Oja…(mother in AO naga dialect)

I wanted to write this post since a long time… but had been carefully tucking it away… it was too sad, too happy, too personal, too overwhelming,  too much of everything that can change so much in your life… Today, somehow I thought I was ready to share these few days with you…

There are many such not so good days amidst my happiest days that I go through during this madness for north eastern textiles…  it has to be madness, absolute insanity… or in plain words… LOVE!

In the morning, When I was getting all ready to set out on another journey towards Chennai and then Bangalore and planning my future travels to the north east again, it suddenly struck me that all of this would have been so different had it not been for Oja…

In May 2011, I went to one of the most remote villages in Mizoram, a beautiful quiet 53 huts village settlement tucked in south west Mizoram, home to Bru and Chakma tribes… I spent memorable days over there… learning about their rich culture, documenting about their elaborate jewellery and fascination for long necks. They are so much in love with their jewellery that you will see them wearing sometimes hundreds of necklaces at the same time…

the many necklaces with the amazing ear-gear and coin hairpins

the gorgeous hair pins

chakma bangles

bru- reang jewellery


the famous ear piece

chakma anklet

chandraham, necklace

I was the first face from the plains that they saw after a long time… I was nicknamed “vai nu”… it was used everywhere… in addressing me, while talking about me, on my sumo tickets, on notes written by cute kids… all that while I kept wondering WHAT IS VAI NU?

It means “LADY FROM THE PLAINS”.. I was told by a missionary teacher appointed in the only school that existed in the village, and he was also the only one who could talk to me in broken English… and so was the only mode of communication between me and the world I was living in.


his wife and kids

WOW… LADY FROM THE PLAINS… VAI NU… it sounded perfect… exotic and all of those things… I loved my nick name and would giggle everytime I heard it. I still love the sound of it.

So as it went, BRU, CHAKMAS and I hit it off instantly…! And a meeting was called where all the important men of the village came and discussed about how a beautiful music and dance festival could be organised for VAI NU! They all sat down on their carefully crafted bamboo floors while they insisted i sit on the chair… it was a bad idea! So I insisted that I would like to sit down… they were embarrassed and giggled too!

the meeting place where we discussed the events plan

beautiful lady outside the meeting hut

So it was set that next morning at 6 am a cultural festival will be organised… I was stunned by their management, their enthusiasm and hospitality.

Rest of the day went by going around the small beautiful lanes of the village and meeting some really beautiful people…

young bru reang lady 🙂

church and the school by a tree

the little umbrella girl

women at work for their supper

little hands playing with the grains

chakma side of the village

A very interesting thing I noticed in all this was that while the village gets electricity once in like 2 months… 2-3 houses still had colour TVs and ironically even TATA SKY existed! Ways of the modern world… modernity seeped into this small village “like tea from teabag

Next morning was full of more activity than you could ever imagine in this slow, quiet 92 people village. I woke up at 4 am to loud sounds of drums beating, kids running and singing… like everyone was working towards a big event… I almost jumped out of my bed when I saw 10-15 kids staring at me, waiting for me to get up…  my “good morning” was their signal to run and tell everyone VAI NU is up!!!!!

ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!! Like in a fun Charlie Chaplin comic way…  I was fumbling and falling off the thin mattress I slept on… still rubbing my eyes trying to wake up… when a whole gang of men and women stood outside my door to take me for the event…

THE BIG TASK- I still had to shower and clean my teeth!

Everyone there in the village is not used to the idea that we need to COVER when we have a bath/ shower- the boon or the bane of civilization! So, when  I mentioned my desire to put a bed sheet as screen from the rest of the village, I became quite a laughing stock… suddenly a simple bath became an EVENT… little girls giggling… carrying the bedsheets… men carrying strings and nails to tuck the bed sheets for screen… women wondering what THIS VAI NU is upto!! Finally the bath happened, amidst lots of singing and preparations outside and 2 little girls even running and sneaking towards the other side of the screen.


they were always giggling looking at my big crocs!

curiousity… more mine than hers…

women gathered outside the house where we stayed…

reang”ness” all around!

gearing up for the big day!

giggles and laughter all the way

AND what a show was put together… all women dressed in their beautiful attires and jewellery… so much excitement and festivity… I was overwhelmed… and for the first time I remembered to run and get my camera… it was too precious to miss…

bru- ushoi lady all geared up for the show 

bru- reang lady in her traditional attire

chakma couple

And then the singing and dancing started… it was an absolute impromptu jig and I joined them for some time too!!

The expressions, the enthusiasm was priceless…

Had so much fun! And in all this… no words exchanged… just more laughter… giggles… and lot more chutneys!!

the team that put the show together

“DON’ T GO TO THIS VILLAGE… YOU WILL COME BACK WITH MALADIES”… I was told by many in relatively bigger towns/ villages of Mizoram… and because I was told NO, my YES became even stronger!!

But maladies I came back with…

While I collected some of the most beautiful memories in Mizoram through the weaves, jewellery, their musical instruments and most importantly people, I also came back with a near fatal stomach infection. It was caused primarily because of my own negligence and overindulgence in terms of gorging on the yummy Mizo chutneys.  Because I am a vegetarian traveling in a dominantly non vegetarian region, I am usually left with boiled rice and salt and sometimes on lucky days some boiled leafy vegetables to eat… Mizoram came as a lovely surprise… Mizos love their 5-6 dish spread along with different kinds of chutneys for both their meals… how I loved those meals and that mint chutney.

And through those uncooked chutneys, on one of those unexpected days I got a bad stomach infection. I thought like a usual traveller that its normal diarrhoea or food poisoning so after a 3 day long travel out of Mizoram I reached  MON, Nagaland. I knew something was not right with my system but I never realised that it could be fatal. While I kept traveling through MON district, my appetite got worse by the day.

By the time, I reached Mokokchung, a place I call second home now,  I knew there was something terribly wrong. My Naga friend Akok immediately took me to his place to make sure that I am taken care of till I feel better.

What followed after that was something inexplicable…

Akok’s mom, Oja, took me in like she would take her own daughter…

Silently, she became my oja!

By then I was so seriously ill, that I couldn’t stand, was mostly unconscious, throwing up blood and worms, drastically losing weight and energy… my situation was critical but Oja was calm…

It was my Oja, who held my head for hours, helped me throw up, cleaned me up, made “naram bhaat- watery rice pudding” because that was the only thing I could digest.

This is a family, that lives on bare resources, with very limited budget and here in my unconscious stage, they looked after me for more than 15 days.

In those 15 days, I realized how much we value mundane things in life when all that matters is this sudden blessing you receive out of nowhere… I found a family, a second mother, my Oja out of nowhere…

She worries about me now and calls me often if she feels something is not right with me… I know she cried for me when I was sick… she scolded me when I got so sick of having naram bhaat that I asked my friend to bail me out of this miserable food and get me some chow… we thought we will hide it but she got to know… all of that came out and with that came a strong warning from Oja to not have junk food anymore.

she is also a magicial with herbs… every morning she gave me a concoction of different leaves bioled together which would ease me a lot… i think she always added a pich of love in that…

She gave me food, gave me medicines, took me for medical check ups, took me for walks, watched me sleep, combed my hair, talked with me in her broken hindi, laughed with me… giggled and danced whn she saw my mizo musical instruments…

i fell sick on 4th June, and then things kept worsening… days spent in hospitals and many more in complete bed rest… but Oja kept me going… i am recovering and am ready to start my travels all over again…

My Oja, how I miss you… and feel every single day that the reason I live today is a blessing from you…

Oja and me during one of those evenings spent laughing and watching the sunset             

i have survived because of you , my Oja! and i love you with all my heart!



  my Oja!


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21 Responses to Oja…(mother in AO naga dialect)

  1. wow ! felt awesome reading this

  2. Shanthi says:

    That was a lovely tribute to Oja!!! Oh how much I liked all that Chakma jewelery. Amazing!!!

    • thanks a lot shanthi… i accidently came upon ur kalamkari blog… its lovely and thanks a lot for the compliments in the comments… somehow i cant locate it now… can you please post it to me 🙂

  3. Lovely story Ritika! Sad, happy, poignant all at once! Oja sounds like a wonderful lady…..you are both lucky to have each other. Hope you are completely OK now.

  4. Kunal says:

    Lovely post. I always look forward to your postings. Glad you’re well and recovered. We miss you!

  5. quaintk says:

    lucky lucky you! to have met such amazing people and to have even more amazing experiences in this lifetime. 🙂
    pssttt..love what you are doing with Mora! super collection 🙂

  6. Deepika says:

    Love comes in unexpeted forms… Touching experience.. Hey… Ritika dee.. ‘Oja’ reminded me of ‘Ijaa’ which also means mother in Kumauni language.. Though these two places are miles away but the language is more or less similar… Hope you have many more incredible journeys without getting ill.. N I hope you do visit northern hilly areas in near future… Take care… N keep posting..

  7. Swati P. Siddharth says:

    Dear Ritika, I just sent you an email and got the link to this article in return. It’s beautiful. Like your sarees. And the photographs are so evocative. Thank you for sharing all this. I do hope to meet you sometime soon.

    It’s strange how we meet people with whom we “belong” instantly – in different parts of the world. I made myself another family in South Africa recently. And the ties stay strong …

  8. aracne says:

    How interesting the first part of the post, with all the beautiful and colourful pictures. And how moving the part in which you describe your sickness and how Oja take care of you.
    She ceratinly was full of love for you, but I can see how much you loved her, too.
    I will come and visit again. Thank you.

  9. Tampha says:

    Oja in Meitei-lon or Manipuri means Teacher 🙂

  10. Dear Ritika,
    I just sent you an email and got the link to this article in return. It’s beautiful and I don’t have words to describe the feeling.Thank you for the photographs. It shows how we get so caught up in our petty modern world when there is so much more to life. The beautiful people, the sweet kids, the smiles, colorful attire, beautiful jewelry and most of all the kindness and compassion and love for living , that we so sadly miss in our daily lives. Thank you for sharing all this as I feel it is a great way for us to start the new year and count our blessings. I do hope to meet you sometime soon.
    In the meantime, travel safe and take care of your health.

  11. ABC says:

    Hi Ritika, I would like to contact you via email or something, hoping to have some more details about Nagaland and neighbours. I’m going to visit this regions very soon and I’ll appreciate any help 🙂
    Thank you!

  12. Neha Bhatia says:

    Amazing just started reading you blog and hope we can hear more about your voyages… It is helping connect with the land of the seven sisters.

  13. Martha says:

    i had this big lump on my neck reading this, it touched me.. i miss my mom! North east is really filled with awesome people to where i call HOME!!

  14. wecheteu says:

    love your write up about OJA… wecheteu

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