Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Nagaland, with love...

Known to be fairly pragmatic, I’ve never been accused of having my head in the clouds. Until I visited Nagaland. Enveloped in swirling clouds, I found myself at what seemed the top of the world looking down at quaint villages, bright green paddy fields and steep slopes cloaked in dense vegetation. This was the last location for the Freedom of Expression photography workshop.

Our participants were a group of Naga girls from different tribes with unusual (to us!) names like Sevi, Elzole (pronounced Azhore!), Asa and Enole, among others. A bright, giggly lot with exquisite complexions, they were lithe as mountain goats as they sped up and down the slippery slopes with their cameras while we struggled not to go sliding downhill unceremoniously.

In spite of torrential rain and the tortuous terrain, the cameras continued to click. The most commonplace sights took on a new dimension for these girls as they stopped passersby carrying firewood, women carrying rosy-cheeked babies on their backs, school children returning home (soaked to the skin) and even half a dozen ducks vainly trying to cross the road. The girls made all of them (except the ducks) pose for their cameras. The ducks still haven’t recovered from the trauma of being chased downhill, wings flapping wildly!

Sevi and Elzole (from the village of Viswema (pronounced Visema) welcomed us into their homes and recruited their family members to pose for photographs. Every home in Kohima, big and small, is surrounded by a profusion of flowers. For us urban animals, used to the sight of elaborate (and usually ugly) bouquets designed by florists, the riot of colours created by geraniums, begonias, sweet peas, exotic orchids, you name it, was an overwhelming sight just begging to be captured visually.

After Sevi played the perfect hostess, making tea for all of us, she let us loose into her familys’ bakery to capture the trays of bread being baked and the oven being emptied out. Having sated our creative urge, she then went up onto the terrace and simply reached out to pluck a whole lot of juicy plums off the tree in their garden for us to take back.

The girls from Viswema also went out of their way to give us a glimpse of their culture by dressing in traditional costumes and singing some lilting folk songs. By the end of the trip we realized that all Naga’s sing beautifully (well, the majority do).

After three days of dreary clouds and constant showers, the fourth day dawned bright and sunny. Then, one of the most awesome locations we covered was Khonoma village, which has been declared a ‘Green’ village. It is said to be the cleanest village in Nagaland. It also involved climbing (at the risk of precipitating a cardiac arrest) what felt like at least a hundred steps (I’m convinced it was more!), but when we finally reached the top, the breathtaking view made it all worthwhile. The slopes below us seemed to be covered with a series of green cascading rooftops. Beyond lay the bright green paddy fields and then the slopes opposite rose up again covered in vegetation so thick that it looked like giant broccoli.

We were fortunate to be guided by Mago who was home for the holidays from college in Nainital. Having lived there all his life, he had no qualms about marching us into people’s homes to shoot them weaving baskets, weaving shawls on hand looms, making rice beer (oh, the odour) and even took us to his house where he demonstrated spear-making. Our participants went into a frenzy, trying to shoot everything, every which way. There was often a tug-of-war to get possession of a still camera. Our video team tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but it wasn’t easy while lugging a video camera, Dutch head and tripod with a combined weight of 38 kgs!

Another interesting location was Tophema village. The village was surrounded by trees laden with passion fruit, peaches, and oranges, to name a few. And had a museum and a model village that provided insights into the Naga lifestyle. It also had what looked like a long narrow boat with carved wooden (very heavy) instruments which were used to thump and bang a compelling rhythm on the surface of the boat. One could only hazard a guess as to the decibel levels created as the beat reverberated in the valley.

Finally, we got to cover the pineapple plantations. Rows of spiky lives stretched in front of us, some topped with the lovely red flowers and some with fully formed pineapples rearing their heads proudly. Once again our participants became over excited and slid up and down the slippery slopes (yes, the skies were opening up again) clicking away frantically.

The workshop culminated with all the girls getting together to sing a variety of songs, ranging from the state anthem to folk and gospel. Once again, we were convinced that all Nagas are good singers. And we all parted company, tired but satisfied with the results of the workshop. And the creation of another group of prospective photographers.

Last but not the least, one must mention the role played by Charitha Reddy. She ran from pillar to post to ensure things ran smoothly all through the course of the project . She nagged endlessly to ensure people adhered to schedules (very difficult in that region). She haggled ceaselessly to consolidate rates. She even danced the occasional jig (if one can call it that) to motivate the participants.
Thank you, Charitha, you did us proud.

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