THIS IS NATIONAL INTEGRATION!

Ravi Swarna

May 13, 2022, 08:25:07   

THIS IS NATIONAL INTEGRATION!

Whenever one talks of National Integration, the mind invariably recalls some politician, standing on a dias at the head of a large crowd, and moral lecturing us about the same!
Otherwise, you could be sitting inside a cinema hall and shedding tears of patriotism, joy and inspiration… as the hero hoists the tricolor at the end of a successful campaign!
But, national integration, is something seeped at the heart of every village and town, in this great country. Care to find it? Come with me…
My work took me to Nagaland this time! Unfortunately, one does not get much time to move about, given the kind of work, I was involved in.
Once the work was done and it was time to move back, I realized that one does not come here often. It was time to take back something for home, a souvenir! I decided to therefore do some roaming around. 
Christianity is predominant here and the best part is that most people understand English. From the local shopkeeper to the humble taxi driver, they will explain everything to you in English, which was a big thing for me! I realized how little I knew of this part of our country. The time being December, the chime of the church bells and the wonderful singing of the Christmas carols in the local church transport you into a different world. Christmas is coming…so all shops have started laying out cakes and the churches have started getting decorated!
Every village welcomes you with a Star on the road and a decorated Santa at the village Square!
But coming back to my point! It was here that while loitering around after withdrawing money in the ATM, at the shopping complex of the town of Chakabama, about an hour from Zakhama, within the local village shopping complex, my gaze went over to the fish shop, the pork shop, the grocery shop that sold absolutely fresh honey, neatly packed in "McDowell" Rum bottles (given their shape, easy to carry with a goose neck!), the ubiquitous Naga Mirchi (which had the fresh and the dried version), one finally found a small shop, colourfully laid out with shawls and sundry other items with a hand painted "TAILOR SHOP" written outside! 
Not expecting much to find here, I sauntered in. The girl was very cheerful and expectedly spoke English. 
I had gone around looking for Angami Shawls for someone who had actually requested me for it. Not expecting to find it there, I was about to leave when… true to form, I was told to wait! The girl spoke to someone and promptly, in came another lady, after some time, clutching a couple of shawls …which I came to know, to my surprise, was actually, of the same size, both  for gents and ladies! 
The only thing that differentiated them were the red and green parallel stipes for males, and different colours for the rest! The other one had a pink border, which I now made out!!
What struck me immediately was the honesty of the lady! Having shown me both she asked:
"Kitna lega? How many will you take?" It matched the exact description that I had been told and since I was short on time, mentally I had framed myself to pick it up then and there. 
I was about to ask them to give me the same ones when she said "These are used ones and I cannot give you (though for the world of me, I could never have made out that they had already been used!), but if you tell me the number, I will get it for you from a neighbouring village!"
With that, she took my phone number, exchanged hers and assured me she would give me a call. I was to leave the next day. I came away disappointed, thinking that would be the end of it. They were actually hand woven and I regretted missing out on them. But then, even if I was ready to take those used ones, she did not offer them!
True to her word, there was a call, but from an unknown number. I picked up and was pleasantly surprised to find her calling from a different number and asked me to come straightaway.  "I will give you a discount too!" she added, making the proposition more worthwhile. 
Evening falls early in Nagaland and by five, it is completely dark. So, I rushed. 
"You know? There are four or five different colours…and all these have been brought from the neighbouring village. They are handwoven", she assured me. 
After picking up two, I was about to leave when she told me to take one more, saying "Personally I would have preferred you to take the pink one", when I had picked up a brown one, as the ladies’ shawl. 
I whined, saying they were expensive too and besides, who all to gift to? I had already picked up what I had wanted to. On top of that, being a fauji, who are always given to a bit of bargaining, whatever be the quoted price, I tried to wriggle my way out, by trying to bargain and saying that faujis do not earn that much!
Her reply stumped me. "Roz Roz thodi Nagaland aata hai? Itna toh salary milta hai Army mein!!" she joked, spreading her hands wide open, as if to indicate the whole universe, just to emphasize how much I earned! 
I caught on.  I said "Itna toh nahi milta hai. Phir bhi apko kaise pata?" I laughed. Her talking in hindi made me quizzical, as well as her good knowledge of our pay structure!
The reply came soon enough. She said she was the wife of an Assam Rifles jawan and that is how she knew about the salary structure.  Well, somewhat!!
"Main abhi abhi jaagran kar ke aayi hoon!" she grinned, which intrigued me. 
I thought, this area being predominantly Christian, a "jaagran", which is a North Indian term, didn't quite gell…??? Besides, how was an Assam Rifle lady doing a 'jaagran'?
I promptly asked her, did she mean what she said?
It was then that her reply made me understand the true meaning of National Integration.
"Yes" she said, "My husband is a Mona Punjabi. We are settled in Uttarakhand. My mother is from Nagaland; my father is a Telugu (Andhra-ite). I was born here, in Nagaland and hence I am sitting in this shop, where I've come to meet my mother, this month. For the last three months, I was at my in-laws' place in Herbertpur, near IMA Dehradun, where we were doing 'jaagran'. That is how I know about the Army. You are right, that here, people do not know this term."
I was zapped. Hats off to this lady! My heart swelled with pride, on hearing this!  We always associate the males, the bread earners, of having toured the country, been posted to and seen different places, having worked here and there as a symbol of national unity and integration. 
But here are the untold, untouched, better halves, whose lives and stories no one knows about; the pure souls…who sacrifice their lives for that of their husbands, whose lives no one talks about or is described in the open…. 
It is non-descript everyday stories like these, that capture one's imagination and reinforce the belief, that our India, our Incredible India, is indeed one of its kind in the world.
If this is not true national integration, what is?
By the way, after this fascinating life story of hers, I was given a discount, after all! And I ended up picking not one, but three shawls!
Want to meet this Champion Lady? For that, you will have to visit the little "Tailor Shop" at Chakabama!
   (Tripurainfo)