I was ready to leave by 4.30 am when Paddy came down to see me off. I had made a couple of new friends on this visit to Guwahati. Paddy told me that I should visit him in Numaligarh and experience the atmosphere there. I hope I am able to visit him there during the return journey en route to Arunachal Pradesh. The drive was very smooth all the way upto Nagaon. I realised that road infrastructure had considerably improved here in the past two years. I missed the turning to Dimapur from NH 36 as I was on the phone, on Bluetooth, of course, and had to backtrack a bit before I took the NH 37 to Dimapur. Again, the road was in good condition and I was in Dimapur city just before 9 am. I was a bit apprehensive about transiting the city for last evening I was told of the ghastly incident the day before when an alleged rapist was dragged out of the jail cell, paraded naked and physically abused before he was tied to a bike and dragged around for 5 miles. He succumbed to his injuries. Versions are many about the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape and that which led to the barbaric act. However, two things are indisputable – one, there was an abject abdication of responsibility from the district administration and two, only man can be as barbaric as was seen that day in Dimapur. Advancement and progress has only made man more intolerant. From being afraid of natural phenomena in times distant it is distressing that the modern man has grown to fear himself the most!
As I was coursing through the streets of Dimapur KB Singh, my good friend from Loyola College days and a resident of Imphal called up to enquire if all was well. He had heard reports about tensions in the city and some parts of Assam, for the lynched person originally came from Assam and belonged to a minority community. I also kept a sharp lookout for potential trouble while trying to avigate away from the city as soon as possible. When I saw children on their way to school I realised that despite the under currents the surface was calm.
Kohima is about 60 kms from Dimapur. The winding roads do not permit high speed. Even then you come across rash drivers; one almost careened into my car. I steered away just at the right time and avoided an ugly incident. The city was crowded, as usual. But, I noticed that the traffic was generally disciplined with drivers awaiting their turn to overtake or turn; needless honking and intemperate driving was not on display.
I had met Fr Johnny when I was on the all India drive in November 2010. We had stayed in touch, thanks to WhatsApp and sms. Therefore, when I scheduled the halt in Kohima I requested for accommodation in the Bishop’s house. He got back to me with the confirmation of the accommodation. However, just before commencing the journey from Cochin my phone had to be reformatted and I lost a few numbers. One of them was that of Fr Johnny. I took a chance and landed up in the Bishop’s House before noon and got in touch with him through another priest staying in the premises. Since Fr Johnny was busy in the School, where he is the Principal, he asked me to have lunch and rest till he returned in the evening.
Over lunch I met most of the priests, including the Bishop, who hailed from Kerala. I explained to them my adventures and, in turn, was told the growth of the Catholic mission in Nagaland. Nearly the entire population of Nagaland is Christian, dominated by the Baptists and Presbyterians. 99 priests, many religious and over 150 nuns serve the catholic fraternity in Nagaland. All the 14 recognised tribes of Nagaland have representatives in the catholic church. Nearly 30 priests serving in Nagaland also come from the tribal population. Despite the overwhelming influence of the church in the daily lives of the people I was confused by the all pervasive corruption in the state. It was explained that influence is limited to realising tithe for the church. Some of those in power consider that they have been given the opportunity to make more money due to their contribution to the church! Central government funds are siphoned off with impunity and there is hardly any progress to show on the ground. Lack of funds is not the problem here, it is the systematic sieving of the same that has to be arrested.
Dog meat is common and a delicacy in Nagaland. When I was asked if I would like to try it out, I was all for it. That was one of the dishes for lunch. It tasted alright, but I suspect it smelled quite different. I trust that this experience is the forerunner to many such unique ones during this journey.
I rested for a while after lunch and woke up when Fr Johnny returned from school. We chatted over a couple of cups of tea and he explained to me the accident he was involved in last year when he had gone there to attend his father’s funeral. A rash truck driver nearly cut short his life. However, he claimed that while the truck and the bike, in which he was travelling with his niece, were damaged extensively, both of them had miraculous escapes. He felt that he was lifted from the spot by some miraculous power and thrown on the other side of the truck; he would have certainly been run over by the truck had he fallen on the same side of the road. Faith is reinforced by such experiences, not that Fr Johnny needed it.
I had dinner of rotis, dal and fish with all the eight priests of the Diocesan house. The Dimapur incident was the topic for most of the table conversation. Later, I took photos with the Bishop and the congregation and ‘warned’ them that I would be back, like a bad coin, in May!