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Christmas: From Nagaland, With Love!

Christmas: From Nagaland, With Love!

interior of the church in Nagalan

Every day or the other, some Naga ladies would knock on the door of father’s quarters, beam a smile and give us cakes and cookies. Christmas was round the corner and I suppose they wanted us two kids to be merry enough to say Merry Christmas!

As I wrote in my last piece of this bit of memoir, my sister and I were in this quaint but lovely house of my father’s official government quarter in Kohima, Nagaland, where we had arrived for our rather unusual winter vacation that crispy December of 1988.

Also read: A Christmas in Kohima!

After a week, one afternoon just a couple of days away from Christmas, someone knocked at our doors.

Before I could stop my sister, she flung open the front door to two ladies completely unknown to us.

I was rather apprehensive whether to slam the door or to be courteous to them.

They said they were colleagues of our father and handed down a home-made cake and some cookies, while wishing us “Merry Christmas!”

We were so baffled at such an alluring gift that we forgot to ask them of their names before they left.

My sister wouldn’t let me wait for Baba to get back home and get his nod to eat the “stranger cake”.

She gobbled a big piece.

My mind raced:

Who were the ladies who had brought the cake? And why? Suppose my sister falls sick eating it, like the way she was gobbling it now?

I looked at the black telephone set, wondering whether to call Baba from his office.

But my sister was jumping around merrily, declaring what a heavenly cake it was!

Nothing happened… it was a perfectly nice cake, and I was in a perfectly lousy soup, personally speaking, for doubting those unknown aunts!

a group of naga peopleFor the days to follow, every other day some women claiming to be Baba’s colleagues showed themselves up at our door with cakes, sweets, fruits and cookies.

Baba would laugh at our excitement and my sister’s rare days of disappointment when no one came to greet us.

He then decided to take us on a visit to his office post lunch hour on the eve of a weekend.

That was exhilarating. We got ready in a jiffy to meet all our ‘cake-aunties’. Baba sent his assistant home and she led us to his two-storied office building.

As we entered, we noticed many women knitting beautiful woollen sweaters, scarves, socks etc. tucked away under their shawls and rolls of coloured wool in the half-open drawers of the office tables!

They ‘aunties’ greeted us with warm smiles, and asked us for our names.They had many questions: our schools, studies, and the invariable question about whether our Maa was in good health.

I would say, we were treated with much respect and love and finally when we reached Baba’s cabin, we bagged a Christmas Eve dinner invite.

Baba politely tried to refuse, but my sister confirmed with a squeal that we would love to come.

In the meantime, my sister also observed that among father’s lady colleagues, she could not find any of the ‘aunties’ who had earlier come to our home to give us those cakes.

Of course it was a curious case, and our father also had no clue either as to who those ladies were, but he believed the women could have come from the neighborhood and took to share their love with a single father and his two little daughters.

So he laughed it off as he caressed and put my sister to sleep. I dozed off after a while, a spot jealous, may be, why father did not caress me!

Then came the Day! Dinner at Aunt Pacy’s.

Baba is from a staunch Vaishnav family, where anything that moves on its own – fish or meat of any sort ‑wasn’t allowed.

That vegan ‘dictatorship’ was diluted after I got to around six or seven years old, because I was very fond of chicken.

Unbelievably, my grandpa himself bought chicken and asked my mother to cook it for me, though he and grandma never indulged.

That winter marked the fourth year that Baba was working in Kohima.

He knew of the local Naga custom of offering chips and smoked pork curry to guests. So Baba knew we would be offered that, as a matter of Naga custom.

That was again a no-no in the family.

Nevertheless, at my sister’s insistence we went to Pacy Aunty’s house and were offered various other sweets and savouries, watched a movie played on the VCR and returned home happily.

Two innocent minds were uncluttered by the religious bigotry of today, and the true warmth that chilly winter was the affection of those Naga families.

the exterior view of the churchThe week of Christmas arrived.

Almost every day, we were invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner, as everyone seemed to enjoy the festival equally, Nagas or not.

We got to meet and greet many children of our age and made friends with them, and some of those friendships have lasted forever and became stronger with time.

Baba’s personal assistant, a smart young lady with an obsession for cleanliness took me to her home and gave me a tour of Kohima city the next day.

We visited the Kohima Cathedral, a marvellous piece of architecture.

One of the places that has stuck to my memory from that visit was the Kohima War Cemetery, where a fierce battle was won by the Allied Forces during the Second World War and caused the Japanese, and India’s Azad Hindu Fauj, troops to retreat.

Years later, I realised why Baba never entertained any disparaging remarks on Nagas and their ideologies or ways of living. He had seen it all himself in Kohima, and his own two little lonely daughters had been blessed with that!

The war memorial was built in honour of the soldiers of the Second British Division of the Allied Forces who lost their lives in the battleground of Garrison Hill, in the tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner.

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It was a vast ground with more than 2,300 dead soldiers buried in accordance with their faith.

There stood a cross and a bronze epitaph with words inscribed in it as- “When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today”.

Till date, it pains my heart to think of those innumerable men who didn’t get to see their families and live a full life just because some greedy men across continents decided to encroach upon one another’s fortunes and lands.

Christmas was a boon but it came with a bane! I was gradually feeling lost without Maa and longed for her more than ever.

It was then that Rupam Aunty’s company became so comforting, and it had an added advantage: All those myriad questions that had piled up in my heart- about the place and its people… I could freely ask her.

And that is when one ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’ solved a riddle, why my sister had not seen a single ‘aunty’ who used to bring us cakes when we visited father’s office.

Rupam Aunty told me how her colleagues and their wives, cousins and family, took turns to bring us the cakes in Baba’s absence, lest he refused their favour.

Baba was a known workaholic and these families empathised with a single father with two girls slogging with domestic chores post office hours.

I learnt then of how these families had asked their boys to keep a watch over us while we were playing or walking around.

It was that era when unconditional and selfless love was still a given, never pondered upon, just given.

That, unfortunately, if it happens now, comes up in FB and Insta as ‘trending’!

Now, I hear a great deal about Nagaland tourism in the social media, about the Dzukou Valley, the Hornbill Festival, The First Green Village in India, and the traveler in me wants to revisit my persisting memories of my childhood.

the view of the beautiful city of Kohima
A view of the beautiful city of Kohima
photo credit : Javed Ali Hassan

My heart melted and today in retrospective I think my Kohima experience that winter came a long way in shaping the way I put my faith in people around me.

Soon, we returned to our Guwahati home along with Baba in the New Year, as he had a scheduled tour to Delhi a week later.

We came back with loads of cakes, a few hand woven sweaters, scarves and shawls, flower bouquets, as if we returned triumphant from the Olympic Games.

And yes, my sister and I never took a bite of any cake for the next three months at least thereafter!

Years later, I realised why Baba never entertained any disparaging remarks on Nagas and their ideologies or ways of living.

He had lived it, and his daughters had been blessed with that!

 

Photo Credit: Javed Ali Hassan

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