At a certain point in life, everyone goes through a midlife crisis, a cliché that is as real as tongue-in-cheek. Every situation seems a travesty at this phase in life, every comfort of life loses its comfort, thick mattress seems uncomfortable, friends come and go like a sit-com which we once followed as a daily academic routine, every locality starts turning local, dal-chawal-sabji lose their taste and so on, I went through all such crisis and needed a getaway ASAP!
Now the problem arose as to where to go and more importantly why? The answer I didn’t know as much as the question that arose without an effort. As I Googled places to visit, North East seemed the vaguest of all the places you hear friends or relatives comment about. As I was going through a vague stage of my life, I didn’t mind experiencing vague corners of India, places that fell off the edges of the map as just a blotch of landmass. I decided Nagaland it is.
Everyone says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Mine started in Dimapur, a no less than a usual Indian city where I came from. Did I choose the perfect destination? This question kept erupting as I tried hiring a cab to take me to Kohima. My first encounter with a Naga was Thutob, the driver whose straight-forward spirit with a pinch of betel leaf stained lips accompanied me throughout Nagaland.
The road from Dimapur to Kohima was dusty, some places where you feel like using fog lights. The best way to escape this was to sleep and wake up at Kohima, and this I indeed do. The city sprawling endlessly against the horizon captivated me as a dream. I looked at Thutob; he looked sparkly yellow, I knew I was looking the same.
After a shower, it was time to hit the streets of Kohima. I was in Nagaland at the right time of the year since the Hornbill Festival had just kick started. Foods, lights, and new faces flooded the streets of Kohima. Hornbill Festival and Dzukou Valley the next few days became my visit. I met many people and opened up my heart to speak to new faces; trust me when I say there are people at my work whom I have worked with for years and haven’t had a proper conversation extending beyond hellos!
I tried to emulate my everyday life, I felt inferior. Through the next few days I saw a culture that was frozen in time with stories that reflected the diversity and pride of tribes. I never knew they existed. In the next few days, I slept in camps and decent hotels whose staffs welcomed me as though they knew me before. Trust me, it was their genuine hospitality and not my absurd offshoot of a reincarnation.
I learnt from the Nagas to open myself.
Gradually, my days followed with exploring nooks and crannies of Kohima, meeting new people, drinking sticky rice beer that served non-sticky healthy conversations, lying under a new star-lit sky, eating whatever there was to offer, sleeping in tents with thin mattress beneath pebbles, listening to tribal music of new languages, and admiring beautiful faces tattooed with their tribal patterns.
In short, I let go off of myself from my mundane everyday life. I realised that I was still young but forgot how to be free, even though my crash course there was for a week.
While I boarded the train taking me back to my hometown, I saw Thutob waving and smiling at me, still the same guy with a straight-forward spirit and betel leaf stained lips.