How much do I respect and value myself for being a Naga? To be a Naga was not something I chose. I was born a Naga and so I am a Naga.
Our unique identity as Nagas was pumped into my consciousness from a very young age. In school, I determined not to do well in Hindi. So flunking the subject filled me and my some of my friends with a sense of “national” pride. To us then, Hindi was synonymous to India. And of course, even though we hardly had any intelligent explanation or knowledge about why we did not belong to India, we still breezed through school, proud to be a Naga and even prouder that we had the power not to do well in Hindi. That was High School Naga nationalism.
The realisation of the need for Hindi came much later as I moved out to India and Nepal for study and eventual work. I even discovered that I quite found the language to be not only useful but beautiful too. This topic, however, is not my subject of interest today. My musings, and even concern, here lean more towards the matter of our self-respectability as a people group. How do we rate ourselves in the way we regard and respect ourselves? How would be our Self-respectability Quotient if there were to be a device to measure that?
A couple of years ago, some distinguished guests from the West were taken to a nearby village up on the mountains, as part of the “touristy” rituals we conduct. After a leisurely tour of the village and a simple meal from one of the villager’s homes, where the guests ate from wooden plates and sat on hard wooden seats, the contentment in their hearts and minds was pretty visible. Looking at the sprawling, terraced paddy fields below the village, one of them said with clear sincerity, “This is one place I would love to live in after my retirement. I simply love the mountains, the fresh air, the peaceful village folks, the simplicity…”
That was not the first time a foreigner expressed a wish like that. It has not been the last time, either. Our land is awesome. Nagaland is beautiful, simply put. Long before our festivals and photographs were stamped on stickers or put up on Tourist websites, Nagaland captured the hearts of adventure lovers and artsy folks.
And Nagas? To most outsiders who have had the chance of crossing paths with real Nagas, our hospitality, generosity and warmth are legendary. Some virtues we possess, in general, seem to be innate. As far as I can truthfully testify, Nagas do not stand and stare at another human being in trouble or pain and do nothing. We instinctively reach out to help if there is a way. We do not say, “Tsk! Tsk! That is his/her karma.” This was there even from our pre-Christian days.
Our people are blessed with a lot of good, just as our land is. We have in us and with us, traits and things in galore that we can be proud, of and be happy about.
Some good years ago, as I sat in my first Greek class, I discovered that I had a penchant for language (in retrospection, I wasted some priceless hours vowing to “hate” Hindi). After a surprise class test, when our papers were returned, I happened to top the class that day. The teacher’s reaction took me by surprise. He said, “Oh? I didn’t know people from the North east could do language!” As sarcastic as it sounded, it was meant to be just that. And of course, right at that very moment, I signed a covenant in my mind to work very hard and pull down any prejudices he might have about people from this region. Why should I let anyone make a blanket statement and influence me or anyone else towards drawing faulty conclusions after all?
Every now and then, we hear and read about young Nagas breaking through the achievement ceiling. Whether it is in the field of academics, art, music, business ventures, Nagas are making it. And when Nagas make it, they make it with class. There is a Naga sophistication and classiness that is again, so innate and original. There have been countless success stories we can recount and rejoice over. We’ve got it in us to do well, real well, if we are given the opportunity and the space.
On the flipside, there are the warts and the scars which stick to our Naga identity; stuffs we are not totally proud of. But again, we are a young nation. We are still learning. We are seeing and encountering many things for the first time in our life as an “enlightened” nation.
The important thing at this juncture is for us to recognise our unique identity, learn to appreciate the virtues and gifts in us, grow in the right direction and learn to respect ourselves for who and what we are. Self-respect, because the Almighty God created us and endowed us with much that we can take pride in.
Self-respect in each individual, therefore, ought to make us more appreciative of ourselves, of our values and virtues, and of our achievements. It, however, is not self-love or obsession with one’s own. It does not tally well with self-advertisement whether that is done in the form of putting oneself out in the public arena baiting for attention or making unprecedented glorification of oneself or those of one’s own by way of unnecessary felicitations (the kind we see every day in the local dailies, and which make us sigh and cringe). This was never Naga style. Self-respect ought to enable us to differentiate between what is truly worth glorifying in public and what could be contained and celebrated within one’s own circle of family and friends.
Self-respect also drives people towards respecting others more. It acknowledges and recognises the good in others. It finds no difficulty in applauding for others when the moment calls for it. People who possess self-respect make it easy for others to respect them back simply because they know where to draw the lines of propriety and decency.
The power of possessing self-respect and living it has endless potential and gain. It will keep us not only looking good but living well. If we have it, we will be mindful about where and how we dump our garbage; whether or not we have any qualms about quarrying and towing away the stones and rocks in our rivers and mountains; whether or not our contribution to our respective workplaces corresponds with the salary we draw at the end of the month; whether or not the thousands and Lakhs and sometimes Crores of Rupees that go into building our thick and high fences and houses really and truthfully belong to us; whether or not the electric power that lights up our houses at night come with legal bill payments; whether or not we are rightfully eligible for the job we hold on to and get paid for, and many other such matters that sometimes never come out in the open for discussion or public scrutiny but which our conscience gives the verdict for.
Surely, there is so much to being a Naga. And there is even more to being a Naga Christian. Just when the outside world was beginning to conclude that being Naga was synonymous to being Christian, we are beginning to change gears. Sadly and shamefully, we have so many wrongs and sins to account for. Our roads tell a story. Many of our offices and schools tell unpleasant tales. Many daily and occasional occurrences depress us and make us hang our heads in shame. But, yes, BUT all is not lost. There are a lot of good things happening everyday. There are unpublished success stories of young and not-so-young Nagas being written within and beyond Nagaland every now and then, if not every day. We have not missed the boat yet. In fact, we are just at the right juncture where we already know so much and also have enough expertise and resources to start writing our story again for the present and the next generations to read and draw inspiration from.
We have not “arrived” yet, but we are not where we once were anymore, either. We are at a point where we can raise our self-respectability level in innumerable ways. Let’s look for the opportunities and spur each other on. With a little bit more of self-respect, we can be the beautiful people we are meant to be.
Am I proud to be a Naga? You bet. Anyday!