Sinlung /
05 August 2014

A Conversation and ‘Burma’

By Tungshang Ningreichon

My friend Seth Shatsang is a dynamic young man in his early 30’s but looks older and pretends to belong to the ‘wise’ age generation. He is a student activist, an aggressive campaigner and sometimes comes across as a country bumpkin and a shrewd politician. He has an accent that he seems to have acquired while his scholarly time spent down the South of India so for “we” you would hear “ve”. But he is a good conversationalist and his charm lies in his ability to converse about politics in simple language, drawing examples and relevance from his day-to-day interactions with people from different walks of life. He is conversant about anything and everything under the sky of Ukhrul- Senapati-Kohima. He knows a bit about Bangalore too but he does not know too much about Delhi and that is one area I can boast to have over him.

Here, I am not interested to talk about his life, his bad romance and his failed love life. He will not want me to talk about such matters either. One rainy day he happened to come over to my place. Since he came without a vehicle or an umbrella he stayed on and the conversationalist that he is he went on tonramble over endless cups of black tea. His story about his trip to Somrah village in Burma fascinated me and I know I am killing half the fun of the story by attempting to write about it.

In the north of Ukhrul district the last village to mark the India- Burma border is Tusom, which has about 400 households. As you go further a Naga village in Burma called Somrah greets you. Somrah is also a sub-township with roughly 300 households. It is about 13Kms and a little more than an hour bike ride from Tusom village. The road to Somrah from Tusom is jeep-able, but monsoon will spell disaster. The people of Somrah are dominantly Christians but wave of Buddhism is subtlety felt and slowly children are joining monasteries.

As a child who spent considerable time in my mother’s native place, Chingai; a sub-divisional village that serves as a convergence point for many neighbouring villages including Tusom and Somrah, it is not new or strange to see travelers from Burma. They pass by Chingai to go to the district headquarter, Ukhrul for education, medical care and for basic things like clothes, kerosene, candle, salt and other daily requirements. They bring fowls, dogs and piglets in exchange for clothes or money. Interestingly both Rupee and Kyat are accepted in many of the border towns and villages. People from the two countries at the borders are not strangers to each other as they share similar if not the same culture as Naga people and trace their origin to common ancestors. The consciousness as natives of two separate nations is prominent when soldiers in uniform are seen patrolling along the border. The Burma side seemingly is more strictly manned and it requires creativity to cross the border.

As for Seth, he went to attend the youth festival; ‘Ho-Se Krenbu Twei’. Since he went on the invitation of the youth group at Somrah villages who had asked him to come and celebrate with them he did not require a permit to enter the village. In fact he and his friend enjoyed special immunity and received a royal treatment. According to Seth the popular “gifts” to carry from India are cigarettes (preferably Wills Flake), soap and salt. These are the entry tickets and can absolve you from army interference. If lucky it can also earn you an uninhibited tour of the local places. Truly, these items earned Seth some recognition and he got to pillion ride a motorcycle to few places he wanted to see. Motorcycle by the way happens to be the most popular mode of transport in villages on the Burma-side and only few can afford the same.

Seth had also carried few bars of soap. He had ensured that it was not too heavy for his ‘activist’ budget and he was lucky to have found ‘buy three get one free’ offer on, in one of the shops in Ukhrul town. He carefully separated the set lest it leaves signs and marks of the packet being tampered with, and got each bar wrapped nicely. The ‘inexpensive’ soap bar was a hit and those whom he gifted got to smell soap ‘made in India’ and those who did not get, atleast liked the idea of receiving one the next time round and enjoyed the whiff of it anyway. Seth had also carried sachets of table salt which he apparently must have collected from his travel or his visits to some restaurants. He generously gifted

some of these to the army officer posted at Somrah. It acted like magic and roused the curiosity of the officer and even days after he left, Seth got profuse messages of thanks from him. The officer either did not get the time to open the packet or was shy to ask what it contained. Later he got curious and wanted to know what was in the sachets. The message was relayed to Seth through the phone and the climax of Seth’s narration lies in his response. His message to the officer was that “it is special salt to be used for special occasions when special friends and guests come over to dine”. What a great gift! He is being invited to Somrah again and next time everything would be on the house.

I asked Seth how he communicated with the people there. He said many of them speak and understand Tangkhul or Nagamese. Some of the students who have the opportunity to study in places like Delhi and Bangalore can speak in English (Oh yes they go to these places for higher education). As for the elders whom he cannot communicate with, his friends interpreted for them. However, many a times communication was also without language but they could understand each other. ‘Without the use of words?’ I asked. ‘Yes, without words. So long as there is love and bonding people understand’, Seth stated beautifully.

Truly, communication has no barriers. It does not recognize borders and boundaries and our hearts must follow suit. And like Seth said, ‘so long there is love and bonding a connection is established’. No words!

**Tungshang Ningreichon is a happy mother from Langdang and writes occasionally for the love of stories, histories and memories.

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