimistic about her chances, Kronu said that even if it isn’t her who wins perhaps one of the other four will and that will be a start. She exercised caution here too though, and said that “it’s easier said than done”.

The five women candidates are, in a manner of speaking, creating a new path for themselves and the role of women in politics in Nagaland. However, they aren’t relying on their gender alone to win the elections. The greater common emphasis seems to be, for these women, on bringing change – change in gender equity or otherwise.


This article first appeared in The Citizen.

To run a food stall or (ideas at 1 AM)

–Back in 2016, two friends-brothers and I decided to open a food stall at one of the biggest music festivals this side of the world. What followed was a series of accidents, miscalculations and all sorts of pandemonium. This is the story of the time three and a half men ran a food stall.–

What do you get when three men with absolutely no prior experience in the food, catering and/or hospitality sector decide it’s a good idea to open a food stall at one of the biggest music festivals in the country to earn some extra cash while still hoping to keep their jobs? You’re looking at a recipe for complete chaos and setting things up for a failure of unmitigated heights.

The Ziro Festival of Music is an annual extravaganza of independent rock and folk music and everything in between held in the fag end of September amidst the beautiful green-yellow paddy fields of Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.  I first attended the third edition of the festival in 2014 and absolutely fell in love with the place, its vibes, new friendships that were forged and the endless flow of locally-brewed rice beer and different cuisines on offer.

So after two years since my first visit and three weeks before the festival commenced in 2016, when the idea to set up a food stall at the festival came up it seemed like a great one.

“There’ll be food, drinks, great music and fun vibes like the last two times. What could possibly go wrong,” I thought to myself. I hadn’t the slightest clue of what we were about to be hit with.

Like all great plans, this idea too was birthed at 1 AM after downing more than the recommended pegs of whisky among three friends. The exact details of how and when the idea came about are a little sketchy but I remember one of us (don’t ask who) saying it would be a great idea to set up a food stall at the Festival as a means to make some extra money on the side. Boosted by the alcohol in us, we said cheers to that. While I thought that the idea would be soon forgotten the next day as decisions taken after consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol usually are, I was wrong.

Like a male protagonist in a Bollywood (or most other Indian) film who continues to harass and pursue the female lead despite her refuting his borderline psychopathic advances until she gives finally in to the ‘hero’ in a moment of cinematic melodrama, the idea to set up the stall too persisted.

After my initial hesitancy and apprehension, I let my ambitious side take over the logical side of my brain and decided to go for it.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I thought so again. Everything, apparently.

So over the course of the next few days, we planned out a menu, set prices, met a guy who would be our ‘chef’ who for some reason thought we wanted to serve Italian food at the festival (pasta and what-have-you).

What we really wanted to do was just make some money and thought that it would be best to serve traditional tribal food in an attempt to cash in on the exotica factor since so many of the festival revellers would be composed of those from outside the Northeast who don’t get a chance to savour the best that the region has to offer.

Then, around two weeks before the festival was set to begin, a friend/business partner and I ran into another friend of mine who suggested that it would be best to serve ‘Indian food’ like biryani or chicken rolls. (Sidenote: Why is food from the Northeast never called ‘Indian’ food?)

Anyway, the suggestion seemed to make sense especially after my friend said that those coming in from Delhi, Mumbai or even Kolkata would most likely eat or taste pork cooked with bamboo shoot perhaps once or twice for the experience of it all.

“After that, they’d look for food they are used to,” he said.

“Hmm,” the two of us thought and brought our third friend/business partner up to speed about the new plan as well as the ‘chef’. So with two weeks to go, we changed the menu.

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The original menu. Not much of what you see here made the final cut. We don’t compromise on quality, son!

 

I should mention here at this point that as yet we still had not confirmed our stall with the organisers although I had been in touch with them. I was fairly confident that acquiring a stall wouldn’t be too difficult since I am friends with most of the top guys. Comfortable in that knowledge, we met our chef again and even had a trial run of the food he could cook. Actually, we just wanted to eat some biryani.

A few more ‘technical sessions’ later, we decided on a smaller menu with fewer items, made some estimates of the cost that would be incurred, came with a name for the stall (The Right Stall- where you can’t go wrong- I was so pleased with myself with that name) and thought we were golden. We had even managed a pick-up truck on discount and most of our utensils would be made available to us in Ziro, again on discount. I can’t begin to thank the number of friends who helped us along the way even though they probably wanted to tell us all that this venture was an extremely bad idea.

Speaking of friends.

An old friend of mine had flown in from Delhi for the festival on my insistence a few days before we were set to leave. Now, my friend was here for the festival but when I told him of our great entrepreneurial plan, he was supportive and said he’ll help out in the stall. In return, I told him that we’ll still have a good time since we would be taking turns manning the stall giving us ample time to soak in some of the bands that had come to perform from all across the country. Long story short, we didn’t and he’s still cursing me till date.

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Seitin, my friend who was unwittingly fooled into manning the stall with us.

 

So, armed with a menu, a chef and support staff, we decided to leave for the festival a day before and set the stall up. The plan was to wake up early, reach Ziro by early afternoon and set up the kitchen and start minting money. Small problem though- I overslept and by the time we packed all our things and left, it was already early afternoon. Needless to say, a few harsh words were exchanged, some glances of “I can’t believe you didn’t wake up on time” were shared and we were on our way.

Well, almost.

You see, for the life of me, I can’t remember why but even after we finished loading all our things and were hardly 20 minutes into our drive that we stopped by the highway for 30 more minutes. That aside, it was a pretty uneventful trip- some jokes were cracked, a little more planning was done, and even involved some driving under the influence. I am pretty sure we broke a few minor road laws.

By the time we reached Ziro it was already pretty late and in fact, the sun had set and most others who were running their stalls were already doing a trial run of their food and drinks (most famously the local rice brew- apong). We got cracking too as soon as we could, extending the roof for the kitchen with a tarpaulin (some of which had to be borrowed from our neighbouring stall. Thank you, guys).

Considering the low-light conditions, we decided it was best to finalise the setup the next day during the daytime. Having dropped our chef and his ‘sous-chef’ at a different hotel, we settled into our room and cracked open a bottle of whisky. For some reason, that seemed like a good idea at that time. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that our day the following morning started much later than was originally planned. Again, some words were exchanged, blames were shifted, the car key was miraculously broken by our strongman friend – a feat that I still can’t believe. If I hadn’t seen it happen for myself. But by late afternoon we were open for business.

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Gearing up for a new journey. Also known as the calm before the shit-storm. This was the last time anyone of us laughed for the next four days.

 

One small glitch that occurred on opening day was that our biryani was completely ruined. Our ‘chef’ had made an error which was apparently a result of us having bought the wrong kind of rice. It was so bad that we didn’t even serve it.

Now, remember when I said that we had absolutely no experience in this kind of thing? It showed in the initial minutes as the first orders began coming in. Chaos, confusion, panic, and pandemonium broke out when customers started coming in. We were taking double orders and serving the wrong dishes to the wrong customers – absolute madness. It was in those moments that I finally empathised with Gordon Ramsey. But we slowly settled in and got into the groove of things and calmed down.

At first, business was slow but it gained momentum as the night progressed. The one item that did exceptionally well was the roasted pork which had been priced very low. The reason, as one of us said, was because people would “lap it up”if we kept the prices low. And “lap it up” they did. It was only after we wound up, went back to the hotel and calculated our earnings that night did we realise that we had sold the pork at a loss!

Having learnt from our errors from the day before, and from feedback from our friends who so kindly helped us, we revised the prices and rectified the food.

The second day we did better thanks to the apong we were selling. By the evening of the second night, the stall was getting livelier as friends began to pour in. In all honesty, were it not for our friends who constantly dropped in, our business would have collapsed in on itself. That all changed the third day when a few of our friends from the fairer sex showed up and just hung out at the stall.

This is going to sound extremely sexist of me but one of the biggest takeaways from the entire experience was that it helps to have good-looking women manning such stalls. Is it fair? No. But that’s the reality of the world we live in and unless utopia comes, that’s how things will be for the foreseeable future.

Another takeaway was that it is best to source materials locally. Thankfully most of our things did come from Ziro but this was something we learnt from a few of the other stall owners who had not done so.

At the end, did we make a lot of money? Are we budding entrepreneurs ready to start a new start-up to be featured in business magazines? Not quite. But the entire experience offered great lessons about the food and catering industry and my respect for people in the industry grew by leaps and bounds.

Running a food stall is no easy task. Keeping count of money, making sure one gets the orders correct while ensuring quality service is delivered are all equations that one needs to take care of all the time. Compromises on any one aspect can mean a loss of customers and reputation. Will I ever undertake such a venture again? Well, all I can say is that life is short and there is no dearth of festivals. So until the next one, cheers!

PoV: Hornbill, Nagaland

 

Held for ten days beginning on December 1 that marks Nagaland’s Statehood Day, the annual Hornbill Festival is an extravaganza that showcases the culture of the 16 tribes that call the state home. While the festival has put the state on the global map, attracting tourists from near and far, the realities of the state marred with crumbling infrastructure and rampant corruption has left many local residents giving the festival a miss. (Photo locations: Kisama, Kohima and Dimapur.)

 

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A view of Kohima town.

 

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Monpa Yak Dance performers from Arunachal Pradesh alongside the Zeliang of Nagaland perform in sync at the Hornbill Festival.

 

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Young Naga men watch cultural performances at the amphitheatre in Kisama Heritage Village, the site of the annual extravaganza.

 

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A man from the Konyak tribe stands guard outside the representational Morung- dormitories traditionally meant for bachelors- at Kisama.

 

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Konyak Naga warriors.

 

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A traditional rice milling apparatus of the Kuki tribe made from wood.

 

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Women of the Pochury Naga tribe from Meluri Village weaving clothes at the Craftscape section of the Hornbill Festival. The cotton processing system is called Akükhie Ngunü Küto.

 

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A photo exhibition providing a glimpse of the contents of ‘The Konyaks- Last of the Tattooed Headhunters’, a book by Phejin Konyak and Peter Bos chronicling the last batch of Konyak Headhunters and women from the community who would tattoo their bodies in the days of yore. A practice that was abandoned after the introduction of Christianity.

 

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The Kohima War Cemetery honours the memory of over 2000 men who laid their lives in the Battle of Kohima, fending off Japanese forces during the Second World War. The Battle of Kohima is often termed as Stalingrad of the East and lasted from 4 April to 22 June 1944 and saw heavy casualties from both sides as Naga tribesmen fought alongside British-Indian forces. Had the battle fallen favourably for the Japanese forces, the global map as we know it, may have looked very different. This, along with the Battle of Imphal fought in Manipur, has been recognised as ‘Britain’s Greatest Battle’ by the British National Army Museum.

 

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Some graves at the Cemetery are unmarked and unnamed but not forgotten. Most died when they were barely into their twenties.

 

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A woman selling hens and roosters beside a street in Nagaland’s capital Kohima. As with most tribal and indigenous societies across India’s Northeast, it is the women who keep the local economy running through their hard work.

 

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While the Hornbill Festival dazzles tourists with colourful cultural displays, signs that not all is glorious with the state of affairs of Nagaland are also visible. Student bodies have been at loggerheads with the state government since last year over delays in disbursement of students’ scholarships. The state government has cited lack of funds as causing the delay and has begun rolling out stipends in instalments.

 

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A poster on a monolith in Kohima reads (written in the lingua franca- Nagamese): Directorate of Higher Education, Students are suffering. Where is our stipend? – Eastern Nagaland College Students’ Union.

 

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Road conditions in the state leave much to be desired and the annual layering work done before Hornbill Festival hasn’t impressed citizens. Many young people call it ‘applying lipstick on the road’.

 

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Apart from the condition of the road, traffic is a perennial problem in Kohima and traffic jams can sometimes last for hours and stretch for more than three kilometres.

 

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Rains had left large stretches of the Dimapur-Kohima road muddy leading to many taxi drivers hiking up rates for passengers or simply refusing to go at all. While the road was reportedly ‘repaired’ just days before the festival began, construction work meant that it was bound to be prone to slush.

 

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Along the Dimapur-Kohima highway are several basic restaurants that serve some of the best food one can find. The menus of some places even list ‘rural meat’- code for game meat that can include anything from wild boar to venison.

 

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As in other states of the Northeast, the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants (whether real or perceived) is seen as a major threat to indigenous communities in Nagaland too. Referred to as Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants (IBIs), calls for deportation of the alleged illegal immigrants have been gaining momentum of late. However, proving the nationality of those perceived to be illegals is easier said than done and is made more complex by the large population of Bengali-speaking Muslims who work in Nagaland’s commercial hub of Dimapur where citizens from outside the state do not require inner line permits.