Returning to the roots Featured

Robin Hibu 23 Jul 2016

Whenever I go home to the Northeast, I’m seized with nostalgic childhood memories. This beautiful part of India is the place of my birth. I’m engulfed with a melancholic feeling every time I go back but since Delhi is now the place of work, I do whatever I can to help settle my friends from the Northeast.

Work and other professional commitments haven’t allowed me to go back home for a long time. When I did go this time, nearly half a decade later, it was a touching moment. I’m supposed to be this “really tough guy” but I got all teary when I hugged my old mother. She’s someone who allowed me to go out and pursue my dreams and ambitions. She wasn’t scared to let me go out of her sight so I could fuel my dreams and make them a reality. Afflicted with knee arthritis, and other medical issues that typically come with old age, I hugged my old mother’s frail body tight remembering all my childhood days and thanking her quietly for all that she has done for me – working hard to give me sound education, encouraging me to never give up, making sure I had nutritious food to eat so I could stay healthy and concentrate on studying and other activities. As I held her trembling, frail hands in my hands, I realised that my mother still had a strong grip. I realised once again, the strength of my mother. In her 70s, she continues to have a sound mind, strong spirit and a remarkable grace.

The fertile Ziro Valley offers one of the prettiest landscapes with its numerous rice fields, rivers and picture-postcard villages of the Apatani tribe. It has been vying for a UNESCO World Heritage Site status for a number of years now and, has made it to the organisation’s ‘tentative’ list.

Returning home to the Northeast from Delhi with my family was also a way to introduce my children to my humble beginnings and the people behind me who made it possible for me to reach where I am today. Just like I did in my childhood days, I walked, once again, on foot with my daughters to show them my old dilapidated village school – Kasturba Gandhi Ashram in Hong village which lies in the lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. It is Asia’s second largest – and one of the most organised villages. I showed my children an old classroom where I studied, we met the school principal and when we visited the river stream from where I fetched water as a child, I dipped my toes in the freezing waters and instantly felt a rush of nostalgia overpowering me. This is the stream where my friends and I took baths and laughed and giggled. Coming from a bustling metropolis, my daughters appreciated the quietude of the surroundings, connecting themselves to their original roots and understanding their father’s joy even as he struggled in his childhood days to study hard despite difficult circumstances. We sat in a hut close to the school – the place where I used to sit and study and also chase away birds who tried to eat millets and rice from the fields. Yes! As children, we had to do all this while studying!

Besides the village architecture, the friendly older Apatani folk sport facial tattoos and nose plugs to rival any tattoo artist back home. Don’t forget to visit the villages in Zirofor a sense of how the tribal folk live – Hong(the biggest and best known),Hija,Hari,BaminandDuta are10km apart. Get a local guide to take you to any of these villages.

But more than facilities, I think there were emotional struggles for all of us to encounter. I was reminded of these challenging circumstances when I visited the graves of my father and my sister. Visiting their graves was an emotional moment for me and I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes well up – my parents, you see, did not inform me of my sister’s untimely demise because I was preparing for my UPSC exams in New Delhi. I was told much later and it made me realise then that as parents, they were not just coping with the loss of their child, they were also concerned about my future, my life. I could feel their presence strongly as the gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the pine trees, I sensed them as the bees hummed and the birds chirping autumn melodies. I missed my family so much, my loving father and my little sister and when I uttered silent prayers for their eternal sleep, I found myself understanding that no matter what happens life must go on. Looking at the hills in the far distance and the tall green grass, I identified some of the other graves – of some friends who had passed untimely.

Plan a trip in September when Ziro is invaded by thousands of music lovers who attend theZiro Music Festival, which showcases the best of regional music as well as a great selection of bands from acrossIndia.

I also renewed my determination to work hard for my village and get responsible for its upkeep. Though Ziro has one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, there is so much that needs to be done to make it more liveable. The roads are full of potholes and cracks and dust what with the frequent rumbling of vehicles. The journey to my village from Guwahati is tedious – a 12-hour back breaking trip without any proper connectivity road and air. I also realised that other development activities for water and power supply need to take place for the villagers to lead a comfortable life.

You can opt for bicycles and guides for your trip through NgunuZiro, a local self-help group that works towards sustainable community development in Apatani villages. The group will provide you with comfortable and thoroughly atmospheric homestays with friendly and hospitable hosts.

Each time my elderly family members visited me, travelling from distant hillocks to meet their “AchiKuru” (yes, that’s my nickname), I realised how critical it was for my village to have an overall development goal.

My parents, my village and its people have made me what I am. I have such a debt of gratitude to this land and to rejuvenate it is now in my hands.


IGP Robin Hibu IPS
Nodal Officer for North East Region, Delhi

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