Brigadier Gurinder Singh was commissioned into the Grenadiers, an infantry regiment in June 1980. He commanded his battalion in Nagaland and in Manipur when the ongoing ceasefire was at its nascent stages. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, where he researched on demography, ethnicity, insurgency, migration and the political economy of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.
Later, Brigadier Gurinder Singh served as the Head of the Faculty of Studies at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte in Mizoram. He speaks fluent Nagamese, a link language spoken across different tribes in Nagaland.
Brigadier Gurinder Singh retired from the Army in 2013 and is now based in New Delhi. Recently he wrote a book – Of Bamboo Shoots and Orchids – The Naga Diary, published by Petals Publishers. This is his second book. Here is a short interview:
What prompted you to write a fiction based work on Nagaland? I mean if it was driven by an urge to inform the world about the state and its people you could have written a scholarly work. Why a novel? Of course, it goes without saying that the narrative has become more attractive as a result.
A very interesting question indeed. There are many reasons for fictionalising the narrative. Naturally, a series of scholarly essays would have been the first option. But no one reads essays especially the common man. Secondly, even though my narrative about the changes in Naga history, culture and religion is based on facts, but some parts of the history are contested. Therefore I thought it to be better to put down the facts and leave it to the reader to interpret what they think is appropriate. Thirdly, it was the only way for me to narrate some wonderful human stories which I came across during my interaction with the people. It was also important to keep their real identity hidden.
Tell us about your tenure as an army officer in the North East. How did you find yourself getting endeared to the inhabitants of the enchanted frontiers, particularly Nagaland?
Working in the Naga Hills when the ceasefire was in its nascent stage was a unique experience. Naga society was yearning for peace. We had to learn and unlearn several aspects. The thought of _a la_ Rudyard Kipling’s “White man’s burden” was soon discarded and we discovered a civilization in the North East, especially in Nagaland which is truly unique.
Do you think the rest of India has not quite understood Nagaland? If so, why so?
Rest of India sees things from its own perspective and standards. Recently the idea of oneness has gained currency without realising its pitfalls. It completely overlooks the diversity in every aspect of life. I hope my book is able to convey this message and people celebrate the diversity of our country.
What according to you would be a comprehensive solution to the Naga imbroglio?
We must listen to the voices of the society. Recognise their history culture and uniqueness. We should recognise their skills and generate employment in the North East as a whole. Lovelina, Renedy, Jeremy, Mirabai, Hima Das are our new stars.
Finally, it seems that you have based your fictional characters, Jayanta Barua and Colonel Mandeep on two real life personalities. Who are these and what attracted you to make them your novel’s protagonists?
Why Mandeep and Jayanta? Almost all are real life characters. I have fictionalised little bit and changed the names to maintain their privacy. Of couse some characters have been added to keep the flow going.