December 14, 2019.
“… and that’s why this city – your city – came to be called the ‘Stalingrad of the East’”, he paused to look around the class. Not much had changed in the past hour. A couple dozen dreary looking faces stared at him in equal amounts intrigue and disinterest. Prof. James Jasokie was not used to this treatment in his long years of teaching Modern History at IIM Shillong. But once a year, he was mandated to take a trip to Nagaland to deliver a Memorial lecture to Undergraduate students at Alden College in Kohima.
Prof. James (or “Jimmy Sir”, as his students liked to call him), was a man stuck between multiple cultures. Jimmy was born into a Christian family of the Angami Naga tribe in nearby Dimapur but he grew up into a man neither Christian nor satisfactorily Angami. He had barely ever been to Kohima apart from his annual visits there for work. He loved the history and culture of the city – one that he studied and cherished – but even that wasn’t enough to pull him towards it.
After finishing the lecture around dusk that day, he retired to the peace of his hotel room for the night. A few hours in, Jimmy was still unable to find any sleep. Mumbling curses at the city’s undying noise, he decided to walk down a steep road adjacent to the hotel instead. The city was still in, what one might call, a festive hangover. The Hornbill festival had culminated just a few days ago, which meant that more than half the stalls and makeshift bazaars were still active or winding up. Jimmy walked through the bazaar, glancing at the various handicrafts and condiments on sale, with absolutely no intention of buying them. As he approached the end of the main street of the bazaar, his eyes settled on a necklace made of beads and glass, tucked beside each other to give off a tribal and an austere wind to it at the same time.
He knew immediately, Priya used to wear the same. His late wife loved wearing anything that had its own character to it. Their marriage was a coming together of contradictions. He was a reserved academic man while Priya beamed of seemingly inexhaustible energy. She was from the Phek district of Nagaland but loved Kohima as if she belonged to the city. The last time he’d been here with her, he now remembered, was around 7 years ago, only months before her death to cancer.
He would tag along during her midday stroll through the city and complain about the long distances that she made him walk. There was not much of that since her passing. Jimmy bought the necklace, thanking the seller-woman in Pochuri and left the market. Still stroking the necklace with his thumb, he found himself at the gleaming public square right at the end of the market. He looked up at the huge watchtower and the bustling crowd around him, suddenly realizing that it wasn’t the city’s noise that kept him awake that night but it was Priya that did.