Why isn’t the Lockdown working in India?

This post comes out as an outburst of anguish. The lock down in India has been in effect for four days now. Schools and colleges have been closed, all exams postponed or cancelled. Companies and establishments of commerce and trade have asked their employees to work from home. All construction work has been halted and people working in factory shops have been asked not to report to work. The poor and daily wagers being the immediate casualties.

Different state governments had already asked for social distancing practices and had started sealing their state borders days before the national announcement. States at their level were doing a good job of tracking and retracing steps of those who’ve arrived from different countries. Some states had announced relief for the poor and arrangements of free food and shelter. The body blow came when the Prime Minister got on TV and put the whole nation in a lock down at 4 hours notice.

I had uninstalled my WhatApp to avert the flooding of Corona related memes, jokes and fake news. I was hoping to experience the bliss of ignorance, too bad there’s real reality to contend with.

A TV News show on Friday evening made me feel miserable. The news was about thousands of daily wave workers and laborers leaving the big cities and heading towards their hometowns on foot. Taking to the feet is such a state of helplessness. Imagine someone so helpless and out of options to decide to take to a journey of over 1000 Km on foot! Without money or food or water, and with kids in tow! The news piece really made me sad, not just sad, sick of sadness.

Why did happen? I asked myself. The only answer I got was that the lock down was not the right decision taken to prevent the spread of Corona virus. Before we try to debate on whether the lock down was a bad option, lets look at a few things in light of the lock down.

The Poor

The census of 2011 says there are about 450 million people in India who migrate to find work. This is more than the population of USA. Out of these 450 Million, 90% if not more at unskilled or hold a blue collar job. Many of them earn their day’s meal on the same day. These people were left in the lurch which less than 4 hours notice.

The jobs they did would be closed for atleast 3 weeks, they have no means on earning, and the places they ate will no longer be open. There is no food, no money and No way of making either. Although the government in its few interactions with the nation said that landlords be kind to their tenants, employers not fire their workers and banks and other financial institutions to give borrowers a repayment leave, none of these seemed to have any effect on the lives of these poorest of the poor. So they had but one option, leave the hopeless city and head to their far off village.

In the last 2 days thousands of daily wage earners and laborers have been seen on highways walking to destinations as far as a thousand kilometers! Many have hitched rides on trucks where they’ve been bundled in as sheep – as many as 300 in the back of a single truck! No takers for social distancing or physical isolation.

The Police

The conduct of the police has been most abhorrent in this whole episode. When me and my family wanted to step out of the house for hospital visits or to get groceries, we are told beware of the cops! there are news reports that the cops are thrashing anyone who strays the streets. There have been multiple reports of police brutality. Stopping and harassing people moving about in the streets to thrashing vehicles, and beating up the public has been the general demeanor of the Police.

The Police personnel are not entirely to be blamed in this. It is perhaps the fault of the governments, both center and at the state for having sent the wrong message. The PM on his part used the word Curfew quite loose and liberally, and the state governments took it one step further by imposing the colonial section 144 through entire states. What’s wrong in imposing 144 you ask? The 144 is a criminal procedure code imposed to prevent the Law and Order situation getting out of hands. By using 144 and calling it a curfew, our leadership has tuned the minds of the civil servants and the police to treat the medical emergency as a law and order situation – which is why the beatings and brutality has surfaced.

The Policies

The poor and the police are just pawns, they don’t have an option to take their own decisions. They are just reacting to what comes from the top. Why is it that the police are issuing helpline numbers and monitoring overseas travelers in one state; and beating up curfew breakers and making the poor migrants crawl on their fours in another? Its simply because of the politicians and policies of different governments.

Different state governments have done tremendous work, our central government has also started work by announcing financial aid, food security and availability of cooking fuel to the poor. The RBI has also scripted a monetary policy to meet the government half way and ensure the economy doesn’t fall flat on its back. Experts and critics however say that the government needs to spend more. By estimates given in a working paper by the Institute for Human Development, a private think tank, the govt of India needs to spend atleast 3% of of GDP to get out of this pandemic, that’s about 6 lakh cores. We have made plans to spend 1.8 Lakh cores, that’s less than a 3rd of what’s required.

Coming to the point

Do we really need a lock out? Yes. Yes, we do. There is no cure for the CoViD 19 and the only way we can be safe is by not getting it. The lockdown is what China did, its what Italy and the rest of Europe is doing and that’s what we need to do. However there are a few questions.

How did people get food in China? Groceries? Milk, fruits and vegetables? How were the garbage cleared? There is more than 1 answer to this. Alibaba did not stop deliveries in China. Groceries and perishables were delivered to homes, China set up a hospital in 6 days, banned all PPE, medicines and Ventilators and raw materials within weeks, and hired millions to work as public servants to do the deliveries.

Even socialist countries of Europe also kept the ecommerce shopping sites like Amazon working. That’s where we had our first failing. Big Basket and Grofers, two of the largest grocery delivery Apps stopped deliveries from 20th March. Amazon and Flipkart also closed down their delivery services. All restaurants and kitchens were closed and hence no food delivery was possible.

The close down announced by the PM was intended to stop people from moving about, but the resulting shut down meant there was no food, no delivery and no commerce. If this was the plight of the urban middle class, then needless to say what the poor had to go through, now can we blame them for wanting to flee to their hometowns?

India is an aspiring Socialist nation, but we are not in a position yet to provide social security to all. This inability of the government to provide social security and sustenance is made up by the emotional and social structure of my family – and this is the reason behind the exodus of millions of migrants from the cities to the villages in the time of crisis. This is not the helplessness of the poor, but an indication of our system’s failure.

We don’t need a fail proof system, we need a system that keeps working even when it takes the hits. For now, the civilized, socialistic and democratically set up system has failed, but the belief in the system of family bonds and village camaraderie is what’s keep the hopes alive for the millions on the roads.

~*~

Taking Sides – LIC Disinvestment

The government of India has set an aggressive disinvestment target of ₹2.1 Trillion for the financial year of 2020-21. Most skeptics of this government believe that the government and its finance managers lack vision and don’t know what is the real objective behind this foolish obsession with disinvestment. But is it really a pointless obsession as some people think?

Last year, that is in FY20, the government made big decisions on disinvestment. The FM came out and gave us a list of government assets and enterprises from which it want to move away by disinvestment. BPCL was the biggest shocker in the list, a profit making company was to be sold, why? well, the government didn’t really feel it necessary to make the reason public but people speculated nevertheless.

This year, the government has it’s eye set of Life Insurance Corporation of India – LIC. The LIC came into existence in 1956 when the government of the day decided to consolidate life insurance companies and create one big state owned life insurance provider. A parliamentary legislation was passed and LIC came into being. LIC is one of the largest financial organisation in the nation and sits on a huge pile of cash. At the end of 2019, LIC has a total asset base of ₹30 trillion – that’s as much as our budgeted expenses for this year. LIC has a market share of 72% in the insurance sector, which means roughly 3 out of 4 people in India have insurance policies from LIC. Naturally everyone is skeptical when the GoI announced that it wants to sell out a little stake in LIC and make it a public company.

As I see it, the disinvestment from LIC has many dimensions. There are 4 main dimentions.

  1. The Government of India
  2. LIC as an Entity and its Employees
  3. LIC policy holders
  4. Public and the Future Stake holders of LIC

The Government of India

The humongous size of LIC and it’s assets and the Government of India’s total control over it meant that the GoI can direct LIC about how and where to spend its money. The money of LIC is used many times when the government wanted to disinvest from other PSUs . LIC also came to the aid of the government and chipped in from its huge kitty when the GoI wanted to invest in social and public works.

All governments in history have used LIC to bail our ailing Banks and other PSUs. LIC has also been a major market mover in our stock markets. Governments has leveraged LIC as a major investor to influence stock markets and all this was hidden from the general public of the nation. LIC by far is one of the most opaque organisations in the country today. No one knows where it invests or how much money it’s losing. We can only make a guess by looking at the share holding pattern of other public companies.

From what we’ve seen above, it appears the government has more to lose with this move. Going public would mean open scrutiny of the financial transactions. Will this restrict the government’s ability to use LIC for its financial needs? Not necessarily, the government has sold 20-30% stakes in many PSU banks, but still, a phone call from a big office in the government is enough to draw checks.

So we can conclude that the utility of the LIC for the GoI remains unchanged, just that the transactions will be public now. Again, when has public scrutiny scared any PSU bank managers? Can it be different for LIC? No likely.

LIC and its Employees

The employees of LIC staged a walk out on Tuesday the 4th of Feb and called for a nation wide where the 1.3 Lakh employee base would go on an indefinite strike. The employees are against the sale of 10% government stake via an IPO. The employees say that the LIC is the profit making company and has dominated the insurance sector despite privatization of the industry. The employees also say that the sovereign guarantee offered by the company on the LIC policies of the policy holders would not be in effect once the company is made public.

There has been no talks between the employee unions and the management of LIC yet. Market experts suspect that the employee displeasure is also stems from the fact that they would cease to be employees of a wholly state owned company.

As far as LIC as an entity is considered, going public would open it up for public scrutiny which will surely do good for the company. New stake holders would mean new objectives for the board – shareholder satisfaction. One needs to be careful and not expect too much. We all know that the state owned New India Assurance also underwent an IPO, a lukewarm reception and listing at a discount.

LIC Policy Holders

This people looking at the disinvestment move from this dimension. The view of the policy holder has grabbed most attention. What will happen to the policy holder’s money if the company goes bust? Now that the government’s stakes will go down and it will be a public company, the sovereign guarantee – assurance by the government – on the bonus will not be applicable. Hence the bonus is at risk and needs panic! well, not really. A 10% stake sale shouldn’t really mean all this. The company will remain the same from the perspective of the policy holder.

Skeptics however see this as a starting point and a precedent. A government of a later date may want more money and decide to sell some more of its stake and slowly lead to complete privatization of LIC. This is definitely not unheard of, but let’s not get that pessimistic just yet.

New Stake Holders

Finally, the new stake holders. What do they stand to gain or lose from this? Well for starters they will gain the privilege to have a closer peak into the books of LIC.

Secondly, if the LIC Act is amended in such a way to start treating it as any other public listed company. This way, by the provisions of the companies act, the minority share holders – which will most likely be banks, MF houses or retail investors will have rights to be heard and approve off any important decisions of the company. Does this make you feel powerful? Well.. let’s see about this.

Lastly, all PSUs pay dividends to the government from their surpluses. This can happen each year or whenever the central government is keen of getting a dividend. How are these dividends decided? how much? when? why etc etc was unseen in a non public LIC. This will or is likely to cease or atleast be reasonable once LIC goes public since the GoI will not be the only recipient of the dividends.


Looking at the four dimensions to this story, one gets a strong feeling that the Government of India will be the biggest loser by doing this. So why is the GoI doing this?

Please please please don’t tell me this is to meet the revenue expenditure. If it is.. then all the advantages mentioned above will mean nothing and mean that the government has indulged in yet another bout of sheer economic ignorance.

Why RBI held onto the status quo

The Reserve Bank of India decided to hold its rates in the Monetary Policy Committee meeting on the December 5 2019.

The reaction to this decision was well received by the analysts of the economy. But still, there was a group that expected the RBI to cut the rates.

Why did people expect the RBI to cut the rates?

We expected the RBI to cut rates because the state of the economy is far from showing any signs of recovery. The GDP growth is down, and there is no improvement in private investment either. By reducing the interest rates further the RBI and the government might’ve hoped to stimulate investment.

Why was no one shocked on the status quo of the interest rates?

We weren’t really shocked because even though it seemed like common sense to reduce the interest rates to stimulate investment, it somehow didn’t seem to work.

The RBI has reduced the repo rate 5 times already and there has been no significant effect on the economy or private investment.

Why hasn’t the rate cut made a difference?

It’s simply because of 2 main reasons,

1. Banks aren’t ready to pass on the benefit

With reduced interest rates, once would assume the commercial banks would reduced their lending rates and pass on some benefit to the consumers, but this didn’t happen. There are many reasons for this, the banks are already over streched with advances, the banks have mounting bad debts and fit because there aren’t enough quality borrowers inthe market.

2. Inflation is high

Due to an increase in fuel prices and food inflation, the WPI has increased to 4.9% which is well above the RBI’s target of 4%. Making further reductions would mean more money in the economy and hence trigger more price rise.

There is also a 3rd reason, since the economy isn’t that great, there is no need to invest right now in India. A rich investor who has easy and cheap access to funds in India would be tempted to borrow in India at a lower price and invest abroad. Already our foreign remittances are increasing, we don’t want to encourage further remittances do we?

Hence it makes perfect sense for the RBI to hold its rates.

But this leaves us with a site thumb. Who then will stimulate the economy? In 2011-12 when Pranab Da ended up over stimulating the economy, his only fault was just relying on the monetary policy and loosening it without care or concern.

Today we can’t rely on the monetary policy alone to get the economy back on track, we need the finance ministry to manage the fiscal policy and help revive the economy.

But now another question sticks out, does the government have any money left to do fiscal policy changes?

Where’s all the money gone? Why has GST failed? I guess that’s another blog.

Tour de North East

A comprehensive guide to my tour in the beautiful North East of India in the the December of 2018.

Part 1 – The shortlist
A brief about how to plan your North East trip. The NE has 8 states and many many beautiful places. How to pick and choose, and what we did

Planning be Legendary

Part 2 – The Big Cities
Write up on Guwahati and Shillong. The weather, public amenities, transport facilities available, economy, business, brands, tourism, people and culture.

Kamakhya Temple

Part 3 – Khasi hills of Meghalaya
Khasi is one of the three major tribes in Meghalaya. The Khasi hills are a geographic distinction in Meghalaya and is famous for the many tourist attractions including Cheerapunji and the many root bridges.

Tawang – Not in the trip

Part 4 – Dawki and Jaintia
Asia’s cleanest village, followed by a kayak ride on the river Dawki, Bangladesh border and stories of a 14 year old boat man by the sunset.

Part 5 – Nagaland
First visit to Nagaland, how to get there, legal requirements, history, tourism, transportation, people, language and culture.

The Hornbill Festival

Part 6 – The Naga Conversations
Myth busting conversations up close with the Nagas, demystifying pop culture beliefs and dogma about the Nagas. People, Language, culture and Food.

Bonus – Getting to Cheerapunji
Travel options from Shillong to Cheerapunji. Embarrassing true stories, Cab fares, Accommodation options and Deals.

Kanyamagufa is Real

In the October of 2017, for no reason at all I took a 12 year oath.

I will witness and experience the next 12 Pushkarams in the next 12 years.

Ok, first there’s a technical term in the vow. Pushkaram – let’s define that.

Pushkaram in it’s bare sense is a river festival. Rivers in India, and in most other ancient civilizations of the world are worshipped as the embodiment of a life giving and cradling spirit. Ofcourse we always go overboard with our conceptions. No one knows when the attitude of gratitude and befriended living turned into an overzealous superstition. Naturally the river festivals became more and more superstitious.

Or maybe not? I won’t take a scientific approach to rationalize it, but let me use some common sense. India has many rivers and we cant say we’ll just worship one or two, hence they created a formula. A 12 year cycle to worship 12 prominent rivers. And what’s the measure the time? The heavens!

Jupiter is said to take 12 years to make one full circle. So if Jupiter is in Libra now, it will come back to libra next in 12 years. And each year, one river gets a chance, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 rivers and 12 years. Makes perfect sense. Now I am not going to comment on the spiritual side of the story or the scientific side, because I’m neither a priest nor a scientist. I’m just an experiencer. So I experience. And hence the lofty vow.

Let’s take a few examples to drive this home.

In 2017 when Jupiter moved into Libra, the river Kaveri gets the Pushkaram – It’s river festival.

Next year, the next sign, the next Pushkaram. That is, in 2018 when Jupiter moves into Scorpio, the river Bhima gets the Pushkaram.

Like this, the cycle goes on for years. The hype is not about maintaining this complicated calculation or about anything over religious, but it’s about river cleaning and celebration. Ofcourse some of the Pushkarams like Ganga – also called the Kumbh – river Yamuna and river Godavari attract huge crowds – running into tens of millions – these invariably end up dirtying the river more than purifying it. But hey, it’s a celebration and an opportunity to cleanse ourselves.

*

Phew! Now let’s get into Kanyamagufa. Oops, sorry it’s another technical term, its actually a mythical place in Micheal Crichton’s 1980 book called Congo. It’s the place of the bones.

In 2018, it was the turn of the river Bhima, which originates in the state of Maharashtra, flows into Karnataka and merges with the river Krishna in Telangana. I decided to go-to a small place – almost a suburb or Pune called Tulapur.

Tulapur is famous because it’s has the tomb of Sambhaji maharaj. He was the eldest son of the great Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The river Bhima flows through Tulapur and hence I decided to go there to witness the Pushkaram – this was a mistake.

I first paid my respects to Sambhaji Maharaj and cooled down for a while under the shade of a tamarind tree. It was high noon and it was hot. The group of foreigners were turning pink to red to orange. Apart from them there were also students, basically couples who wanted some time quite place to be with each other’s words. And – my favourite, a bunch of old grannys, they must’ve been easily over 70. They all had earthen pots of spiced butter milk that they sold for 10 rupees. They had no teeth, and spoke with me warmly in Marathi, either they were complaining of the heat or of something else, but they just laughed and smiled at me because I was nodding and they figured I wasn’t understanding a word. I said my goodbyes and asked for a photo, the granny declined and so I just paid and left for the river.

There was no Pushkaram, no fairs, no tents, no music, no carnival, no people, nor any water. The place is a meeting point of three Rivers: Bhima, Bhamma and Indrayani. I’m not sure if it was the season or the rivers are going dry everywhere, but Tulapur was dry. I could see shallow streams of water and soft shiny pebbles exposed on the river floor.

I decided to take a walk upstream in search of water, I was actually walking on the river when it happened. I noticed a few pieces of bones. I ignored and walked further upstream. More bones. Some dried flowers and bangles too. Now I was getting suspicious. Is this an old battle ground? Do we have the tomb here because it’s where Sambhaji died? In a battle?

Since there was no carnival there was nothing to experience, and thanks to the discovery of bones, I wasn’t going to take a “holy” dip in the Bhima either. I started walking back downstream towards the steps. The view of the tomb, temple and the tall chimneys made a beautiful frame, I clicked a couple of pictures and continued walking. I sat down at the foot of the stairs on the bank disappointed when I saw the priest, he turned around and asked something in Marathi. But I understood he was asking me if I wanted to perform someone’s last rites. Was I looking that disappointed?

That’s when I understood why there was no carnival or festival at this place. It was a cremation ground. The chimneys were of an incinerator. And the bones were actually mortal remains of dead people cremated in this place. Ouch. Mistake.

I laughed at myself, gave the priest a headache, stood up and walked back to road feeling foolish. Ofcourse I did find a place where the Pushkaram was going on later – but that’s for another day.

Two years later, the pieces of bones on the dried river bed still haunt me. Not because of the dead, but because of what we are doing to our rivers. I wonder what would turn up if all the rivers dried? Bones? Kanyamagufa?

~*~

Part 6 – The Naga Conversations

Two thoughts come to mind when we think Nagaland.

  1. Dog meat
  2. Head hunters

It’s very sad that these are the only things we can think of. Nagas are said to be the one of the bravest of the Indian army. The current chief minister of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio had been the CM 3 times before. A 13 year old girl started an armed resistance against the British rule in 1929; Rani
Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16 and was only released in 1947 after the independence of India. There are many Naga football stars including Talimeren Ao in who’s honour the government has released a postal stamp. But do we know any of this? Noooo.. we can only think of dog meat and “violent” head hunting.

Sadly both of these topics are highly misunderstood, misinterpreted and misconstrued. Stereotype dog meat jokes on the Nagas are one thing, but alleging that they feed dog meat to tourists or to anyone without consent is rubbish.

Finding Dogmeat in the famous Shah house of Hyderabad or some hyped restaurant on Indiranagar of Bangalore might be bad. Bad because they sell Dogmeat in the name of mutton. But this doesn’t happen in Nagaland.

In our visit to Kohima, one of our expectation was to see dog meat and other exotic animals for sale in the markets – we missed it. In Kisama, we did see black boards outside Morungs with menus selling dog meat.

The board clearly read:

Local Dog Meat – ₹150

Local Pork – ₹180

Local Beaf – ₹200

So it’s just like ordering salad or juice, just another item of the menu. You order it, you get it – simple.

For dinner we tried a variety of food from a line of eateries – who were all hoteliers from across the state and had set up stalls to serve food at the Hornbill Festival. They were also part of a contest for the best food stall. Choices were abundant, both for veg and non veg. They served grasshoppers; crispy, roasted grasshoppers. I didn’t eat but they asked everyone explicitly for prawn allergies before serving. Of course we also had rice beer in bamboo shoots. I asked our friend from the TV channel if they used the bamboo shoots as a drinking glass at their homes also or was it just for the tourists in restaurants. He wasn’t surprised, he said in the towns we use normal steel, or plastic or coffee mugs – just like everyone, but in villages some traditional people do use the bamboo shoots.

This was followed by some karaoke, the head chef came out and sang too, it seemed like he was very popular. A group if pretty girls – they could be older – got excited and had animated conversations with him. The ladies of Nagaland were by far the prettiest in the north east.

*

Back at the house, it was biting cold. Avin had started a fire outside and there was a group having dinner around it. We said our goodbyes to our friends and went up to the room – which is where Nikie came to enquire about our stay.

Upon seeing us, she realised we had run into her a couple of times in the carnival. After pleasantries, we started talking of the different stalls and activities at the fest. I said I was surprised to see the Indian army put up stalls too. To which she said Nagaland provides a sixth if all soldiers to the Assam rifles. The hornbill festival was a major showcasing platform for the army. Infact there was also a stall from the BSF and another war memorial stall that showed us about the war of Kohima – A world war 2 battle that lasted for nearly 4 months.

Speaking to her was easy, she had done her graduation and post grad at St. Aloysius in Mangalore. She was now doing her PhD in history at Guwahati University. She enlightened us about the myth of head hunting.

The world outside the Naga society thinks it’s a way of living that the Naga tribes go on beheading and collecting heads of their rivals. While it’s true that tribes get into conflicts and the Nagas have beheaded each other, they don’t collect heads and it’s definitely not a tradition to behead one another. The Nagas too are victims of the British misconstrue. When the British and other exploiters came to Nagaland through Myanmar, like any natives the Nagas resisted, and to de-legitimise their claims the Nagas were made to look evil, violent and dangerous.

The girl had seemed like a carefree “girl from the north east” who ran to the beaches. She looked so different now. We were left with a sudden realisation of our ignorance as she made her way back to her room.

The fire was still burning and the other group – who were a bunch of consultants looking to get students to their colleges from the North east – had gone, so we went down to sit by the fire. Avin, who we thought was the caretaker was there sat with us. We were to find that he was an artist, a sculpture, he worked different jobs and had come to Delhi in 2017 to work with the media for a sporting event. He was now taking care of this property for the winter and had plans of going up to Guwahati or Delhi in the summer.

We had heard him stum on his guitar, so we asked if he could play for us, he wasn’t shy, he played the guitar and RJ – my other travel companion sang. It was a nice soothing end to the night. Realisation of our ignorance on one side, and understanding of the Naga way by these casual conversations on the other. Both had left us yearning for Nagaland.

*

We left the next morning, took a rather bad and lengthy drive to Mao Gate in Manipur, switched cabs and passed through some towns that ended with -oan, except for Senapati. We ATM-ed at Senapati, bought some water and headed to Imphal. That’s where we saw hoardings about something called Sangai Fest in Manipur. Its an annual festival in of Manipur – just like the Hornbill of Nagaland. It happens in the last week of November – so you could go-to Manipur in the last week of November, experience the Sangai feat and then come to Nagaland in December for the Hornbill. Make it happen!

~*~

Also read: Part 5 – Nagaland

Part 5 – Nagaland

Nagaland is one of the few states in India where the biggest city is not the capital by default. Kohima is the capital city of Nagaland, it is located in the south-south central region of the state. Kohima also serves as the seat of the Legislative and Executive arms of the state government of Nagaland. The state doesn’t have a High court – but has a Kohima Bench in the Gauhati High Court.

The largest city of Nagaland is Dimapur, located about 75 Km from Kohima in the south west corner of the state bordering the neighboring state of Assam. Dimapur is the last accessible place by Air and Train in Nagaland. It is not unnatural as Nagaland is mostly covered in hills – about 90% of the landscape is covered in hills and hilly terrain.  

There are numerous trains on the route and 10 of them are daily trains. So we pushed our departure and decided to take a late night train that would a. Give us time to meet the players of Bengaluru FC in the day, and b. save us the hotel cost for the night. We’d booked a non-AC – sleeper coach – which cost us a little more than 200 rupees. The train was on time at Guwahati – but was filthy. Since mine was an upper berth and it was a late-night train I didn’t bother if the floor was clean or not – I hopped in and slept. I was told that the train was duly cleaned before it left the station.

The train pulled into Dimapur a little after 6 AM. I was exhausted and visibly dehydrated. Luckily the train station has enough food joints and to our pleasant surprise, there was a south Indian stand that served Dosas – which we had with much gratitude.

We had run into the tourist police – female – with whom we spoke about the ILP. The ILP – Inner Line Permit is what tourists and other non-native expats need to visit Nagaland. It is made essential because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that is in force in the area. The Act itself might be enforced in different regions up to different extents, but the ILP is required in only a few regions of India – and we didn’t have it. Our friend and host – who worked at a Kohima based TV station had said don’t worry about it, you’re only in Nagaland for 2 days. So we didn’t worry about it and fat mouthed the cops who detained us at the railway station for our troubles. Eventually we were let off on our own cognizance and on assurance that we would obtain the ILP from the commissioner’s office in Dimapur town. I would suggest – you get the ILP before hand and not try to pull stunts like these – its available online or in bigger cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Shillong.

Upon our “release” from the Railway station, we were hounded by cabbies – normal of any city in India. We found a cab that had 1 passenger ready to leave and with the 3 of us joining, we were ready to go – except – now we had to find a driver. The cabs may not always be privately owned – hence there are 3 moving parts – the passengers, the vehicle, and the driver. It was only on the road to Kohima did we find out that every part in the car is a moving part and it’s a miracle the chassis still holds, and engine still runs. The road is terrible, most of it is attributed to the new highway project, but the construction has been going on for years and likely to go on for years more. The distance of 75 Km took us nearly 6 hours. Bikers and landslides were a common site. Armored vehicles too. I couldn’t enjoy the mountainous scenery much – but the mountains and valleys can make an enjoyable sight.

The terrain gradient of the city of Kohima was constantly varying. The city itself wasn’t any cleaner than majority of India, but there was a lot of construction going on, houses, shopping complexes, bigger housing buildings – which suggested a sort of progress. There were also numerous schools and coaching centers – coaching centers that taught computers, and other professional certifications. Good signs! Since it was Christmas season, the whole city had Christmas decorations – not a lot of lights – as electricity is a commodity, but decorations, sky lights, and a lot of red and green everywhere. The homogeneity of the decorations made me as our friendly -stranger co passenger if it was handed by the government – which was the case. We took another cab from downtown Kohima towards our homestay in Kigwema.

We were welcomed warmly by the owner/keeper of the house. As a welcome drink, we were offered rice tea. Rice is a big part in Naga society, rice with meat, rice tea, and rice beer are every Naga’s daily routine. The homestay was a minimalist stay with minimal furniture – just beds and bedding, a small table with a bible and a calendar. There were candles and matches reminding us we were in rural India – albeit a tourist destination. The facility had community bath and toilet – toilet being the squat toilet.  We freshened ourselves up and waited for our friend to pick us up to go to the Hornbill festival.

 Kisama is an artificial village created just for the sake of the festival. It gets the name from the two nearby places of Ki-gwema and phe-Sama. The village is basically a big carnival area with parking, outdoor stage area, restaurants, a chapel, ATMs, medics, outdoor flea markets and everything else you find in a carnival. The main attraction however are the Morungs. A Morung literally means a habitat – a place of residence for a family or a group of families of a Naga Tribe.

Nagaland is home to 17 indigenous tribes, some are as big as 200 thousand people while some endangered ones at less than 20 thousand inhabitants. All these tribes are incredibly interesting with their own unique culture, language, scripts and art forms. The Hornbill Festival is an event that showcases and celebrates all the different cultures of these tribes. Each of the 17 tribes are depicted in their Morung, which they get to design and decorate themselves, cook food, set up stalls, brew beer and hold all of these for sales. Photos are encouraged and everyone is friendly.

The festival not only runs in Kisama but after nightfall, concerts from famous and upcoming native bands are held in the city concert ground in Kohima – which is just 15 Km from Kisama,

The people we met, our friends who we had seen in a different light and the new friends we made opened our minds to a whole new world. The conversations with the Nagas will be last of the 6 part travelogue of the incredible North East of India.

Also Read : Part 4 – Dawki and Jaintia

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