Maloy Krishna Dhar started life off as a junior reporter for Amrita Bazaar Patrika in Calcutta and a part-time lecturer. He joined the Indian Police Service in 1964 and was permanently seconded to the Intelligence Bureau.
During his long stint in the Bureau, Dhar saw action in almost all Northeastern States, Sikkim, Punjab and Kashmir. He also handled delicate internal political and several counterintelligence assignments. After retiring in 1996 as joint director, he took to freelance journalism and writing books. Titles credited to him are Open Secrets-India's Intelligence Unveiled, Fulcrum of Evil — ISI, CIA, al-Qaeda Nexus, and Mission to Pakistan. Maloy is considered a top security analyst and a social scientist who tries to portray Indian society through his writings.
It is rather difficult to define the geographical, political, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and economic parameters of the region we call the Northeast.
North East of what? Is it North East of geophysical India, of the Indian mindset, or is it something outside India?
One cannot challenge the geophysical map of India, which exhibits the North East as a continuation of the landmass from West Bengal along the “chicken neck” to Asom (Assam) and the former kingdom of Manipur. We have on the map ethno-political entities called Mizoram (Lushai Hills), Meghalaya (Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills) and Arunachal Pradesh (earlier know as the North East Frontier Area, or NEFA), and the former princely state of Tripura.
These “outer” parts of India, except Asom, were special territories administered by the British under different political, administrative and military dispensations.
The chequered history of these “outer Indian territories” is very complicated and scholars ranging from Verrier Elwyn to B. G. Verghese to Sanjay Hazarika and your humble author cannot do justice to in a single volume, leave alone in a short article like this.
In fact, Indian historians - and politicians - have not applied adequate attention to these “outer” areas, and have not worked out a roadmap for their total integration with the rest of the country. We have a geophysical and political map, but there is no road map for emotional integration.
In Manipur, outsiders are called ‘mayang’, in Asom ‘bahiragoto’, in Mizoram ‘bhai.’ Till some years ago, the general Nagas contemptuously described mainland Indians as ‘Indian dogs.” The situation has not changed much since than. Mainland Indians are looked upon as imperial exploiters, and they in turn still treat the people of these “outer areas” as “naked junglees.”
We forget that Asom is also known as ‘Pragjyotishpura’- a territory that existed from time immemorial.
We have forgotten that a daughter of Manipur had defeated the Pandavas and she later married an Aryan, Arjuna.
We feign ignorance that Bhima the second Pandava had married the Kachari-Dima princes Hidimba. Who is to be blamed for this? Look within yourself for the answer.
If you are not acquainted with names of places like Hidimbapura, Jatinga, Ghaspani and Nungkao, you lack knowledge about some of the most interesting places in your own country.
Hidimbapura was the capital of the Dima-Kachari kingdom, whose princess Hidimba was married to the second Pandava, Bhima.
If you’ve visited Manali, you may have noticed or even prayed at the only Indian temple constructed in memory of the Kachari princess. It is said that while on a mahaprasthan yatra to the Himalayas, Bhima had fallen at Manali. Before dying, he had constructed the temple in memory of his wife, the only woman he was married to besides Draupadi. Perhaps you can now link the cultural connectivity.
Present day Dimapur in Nagaland still has some stone relics from the Hidimba period. But the Christian state does not publicise linkages of Dimapur with Hidimba, whose son Ghatothgaja had saved vital battles for the Pandavas against the Kauravas.
Jatinga is a fascinating village, now approachable by jeep, in the North Cachar Hills district (Karbi Anglong) of Asom. At the end of monsoon, on moonless foggy nights, hundreds of birds like pond herons, kingfishers, little egrets and others take kamikaze-type dives on the fields, and are then transported to the cooking pots of the villagers. Several foreign and indigenous researchers, as well as this author, visited the village to understand the mystery. Forget the contradictory theories. Jatinga is the only place in the world to witness such avian harakiri but fails to attract Indian tourists to the enchanting North Cachar Hills.
I would not request you to take a tour of the NC Hills now, as the area is more ruled by armed rebel groups like Dima Halam Daogah, Karbi National Volunteer Force, Hmar People’s Convention, Karbi People's Front, ULFA and NSCN (I-M) instead of the constitutional governments at the district headquarters at Diphu and the state capital Guwahati.
Before you hit Ghaspani, I would like to lead you to a small village Nungkao, in Tamenglong district of Manipur, near the Peren areas of Nagaland.
In this historic village was born a Hindu Naga lady, Rani Gaidinlieu to her Rongmei (a tribe) parents. She had revolted against proselytizing activities and territorial incursion of the British at the age of 13, was imprisoned in 1932 and finally freed in 1947.
She was honoured with a Padma Award in 1993, after plenty of haggling with the “inner India” masters in Delhi. Her tribe is now mostly converted to Christianity, though a few hundred Rongmei and Zelaing Nagas still stick to Hindu practices.
Most Hindu organisations were discouraged by Delhi and Kohima from venturing into the area. The minorities had the rights to be converted to Christianity, but had no access to mainland Hindu organisations to preserve their original religion and culture.
The endearing name Ghaspani (grass and water) was given by the by the British to a foothills village in Naga Hills which connects railhead at Dimapur with the administrative centre at Kohima in the Angami Naga tract.
The British masters, the Assamese, Bengali and Naga guides and their ponies rested at Ghaspani, collected fodder, water and rations before starting the arduous climb along the Zubza valley to Bara Basti Kohima.
A garrison qasba, Ghaspani still gives one a nostalgic feeling of the march of an alien civilisation to the heartland of the Naga people.
You may like to spend a night at Dimapur, look up the relics of Hidimbapura and take a car to Ghaspani before entering the gates of Kohima.
I can accompany you to the lovely town, though there are chances that you would be stopped at a couple of places by army pickets and pickets manned by uniformed and armed soldiers of the NSCN (I-M), in spite of the uneasy ceasefire.
I do not intend to take you on an arduous tour of the misty Naga Hills, but would recommend climbing the snow laden Japfu peak in winters.
The famous Valley of Flower of the East “Dzukou Valley” is no less attractive than the Himalayan Valley of Flower in Uttarakhand. The added charm is over 142 varieties of orchids in the state that can rival imported orchids from Thailand, if properly exploited and marketed. Naga orchids have not been exploited the way Sikkim has done it. At Dzukou, you shouldn’t miss the multi-coloured largest Indian Rhododendrons. I have not seen such a lush growth of Rhododendrons anywhere else in the Himalayan heights.
Please accompany me to the rural areas to witness the Hornbill Dance and enchanting Naga dances like Serkrayi, Tulani, Tokhu Emong etc, which are as vigorous and enchanting as mainland Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak are.
The villagers do not dance to order. You have to please and often tease the belles and lads to don their colourful gear and dance like vibrant animals prancing at the Intaki sanctuary on Myanmar border or at the Fakim sanctuary.
But though most of them are enchantingly beautiful, I would not advocate making advances to any Naga belle. The urban women are globally oriented, and the rural beauties are as mysterious as the mountain mists around them.
Here, I must confess a hidden dream. Had I not been married to my most beautiful wife and not been expecting my second son, by the time we reached Nagaland, I would have preferred a scintillating Chakesang beauty as my life partner.
But some dreams better remain in the realm of fantasy.
With no offence to other tribal belles, I noticed a mysterious Pacific touch in the Chakesang people. You have to believe me or accompany me to Pfutsero or nearby Chizami and Cheswezumi. I have often wondered where the belles borrowed the natural rouge hue on their cheeks!
Since Nagaland is itself a vibrant paradise I would not stress on visiting any particular tribal area- the Angami, Chakesang, Ao, Sema etc territories. However, you must accompany me to Sampure on the Myanmar border along the course of Dhansiri River, and witness the mysteries of the snowclad Saramati Hills. Bang on Myanmar border, the beautiful peak invites many climbers. However, you would require special permission to visit the border areas as there are chances of your getting caught in crossfire-of the NSCN factions and Indian army.
Your visit to the Naga Hills would remain incomplete if you did not step into the interiors of a traditional village home. Away from the concrete jungles of Kohima and Mokokchung, I would like to lead you to Wakching village in Mon Naga territory.
Don’t be afraid, there is a motorable road from Nagainimara in Asom to the dirt road-head leading to the hill-top village. A peculiar high profile frontage may greet you, adorned with bleached Mithun horns and human skulls. The Mons and Konyaks were little late in abandoning the headhunting practice. Some gaonburas (village elders) still take pride in showing their forefather’s collection of human skulls from neighbouring tribal villages.
The central fireplace (wood fired) keeps the entire house warm. You are welcome to the first chamber only, where you are cordially seated and served madhu and ruhi. The inner chambers are reserved for family use.
One advice; never finish your glass. Your hostess would keep on pouring slightly smelly intoxicants into it, just like the Japanese Geisha does as soon her guest finishes sipping his tea.
Sip slowly and enjoy the smoked dried meat and cocktail of vegetables and pork boiled in wild ginger. The innocent grin on rural Naga faces would transcend you beyond the contorted stone buildings at Kohima and the inscrutable eyes of its people.
Do not be carried away by the sneering Indian remark that the Nagas eat everything that move in the air and on the earth. I have had the pleasure of tasting roasted or fried bee-larva, raw grasshopper, lizards and of course cat, dog, monkey (no offence to Lord Hanuman worshippers) and other animal meat.
Do not shriek. You might have seen such fried and roasted winged and crawling animals hawked in the roadside vends in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries in South East Asia. After all, meat is meat, whether it is crab or cobra meat (with apology to vegetarians).
Oh, yes. If you are an honoured guest, the villagers might even slaughter a Mithun (Yak-Bull family) for you. Mithun was, once upon a time, like the Aryan Cow, a symbol of prosperity and authority.
I would not request you examine the diarchic rule headed by the elected government and grassroots level administration controlled by the machineries of the NSCN Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions.
These are complicated issues that fox even the seasoned mandarins in Delhi and state politicians and officers, who pay taxes both to the state exchequer and the coffers of Isak, Muivah and Khaplang.
Your enchanting journey is fraught with certain palpable dangers. The Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions of the NSCN rule the countryside from their fortified and deadly armed camps. The ceasefire agreement does not stop additional arms flow through Bangladesh and the expansion of NSCN territorial influence in neighbouring Manipur, Assam and other tribal pockets in Nagaland.
The Naga tract is conveniently divided between the Indian Army, Underground armed insurgents and some semblance of state administration.
Delhi suffers from perpetual amnesia and occasionally wakes up to resume peace talks and declares a ceasefire. What else can you do with a part of “outer India?”
Constitutionally, geophysically and geopolitically these are parts of India. But our minds have not met; our cultures and mutual feelings have not been exchanged. We live like isolated islands in a sea of undefined and vague constitutional oneness. This illusion is both real and unreal.
The dominant Isak-Muivah faction, like the ULFA of Asom, is the father figure of all insurgent groups in the North East, numbering about 114, including nearly a dozen Muslim rebel outfits. The NSCN firepower is increasing by the day and their influence has started taking a Pan-Naga character. The dream of Nagalim- a greater Nagaland comprising Assam, Manipur Naga inhabited areas is considered as a fait accompli.
Behind the veil of the misty hills, a severe fission is in progress. Deft political handling with strict army vigil and corruption free administration are the keys to cooling down the fission process. But a corruption free India is as illusory as the gates to heaven or hell, whichever you prefer to enter.
It is the mainland Indians who must take initiative in drawing these “remote peoples” nearer to their homes and hearts.
The North East of India is not only in the northeast of India’s geophysical and geopolitical map. It is, in fact, in the remotest corner of East by North East of our national consciousness. Most us take it for granted that it exists, because the printed map says so.
In reality, it does not exist in our map of mind.