Gone in 60 seconds…well, almost
(This is the update from day four of the Hornbill Festival, December 4, 2011)“It is not a very advisable thing to do,” a worried Dr Thorsie said. The pork eating competition was about to start in a few minutes. “But the participants are mostly members of the cultural troupes you know,” he added as a consolation. “Doing some dancing or sports all the time.” The Hornbill Festival is the biggest drain on pigs in pork-loving Nagaland. Since morning, I have been watching pork minced for momos, boiled for chowmein and now, the whitest fat being gulped down competitively. Neikho, Zhavi’s youngest brother, a beautiful lad in his early 20s, dreams of starting his own restaurant one day. He and his friends ran a small four-table eatery at the Hornbill Night Bazaar. Each morning I and Sahil woke up to the thud of dao splicing pork and onions: Neikho and co would be in full swing at the courtyard after an encouraging night, businesswise.
“We put prices a bit higher than usual,” he said with a disarming smile. “But being the festival season, nobody seems to mind.” Besides, they also have the rent to pay to the chamber of commerce for the few square yards they occupy. In a land where suppertime is 6pm, the Night Bazaar doesn’t go beyond 8pm – a rule not just detrimental to the local economy but to the festive spirit as well.
“They tell us to close at eight o’clock, we close at eight,” Neikho remarked with trademark Naga complacence, stirring the boiling pork churning white. The crowd let out a genuine cheer when the first lady’s name was announced for the pork eating competition. Each contestant was given one minute to finish four large chunks of pork – each of the whitest fat, boiled to blubbery softness with no condiments, not even salt. A gagging contestant was announced as ‘your Youtube moment’ by the MC – went on to show how social media had made a postcard of human suffering some probably even borne out of necessity.
From a day with the beasts, we went on to a night with the beauties. Atsu Sekhose was evidently a local celebrity going by the fashion show was packed despite the ‘by invite only’ attendance. The third round, the evening wear, was stylish and sensuous. The female form was elegantly accentuated at times with touches of quirk. I found myself looking through the zoom more often than I do generally. Later that evening we were at the Night Bazaar to see how Neikho was faring when we bumped into a vendor of gulab jamuns – the one thing I will never resist. Manoj Aggarwal’s grandfather had come from Punjab in 1952 and had started a sweetmeat shop. Though the Nagas had a bigger meat tooth than a sweet tooth, the shop had flourished and Manoj was prosperous by any middleclass standards.
“I was born here, so I am as good a Naga as anybody else,” he replied when I asked him whether he felt a stranger so far away from his native state. “All those reports about Nagaland being dangerous et al is false.” I had asked him about life in general. “In my opinion, Delhi is more dangerous than Nagaland.” Later, as we sat by the curb eating yummy gulab jamuns, we both were uncannily quiet. Was it because of the yummy sweet or the unsavoury truth we just heard? I didn’t know.