Yet another lifeless, aimless narrative (Book Review of Harish Chandola’s The Naga Story)

[A Book Review of Harish Chandola‘s The Naga Story: First Armed Struggle in India (trs.) Raji Narasimhan and Harish Chandola (New Delhi & New York: Chicken Neck, 2013). 428 pp. Rs. 850 (Hp). ISBN 9788192072265.]

Nearly eleven years ago I met Harish Chandola for the first time, by an accident that is sheer coincidence: in the lift of a suburban Bangkok hotel he was putting up at. “Oh! Are you an Indian!” —I said, with only a Thai liftboy in tow—and, instinctually, his reply, soft and gentle, was: “Are you a Naga?”

As perfect strangers, we could have excused each other without bothering to even bat an eyelid! Chandola had made a stopover at Bangkok. He was enroute to meet the then Singaporean President, Mr. Sellapan R. Nathan, and running late with his appointment. Ten minutes later, we were sitting together in his hotel lobby; busy with a message he wanted me to e-mail Nathan, requesting for a rescheduling of the personal appointment. Two hours later, the President’s personal assistant Cheng Cheong wrote me back with regrets for the tight schedule and impossibility to reschedule the appointment. By then—Mr. Chandola, too, was no longer around, to receive any message!

First thing first—the warmness of the person should not be confused with the book. Harish Chandola’s The Naga Story is rather too late by appointment. It makes too many unnecessary stopovers to enthrall any serious audience! It conveys no consequential message of events or significance, except the sogginess of journalistic anecdotes wanting to be a charitable narrative! Clearly it is a book hurriedly written, much beyond its stipulated luxuries. It is purely a work of individuated experience and indispensability, and apologetics for failures, which would have been best for further debates, had it seen the light earlier.

Most gross in The Naga Story is the massacre of semantics and proper nouns—not only an assault but also a treacherous ambush of familiarity and proximity. It appears like a phonetic book of syllables, clearly valued on its dictated version, converting all historicized Naga places into Swiftian yahoo-land. With almost every page dirtily littered with wrongful spellings of names and places, the average Naga reader will find this irritatingly distressful, although an apology was also served as a warning.
How does one like to open a book that attempts to convince an indulgent caesarean for a neat normal: Chedema = Chidema, Kiphire = Kifrey, Phesama = Faisama, Chazouba = Cajuba, Khuzhama = Khujama, Wokha = Okha, Chumukedima = Chemokedima; or, Sashimeren Aier = Aiyer, Gen. Thinoselie = Thinusilei/Thinuselie, Vamuzo = Vanmuzo, Khriesaneisa = Krisanisa, Zashei Huire = Jassei Hurrey, etc. and many more. Interestingly, Sema names were significantly spared! Surgically, such impoliteness to proper nouns are no longer errors but straightway mistakes—especially for the ones one had visited spatially or personally met with—but, sadly, minted as phonetic memories, perhaps, in the loneliness of a much needed edit-companion, the first and only proof-reading rule for any writing before any publication.

Harish Chandola is no stranger to the Nagas—starting with his career as Times of India’s northeast correspondent (1957-62) and, later on, as “an” (not “the”) unofficial mediator between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Nagas, in the 1970s ceasefire and peace talks. For an originally high class Brahmin, there are every ethos of an already embedded tribal simplicity and bluntness, perhaps topographically groomed from the slopes of Uttarakhand where he now grows “apples and apples.” The Chandola’s migratory root is said to have originated from the Punjab and Gujarat.

Content wise, personal and old hurts are reasonably flashed, without giving a ‘why’ perspective in many cases. Clearly, The Naga Story cultivates serious disdain for and focuses on Jamir, a former-Chief Minister of Nagaland, and an intrinsic moral disgust for the Naga middle and ruling classes, who are seen as undeservingly becoming rich through corruption. In expressing it so, it appropriately traces the origin of a compulsive egoism within Naga society, beginning from an earlier generation, which runs the risk of foreboding a predicative history to the elites in Kevichusa’s clan; a cautious publicity, easily linking his name to the in-laws. If today’s news is truly tomorrow’s history—journalism’s old habits of such emboldened task—definitely is seeking presence for the legitimacy of history writing, with the everyday politics of gossips and anecdotes, of yesteryears.

The Naga Story richly accounts naivety, reinforcing the stereotyping about Nagas’ sincerity and simplicity—especially in recounting the rounds of talks held with Indira Gandhi. It makes no pretension of a prejudiced Indian bureaucracy—particularly even the author’s own resentment for retired ambassador and then gubernatorial Braj Kumar Nehru—and their jealous interferences and myopic inferences into the Naga political process—a trend that is still continued, with the current Naga talks. Apart from that, what is new to what is not heard in the repetitive history of a boring Naga history?

Journalistic voyeurism or activist’s pamphlet-like fifteen pages, double-spaced, of Chapter 10, “Who are the Nagas?”—often falls into the thin line of assumptive generalizations, capsule and informative, rather than academic and problematizing, over a topic that is pursued to attract an interest for the media with the anthropological! The Naga Story is riddled with a historically incorrect digression, in appropriating the 1936 “Pangsha” as the “Last British Military Campaign”—(which is in sharp contrast to Naga nationalist discourse of constructing 1879 as the last Naga-British war)—because, well beyond British declaration of independent India, colonial military campaigns were still conducted. The 09 July-04 December, 1947 diaries (Journey to Nagaland) of Milfred Archer, wife of W.G. Archer, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Mokokchung, perhaps may be accounted as a description of what may be termed as the last British colonial intrusion into un-administered Naga areas. It is also imperative to note that in colonial times the notion of punitive or tour campaigns are both same—for it always involves the military.

On “head-hunting”—Chandola reaffirms the colonial-ethnographic gaze: “Nagas believe that within skulls lie psychic powers of women, men and children they belonged to. By cutting off heads these powers are preserved and can be utilized for the good of homes and fields, to increase yield and make villages prosperous” (p. 259-60). Couple of other statements compounds such pernicious stereotyping: “Kampani [former Joint Secretary, MHA] had been saying that Nagas were heavy drinkers” (p. 365), without any reference to rum politics in Naga history; or, again, a rudimentary but slapping attestation on changing sociolinguistic scenes: the “tradition of oral knowledge was lost. Today English-speaking Nagas make fun of it” (p. 174).
As a witness to some of the most tumultuous political moments in South-Asian history, one expects a brief non-partisan and non-condescending approach to highlight Indian military cruelties and abuse of human rights! Maybe even featuring some black and white collection of re-grouped Naga settlements and tortures too—by grace of being the only Indian held camera eye that was given access then! Another time, another book, perhaps!

Otherwise, The Naga Story lacks any serious overtones of political discourse—nor suggests, however willy-nilly, any direction to a protracted conflict. The priorities are somewhere else—like the reportage on his friend, who framed his historical “boots” that kicked the ass out of Nagaland’s first Chief Minister P. Shilu, for flirtatiously eying Assam’s Chief Secretary’s daughter during a state banquet or, undeservingly mentioned, about what became of Shilu’s tragic end.

Of the nineteen chapters—“Second World War” and “Azad Hind Fauj” merit no special attention as separate chapters; given the relevance the descriptive seems to have diverted. The concluding chapter: “With India: How and in What Form?” again, is a delineation to some lifeless narratives, without any suggestion, or arrest. By and large, The Naga Story is an over elaborated gratification of an aimless narrative—akin to news—merely to complement the central theme of the story: a personal litany of how Chandola, to paraphrase his own admittance, was made a “scapegoat” in past Naga political and historical process, despite his connectedness with the then most powerful person in India, Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Unfortunately, the central point of his story—the epistolary proof of Mrs. Gandhi’s five letters to the author (pp. 328, 331-34)—are shabbily scanned, copied in original form, almost unreadable, apparently ignorant of any available computer software’s touch-ups.

Overrated and generously over-priced, the outlandishly titled The Naga Story: First Armed Struggle is definitely not meant for a Naga readership; it was a translation from an earlier vernacular version. Perhaps, because of misplaced trust and expectations—because of such books and what they say or do—we still continue to frustratingly call the best or worst of Indian writers sometimes as bl**dy nitwits! It softly reminds us: if Harish Chandola cannot write a book deservingly, which Indian will? After all, it is his story and not the Naga story! Stringent, the review appears—but necessary, for the scholars of tomorrow may be charting a historiography, footnoting such fluid books, as the Naga history. Eastern Mirror Nagaland

A Brief Review of literatures on Naga Books

A Brief Review of literatures on Naga Books

Some of the earliest literatures on Naga tribes are the work of A. Mackenzie (1884), Sir James John stone (1896), B.C Allen (1905), T.C. Hudson (1911), J.H. Hutton (1921), J.P. Mills (1922) etc. Sir James Johns tone (1896), one of the earliest literature, “Naga hills and Manipur” attempted to highlight briefly about the different tribes in Manipur and Naga Hills; the expedition of British in Naga Hills, education and religion. He also wrote a brief early history of British in connection with Manipur king-Ghumber singh.

A. Mackenzie 1989 (1884), in his book worth to mention is the discussion on Naga tribes about their early history and in particular to the government policy on the Inner line and non-interference policy. According to the Inner Line in 1872-73, the power is given to the Lieutenant-Governor to prescribe a line, to be called, “the inner line” in each or any of the district affected, beyond, which no British subject of certain classes or foreign residents can pass without a license.

B.C. Allen (1905) had attempted to throw some light on Nagas in their physical features; the British expeditions to Naga Hills and socio-economy life of the people.

J.H. Hutton (1921) in his book, “The Angami Nagas” discussed the occupation of the people, general appearance of the people; the law and customs; religion; folklore and language of Angami tribe.

T.C. Hudson (1911), in his book “The Naga tribes in Manipur” attempted to discuss about the Nagas in Manipur in particular to their geographical location; general physical appearance of the people; different legends of origin and socio-cultural life of the people.

J.H. Hutton (1921), in his book “The Sema Nagas” attempted to discuss the origin and migration of Sema tribe; he also briefly covered on occupation and food habit;social life, religion, language and folklore. However he skipped the culture of the Sema Nagas.

J.P. Mills (1926) in his book “The Ao Nagas” covered the domestic life of the Ao people, their law and customs, religion and brief introduction to language and folktales.

J.P. Mills 1980 (1937), “The Rengma Nagas” He attempted to study on origin and migration of Rengma tribe. He also studies on economic life and social organization. He covered the folktales, songs and language in his study.

Christoph Von Fiirer-Haimendorf (1939), an eminent Anthropologist discussed some important culture like feasts of merit; headhunting; Morung and some experiences he had visited the Naga Hills.

Elwin Verrier (1961), in his book, “Nagaland” attempted to observe the nature of Naga people and their history also about the Naga National Council. He also observed that the form of Christianity they follow will broaden out and adjust itself to the modern world and the greatest achieving of the Naga awakening has been to unite the formerly divided and warring tribes.

Elwin Verrier 1969 (1959), “The Nagas in the Nineteenth Century”, Is the collection of tour notes from different people who had visited the Naga Hills. It attempted to edit and put together all the tour notes on physical features; socio-cultural life of different tribes; early history and economic life of the Nagas.

North and North-eastern Frontier tribe of India 1983 (1907), Compiled by the chief of the staff army head quarter in India. In this book, relevant to review is about the early British expedition to Naga Hills. The country up to the Patkoi came nominally under British rule with the rest of Muhammadas possession in Assam in 1765, but no British came to contact with the Nagas until 1832.

Tajenyuba Ao, (1957): “Ao Naga customary laws”, one of the earliest literature available on Nagas written by the Naga scholar, attempted to study the Ao Nagas customary laws, which are practiced among the Ao Naga tribe.

V.K. Anand (1967), he studies on Naga social-cultural life and in his observation he found that the way of life seemed to be changing fast. He found that Morung is completely absent in today’s Naga villages also found that means of communication and lack of transportation facilities is the biggest difficulty. As an administrator, he also found that in no way casual treatment of their problems and dispute will win their heart. One has to know the history of the dispute before giving a decision, which might have started sixty to hundred years back when their grandfather were at the helm of affairs.

M. Alemchiba (1970), one of the Naga writers in his book “A brief history account of Nagaland” attempted to trace about the origin of Nagas, etymology of the word Naga and migration of Nagas to their present Naga Hills.

M. Horam (1975) is one of the eminent Naga writers attempted to discuss the socio-cultural life and starting of Naga National Movement in his book “The Naga Polity”. He also discussed the historical background and entomology of the word Naga.

M. Horam (1977), in his book, “Socio-cultural life of Nagas” attempted to have case study on the socio-cultural life of the Tangkhul tribe and tried to trace the social change. He stated that looking at their economy, political, social or religion, many transformations have taken place. He observed that some of the factors leading to social change are due to British intervention in headhunting, contact with plain people, Christian missionaries, and craze for westernization. In political sphere, the Naga underground held some responsibility to change in social life. In his conclusion, he found the awareness of the Tangkhul people in education.

S.T. Das (1978), he studied the Zelianrong tribe (Liangmei, Rongmei and Zemi) in particular to Zemi tribe. He discussed in brief about the socio-cultural life of Zemi tribe. He also mentioned that shifting cultivation is changed to wet cultivation due to not enough land for jhum cultivation.

Ringkahao Horam (1998) in his book “The Genesis of the Naga political movement” highlighted some historical background of the Nagas and the causes of he Naga political movement in Naga Hills.

R.R. Shimray (1985) had made a good attempt to elucidate about the origin and culture of Nagas in his book “Origin and culture of Nagas’. He had discussed different theories on origin of Naga and the etymology of Nagas. He gave his own hypothesis about the origin of the word “Naga” and he supported with some example that the word Naga was derived from the Myanmares word “NAKA’. He also discussed all the important culture of Nagas.

Imchen Panger (1993), another Naga scholar has done the work on Ao tribe. He had discussed on ancient religion and culture of Ao Naga.

R. Vashum (2000), in his book, “Nagas’ Right to self-determination” deals the Nagas in general aspects and Naga National Movement from commencing to 1999. He also discussed different perceptions of the different sections of the Naga people on self-determination.

Murot Ramuny (1980), the Indian author on Nagas, attempted to discuss on the early history of Nagas, how the British came to Naga Hills and the formation of Nagaland state. He also writes about the Christianity in Nagaland. In one word he described in brief about he Nagas history from ancient to the present world of Nagas.

Major General S.C. Sardespande (1987), one of the Indian authors on Nagas wrote about the Khiamnungans and upper Konyaks tribe inhabiting on both sides of India-Myanmar border in Tuensang and Mon districts of Nagaland. In his book, “The Patkoi Nagas” he attempted to write about the origin of these two tribes and their socio-cultural life. He also highlighted in brief about the change in socio-cultural life of the Khiamnungans.

Kanwar Randip Singh (1987), another Indian author on Nagas, in this book “The Nagas of Nagaland: Desperadoes and Heroes of Peace” writes about the outcome of his experiences and observation during his stay in Naga hills as a superintendent of police in Naga Hills. He writes in brief about the different tribe, then he attempted to trace the course of turbulent events ushered in by Phizo and the Naga National Movement Council and assess the forces working for and against peace and Nationalism among the Nagas

Sipra Sen (1987) in her book ‘Tribe of Nagaland” deals little about the different tribes of Nagas and she compiled the bibliography on Naga tribes.

Kiranshankar Maitra (First Ed.1991), “Nagaland-Darling of the North East”, He attempted to study on various Naga tribes on their socio-cultural life. He observed how the simple tribal people of the Northeast embrace Christian and he writes-
i. The missionaries impresses upon the ignorant dim-witted people that all the non-Christians, the heathens, are to pass through the hell fire
ii. Missionaries, and many pioneering works in the field of educations, medicals services, humanitarian social services
iii. The protective British helped them above all the various ways
iv. The pioneers worked with grit and determinations; they had in their mind a tremendous missionary zeal.
He also writes the changes in dresses, life style, cooking system, pattern of house-building, personal hygienic etc.

Subhadra Mitra Channa (ed.1992), in his book “Nagaland-A contemporary ethnography” In this book, one of the important topic worth to mention is the changing agrarian structure in Nagaland.

Ringyuichon Zimik, (1992) attempted to observe the change in Landownership and practice of jhum cultivation in recent years.

Joseph Athickal (1992), in his book, “Maram Nagas-A socio-cultural study,” attempted to study the socio-cultural life of the Maram Naga tribe, the only primitive tribe in Manipur. He also attempted to find the impact of Christianity in this tribe. He observed that the advent of Christianity seemed to have made the people dependent on institutions as in the case of Maram, whether it is education or social. In his conclusion, he also observed that Maram villagers show a tendency to move down to those sites where communication is easy and have better economic prospects. He also found that education certainly brought with it, a sort of affluence, hygiene ways of living, influence and development of ones own particular tribe, which the Marams failed to enjoy as they were comparatively late comers to benefit from fruits of modernization.

Hargovind Joshi (2001) another Indian author on Nagas attempted to discuss about the Nagas origin and migration to the present inhabitation; he writes the Naga history from ancient time to the present situation in term of socio-cultural and economy life of the people.

Note: The latest books published after 2000 AD are not included except one book.

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