Life and culture in North East India : Dipti Bhalla and Shiv Kunal Verma

A book review by Lt Gen (Dr) Konsam Himalay Singh (Retd)
It is with great delight that I navigated through the mystique of North East India, yet once again, courtesy  pages of the book “ Life and Culture in North East India” authored by my friend Shiv Kunal Verma and Dipti Bhalla.
North East is an enigma to most of our countrymen and women. A distant land where hundreds of ethnic groups of Indic, mongoloid, austric races formed a melting pot of races to  make the region an Anthropologists’ delight and where the snow clad mountains, the blue hills, the riverine landscape of the vales, bamboo and tropical  forests extend hundreds of miles. It is also the region where people practice Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Budhism uninterrupted by the evolutions of these faiths from the ancient years. Not to speak of the multiple faiths among the natives for nature worship and locally adjusted form of the mainstream religions and cultures. The bio-diversity of the region, rich flora and fauna further adds to the color and mystic of the region. Happy people, who seldom look beyond the next meal. Many images of smiling faces of the young lads and damsels in the book captured through the lens make the completeness of life among the people. The human expressions of happiness as also the ferocity of the tribal warriors in the photographs tell a story by itself in the book.
Long misunderstood by many people who are outside the region, there life and culture have an element of  strangeness. Head Hunting practices continued even less than seven decades ago. Living in the lap of nature, some tribes even consumed monkeys, dogs, pythons and other such wildlife with delicacy beyond the KFC. This is a region where fighting between the tribes, and outsiders have been a way of life. The struggle for supremacy between  the various invading forces and the local tribes have been clearly described too. This is also the region where the most savage battles were fought during the Word War 2 and the Indo- China war 1962. A few of the photographs of the  relics of the World War have also been displayed in the book. Unending ethnic based insurgencies are also part of the land scape. The origin of game of Polo in Manipur, the classical Manipuri dance, various dance forms of each of the over a hundred  tribes make the region gay and colorful. These have been most succinctly brought out in the book. The narration of the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland finds a prominent place in the book. The martial arts and the drummers of Manipur almost come to life in the photographs found in the book.
Dipti Bhalla and Shiv KunalVerma have captured the Life and Culture of the region in a most captivating yet in a  simple manner through the lens of cameras as never before. The foreword of the book by Raj Basu and the Introduction chapter by the author is a perfect curtain raiser to the work. The authors have narrated the rule of the monarchs of Ahoms, the Meiteis, the Dimasas, Tripuris and other local chieftains in the region with clarity and finess for ease of understanding by one and all. The arrival of British in the region and the subjugation of the many  tribes  and their territories by them finds a place in the book. The picturisation of the Rise and Fall of the kingdoms through the ages in the region make an interesting reading. The footprints of the Thai culture in the remote area of Assam-Arunachal border make an interesting story just as the influence of Guru Padma Samva in the higher reaches of the this Himalayan region.
The finest part of the book is of course the rare photographs of the distant and interiors of the region where few have traversed like the natural beauty of Menchuka in Arunachal Pradesh, the aerial view of the Loktak lake, Keibul Lamjao the largest floating island in Manipur etc.
The author takes us to the majestic Kanchenjunga National Park, Kaziranga National Park and Manas Wildlife sanctuary, all three UNESCO World Heritage sites  which are unique of their kind. Lesser known earlier, but antique temples of Shiva and Vishnu whose photographs are found in the book are a divine experience. The book indirectly conveys the message of  the need to conserve nature and its beauty. Being a North Eastener myself, I saw and learnt about many new things of the region from this book itself. Many inhabitants of the region themselves would be amazed by the contents in the book depicting their own neighbourhoods and their culture in a panoramic style. The book becomes more relevant today than ever before to know more about the region and its people. The book represents  a mosaic of Life and Cultures in North East India in one glimpse.
The book is not designed to be a historical or geographical treatise of the region but an overview of the region with particular reference to the Life and Culture of its people. The book is also not about a research into the varied traditions and cultures in the region either. It is with great pleasure that I read through the book appreciating the 300 odd colour photographs of life and culture of its people.
I strongly recommend that the youth from other parts of India to go through the book to know about a very remote part of our country.