Kedut shulo… “sitting together by chance”

fireplaceone evening, in a small village where chakhesang nagas happily live together… there..by the fireplace, while creating those small pyramids with firewood, blowing air into the metal rod, making the cold winter naga evening cozy with bonfire… my very special naga friend told me a phrase often used in phek district- Kedut shulo! she looked at me and said, “you know what it means?”

i was obviously intrigued as i always am whenever i talk to her… in a small remote village lives this really sharp, really beautiful, really charming, really funny, really all of everything that makes me just sit next to her and wonder- how does she do it…

she engages me in endless conversations everytime… and i am never bored… she does the talking… and in between my monosyllables she spins stories… about everything… about people, their food, their music, the language, the hills, the daos, the gaon buras, about her trip to rwanda and her first swim suit, about her dreams, about her younger brother who is a brat, her aspirations to conserve forests, her knowledge about her own culture and tradition! in her very controlled voice and measured words and silent giggles, by the fire… she laid out the meaning of the phrase that sort of explains my life… “kedut shulo” It means-“sitting together by chance” she quickly finished her sentence by saying… “since you are always traveling, ritika… you are also sitting together by chance with so many different people, na?”

true… i never looked at it this way! i connected this statement with another statement made by another naga friend of mine- when you travel, you travel for people, not just places!

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my travels brought me closer to life in general and people in particular- i meet all sorts of people- people i am instantly in awe of, fellow travellers who i wish to travel like, story tellers, people who bring in their urban set up while searching for rural india, people i instantly detest and later love, then those who help me out of the blue, people who laugh, drink and dance with me, people who guide me in my journeys and who i meet in shared sumos, buses, trucks- some of these people i could keep in touch with, some i lost on the way… but they all make a strange connection in my mind… i never seem to forget them… and they reappear often during my sessions of retelling stories of my everyday adventures…

“Kedut shulo”, aah…my friend as I promised to you, I dedicate this post to you for you inspired me to go back to my blessings and share with everyone the faces and stories of the people who made a deep impact in my journey into the north east so far…

Some names I know, some name I vaguely remember, some names we never exchanged…

Stories stay with me…

And here are a few tales of people who I “sat together by chance” with…

let me start my journal with the smiles and laughters that stayed with me… or the impressionable faces that i remember even though its been years…

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IMG_5203 281896_229170850454777_4429396_n 281320_229150490456813_7567291_n _MG_9606These are the people I landed up “sitting together by chance” with and now this serendipity is a lovely relationship, or a good or bad memory, a lasting impression, or just a catalyst to my further adventures… each day, I thank the forces that mould me effortlessly to get more fearless, more tolerant, less “stuck up”, more relaxed, less of a “hoarder “, more of an individual.. less of all urban and more of all tradition…

music… and for some reason, the local music always traveled with me… whether it was ullu sho sho of monpas, or o rhosi of nagas, or local adaptations of akons and justin beibers(yaaa, this also), or “lakhon hain yahan dilwale” in  awkward pronunciations and tribal accent, or beautiful bihu melodies, or church choirs… music traveled with me wherever i went… some of the most beautiful memories i dont have photographs or videos of… and they are better left like that!

once on my way back from phek district of nagaland to kohima, i was accompanied by 4 unusually beautiful chakesang naga voices… these 4 women throughout the journey sang their local songs and that melody stays with me… we were squished together in one car and the otherwise quite uncomfortable journey became one of the most peaceful experiences!

then there were days when friends just sat together and sang and danced- good bad ugly voices didnt matter- happiness did!

one of my most interesting music experiences was in meghalaya- i met this bunch of young boys who did a impromptu gig for me with their traditional instruments… i am glad i recorded it… someday a creative musician will take notice of them and create melodies with them…

here’s their video- (excuse my giggles :))

music is so much a part of their everyday culture that you often hear them humming while doing their everyday jobs-

one of our weavers is seriously gifted, she weaves as beautifully as she sings… she is such a fighter and i love her too much…

here’s a glimpse into her small world…

another thread of serendipity that followed me everywhere was tradition and everything that comes with it…
I grew up in a small village in punjab, north india and in a big big joint family with my grandparents, uncles, aunts and lots of cousins… We were always a “gang”! Rain and monsoons meant pooris and pakoras, summers meant icecream soda, winters meant amma(my grandmother’s) hot hot halwa. Each season had a distinct smell, colour and energy for me…That energy stayed with me beautifully…I still look for the same “everything” that I experienced as a child… It is what connects me to my purest “me”… The unadulterated innocence… It connects me to what and how I was born as and my roots…

Tradition for me is reconnecting and carrying forward my roots… and my “collective memory”… The more I travel the more I get closer home…

The more the bonds get stronger between “me then” and “me now”… And suddently travel becomes a way for me to go back in time…

my travels found their true calling… The moment I started I wasn’t traveling into kilometres ahead but I was going back in time… I became about how many years I can travel in the past seeking lost tradition…

Mora gave me my “magic carpet” to fly me back in time…

Suddenly I was in the middle of tribals in a world far away from the urban  world… I connected with their innocence… They bared their souls to me and I to them… They shared their life through their weaves and the stories attached to them and I shared mine by making some of the traditional food I grew up with for them… In those hours I saw the mothers and daughters sitting together exchanging weaving notes and  singing their folk songs and they saw me running to my village home’s kitchen asking for a second helping of amma’s halwa.

The past comes alive and the memories become our present. This is where their memories become my present too… I just go back in time and come back just by seeking tradition…

And I giggle with joy… My time machine is their memory mixed with mine…

Mora’s warp and weft makes the child in me rejoice for she connects with her identity… That same innocence and happiness finds her way… And there is nothing more joyous…

This tradition of reconnecting with who I was keeps me going… What also keeps me going is the respect I feel for all others who have not lost touch with their identity… This is what keeps me afloat… Keeps me humble and never let’s me forget who I really am.

We are a result of the choices we make. Those choices for me are directly related to how closely we feel connected to our roots, our tradition.

For me tradition is the oxygen for my soul… the lifeline of my journey… And the foundation of my existence.

its the richness of the past and community life that i find in these songs, dances, ceremonies, chanting, weaves, baskets, jungle tracks, folk tales, food, local sports and almost everything attached to the tribal life…

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these people and legends of these tales are not the people i have met in real life but they travel with me through the telling and retelling of these tales… these virtual images become part of my journey just as much as the people of the real world…

one such tale is of anuli akhiya and her weaves and how they influence the traditional colours and identity of the Idu Mishmis.

Anuli Akhiya, was a beautiful idu mishmi lady in lower dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh, centuries ago. there is no definite time to whn she existed but she has always been a important part of idu mishmi memory and tales.

she was so beautiful that the local priest or the igu fell madly in love with her. and expressed his desire to marry her. Akhiya didnt fancy him too much so refused. Igu, who was one of the most respected man in the region was offended obviously on the refusal of this proposal.

he tried to convinced her but all in vain.

his anger knew no bounds so much so that he threw her and locked her in a pit and did some mantras so she can never come out of there. the villagers and her brothers tried all different methods to get her out. they tried to break the big rock that covered the pit so she could come out but nothing helped. eventually it was decided that may be this is her fate and so a system was worked out to provide her food and water through a narrow opening.

many days passed like this.

meanwhile, Akhiya was still trapped in that pit and had accepted her fate as well. she had begun to see beauty in the world around her. she was always surrounded by snakes in that pit and always wondered at the beauty of their skin. she expressed her desire to share those designs with the world… she was provided with dyes and leaves and bark of wood and other material so she could draw out those designs.

weaving culture existed even before Akhiya’s creativity was known so she insisted that it will be great if these designs can be woven. that is how the beautiful snake skin motifs became part of Idu Mishmi weaves.

because she had no exposure to the world outside, her imagination started growing more and more vivid. she started drawing flowers and birds and leaves and gave beautiful colours to those. so much so that Idu Mishmis believe that she is the one who has designed their nature… with beautiful colours and patterns.

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she lived and died in that pit but what she gave to the idu mishmi world is the colours and patterns not only of the weaves but also of the nature. The designs and patterns are still referred to as Akhiya designs and for an Idu Mishmi, their world is more beautiful and colourful because of her.

Akhiya is no more but her designs live with us… and those are the weaves we wish to bring to you in 2013 and with that a bit of akhiya will be born in all of us!

she will radiate our trapped souls with colour and creativity.

for me she sometimes sounds like a firefly! lighting up the dark… filling the world with beauty…

akhiya… you inspire me! and i am sure you will live in the hearts of not only Idu Mishmis but also anyone and everyone who is inspired by nature and finds beauty and peace in that.

i will end this folk tale with a beautiful phrase often used in idu mishmi culture…

“tai koyeen reeyee pruin muin”

tai– nurturing the family

koyeen– should be able to cook for a large gathering and should know how to cook in large vessels on fire.

reeyee-weaving

pruin– taking care of the pigs and cattle

muin– saving and keeping stock of accounts

An Idu mishmi woman is a well rounded person. she is not only adept at doing creative things but is extremely hard working and intelligent.

akhiya would have been one such woman… a perfect tribal woman of all times!

and i met her through this tale in my journey… we lived a “kedot tsuloh” experience in its entirety… through the weavers, their weave patterns, their creativity and passion for the weaves and endless giggles over our broken conversations…

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To me journey is both an outward and inward movement… It is the love and trust within yourself that propels you to make that first step as a single female traveler… When I took to the road in 2008, I did it with complete understanding that my commitment to the road will alter every convention I was taught to believe… It will also be a counter thought to what the society expects a woman to be… The surrender to road meant for me a surrender to life… Sans rules, sans societal norms, sans baggages! It meant that the choice was made and the choice was of love and happiness and of my life on the road. It is the journey of meeting new people everyday and new friendships and families found not bound by law or birth but by a connection of love… It is about dreaming and following with a mad passion a single minded zeal to follow a story or the unexplored…

I am settled… And I live a lifestyle of settlement on the road…

I m settled in my movement…

And in this movement and of life on the road, you meet many explorers and  travellers you land up sharing your deepest accounts with… there is always an instant connection with another of your tribe… the conversations begin, continue, get carried forward and sometimes abruptly end at the places explored, the stories lived, the people we met, and the passion to explore more… the world of explorers and travellers is endless… and sitting with them for a few minutes, hours, days or months only enriches you further…

I have met travellers who dedicated 40-50 years of their life traveling and now that their body is giving up, the soul still yearns for more adventures… their eyes have a childlike excitement… oh i love this breed… they are my inspiration… the always moving, never stopping ones…

I have a feeling i got to meet another person who will spend a lifetime on the road… and that though we sat together by chance, he will be an integral part of my journey…

Efrain Villa, an absolutely unrestrained energy of a mad man who is game for everything… anything and everything for happiness… He is a photographer, writer, story teller… and a magician in many ways… for me he was the one who spent years exploring the world and continues to do so with a beautiful zeal and an open heart…

an incident that left an indelible mark was when he gave away his camera to our tribal friend because she wanted to start photography and what better way to start it than with the camera that has traveled to many places with this explorer…

I traveled with Efrain Villa for less than a week, but i will keep him close to me as one of my favourite people i met on the road…

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He was the first one to ever see me at work and thus gave me some special memories with my weavers and friends through his camera…
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it was a pleasure sharing this road with you… Efrain!

Travellers are of a different breed and are made of many different kinds of clay- some want to go deeper and deeper, then the others further and farther, many more higher and higher… some measure the miles moved, the metres trekked upwards, the kilometres covered, the places seen, the borders marked, the backpacks torn, the shoes worn, the photographs taken, the peaks touched, the territories claimed!

And then there are the ones who are just there to MOVE, to make connections, spread happiness… facilitate growth and bring ease to the everyday life of people.

One such person I came across recently was Merwyn Coutinho, or  Battimaan as we lovingly call him. When I met him the first time, the thing that intrigued me the most was his child like passion for LIGHT- a practical solution to a lot of rural problems. He would invariably bring the focus of all his conversations to his Batti. I could sense love and see a lot of beautiful unadulterated energy.

HE WAS REALLY THE BATTIMAAN, a super hero that does a very complicated task of bringing Batti to the border villages of Arunachal Pradesh so effortlessly. He went after it with his partner (in their journey named http://www.furtherandbeyond.com) and friend Rajiv Rathod, to pursue his vision.

When I asked him why Batti?

He said, It was just a simple thought- THEY NEED LIGHT… And they MUST get it… The thought was uncluttered and direct! Batti was born out of a never ending journey when we saw dark homes being uncomfortably lit by clumsy torch lights.  And now it is an initiative of further and beyond to light up border villages in Arunachal Pradesh by connecting the people in need to the people who are willing to reach out.By lighting up homes, which is the microcosm of a tribal community life, we add to their life not only extra hours but also an ease to carry out their everyday chores like studying, cooking, weaving, singing or sometimes just sitting and chit chatting together.”

His answer made me realize that this is one project and vision, I could see myself supporting. But I needed something more tangible and solid to hold on to… I had heard such claims in the past and I had seen projects falling apart. Dreams are one thing, I wanted to see it being manifested.

Destiny planned the future turn of events for me… and how I would perceive Batti henceforth.

Merwyn and I landed up going to some really remote places together exploring and understanding the tribal cultures and traditions… while I was charmed by the weaves and the textile tradition, Merwyn went deeper into his understanding of the NEED of light. I could see him doing his calculations and long chats with Rajiv on the phone regarding custom made solutions for each village. He always tried to figure out the root of the problem, that the villagers and their panchayats discussed with him at length. I could see the heart and mind coming together.

My cynical protective heart (for my home ,north east india) still wasn’t ready to believe the intensity and love that Merwyn and Rajiv were putting in the Batti Project.

I dug deeper. I heard stories. I saw photos. I met people. I felt the affection people felt for him.

And that is when I got to know…  In Dec,2011 Merwyn Coutinho and Rajiv Rathod walked for the 2nd time to Gandhigram. A village 130km into the jungle, to initiate the Batti project and there they were able to facilitate integrated solar bulbs for 80 houses!!! And the most beautiful thing about it all was that they took LIGHT to their homes for Christmas celebration. They made their Christmas brighter. I can see the heart warming smiles in each of their photograph and memoirs. I could feel the love in people’s voices. I could feel the intensity of passion in Batti project !

Gandhigram is not an easy place to be at and definitely not an easy place to do what these guys did there!

I came to understand through them that a single bulb at night might not seem like a lot but the lack of this source of light becomes a hurdle in areas outside the power grid. There are more than 80 villages in Arunachal Pradesh, that are currently off the grid, with the opportunity to be lit.

A very chance meeting with a tribal man during our trek to desali for their annual festival reh, where Merwyn went deeper into the very problem of the border villages of lower dibang valley resulted in the first extensive pilot project of the batti project. It needed a long term solution and the solution was a complete home lighting system with solar panels, batteries and 3 LED bulbs. It was also as important for Merwyn and his gang to install this on their own and completely cut off any middle men politics. The job needed to be done and done PROPERLY. They had to reach out to the villagers directly. They needed to know the names of the villagers whose homes will be lit up.

I can never forget the enthusiasm on Merwyn’s face on getting his first list of homes that were to be Battified and the members of those homes! It was heartwarming to see that child like affection.

A simple post on facebook asking them to support Batti brought so many supporters that have made this project possible. They believed in the project for the love of it.

I came together with the Batti Project in July, 2012 and within this year through the help of social media and clubs coming together, we have been able to take Batti to 154 homes i.e. 13 villages in lower Dibang and Dibang valley of eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

here’s a little on the journey we took together with the Batti brigade…

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_MG_1776_MG_1465 _MG_1561_MG_1930IMG_1789 IMG_2719 IMG_2587 _MG_8205_MG_2164 _MG_1915 IMG_2770 _MG_1891 _MG_1995 _MG_2101 _MG_2066 IMG_2784 IMG_2946 _MG_1959 IMG_2801 _MG_2130I know one thing that connected ME to Batti… it was love for your own passion and the willingness to pursue it. It was a simple thought that is bringing happiness to so many lives.

When I see Batti project, my belief in my favourite statement becomes more solid-

“and I can dream, can i?”

These boys can really DREAM and make others dream with them!

Rs. 7,500 can provide to one family, a decent infrastructure and the prospect of a self- sufficient livelihood through light. Each contribution helps a family grow beautifully! every contribution lights up a home…

In the words of Further and Beyond, “We envisioned that the border villages of Arunachal pradesh should have batti, LIGHT, the basic necessity of life. We aimed for it, and through the support of people on public forums, we were able to light up more than 150 homes in 13 villages on the borders where grids would have never or would have taken many more years to reach. This is an ongoing journey and the more we connect, the more we get an opportunity to achieve this. 

Our pilot started in a village called ‘Dopowa’ in eastern Arunachal, which consisted of 8 homes, it took us 2 days on foot to reach this village where they had never seen a switch or a light bulb. This gave us the confidence to push forward and scale up the project to 100 homes, which eventually moved up to 147 homes by the time we concluded the 2nd phase. 

In the next phase we are hoping to reach a 1000 homes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. This will be achieved over a year in stages depending on the funds we accumulate.”

I have joined them in my heart and mind.

I sing their slogan with my mora tales every day.

“aa gayi Batti, ch’aa gayi Batti”

Lets step out and hum together!

Let’s believe in this LOVE!

Individuals, groups or companies can come together and sponsor a home.

you can write to support Batti Project at furtherandbeyond@gmail.com.

In their words, “We are not an NGO or a trust and work with no middlemen. We are just volunteers to make this happen. Your support will help us bring light to 1000 homes in the Upper and lower dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh which is home to the IDU Mishmi tribe.”

Sitting together with such travellers makes your journey so much more worthwhile… happiness of another level comes to you and you can only keep smiling at the tribe of travellers growing and thriving so beautifully…

this post will be always be a continuous account as will my journey be…

leaving with you some of my moments of absolute happiness…

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stay happy!

and when you sit next to a stranger just by chance, remember the love Kedut shulo can spread! 🙂

leave them happy!

 
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8 Responses to Kedut shulo… “sitting together by chance”

  1. madhulika_1999@yahoo.com says:

    Hi
    Very deeply meaningful.
    Meeting by Chance..a concept so full of potential….so many possibilities….lovely expression..
    Thanx

    Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

  2. Aradhana says:

    Love it! Ritika!! yes ist all about Meeting by Chance!!

  3. Samee says:

    I like your style of writing. Please continue to be a musafir..;)

  4. paarul desai says:

    many dream of walking the road less travelled but dont dare, rittikaaji, aapko aur aapki himmat ko khub khub salaam.

  5. ami says:

    Hi:
    I have a teenager son who would like to do a project for highschool and i think raising funds for lighting homes with solar energy for these villages sound wonderful. If you email me more info i can set up something to raise money here. Let me know what would be the best way to help this project.
    Thanks

    • hello ami, thanks for writing to me regarding batti. please write directly to the founder of the batti project, merwyn coutinho here at furtherandbeyond@gmail.com. i will let him know that you will be writing to him. its such a beautiful project that if more and more of us can step forward to reach out where help is needed, it will be just such a happy thing 🙂

  6. NANDITA RAMAN says:

    it leaves you thinking about your beautiful, untouched parts of INDIA which needs only LOVE not CARE rather than making it a mess with baseless POLITICS, fear and hatred.

  7. wecheteu says:

    hey… ketdot…thsuloah…. As a chakhesang Naga, i totally understand what you mean by this phrase…love your blog. please keep updating….. Wecheteu

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