My Encounter with a Christ-like Figure-II

In the previous episode of this article, I had shared about how I encountered  Natwar Thakkar, the founder of the Gandhi Ashram at Chuchuyimlang and how I was touched, intrigued and inspired by his nonchalant demeanor, his unassuming lifestyle and his story. Over the years the life of this Gandhian has captivated my thoughts and imagination in many ways and taught me so many valuable lessons that I cannot contain all my thoughts and reflections about him in a single write-up. So I present here another sequel to the previous article. 

Natwar Thakkar was born in 1932 and he came to Nagaland and established the Gandhi Ashram at Chuchuyimlang in 1955. This means that he was only about 23 years old when he founded the ashram. This is something really noteworthy. At 23 years of age, most Naga youths would still be living in their parents’ house, eating the food put on the table by their parents, wearing the dresses bought with their parents’ money and demanding pocket money from their parents. I mean 23 years is such a tender age that it is hard to fathom how someone could take such a drastic step as to leave one’s hometown and go to a totally new place inhabited by people of another race, culture, language and religion and settle there permanently. I wonder whether any of our macho Naga youths could take such a drastic step for something in which he/she believes. And yet, that was what a 23 year old youth from mainland India did in 1955 and his name was Natwar Thakkar.     

He founded the Gandhi ashram in 1955 at Chuchuyimlang and he stuck to this mission till his last breath. He did not waver from this peace project even an inch. All his life’s activities and engagements revolved around this ashram. Now, this is also something really remarkable. We live in a society and time where compromise has become the norm. Many people find it really hard to stick to one’s mission or project for long because obstacles, discouragements and hurdles come in the way of every mission’s path. Many people make New Year’s resolution at the beginning of a new year. But I have heard it say that most New Year Resolutions are broken within a few weeks time. So how could an unassuming man from mainland India come to a faraway unknown village and establish an ashram amidst an alien culture and do social service to some people with whom he had no affinity whatsoever for well over 6 decades. I guess it would really take bold and unwavering commitment. And the question is can Nagas exhibit this kind of traits and sacrifices for what we believe in?

As mentioned in the previous episode of this article, Naga society has become very materialistic. Nagas, whether young or old, seem to be obsessed with only building RCC structures, buying the latest fancy cars, preparing and sitting for exams targeting the most lucrative jobs, amassing properties (buying lands) in Kohima and Dimapur etc. Thus it would be unthinkable to even imagine a 23 year old Naga youth to leave his hometown or abandon everything that he is hereditarily entitled to and go to a faraway uncertain land for a noble cause or for something in which one believes. But that was exactly what Natwar Thakkar did in the 1950s and that is why his story of sacrifice and commitment has many lessons from which Nagas can learn. And that is why his story is worth sharing because his story has the potential to open the eyes of the Nagas to many revelations to which we have become blind in our pursuit for materialistic prosperity. 

Many Nagas seem to be obsessed with sending missionaries to faraway places to propagate the gospel of Christ. And here also the story of Natwar Thakkar has all the ingredients to inspire Naga Christian missionaries. This is so because Natwar Thakkar also came from a faraway place and spent all his life here in a remote Naga village leading a simple life amongst simple villagers, eating simple food, wearing simple dresses and faraway from all modern luxuries and comforts. Of course, Natwar was a Hindu and not a Christian and he did not come here to preach and propagate the gospel. But the way he sacrificed his home, came out of his comfort zone and came to dwell in an almost foreign culture and spent his whole life committed to a cause he dearly believed is akin to what many missionaries do or are called to do for the sake of Christ. 

It is also worth noting that Natwar came and settled in Chuchuyimlang in the mid 1950s when the Indo-Naga conflict was at its peak and anti-India feelings and sentiments were intensely widespread throughout the Naga hills. So how come this unknown Indian from mainland India was able to muster the courage and the guts to come to Nagaland in such turbulent times and make a remote Naga village his most beloved dwelling. And also how come the villagers of Chuchuyimlang amidst such anti-India sentiments allow him to establish his mission in their village. I guess all these became possible because Natwar Thakkar did not come to Nagaland with guns and bullets or to destroy and kill but he came in peace and goodwill and believing in the universal brotherhood of men. This, in itself, is again a great message because it tells us that no matter who you are and where you are, love, peace and the spirit of brotherhood are languages which all men understand even when everything around seem to be crumbling down in confusion, violence and anarchy. The story of Natwar splendidly exhibits this.

The story of this man also brings to the fore the big heartedness and the open mindedness of the Nagas in general and the people of Chuchuyimlang in particular. The Aos were the first among the Nagas to accept the gospel. So by the mid 1950s the Christian faith must have already made its mark in most of the Ao villages including Chuchuyimlang. So in a village which had already accepted Christianity and at a time when anti-India feelings were at its peak, for the villagers of Chuchuyimlang to accept and harbor someone like Natwar who was from mainland India and who had come there with a totally new message (not the gospel) speaks volumes about the universal craving of mankind for love, peace, new knowledge and new ideas.

After Natwar Thakkar died in October 2018 at Guwahati, his mortal remains were brought to Chuchuyimlang for the last rites despite the fact that he was a Hindu, non-Naga and a non-Christian. This again is a story in itself. His funeral program was held in the centre of the village which was thronged by people from all walks of life and from near and far. And after that his mortal remains were cremated within the vicinity of Chuchuyimlang village not according to Christian rituals but according to Hindu rituals. The funeral of Natwar must have been a solemn one and on that day it did not matter whether you were a Christian or a Hindu, a Naga or an Indian, black or white or whether you had anything to do with Gandhian philosophy. What mattered was that you were a human being and that you loved peace, non-violence and that you believed in the universal brotherhood of man.

I spent over two years in Chuchuyimlang and so I know that these people love their lands, their culture and their faith and would not trade these for anything else in the world.  So, the fact that the people of Chuchuyimlang did not mind donating their lands for the ashram,  the fact that they did not mind the presence of Natwar in their village even though he was a non-Christian and a Hindu, the fact that they harbored his mission even though it had nothing to do with the gospel, the fact that they did not mind his mortal remains being cremated according to Hindu rites in their village demonstrate that love, peace, goodwill and belief in the brotherhood of men are virtues which everyone appreciates and has no objection to.

So, in a nutshell, we can say that when someone comes in love, peace, goodwill (sans violence) and believing in and propagating the universal brotherhood of men and the inherent good in men, there will always be takers and acceptors anywhere in the world because these are the virtues and values which everyman craves and cries out for. So, in a way, the life of this Gandhian is akin to the biblical story of our savior leaving the comforts of his heavenly abode and coming down to earth and dwelling amongst us to open our eyes to the truth and purpose of our existence.

Khrietuonyü Noudi hails from L. Khel, Kohima Village and has a post-graduate degree in political science from Delhi University