A childhood memoir
- Part 1 -

Paul Hangsing *

The year is 1974, and that wintry December evening wasn't much of a cause for upbeat.

Faintly visible at a distance was the murky canvas of my destination, Noklak. What roll up eventually from where I beheld; it seemed nothing more than few clusters of grey and bright spotted hutments, caged in by chain of desolate hills stretching far out into the horizon.

Uh! 'A plausible foretaste of things to come, I said to myself', and carried on with our journey.

As our motorcade rumbled through the dusty street of Noklak - the fading winter Sun dropped sluggish over the horizon, as if wearied from a long reception.

I was terribly fatigued after an arduous drive across 250 kms of patchy road from Baghty in Wokha district of Nagaland.

Our convoy comprised of an 1968 make Willies Jeep, a trailer latched on to it, and a "Nissan"- One Tonner, that carried our bare necessities for the next 2 years of my father's posting in Noklak. Noklak is a sub-divisional head quarter of the Khiamniungan Nagas, in Tuensang district of Nagaland.

It was here that I spent the most exhilarating phase of my childhood; the land where the dead and the living, dwell in perfect harmony- a spectacle, that was reminiscent of my favorite bedtime storybook "The Ghost who walks".

For a lad of 10, lot more naive than the rest, I was less charitable to the so called town. Even with my eyes peeled, I could barely notice faintly lit houses, few and far between.

Ah! I reckoned, 'This surely could not be Noklak town, after all'?

But to my utter dismay, the road abruptly came to a dead end. Within seconds there emerged from the fortress-like wooden gate, a man about 5 and a half ft. tall. His robust constitution, betrayed his mannerism.

A Hempu Naga by birth, Koi, was nervously looking forward to our arrival. As we walked into the premises of our new home - the sprawling house, the manicured lawns, the regular Badminton court, a large kitchen garden at the backyard, beside, a modest three room Guest House adjacent to the lawn, amazed me to no end.

Far amazing to me, than the bungalow, of course, was Koi - hilarious and childish- he consciously, tried to live out every moment of his dream. Koi took over as caretaker of the bungalow soon after sneaking into India from his native village, Hempu, situated on the other side of the international border, in Myanmar - than called Burma. For all purposes, other than his birth and descent, he claimed himself to be Indian.

The younger, of two brothers in the family, Koi had a colorful personality. The first impression I had of him couldn't have been more profound. His year long spell at a local nursery school, much to my mother's chagrin, only served to compound his misery.

At 25, although the spirit willed, the hand failed to empathize with bewildering signals from an abandoned cranium. A year into the nursery class, his A, B, and C couldn't rise above monkey business: mostly jumping upwards, downwards, sideways and as always, the wrong side up.

The sequence of the letters was another epic battle, far dreadful than the head hunting duel. Koi finally gave up in exasperation.

The morning, following the day of our arrival, with Koi as my guide, I scouted out for a better view of the town. Koi should have been more delighted to take me to the village, where he often goes to meet his elder brother.

Honestly, I had little idea of how exciting it would have been to walk right back into the realms of timelessness, maybe a hundred years thence.

Neither, did I have a clue about what the morungs (community halls) and gongs (hollow tree barks used for making loud sounds) were like.

As we staggered along the road, headed for the local market, all at once, the sight of Noklak village loomed over the horizon. Perched like a bow over the crest of a hill, the village seemed to symbolize the spirit of heroes' bygone - defiant, timeless and smug, keeping its flocks together, on both side of the divide.

The only time I scrambled my way up to the summit of Noklak hill, which is the village proper, was when I played my little part as guide par excellent to a lady anthropologist from Switzerland, whose name I scarcely remember. The lady, in her mid-thirties, never tired of shooting at whatever appeared bizarre, in her European scheme of things. Men, Women in tattoos, unclad children of various ages, Skulls of the hunted- both man and animals, Morungs, Gongs, dwelling houses lined in symmetrical order among others, formed her prized shots.

Noklak had mammoth collection of human skulls in creepy corners all over the place. Huddled in rows inside tree trunks and in the morungs, skulls of varied sizes, adorned the place. They were a prized possession of every village.

On one particular monsoon day, a large tree standing beside the entrance to the school was ripped apart by gushing wind and rain. Lo! And behold! Twenty skulls huddled inside the tree trunk made their majestic exit and lay scattered all over the place. A grotesque beauty indeed! One insipid skull nonchalantly made its way into our class room while the other pompously stood at the doorway to the Principal's chamber.

Head hunting was an honorable way out of any impasse between neighboring villages or tribes, than. It was the final arbiter of dispute and a determinant of power and recognition, as warrior.

In the meantime, my brother and I had been admitted to a local Government High School, the only school worth the name in the entire Noklak sub-division.

My first day in the new school triggered in me a phobic resentment; for one, a relative disgust at the dilapidated school building and the dusty classroom - where hordes of cows had their regular night shifts. There were few students who had the luxury of wearing shoe like contraptions to the school. Of course, as days passed I became one with the rest.

The cause for my disgust was listless, a fact compounded by a human propensity for comparison. To my mind, my alma mater the Donbosco School, Wokha, always stood at the highest pedestal of excellence in education, and all other institutions paled in comparison.

To be continued...

My initiation into the mystic world of the Khiamniungans made me a firm believer that in God's own country-Nagaland, there can never be a dull moment, only a supernatural experience, if only one let go of oneself.

* Paul Hangsing wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a free-lancer and can be contacted at thirdvoice77(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on January 28, 2014.

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