– By Sabina Y. Rahman with inputs from Arefa Sultana Hussain
This year marked the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Besides being a milestone year, the Prime Minister had declared a year-long celebration to commemorate the life and works of the Father of the Nation. To many in the country, Nagaland may appear to be an unlikely place for such celebrations. But the Nagaland Gandhi Ashram, founded by the late Gandhian social worker, PadmashreeNatwarThakkar, back in 1955 continues to be a living and breathing example of how Gandhian principles managed to touch the life worlds of people and communities far removed from the cognitive landscape of mainstream Indian imagination.
The celebrations for the 150th Gandhi Jayanti began quite early in the quiet village of Chuchuyimlang located in the Mokokchung district of Nagaland. Towards the last week of September, community leaders, churches and village council elders, and the students at the various schools and institutes of Chuchuyimlang were busy: a lot of hustle-bustle, cleaning and whitewashing works were on, suggestions were being invited, late night meetings held on the Ashram premises over dinner and many cups of tea way past the usual bedtime around.
Wife of Late Thakkar, Padmashree Lentina Ao Thakkar and Dr Aotoshi, the managing trustee of the Ashram, hosted guests and discussed agendas for the days to come in their kitchen, huddled around the fireplace. Often the discussions veered towards the vision of Late Thakkar. The work of carrying forward his legacy is no easy task. The entire village was buried deep in conversations. Every member of the community in this Christian village were planning and preparing for the long list of events and festivities that must be carried out smoothly to celebrate Gandhi in the footsteps of his Good Samaritan.
Youth gathered in different locations around the village for hymnal practices for the upcoming competition on Gandhi Jayanti. The choirs were going to sing one of Gandhi’s favourite hymns, “Abide With Me”. Every day at dusk for the following week, the silence of the village against the background score of stridulating crickets, were interrupted by the distant harmonies of the choir practice.
At the other end of the village, on a rarely used helipad, students were practicing for a flashmob. The plan is to draw crowd in Mokokchung town on October 1, when Nagaland Gandhi Ashram would announce and invite the community to join the celebrations of Gandhi Jayanti at Chuchuyimlang the following day.
Another bunch of students from National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NEILIT) and Mahatma Gandhi Academy of Human Development (MGAHD) – a joint initiative of Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Nagaland Gandhi Ashram, got together to perform a street play. The institute had invited artist Bendang Walling of the Hill Theatre, an alumnus of National School of Drama, to mentor them.
Right after their lectures, the MGAHD classrooms were transformed into a makeshift theatre workshop. The students brainstormed over Gandhian principles. They wanted to promote local products. They wanted to end violence and empower women. And pollution! They must send a strong message out to the community against the use of single-use plastic. Walling separated them into several smaller groups to compose their songs around each theme. The play was of contemporary and yet it evoked Gandhi’s teachings.
Meanwhile, the managing trustee of NGA called upon Walling and requested him to engage the community youth as well with a separate performance. Unsure about what he was going to find at such a short notice, Walling, an Ao from a nearby village himself, agreed to take up the challenge. Accompanied by a local student union member, he trekked the village to find more stories and characters for yet another play. This one was of a biographical play based on the life and works of NatwarbhaiThakkar.