This essay is a partially expanded, edited and reconstructed version of the translators’ postscript to the Japanese edition of Nagaland and India – The Blood and the Tears (2011).
“This concludes my talk. Thank you very much for listening with interest.”
It was November 2003, at a Buddhist facility in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Having finished his talk about the suffering of the Naga people, this imposing man who must have weighed more than 100 kg was trembling at the shoulders as he wiped the tears from his eyes so untypically. Was it anger? Sorrow? Or gladness to find empathic people in Japan? Leaving the venue as if to escape, he deeply inhaled the purple smoke of his cigarette and offered me his pocket-sized whiskey bottle, though we were meeting for the first time.
“Want a sip?” I can’t get by without this stuff.”
Dierhekolie Iralu, known as Kaka, impulsive and straightforward, sentimental, domineering at times but innocent like a child, foaming at the mouth when voicing convictions, but with an attentive ear to the views of others. He is the man who revealed the history and truth of the Naga people that no one before him had dared to divulge.
Nineteen fifty six – the year Kaka was born, India launched a full-fledged military invasion of Nagaland. Naga villages were burned to ashes one after another, and the helpless people were driven into the jungle. Shortly after his birth, Kaka wandered the jungles with his mother, and was detained as a political prisoner at the age of 8 months. During his boyhood, scenes of blood and gore were etched into his memory as he spent time with his grandfather, who was a doctor.
“People with arms and legs torn off, or with guts spilling out were carried into the house every night, one after another.”
The smell of blood and medicine. Skin being sewn back together. In his formative years, Nagaland was drenched in blood and tears. From some point in time, he started to distance himself from politics, immersing himself in the study of literature and theology.
“In those days, I simply avoided getting embroiled in politics.”
Perhaps it was an escapism common to many Naga youths who were forced to live in hopeless circumstances. Mutilated bodies scattered in the town day after day, people being tortured on the streets – all these realities of the Naga people were hidden from the view of not only the world but also the people of India, supposedly the “world’s largest democracy.” Meanwhile, Kaka made some money trading timber, got married and had three children. However, an inner cry continued to disturb him.
One day, a youth was shot with an automatic rifle in broad daylight. Screams pierced the air. The town was frozen with fear. As Kaka rushed to help him, his shirt was dyed bright red in the youth’s blood.
“What kind of world will I be leaving to my children? I can’t keep my eyes and ears shut any longer.”
Kaka resolved to tell what India had done in Nagaland. He began his work as a journalist walking from village to village, digging up the truths that had almost been erased, and writing them down. It was a process of throwing light on the darkness of history – an odyssey of re-experiencing the sorrow, suffering and rage of the Naga people in all its gruesome detail.
“It haunts me in dreams. The work nearly drove me mad.”
Kaka’s handwritten notes were often stained with tears. They were shed by his wife as she typed his manuscripts. Initially, she was opposed to publishing the book. She could easily imagine how much danger it would entail for Kaka himself and for the family.
But one day, standing in front of him with tears in her eyes, manuscript in hand, she said: “You must publish this manuscript and inform the world. No matter what happens to you, I will take care of the children.”
After three to four years of hard work, he had completed a manuscript of more than 400 pages. But no publisher would accept it, because it “exposed too much of the truth” of history covered up by the great nation of India.
“It was turned down not only in Nagaland but even by relatively courageous publishers in India. They advised me ‘not to publish it,’ expressing concern.”
Nagaland and India – The Blood and The Tears. Kaka scrambled for the money to publish the book at his own expense, prevailing upon a reluctant printer. Released to the world in 2000, it soon gained renown through word of mouth. He started to receive discreet praise from many people. Passersby would suddenly come up to shake his hand in tears. The reason was apparent from the subtitle of the book – “the story of those who were never allowed to tell it.” The first 5000 copies sold out in only two years. The book was acknowledged with thanks by Indian Army officers, surprisingly.
“Why did we Indian soldiers have to shed blood in Nagaland?”
The book gave a clear answer to this simple question that had been avoided for half a century.
“Indian soldiers are also the victims of the nearsighted policies of politicians and those in power.”
Meanwhile, Kaka was caught between the feuding Naga factions, kidnapped and nearly killed. Living in constant fear for life took a toll on his mind and the family. The local Naga brew (rice beer) called Zutho was not enough; he took to whiskey and rum, which were banned in the state. Without waiting for the enlarged third edition to be published, his wife and two daughters took asylum in Norway. He was in high demand to give lectures, also overseas, and many readers waited eagerly for his newspaper column. But as his fame and people’s expectations increased, his fears and isolation intensified. Before he knew it, he was a lone wolf journalist without stable income.
But he continued to question himself on how to understand the history of his forefathers, as a Naga and as a human being; how to live out his life as an individual and as a father.
“By knowing the truth, the future comes into view. If the truth is kept hidden, no solution is possible.”
That is the case not only for Nagaland. It is a fundamental question of how to live that transcends national and regional boundaries. Is it not a question that we in particular must ask ourselves as Japanese living today with a history of imposing the horrors of war on his land and many people of Asia?
Always shortly after midnight, I would receive a call from overseas. The country code indicated it was from India.
“Is this Wataru? Let me tell you something! This time I have really stopped drinking!”
I trusted his sincerity but not the outcome. Still, who of us could scoff at this lovable, talented man, who refused to give up?
His motherland of Nagaland still lacks its own country code. The Naga flag still does not wave in front of the UN Headquarters in New York, more than 60 years since the declaration of independence. People are still living at gunpoint – nothing has changed.
In the face of the consequences of history, we can no longer be bystanders.
Wataru Haejima, August 14, 2011
(on the Sixty-fourth Naga Independence Day)