Thursday, December 2, 2010

DAY 59 – In Kohima

Last evening I had made a list of places to visit and things to do today. The first on the list was to attend the 8.30 am English Service in the Cathedral. I discovered the road that led to the Bishop’s House and parked the car there. That is when I saw Fr Johnny walking down the stairs, reading from a book, evidently preparing for the mass. I introduced myself and immediately he broke into Malayalam to glean further details about me. Fr Johnny, from Bharanganam in Kerala, is the Principal of the St Mary’s School run by the Church, which has introduced Class 11 this year, and doubles up as the Assistant Parish Priest. It is only when I entered the Church that I came to know that it is the First Sunday of Advent – that is how hopelessly out of touch I am. The Mass was attended by a small congregation, mostly nuns, girls and women; men were hopelessly outnumbered. Fr Johnny’s sermon was very appropriate for the ensuing spiritual season. After Mass I was introduced by Fr Johnny to a few nuns, including one from Palai, and a priest. They were all told of my solo journey. I had a cup of tea with Fr Johnny, when he offered me a meal of ‘Bamboo Fish’. The fish is lightly marinated and slow cooked in the bamboo; it was tempting to stay and try out the dish, but that would have delayed the remaining program for the day. I told him about the challenge I have in updating my blog. Immediately he offered use of the internet in the Church Office and I used it to upload the posts I had with me in the pen drive. I had a very useful and informative discussion with Fr Johnny on the Church in Nagaland and the NE, as well as about current affairs. I thanked Fr Johnny profusely for the kind assistance and took leave of him.
As I have experienced in every other hill town, it is a nightmare to drive in Kohima. But not so on Sunday; all shops are closed and the streets are mostly free of vehicles. So, if you want to drive in Kohima, be here on a Sunday. Considering that the Hornbill festival is just 48 hours away and the Xmas season will start soon thereafter, young men and women were busy painting and decorating shops with lights and stars. At one street corner even Santa was up, with the nippy wind blowing at his beard. Kohima, I am told, is full of fun and music almost the entire month of December; Xmas is a major festival here. Nagaland takes pride in being the ‘Land of Festivals’. With 14 major tribes and their celebrations, Nagaland has a yearlong date with festivals. It is worthwhile to check the festival calendar before scheduling a visit to the State.
The displays in the State Museum are excellent and one gets a good appreciation of the major tribes that populate this State. A visit to the State Museum coupled with one to the ‘Nagaland Heritage Village’ in Kisama is an educative experience. The Kisama village was being readied for the seven day annual Hornbill festival, which begins on the 1st of December. I was told that all the hotels, lodges and guest houses are booked for the entire week, months in advance. The festival showcases the art and culture of all the major tribes of Nagaland in one location. This year, the special State Guest for the inaugural ceremony is the US Consul General, Beth A Payne (Ouch! What a pain, if standard security procedures for US high officials is considered!), who is reported by the newspapers as a ‘great admirer of the North East culture and festivals’. On the way to Kisama is a signboard indicating the route to Japfu peak, which boasts of having the tallest rhododendron measuring 130ft. This giant finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Police HQ in Kohima is an iconic structure and is located on a hillock in the centre of the city, proximate to the War Cemetery. The building, decorated with lights, looks even more impressive during the night. It is rumored that a Keralite police officer is the owner of the popular ‘Popular Bakery’ and its clones all over the town, known by different names. I picked up some yummy cakes and tasty cutlets from the Popular Bakery, which is crowded most of the time. Yesterday I met a lady from Ponkunnam (near my native village) in the ‘Friends Bakery’, whose husband works in the Kohima police department and owns the bakery. Kohima has a substantial Keralite population replete with Kerala Samajams and Associations. The trade is run almost exclusively by the non-NE population.
While returning from the State Museum I saw a crowd near a small market. Curiosity got the better of me. I discovered a flea market dealing with cheap stuff and second hand clothes. I bought two good winter jackets for Rs. 210 and a pair of brand new Levis jeans for Rs. 350! The jackets are somewhat soiled and needs a dry wash; it will suit me fine for the time being (Kohima is cold and wintry). And I learnt something new at the market with the vendor of the jeans. He did not have a tape to measure my waist, but he insisted that I go in for 40 inch. I was not sure if that would fit. The vendor wrapped the waist of the jeans around my neck and it fit perfectly. He said that I could try the pair in my residence and return them if it did not fit. What to say? It was a perfect fit and I learnt a new thumb rule!
Nagaland is a ‘dry’ State; prohibition has been in force for decades now. However, liquor does not seem to be very hard to find. Last night, dinner was served to me in the room as I was told that some officials were drinking in the dining room. At breakfast, this morning in the dining hall, I saw evidence for the reason why I was politely requested to sup in my room; innumerable empty cans of Fosters Beer populated a couple of corners of the dining hall. At Kisama, in the village that was being readied for the festival, there was a huge mound of empty bottles of McDowell’s No.1, which would have done Kerala proud. Aside from the moral argument, the State has to consider the loss of revenue and the lax implementation of the prohibition law.

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