Skin Deep Indians?

Waiting For The Dust To Settle / Veio Pou / Speaking Tiger 

What stands out about ‘Waiting For The Dust To Settle’ is the author’s poignant narration. His intent and purpose for the book is so clear, every page is a clean read.

From riling up our emotions for injustice done to making one teary-eyed for humanity shared, ‘Waiting For The Dust To Settle’ takes us down memory lane with a fine balance of war and peace.

This book is a refreshing read- Be it about life in a small town/village, historical outlook or political perspective of the Nagas.

The plot of the novel revolves around the infamous ‘Operation Bluebird’ launched by the Assam Rifles in their attempt to recover the arms and ammunition looted by the NSCN from their Outpost in the Oinam Hills, (belonging to the Poumai Naga Tribe) Senapati District, 1987. Killing almost a dozen armed soldiers in the process.

The aftermath of operation saw the ugly side of army rule as they did not spare even the women and children as they unleashed their anger through their systematic clampdown. The book brings out the emotions of how this made the villagers feel the pain they endured to the injustice done.

Writings on the Naga movement typically centres around incidents that happened in the state of Nagaland. There are very few literatures written about the Nagas of Manipur and their struggles.  Vei Pou being from Manipur and writing about the Nagas in Manipur is a ground breaking endeavour. It is also noteworthy that the author is from Senapati District belonging to the Poumai tribe, which makes him the apt person to write this novel.

The main character in the book, Rakovei belongs to a neighbouring village of Oinam. Incidentally he happened to be in the village when the operation happened. As the character experiences the ordeal, the author is able to relate to its readers with a first-hand information.

Though the characters are fictionalised the historical settings are factual. Set when ASFPA gave immunity from prosecution, the Naga villages bore the brunt of extrajudicial military notoriety. Wounds that continue to fester to this day for lessons yet unlearned.

Having visited Senapati District post the 90s, the writer’s description of the ever-growing town is most captivating. The mentions of private schools set up in the town during that time is noteworthy- for its contribution and impact in the area.

For the people in the Northeast, the book beautifully represents us in many ways. We have all lived or heard some parts of the book. For those belonging outside it is a window through which one can experience the ‘Hope and Despair’ as the author rightly puts it, of the people living in the northeast, particularly the Nagas.

We are usually known for our unique physical features, scenic landscapes, rich culture and palatable cuisines, which is quickly catching on in the mainland cities. Few are aware of our political strives, and how much of our lived realities are impacted by it. The book beautifully brings out these lived realities authentically.

The love and hate relationship we have with our fellow Indians heavily breeds from our tryst with the behaviours of the military regiments, who are mostly mainlanders looking different and speaking a different language.

Rakovei who dreamed of being a military officer when faced with the brutality of their actions grew to detest the position. Later in life, his experience of shock and awe on encountering a lone military officer in Delhi without his convoy, all speak a thousand words.

My personal experience when I first came to Delhi was pretty much the same. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t see military personnel with automatic rifles patrolling the streets. There were no checkpoints where the menfolk were given security pat-downs and our bags checked, like how it was back home. Trying our best to keep a straight face in the process for fear of provoking the men in guns.

It took me a while to realise the depth of military oppression. What the people in the Northeast have to live with every day of our lives. So much so that we would find it strange not see army patrols in Delhi.

We have grown to hate and detest the brutality of the armies to the point that we have perhaps transferred our feelings to anyone who looks like them. For anyone who has faced the brutality or witnessed it like me, our outlook towards mainlanders is most certainly shaped by our experiences at home. I had to teach myself that not all Indians or Indian soldiers are like the ones I encountered or heard about. That in generalising we miss out the bigger picture.

Veio gently brings out these sentiments through his characters in the book. For Rakovei’s mother, it was unthinkable for her son to join the army. Her opinion being based on how brutally they tortured her father which eventually led to his death. While for Rakovei’s Grandmother it was the constant fear for of his son Lounu/Lenny being caught because she knew all too well what would happen to him he lands in their custody.

Outwardly we all look like being a part of a great big democracy, but if you only slightly scratch the surface you will find the ocean bet ween us. How much the people still yearn for a political settlement with the government of India, bleak as it may be. For this fact alone would it be wrong to say Nagas are skin deep Indians?

Through my schooling years, it was evident that for a lot of students, hope of Naga sovereignty was fading.

The  Preamble and the Indian Constitution in the Civics & Political Science textbook enforces its Fraternity- unity and integrity of the nation.

The harsh reality that dawned on me was that our system may not permit the freedom we seek. I maybe an anomaly or some are wary of the wait and feeling the weight of its futility. Perhaps a thorough shakedown of reality check might do us all some good.

The closing chapter of the book addresses the major paradigm shift in the Naga movement.

Following the signing of ceasefire agreements between various Naga movement groups and the government of India, the once underground workers came above ground. While political talks were going at the highest level, many cadres back home went wayward. Taxations  and extortions from civilians in the name of the underground government ran rampant. High   handed ‘Freedom fighters’ roaming the streets with guns in plain clothes replaced the dreaded Indian army. With it the disillusionment of the Naga people followed.

Quoting the book, “ With the Indo-Naga pervading every sphere of life, it had become difficult to think about anything independent of it. Everything had a political undertone.”

Thousands of lives continue to be tangled and lost through generations in this seemingly never-ending ‘peace process’. Persisting even today. After twenty three years of political talks and counting, one can only wish  that the Nagas are not waiting for Godot.


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Alum Raikhan Written by:

One Comment

  1. Jaja
    March 22, 2021

    Beautifully written sis Alum! Enjoyed every bit of it. 💕

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