Home/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Kohima and Tromso: A ‘nordlending’ Naga

When Mama came to visit

It was as though she had brought with her

Our home

How we savoured the smells of home

Its flavours and its stories,

Each one and every one of them.

When I went home

It was not as I had remembered it.

Let me carry my home in my head

Someday you will be in it too

And we will laugh at geography.

(From JazzPoetry And Other Poems, 2011, published by Barkweaver.)

When I was a child, home was my grandfather’s large sprawling house and surrounding estate on the outskirts of Kohima village. There were fruit trees and a bamboo fence that went all round the lower garden. In the upper garden were trenches made by the British troops in 1944. We used to play soldiers for hours in those trenches. The tall trees on the boundaries of the land hid tree spirits that only we children could see. If we were still at play as darkness fell, someone would see something in the bamboos, dark forms beginning to take shape. That would be enough to stop all thoughts of play and send us scampering indoors.

The sound of the wind howling up the valley and buffeting the old wooden house, the heavy footsteps on the upper floor where no one lived and the shadows created by lantern-light as we sat around the earth floor of my grandmother’s kitchen, these are the memories of my first home. In the afternoons, my brother and I would play outside and wave at low-flying Dakotas gliding past just inches above the tall roof of the house. More than once we wondered what would happen if some of the aeroplanes were to crash into the roof. At teatime, Grandfather’s treat for us was a rounded, sweet biscuit from a big biscuit tin that he kept in his study. We would dunk it in our tea and eat it slowly until the wet edges fell back into the tea.

A view of Kohima, Nagaland. Photo: Majority World/IndiaPicture
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A view of Kohima, Nagaland. Photo: Majority World/IndiaPicture

I learnt early too that the geography of the physical home is subject to alteration. When I had been away for some years, I was dismayed that things were no longer as I remembered them. The changes in Kohima did not come overnight. They had always been there, growing and encroaching into my sense of home. The number of cars on the roads has increased dramatically, and old houses that were fixtures in my picture-frame of home have been dismantled. Sparkling new houses stand in their place. Most of all, the people are not as I remembered them. Some have grown mellow, others have died. The streets are now full of new faces, and bumping into someone I know is a rare gift for the day. Truth is, I’m the stranger on the streets without realizing it.


The cry of a seagull carries me to Tromsø, my second home, a little university town in Northern Norway. It lies in the Arctic Circle, and the mercury can stay below 10 degrees Celsius for more than five months of the year. It is home to seagulls that like junk food—sausages and kebabs in particular. Children have had their sausage rolls snatched away by swooping gulls.

Follow a seagull

Follow it North

Until it brings you to Tromsø

Tall steeple

Still waters

Smiling faces

Bittersweet city of our hearts

Cold slash of your Arctic wind on my cheek

But the warmth of new friendships keeps the cold at bay.

(From Tromsø Poem, published in the 2008 compendium of the department of English, Tromsø University.)

On my first flight to the island that is Tromsø, the sea rose up to meet us and there was nothing on the ground but snow-capped mountains. I baulked at this edge of earth that the plane was landing on. But on the ground it was very different. The city was welcoming, and the valley was a warm congregation of friendly folk in heated houses.

From then on it was all about steadily learning the culture of an Arctic society, with its directness of speech and manner. This meant that there was greater acceptance of an outsider who had a different culture and a different world view.

My children and I still like to talk about the first time we made fish for lunch in the company of a curious Norwegian guest. He watched all the proceedings tremulously and, at some point, began to shout, “Don’t boil the fish." When he had calmed down, he explained that the Norwegian way of making fish never allows it to come to a boil. My cousin, however, adamantly let it boil for many minutes as she added chilli and ginger and bamboo shoot. Our guest groaned at what he considered a ruined meal, but in the end, it turned out that the Naga-style fish was palatable to both nationalities.

The food was one thing, the weather quite another. What does one do with so much snow? The only way to cope was to do what the natives did, make use of it for sport and exercise, and learn to complain if there was too little snow at Eastertide, the high season for skiing. I think snow is good at one more thing: It brings out the child in one. It was quite acceptable to tumble downhill on fresh snow or lie atop snow and watch the Northern Lights on cold, dark evenings.

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Updated: 23 Apr 2016, 01:02 PM IST
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