Big man in a small place

In most Southasian cultures, the act of renunciation marks an individual's transition from being ordinary to being inspirational. In times of political crisis, the individual who renounces power and wealth stands out as the other possible paradigm that exists for a moral and political community. Khodao Yanthan, the vice-president of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), who died on 1 March in his native village of Lakhuti in Nagaland, can lay claim to greatness. As the news of his death spread from the Naga hills to the world outside, one could almost see the scramble for details about his life among young reporters ordered to 'do a short piece' on the man.

They would be well advised to read a moving portrait that, coincidentally, appeared recently in Nagaland newspapers. The piece, written by the anthropologist and author Abraham Lotha, traces the contours of Yanthan's life, first as a young student with a babysitting job in Wokha; to a quartermaster in the Naga Labour Corps for the Allied Forces in the 1940s; to assisting the legendary Naga leader A Z Phizo in his 1950s plebiscite; to exile and hardship in London from 1960s to 1990s; and to his return to the Naga Hills following the April 2001 ceasefire between the Indian government and the NSCN. Lotha's article can also speak to a new generation of readers who are cynical about politics – about a time not so long ago, when people believed in a better world for their people and were willing to sacrifice all they had for it.

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