“Restaurant/ Shop cum Petrol/Diesel Dealer”

Guns & Guitars“Any policies, any programs, project (of the central govt.) we want to apply, we always get nullified because we don’t meet up with the population criteria. Are you indirectly propagating population explosion? In the line of carbon credit  we too should get something called population credit, because we are controlling the population of the country – we are just 17 persons per square km” – the young Parliamentary Secretary (Tourism) from Arunachal, Mr. Pasang Dorjee Sona, was telling me. Although generally I don’t have much to agree with politicians, here I didn’t have much option but to nod in agreement.

We were in the largest and the most mysterious state of the northeast – Arunachal Pradesh. Although I have been to the state many times, still I am far from exploring the better part of this beautiful & isolated state, most of which has remained inaccessible by motorable road till date. Why even the road to Menchuka – the last town on India’s side in north Arunachal Pradesh was opened less than a decade back.

Till recently, Menchuka was connected to the rest of the country through the defense maintained small airfield. The youngsters still recall fondly the adventurous track lasting two to three days that they used to make to reach the nearest boarding school in the district head Along, at a distance of some 180 kilometers (well ,by motor-able roads, not by the hiking trails!) as there was no proper high school in the Menchuka  region till just a decade back. At times it does make one wonder – what could be the secret behind the unquestioned patriotism of these simple people who on first glance seems to share so much more with the people from across the border – in culture, religion as well as racial features. I’m sure the people who matters would love to replicate this ‘secret formula’ across the country…

Guns and Guitars- Arunachal PradeshEven today although there is a road for the vehicle, there is no petrol pump beyond Along. So in Menchuka if you want a refill for your vehicle, the only option is to visit the restaurant that proudly proclaims on the board outside – “Restaurant/ Shop cum Petrol/Diesel dealer”!!Once you reach the town after a challenging two days drive from the state capital Itanagar, you can’t help questioning whether James Hilton had this tiny township in mind when he wrote “Lost horizon” …Time indeed stops still here! As we roam around the place which seems to  be straight out of a story book, at times to be chased by stray dogs in  thearmy outpost (only to be told that these ‘patriotic’ dogs chased anybody who is not wearing the army’s olive-green outfit!) and giving lift to a bunch of school children from outskirt of the town (only to realize that they had given you a wrong address to be dropped off as they don’t want their parents to see them alighting from a vehicle, less their secret escapade from the school become known!!) or visiting the home of a legendary folk singer( to hear her sing of plaintive tales in a voice that quivers like the cold wind that blows against the mountain), we are left with no doubt that this is the best place where you can keep yourself busy doing nothing…

But as we try to glimpse into their life beyond this veil of happiness, at time we managed to catch a few sigh of grief –mainly when they talk of their centuries of bond with the from people across the border, erstwhile Tibet, and how it was cruelly stopped after the Chinese occupation of the country and after the Indo – China war of 62… We realized, the story is same everywhere – whether we are talking of the Indo – Pak situation, the division of Bengal which ultimately resulted in the creation of Bangladesh or about these much lesser known simple people of Arunachal … after all, as the American writer Marya Mannes had once famously said -‘borders are scratched across the hearts of men, by strangers with a calm, judicial pen, and when the borders bleed we watch with dread the lines of ink along the map turn red…”


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