The journey happened because our mother had to take her sister for a surgery to Calcutta and we had to stay with Baba in Kohima
The Christmas of 1988 was unique – for one, we were away from our mother and two, we were spending it with our Baba (as we addressed our Dad) in Nagaland amongst strangers.
As an 11 year old, my perception of strangers was about to change for life.
Our annual exams were over.We were eagerly waiting for our Baba to arrive from his posting in Kohima during the winter vacations.
One evening Maa (our Mom) announced that this time, my six-year-old sister and I would have to go with Baba to Kohima and spend our vacation there, albeit, without her.
Maa had to take her sister, our Aunt for a surgery to Kolkata and wouldn’t be able to take care of us.
Our initial surprise at her decision was soon overtaken by so much excitement that we didn’t mind staying without her‑unaware of how long it would take for us to reunite.
From my early childhood to late teens, Maa was our only parent. Baba was posted every five years to various capital cities of the country, being an officer in the Ministry of Home.
Maa worked for the administrative section of Ministry of Defence but did not take up advancements in her career after a while because of us.
She held us tightly and was always overwhelmed with office, domestic chores, troublesome house helps…
And of course,there was the daunting task of managing two small children in a state torn by the often violent Assam agitation and its aftermath.
She didn’t let us go on school picnics, attend friends’ birthday parties organised away from our neighborhood or even take extra curricular classes in the after-hours of school.
Her only concern was our safety and well being. For us, vacations meant staying at home, read comics, play in the courtyard and the rare visits to Maa’s friends’ homes.
We somehow wanted the taste of a different world. Having known Baba as quite a lenient person, my sister came to me and said: “Didi, we can have so much fun! Just imagine, no one to tell us what-not-to do!”
The day came‑Maa packed our bags and after she made some plans with Baba, which we weren’t aware of, we boarded a night train from Guwahati to Dimapur, the most populous district of Nagaland and also the last connection by rail.
We reached Dimapur in the wee hours of the morning and went to a relative’s place to freshen up.
After a heavy breakfast of rice, light dal and an omelet, we were all set for our onward journey.
Bengali parents often say – “shokaler muthi, sharadiner khuti” meaning if we eat some rice meal (or gruel in the morning), it lays the foundation for an energetic day.
These days of course that notion has been replaced by oat meal, cereals, sandwich and parathas.
Baba hired a taxi for us from Dimapur to Kohima as he preferred it over the state-run public transport buses that ply everyday between the district headquarters.
Ideally, he just needed to just ask his office driver to fetch us from there,but for those idealist thoughts! How could he leverage his official facilities for personal use? Tell this to some kid from this generation, and they would probably rubbish such thoughts as acts of utter foolishness!
Anyways, an arduous journey began towards Kohima through dense forests, beautiful landscapes, amazing hills and sinuous roads.
But only my sister enjoyed the sight. I was busy puking and retching through the twists and turns and then wishing myself dead than travelling.
The beauty of Mother Nature and the excitement of reaching a new place didn’t pervade my frail body and tired mind.
After eight long hours, we reached our destination and were greeted by some of the office staff anxiously waiting for us with tea, milk, snacks and a bouquet.
They were visibly worried for the two small children who arrived at the office quarter without their mother.
What followed the next few days left a lasting impression of hospitality, simplicity and kindness on my mind.
Our home that winter was a single-roof, typical of government official-quarter, but the best part was the location.
It was nestled on a small hill and an entire valley lay in front of our eyes. The main road and the approach to our home from there looked like some 100 steps down.
However, the main office building was close by at a slightly lower elevation and hadaround 60 steps to climb up to us through the man-made layers created like stairs.
Baba would prepare both lunch and breakfast for us everyday in the morning and leave for work.
In sometime, a maid would come and finish the household chores and later bring some fresh water in two large tin canisters hanging from either side of a thin wooden plank, mounted on her shoulders like a balance.
It was a fabulous treat to our eyes and it seemed that there were as many stars on the earth as there were in the night sky. In spite of the chilling temperature, my sister and I would stand in our verandah and stare at the endless beauty of Kohima by night
If we spilled even half a glass of water, Baba made us feel extremely guilty and would make us count those stairs and imagine her plight!
However, the maid soon announced that she was going on leave for Christmas and wouldn’t be able to come for the chores but volunteered instead to send her husband with the fresh water. After all, that was our only source of drinking water.
The days that followed had us help Baba with the cleaning activities, though cooking and washing our clothes were entirely on him.
When we lamented over his sad state, he explained how Christmas was the most special time of the year and the entire town looked forward to it. And so true!
From the office complex to small shops near the main road or the tiny houses down the valley, just about everything sparkled with an electric star lit outside.
It was a fabulous treat to our eyes and it seemed that there were as many stars on the earth as there were in the night sky. Inspite of the chilling temperature, my sister and I would stand in our verandah and stare at the endless beauty of Kohima at night.
We wished our mother would be there with us to soak in this silence.
(To be continued)
What's Your Reaction?
Nandini. The lady who loves reading, travelling, dancing, and gardening was born in the old, romantic Guwahati, now the capital city of the northeastern state of Assam.Her addiction, after being a biotech researcher, is science writing. Now she resides in the tech capital of India, Bengaluru. Hubby and two daughters make up her personal life. And by Jove, can she write stories about theromance of the northeast!