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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lament for a Tree - Chalie Kevichusa

Saturday, 23 September 2017 12:29
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(May 31, 1978, Ura Mail)

Do you ever feel at times that something is not quite as it has been or should be, yet unable to put your finger on what it is that is wrong? Such feelings can be exasperating, and more so when your mind is not occupied with thoughts, ideas or problems of immediacy.

Driving along NH 39 between Kohima and Dimapur, I have often felt this feeling of unease - of irritation - whenever I reached the Dzüza river. Every time this feeling came upon me, I used to look around and try to identify what it is that is not what had been. I would look at the new Government buildings which have come up on some terraced rice fields since construction on the Dzüza Hyde Project started; but no, it was not that. I thought perhaps my sub-consciousness might have missed the old bridge which has been dismantled following the damage caused on it by the Naga Army, but I would recollect that I began having this feeling much later than that. I would look at the retaining walls which the BRTF have been putting up and would run approving eyes on them. Yet my sub-consciousness continued to nag me whenever I reached that area. This state of uneasiness persisted for several months until the other day when I was returning to Dimapur from Kohima in the company of Manik Bhattacharjee when suddenly it dawned upon me that a Tree was missing.

Manik had been talking a mile a minute on how little of Nagaland he has seen even though he has spent the better part of his life here, but I was paying him only half a mind, the other half being occupied with my driving while I kept on interjecting his verbal marathon with appropriate grunts and monosyllables. I do not even remember what remark it was that Manik made to make me realise that a Tree that used to stand just in the edge of the river was no longer there. 

If you were to ask me what kind of a tree it was that has been cut down, I am sure that I will not be able to tell you. For all I know, it was just an ordinary tree, about a dozen metres high. It used to stand on the eastern side of the river well within the banks of the Dzüza and visible to the eyes for long minutes as one approaches the bridge from either side. As I recall, it was not an extraordinarily beautiful tree. It was just an ordinary tree. But …

How vividly I can recall to mind the extraordinarily beautiful blue vanda orchids which used to adorn the sparsely foliaged branches of the tree. There were about half a dozen of them - those aerial fairies. Every November, they were a delight to tired eyes sore from the winter chill. And the tree on which they grew was positioned in such a way that the beautiful vandas were visible hundreds of paces before one comes upon the bridge and they would remain in sight long after one has crossed the river. 

As it occurred to me that the tree with the half a dozen or so vandas no longer stood there, a spurt of anger surged through me. What vile hands had brought down the tree! What cruel currents of the river must have despised those enchanting vandas which had enthralled thousands of eyes over the decades!

Then it came to me that the tree had to make room for the retaining wall. It was a price, a small price, that we had to pay for development. Hundreds of trees with thousands of even the rarest orchids cannot stand in the way of development. 

Yet a feeling of numbness persists in me and things will never again be the same whenever I cross the Dzüza  bridge. Perhaps. 

(This Editorial in 'Ura Mai' by my late uncle Chalie Kevichusa is being reproduced on the occasion of his 25th death anniversary. His life was cruelly ended by assassins' bullets on September 23rd, 1992 in Fellowship Colony Dimapur. 

Almost four decades (1978) since this Editorial was published the conflict between 'development' and 'destruction' has only grown more 'vile'. We see it in the sweeping changes across our landscape in the race for high rise buildings, new roads, power lines, tourist resorts, plantations etc … Development is inevitable but does it have to come to come at a price where we never pause to question the price we are making nature pay? Should development lead to the 'descent of decency'? The answer lies within.) -Bano Haralu.


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