As I once again take familiar steps into the known terrain of the North Eastern hills of India, I realise having grown up among the Khasi and Jaintia hill folk. It has taught me to differentiate between the various tribes living in that untouched pristine terrain of flora and fauna. Each of them beautifully different from one another. The traditional clothing and jewellery are unique to each tribe.
The organic home loom weaves, is sure to leave you spellbound with its richness. The colours and motifs each different from the other. The northeastern women are slender with a clear complexion, high cheekbones and straight long hair. Among them, the Naga women are especially the prettiest. Aware of their warrior genetics, there is an unspoken strength of the battles they have won over the years. The athletic gait and the clear skin with a bit of freckles makes them the sexiest among the other gorgeous North Eastern tribes.
As I grew up, I longingly looked at the Naga older women and admired the way they wore their shawl and jewellery. The wrap skirt around the waist with fitted blouses and the chunky bead necklace was like a eulogy of their past lore and the struggle of their today. Wanting to be recognised and not misunderstood is what each Naga strives for. I for one was always quietly, furtively staring at Lalrempui, my Naga classmate. She embodied her free sexuality and strength combined with beauty all around her persona.
Loreto socials were the day where you see the difference between the wealthy and the not wealthy school girls. The sharp divide was so palpable to my young mind. The Khasis, Mizos, Naga girls wore knee-length boots with kilt skirts and floral blouses with sweaters. The Bengali and Assamese girls were more traditional in their dressing. The forever living in fear Bengali girls were mostly unfashionable near the fashionable Naga girls in school.
I was the Bengali girl with oily hair and a skirt that had a folded hem that was unfolded for a few years, till you stop growing up. To my mother’s relief, I didn’t grow too tall. So her opening up the stitch and stitching it again got less tedious as the years passed. I wanted those boots and the wrap skirt that would flaunt my hips and small teenage waist. But Ma wouldn’t allow. She liked me in polo sweaters with skirts or dresses that were always below my knees.
As I grew up and moved out of the North East, I had forgotten the fashion sensibilities that had shaped me up. But some things have a way of returning. As I visited Assam last year, I found myself in this little store with Mekhala Chadors and the Naga necklace. I was excited about the collection as I tried each of the colours of beaded necklaces.
I picked up three of them. The brown Naga necklace is one of my favourites. It reminds me of the days when I wanted this but didn’t have the means to buy it. Today, I have gratitude for keeping the memory of the feisty Lalrempui with me. She got caught for running into the boys’ hostel one night and the entire school spoke in whispers about her. I listened to them all, but I saw the proud, gorgeous Lalrempui walk unabashed in her stride like the true Naga queen that she was.