Staying with my Naga friend and her family was enriching. My visit was all about friendship, kindness, warmth and beautiful memories, remembers Bhumika R
On a cold winter afternoon, my friend Vikholienuo Kire and I travelled from Dimapur airport to her home in Kohima. After two stretched tea breaks, we finally reached home around supper time. One of the reasons for my travel was to access the State archives and record stories pertaining to the land, culture and history of the Nagas and to also understand connections between their old and new belief systems.
Most of my days were spent in attempting to talk to elders in the neighbourhood. Given that I was a cultural outsider, lacking even the slightest amount of proficiency in their language, either Vikho or her younger brother would initiate the conversation. They would request a kind neighbour, relative or a known elder to tell us about the stories which they had grown up listening to, or whatever they remembered about their younger days or anything else they felt like sharing about their everyday lives.
My kind translator and I would listen and sometime later, it would be translated to me in order to avoid affecting the flow of their talk or make them uncomfortable in the presence of a stranger like me. However, when a certain amount of familiarity was acquired or when I could converse in a common language with them, there was no need of a translator.
Some days I would walk around or go to the market with my friend to soak in the Christmas vibes. Sometimes, we would all sit in the huge yard of my friend’s home, basking in the sun, talking and eating huge slices of butter cake or boiled yam along with tea, watching my friend’s two years old cousin Ruovisineuo running around calling everyone’s names and playing.
It was on one such morning that Ruovisineuo’s brother Menguphrezo explained how Sekrenyi was fun with its games and freestyle dancing when asked by his grandfather about the traditional festival of the Angami Nagas. Although his response evoked laughter from everyone, on a serious note, that is also how this child belonging to a different generation and living in a different social context, interpreted a traditional festival which continues to be celebrated in the contemporary moment, albeit with certain modifications given the altered social context.
The kitchen had symbiotically merged traditional and contemporary styles. It was a space where everyone gathered to talk, eat, laugh or sometimes simply sit around the thezeou bou (charcoal heaters) doing absolutely nothing at all. We would sit on the murhas either reading, talking or eating and soaking in the warmth exuded by the thezeuobou.
Sometimes Ruovisienuo would join us, trying to make conversations in a language which she had rather painstakingly created. All our pretensions of being able to understand the toddler’s speech failed as was evident in her angry and annoyed reactions at our blank expressions and laughter.
Over food, stories, jokes and casual conversations, my initial awkwardness and shyness as a guest and an outsider, gradually disappeared.
My inability to understand the language being spoken at Vikho’s home, barely seemed to matter, given how my friend’s mother and I, conversed without any common language, enacting a bit of what we intended to communicate, laughing when we failed in communicating.
Looking back, what I experienced and learnt through my everyday interactions with Vikho’s family, her extended family, friends and acquaintances, was much more than fieldwork or accessing the archives. It was about friendship, kindness, warmth and memories of a vacation in a place that soon felt like home and still does.
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A Ph.D from JNU, New Delhi, Bhumika P. taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and IIT Jammu. She has also contributed articles to Cafe DissensusEveryday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She loves to write poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse, platocavesonline; her short story ‘Nameless’ has been published in the borderlessjournal. Bhumika is currently an assistant professor in the school of humanities at Shiv Nadar University, Bangalore.