Friday, February 23, 2024

Season in the sun

Monalisa Changkija

Come November, it is the season in the sun for Nagaland as the season of festivals begins here in right earnest. These festivals take numerous forms nonetheless they are festivals, as the general idea is of celebrations, commemorations and salutations. So we have silver, golden, diamond and platinum jubilees and centenaries of churches, organizations, schools, colleges, hospitals, etc. besides our traditional tribal harvest festivals. Let’s not forget wedding anniversaries and birthdays. Then numerous weddings ~ quite often, several in a day ~ all celebrated with much pomp and ceremony. Then the run-up to the December 1 to 10 Hornbill Festival begins ~ with the commencement of beauty, fashion and food contests, motor and bike rallies, marathons and numerous other such ‘shows’ this month. Come November, sporting events ~ football, volleyball, basket ball championships and tournaments are organized, as November heralds the most salubrious of weather in Nagaland ~ indeed the entire Northeast, actually. This is also the month when we see an increase in seminars, book releases, literary festivals and other cerebral activities such as painting competitions, essay and spelling competitions.
While some of these festivals are privately organized, a lot of them are also organized and/or sponsored by the State Government. That makes our festivals quite interesting because there obviously is a happy blending of the private and the public. Hence, Nagaland has been daubed as the “Land of Festivals”. The thing about tribals is that we celebrate life. And, much like a lot of Governments elsewhere, over the years, our Government too has learnt to monetize our celebration of life ~ for it probably sees little or nothing to generate revenue Nagaland direly needs. This is not really about Nagaland’s limited potentials to generate income but more a statement of our Government’s inability and/or unwillingness to apply its mind to generate revenues and it’s management and budgeting of available funds ~ by no means a paltry sum, if we go by what the Centre says it allocates to Nagaland for various sectors.
Be that as it may, while Nagaland is now identified as the “Land of Festivals”, there is little festivity in the hearts of the people. After all, how much of songs, dances, fashion, music, sports and the like can substitute and/or compensate for, or comfort and console, unemployment, unsatisfactory health and education systems and disappointing infrastructure development, unpaid salaries to Government employees, governance anomalies that increasingly land at the doorsteps of our High Court ~ and yes, corruption ~ among other factors that do not bring cheer to the heart? Then, there is the issue of the long-unresolved Naga political issue that gnaws at the heart of every citizen in Nagaland ~ notwithstanding all our MLAs and political parties forming an ‘opposition-less Government’ specifically to address this issue.
The impact of climate change has not excluded Nagaland from its claws ~ our ground water levels have reduced drastically, our fruits and vegetables no longer smell and taste as they used to, this summer the heat was unbearable as elsewhere across the globe, the rains were scanty but when they did pour down on us, the intensity was unprecedented, as also the blight of water-logging in our low-laying areas and so-called developed urban centres and the dreaded Dengue epidemic, which our Government downplays. The list of climate and environment-related issues is lengthening but Nagaland doesn’t have an environment policy ~ for that matter, policies on so many other issues that are crucial for a sustaining development and progress. Our Government may erroneously believe that songs and dances and bright lights and all the other paraphernalia will distract the people but in the long run, they won’t and that’s when the unmentionable will hit the fan. For now, a lot of our people, young and old, seem to think that the songs and dances, so to speak, espouse our cultures, customs and traditions but the fact is: it is also our culture to be hungry, idle and survive on doles.
There is this very wrong notion that Nagaland and other Northeastern State’s USP is our songs and dances ~ let’s say our entertainment value. I don’t know who put this notion into our heads but such a notion is certainly not a favour ~ in fact, they are a digression from rolling up our sleeves. It also appears that these days, it is more important to make records such as the hottest chillies, the most this or that or the only this or that, and awards, which are media blitzed and generally make us feel ‘good’. But there is more to life ~ even survival ~ such as the denial and deprivation of quality education and health of our children, the future of both educated and uneducated, as also skilled and unskilled youth on whose shoulders the years are descending heavily, women, who are shackled to regressive customs, traditions and culture, elderly people who stand on the wrong side of the digital divide and are increasingly excluded from a happy, healthy and productive life that need to be looked at with blinkers off.
Yes, there are festivals galore in Nagaland but they don’t and cannot address the sky-rocketing prices of essential goods and commodities, exorbitant school and college fees, irreconcilable cost of public services, high cost of transportation, incredible medical expenses, etc. ~ and never mind health insurances. It is indeed a sad day when any Government centre-stages songs, dances, fashion, music, sports, bazaars, exhibitions and festivals, which no doubt creates markets for some for a while but sidelines policy-making that would create not only markets but also a decent and dignified for all for all time. The job of the Government is, after all not to provide entertainment to the people or do event management.
Over the past decade or so, our Government has repeatedly underscored that employment in the Government sector has reached saturation point therefore young people should focus on entrepreneurship. All very fine but in a small State like Nagaland, which is highly politicized, entrepreneurship or livelihood in the private sector is fraught with risks and favouritism ~ actually, much like getting employment in the Government sector. It is, ultimately, not merit, talent, hard work, sincerity or qualifications but mostly acquiescence and obsequiousness that decide and determine ‘success’ ~ not that it is a new thing or particular only to Nagaland but patronage is also a double-edged sword. However, quite a few have been successful on their own steam actually and thankfully they uphold the private sector ~ however minuscule ~ in Nagaland
Sadly, behind the glamour there is always the unsightliness, nevertheless come to Nagaland, especially for the Hornbill Festival, enjoy the offerings of the season for all too soon this season of festivals too will pass and other seasons will claim their place and part. That’s the allure of life ~ as much as all good things must end, there is always the hope that all bad things must also pass. Or is it the other way round?

(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page. Published in the November 28, 2023 issue of Assam Tribune)