Dropping out of the sky

Aheli Moitra


The Naga hills and its surroundings are full of mystery. Among many of these found in the forests of the region, the Zeme Nagas living in Assam’s now Dima Hasao Autonomous Council, found one a long time back—at a time when they inhabited Jatinga.


During their festive rituals around the fire or simply sitting around the fire, there came a time in autumn (mid August to early November), on dark moonless foggy nights, when birds would simply swoop right into the fire! Like ideas, they dropped out of the sky. Some of them were migrating from one place to the other when they are attracted to the light; were they being ‘suicidal’, did they have ‘evil intent,’ or was it simply ‘ready meat’? They swooped down only at a certain spot at Jatinga, only under certain circumstances. It remains unclear to date what attracts the birds to the light, and right into a fire, if that be the source of light.


The birds, says a board on a tourist watchtower at Jatinga constructed in 1982, come on “foggy moonless nights flying against the wind when it flows South-West-North-East. Elimination of even one of these conditions results in non appearance of the birds.”


The birds, perhaps, would not have been so mysterious if the light had not been there. The light would not have been there, perhaps, if there were no communities sitting around the fire. Like the birds in Jatinga, even ideas often drop out of spaces when we sit around the fire, in the comfort of its warmth and light, and wonder about the future of our present with our peers or kin. And much like the birds, they are a product of the particularity of our lived, shared and perceived experience.


This week, Nagaland ‘state guests,’ Amur Falcons arrived here to enrich that experience. Bearing the burden of hi-tech preservation, eight birds—Hakhizhe, Intangki, Longleng, Eninum, Phom, Naga, Wokha and Pangti—had carried a solar powered backpack tracking device through their migration of thousands of kilometres between Mongolia, East Africa and back. Among these, only Longleng remains detected. But thousands of its counterparts, alongside Longleng, will take a peek at Nagaland and roost here for a break in their intercontinental journey.


For as long as many elders, and their elders, remember, these birds and other species have shared a journey with the Naga people. In no small way has their flight defined the consistency of dynamism in the hills; their journey reflecting our oscillation and vice versa.


Let us not eat up those ideas, albeit their tasty disposition, but nurture them and see where the sweeping migration of ideas and alternatives—from south to west to north to east—may lead. Let us celebrate the life of these birds, and ours in the process, to see what shared future we may hold.


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