Quenching a forest’s thirst

Back in 2008, an official with the Arunachal Pradesh government’s horticulture department noticed that the water streams and rivulets that fed a number of villages were drying up near his hometown. In a place that has been blessed with natural bounty, water scarcity was a phenomenon that the tribal Galo people in Basar were unaware of. Now, that had become a very real danger.

Nestled at an elevation of 2,299 feet in the recently created Lepa Rada district in central Arunachal Pradesh, the Basar administrative circle has a population of 12,224, per the 2011 Census. Home to the Galo people, the town of Basar and the adjoining villages is criss-crossed by three rivers- Kidi, Hie, and Bam Hila.

The breathtaking view of Basar Valley from the hill.

While these rivers serve as a primary source for water supply, much of people’s water needs are satiated by rain-fed streams and rivulets that bring groundwater from the green hills to the villages that dot the landscape.

That began to change ten years back when unabated and unsustainable farming practices began to have an adverse impact on the life of the villagers.

“Around that time we realised that the villages were staring at water scarcity,” says Egam Basar.

The 43-year-old head of the State Horticulture Research and Development Institute is a native of Soi village in Basar. A decade ago, he was transferred here when he noticed that the streams that fed his and surrounding villages were drying up.

The man himself- Egam Basar.

Together with his nephew Gomar Basar, who was a student then and is now an assistant registrar with the Rajiv Gandhi University near the state capital, they formed an environmental group that would later go on to become the EB Project (EB as in his initials).

Egam had a plan to revitalise the streams and the rainwater catchment area in his village by digging “recharge pits” that could hold water that will seep into the soil and keep the fields irrigated.

Large-scale jhum cultivation practices and unchecked felling of trees meant that the hills could no longer hold rainwater and would just flow down.

The first hurdle that Egam faced was gaining ownership of the lands.

Funding was difficult to come by and so he had to purchase the lands from the money that he had saved up over the years.

Egam, who has a penchant for hats which he says he wears to hide his greying locks, doesn’t indulge too much into the details of how much of his personal income was spent in acquiring the lands that would eventually become the EB Project.

In total, he acquired 60 hectares of land and stopped jhum cultivation and deforestation. Since the project started, Egam and Gomar said that the forest and wildlife has been rejuvenated.

On the climb up the hilltop we were informed that there has been an increase in the wildlife population in the area with barking deer, clouded leopard, and reportedly even a tiger now call the place home.

Apart from the wildlife, Egam informed that there now plans afoot to introduce rare medicinal plants in the area.

Along with his advisors and support staff, the more immediate goal now is to reach the 1000 pits mark.

Digging of the metre-deep pits began in 2011 but it would take seven more years before the stream in Soi village did not dry up in the winter months.

There are currently 200 such recharge pits and plans are underway to adopt the system in other villages and their surrounding hills as well.

“Sustainable development,” Egam says, “is not possible without sustainable irrigation”.

– – –

This feature was first published in The Citizen.

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Debating the deities

Someone please explain to me why illuminated red Devil’s Horns are a thing during Durga Puja. How is it that on a festival that literally celebrates the killing of a monster, the go-to symbol of evil has become the in thing to sport? Like, how?

The wearing of Devil’s Horns is just one of the several questions I have about Durga Puja and its celebrations in Arunachal Pradesh.

How is it that in a state in the far remote corner of India that is home to close to 30 indigenous tribes (a majority of who originally practiced animist faiths), Durga Puja is even a thing?

Let me put out a disclaimer and say that I hold absolutely nothing against the celebration of Durga Puja or any other festival regardless of its religious affiliation. I also realise that since the state actually does have a large non-tribal population for whom the festival holds great significance, Pujo time is a rather big deal.

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Make-shift stalls serving snacks pop-up everywhere in Itanagar during Pujo time.

The grandeur of the festival is no surprise either because obviously, people chip in to fund the beautiful pandals that abound the streets. Such a large population also translates into a possible vote bank and it makes sense to make sure for the powers that be that the people have fun at least once a year.

Still, I wonder how young and beautiful teens influenced by modern Korean culture who spend the majority of the year greeting each other with ‘annyeonghaseyo’ and ‘oppa’ can suddenly be so fascinated by the kirtan.

How do you go from watching surgically-enhanced K-pop stars to being transfixed by the neighbourhood mechanic as he performs to the beat of the dhol that we, for some reason, are all familiar with? Like, how?

One of the ‘must-do-things-during-Puja’ is to buy new clothes. I’m not exactly sure if that is a brilliant marketing ploy thought of in the office of an advertisement agency with pretentiously minimalist interiors or if the Goddess herself ordained it, but nevertheless, it’s a thing that is not restricted by communal lines.

Tribal, non-tribal, rich, poor, everyone is up for buying new clothes during Pujo.

In fact, my Adi colleague currently sitting on my left watching a YouTube series is wearing a newly-purchased patterned-dark blue shirt. I ask him if he buys new clothes during Solung and the answer is in the negative. He makes some lame argument about how he had to buy a new shirt anyway but I’m not convinced.

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A ‘band’ from Siliguri was invited to provide the beats for the kirtan and Pujo at one of the several pandals here. I asked them how they landed up here and the cheeky one in the group said, “by car”. Not Amused. Not. Amused.

It isn’t the celebrations of any festival that makes me question things but as a person with conflicting ideas of self-identity and lack of knowledge about my own community is what concerns.

Puja celebrations shouldn’t die down. Nor should the celebrations of any festival regardless of the religion it originates from or the community that it ‘belongs’ to. In fact, if there is great leveller and breaker of barriers between communities as us Arunachalese, it is Durga Puja.

All of us visit at least one pandal every year but when was the last time you joined in on the celebration of a ‘central’ festival celebration of any other tribe that you don’t belong to unless you were specifically invited by a friend.

Nahi, hum toh woh tribe ka nahi hain na, hum kyun (insert tribal festival name here) mein jaiga (No, I am not from that tribe, why should I visit the celebration of [insert tribal festival name here],” is something I’ve heard way too often.

As stated above, I hold nothing against the celebrations of any festival that offers people an opportunity to come together and revel in merry-making. I will also continue to hold questions about how Pujo got so ingrained in Arunachali culture.

While some will argue that its part of the greater identity of what makes us Indians, I will say its a form of unintended indoctrination. Others, as I learnt last year, are at the pandals for the kheechdi!

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.

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.