Nagaland is not well connected with the rest of India. There is only one town with an airport and rail connectivity and the roads and highways are bumpy and potholed making every journey uncomfortable. This makes any trip to Nagaland from mainland India and adventure and sort of labelled as exotic. We introduce you to Prajwal Suvarna, from Christ University, Bangalore who is currently interning at Tetso College to tell us a little bit about his travelling experiences here.
How do you find Nagaland?
When people ask me “How do you find Nagaland?” I am at a loss for words. I usually reply “I don’t know about Nagaland, but Dimapur is good”. You see, Dimapur cannot be a synecdoche for Nagaland and in the one and half months of my internship in Tetso College, Sovima, I have not strayed far from the immediate environs of the college and hostel. This is partly due to the laziness that comes from the routine, and partly some unforeseen circumstances. But from the little knowledge gathered by reading newspaper reports and interacting with the students and teachers, I understand that the situation in the interior parts of the state is quite desperate: there are still places that lack basic facilities. So it would be criminal on my part to make generalisations about an entire state based on my short stay here. So therein lay the difficulty in answering the question, “How do you find Nagaland?” So let me stick to what I do know.
It is only after travelling here that one realises just how far and insular Nagaland and the Northeast are from the national imagination. Rather than viewing the North east, one views from the north east. Having been brought up on a staple diet of National dailies, to read the local newspapers has been an edifying experience. The concerns of the “mainland” and “mainstream” media fade away. This distance, both literal and metaphorical, characteristic of border towns or states, cuts both ways and leads to a certain exoticism that is quite different from ground reality. For instance, one of my classmates in the University, a practicing Brahmin, dropped me an email that quite irritated me. Among other niceties, it said
“How's your internship coming along? You must be having a good time. Who wouldn't, if they're working in a place where you are!”
It was not as if I was not having a wonderful time, or not enjoying my work. I simply resented the easy assumptions it made, especially the last sentence, coming from a person who wrinkles his nose when we pass a non-vegetarian hotel, almost gagged and retched when we entered a dry fish market. I knew for a fact he would have a horrible time here. I resented even more his tone, which cast Nagaland and the North east as a sort of Shangri – la, as the veritable other to your mainstream ideal. Such an attitude discounts the drudgery and absolute normalcy of everyday existence here and everywhere else. Of course the Nagas have a rich history and a distinct identity anomalous with that of India, as do most other states and their peoples. But taking a tone of absolute incredulity, as if things in this state were so drastically different is to discount ground realities.
In the one and half months working as an intern teacher, I gained valuable experience of working in a professional environment, being asked to handle certain portions, conducting classes, delivering lectures, even simply hanging around, taking in the staffroom dynamics. In that respect, the practices of the college are on par with that of any other institution of a similar stature in Bangalore, where I study, or Mangalore, which is my hometown. The teachers complain like all other teachers in the colleges I have studied, about all the paperwork. I saw in practice something that my lecturer in Mangalore had told me – “Being a teacher has very little to do with teaching” he had said “and more to do with everything else” It was a great experience, but not great in the sense of something alien or exotic. I thoroughly enjoyed the genial atmosphere in the green campus, set as the college is amidst nature, something one sorely misses in the polluted, urban, concrete mess that is Bangalore.
While I love travelling, to me, there is something disconcerting about being cast in the role of a tourist. And that is one thing I refused to be during my internship. I travelled to Nagaland because the schools in the plains are closed for the summer and my Professor in the University knew one of the lecturers who worked in Tetso College. A part of the reason for coming here, I admit, was to visit the North east and Nagaland, but I refused to be the clichéd wide eyed traveller clicking photos and looking at sights. At the risk of sounding pompous, allow me to say that I travel because with every journey, there is a small but definite change in my understanding of the world we live in and of myself.
The philosopher Alan Watts says “If there were no eyes in the world, the sun would not be light”. Travellers depend on the inherent difference between peoples and places to derive the pleasure that they do. It distresses me, therefore, to see the fever for “development” slowly infect Dimapur. I am sure what most people mean when they say development; is a stead electricity connection, more roads, schools, healthcare facilities, etc. And it is true, these are basic amenities and everyone should have access to them. But the nature of development in our country is such that it brings in tow the meanness and monotony of sights urban sprawl, poverty, environmental degradation, and pollution that are afflicting the small towns in our country. You very seldom have one without the other. The Indian idea of development is a great leveller: crushing cultures and societies to a mind numbing monotony. I dread coming back to Dimapur a few years from now and not recognising the place, or finding out that it has taken the turn that Bangalore has over the past two decades. I see the main town as a sort of cancerous sore on the landscape that will only spread outwards. Already, one sees its effects in the half finished ugly concrete complexes that dot the Dimapur - Kohima highway. Yet, to fight progress is to swim against the tide, but one can have ones fantasies.
This stay in Dimapur at Tetso College has been a respite from the relentless pace and noise of Bangalore. I keep telling people that living alone in a room, reading most times, having regular meals, and keeping regular sleep times has left me feeling like I can join a monastic order. Living in the cities, being woken up by the crowing of the neighbour’s cock instead of the blaring of car horns, or being able to move about without seeing or bumping into another person has been a treat of sorts. It is this I take away when I leave tomorrow.