Kohima has many hills. I live on top of one. One day I ventured down to one of the small valleys and stumbled upon what seemed like a small tree stump shaped like a human body. I picked up the strange object and to my horror it started breathing. Eyes opened and it spoke in a language that sounded like a combination of all Naga dialects. Good for me because I understand a little of all Naga dialects. Out of gratefulness, this object led me to a strange secret place where many more of these small wooden figures were lazing all around. Though they clearly disliked my presence, they showed total indifference. But I was fascinated and determined to find out more about them. This is how my association with this strange wooden race began.
I learned that they call themselves Kukalims and live in the valley they call Dzübu. How these wooden bodies can breath, eat, reproduce and talk is a mystery even to them, but they don’t seem to care how or why they do these activities. If they have a philosophy at all, it is this: live to eat; kill anyone who disagrees. They claim to be true descendants of the great Vikings—the warrior tribe.
Their legend says that hundreds of years back, a young couple eloped to China and after years of surviving by eating roots and wandering in the forests, their bodies shrunk down to small wooden pieces leaving only portions of human flesh where their brains and hearts used to be. Their wanderings finally brought them to Northeast India.
But they have failed to authenticate this legend because life in the valley of Dzübu had numbed their edge for scholastic ingenuity. All they can do now is plagiarise on books or publish cut and paste articles, which they take great pride in. They live in the shadow of the mountains as they cannot face the light. They feel that light exposes too much, more than they want to look at. Really, this is all I know about this strange race. They would tell me no more.
However from the assumption that they are descendants of the Vikings, and from my own observation, I assume that they had truly been a great race once upon a time. With the Vikings they had crisscrossed half the world in their open boats and vastly extended their horizons. Looking into the eye of each Kukalim, I could see a greatness lost; a fighting spirit numbed by the coldness and the indifference of the valley; an intelligence and talent not fully realised. But like the Vikings of the past the Kukalims lacked staying power. They had reserves of wealth but lacking in political experience. A tragic race. A nostalgia so intense and passionate that they had forgotten what they are nostalgic about. Like a longing so strong that they are now lost in that longing. But now they live in this obsessive nostalgia, talking often about the past they remember so little about. Now their love and passion for their own race had turned to two obsessions. First is their Priests; and second, their King’s Royal Family.
No one really liked the Priests, and everyone hated the Royal Family members. Given a chance, everyone would snub them both. But like Ralph and the magical conch in Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, they possessed strange hypnotic powers to hold the other Kukalims captive. But the other Kukalims don’t seem to care as long as they get their fermented fish intestine soup—their traditional drink—and a place to sleep. As for the king, he was too old to invoke the wrath or sympathy of anyone.
Every week on the seventh day the Chief-Priest would ring the bell and all Kukalims would gather in their majestic Cathedral. They lived in shabby houses, town, roads, and surroundings, but their Cathedrals can be compared with any majestic cathedral in Europe. They also have hundreds of what they call “holy schools” where students were taught how to read prayer books aloud and ring the bells in these majestic cathedrals. After learning these skills they were labelled ‘Priests’ by a hectic ceremony and gluttonous feasting. The dumbest students among them enrol because ringing bells and reading prayer books never require much intelligence.
The rest of the Kukalims are taken care of by the Royal Family who takes deep interest in these religious assemblies as it gives them a platform to propagate their agenda. But the real reason they involve is because the total indifference of these Priests covers their guilty conscience over the injustice and unfairness they practise. But really it doesn’t matter as long as they donate gold for the building of these cathedrals.
Though these religious halls are so majestic and awe inspiring, their towns and houses are almost sickening. All their drainage lines are over-ground and as they don’t have vehicles, they don’t realise the need for good roads and so use their drainage lines as footpaths. This is deplorable as people would often step on Kukalim excreta and rotten foodstuff while walking on these drainage lines. Once when a complaint was put forward to the Royal Family, they simply laughed. There are special suspension bridge built for the Royal Family, which extended from rooftop to rooftop, connecting trees so that they never had to walk on the drainage lines.
The manner in which they elect these Royal Family members is strange and worth mentioning. To be in the Royal family is not by birth, but selected through a series of contests, which would stretch for 30 days every five years. They call it Election. In the afternoon of each day, all would gather for a great feast and the contestants were made to stand and address the audience. This feast had to be financed and prepared by the contestants themselves. The intending contestants could talk on any topic and say anything they want as long as what they say is not the truth. In the end the person who spoke the most lies with a normal straight face would be elected. These rules were made not by the King or the Royal Family members, but by the people themselves. And so it was only reasonable to them that the elected persons would later have their revenge on the people by robbing the public for the humiliation they had gone through. This hideous practise was an accepted norm because that was the way their reasoning was programmed. It was truly a vicious, awful circle. I was told that some who just did not know how to tell a lie had been contesting all their lives. Some Kukalims often objected to this madness but cynicism was so high that no one ever paid much attention. Deep inside everyone wanted a change, but sadly, no one really believed in revolution and reformation anymore. These were ideas they read about only in history books.
Their political and national pride was confined to the discussion on how brave, honest and great their ancestors were in the battle filed or in other activities. But that was a thing of the past. And those memories too were now fading.
Their source of life, as I noticed, came from the trees around them. That’s why rampant deforestations greatly worried them.
Sadly, my stay was suddenly cut short as some of the leaders saw my potential of winning their election and thus spoil some of their chances. And so I was asked to leave immediately.
The valley of Dzübu is a fascinating and enchanting place. However to honour my promise to this people I will not reveal to anyone the secret route to the valley. Someday when their shame is removed and their pride restored, I will lead you to them. Someday they will gather the courage to face the light and reach the mountains. Someday they will find it worthwhile and brave enough to believe in revolution and reformation again. Someday the warrior in them will emerge and rule with the sword-the sword which is the integrity of the warrior. Someday they will learn to take pride in their differences and cherish unity. Someday they will sail the mighty ocean again and bask in the glory of God’s light. And I pray that “someday” will not be long.