Kohima, Dec. 10: A young couple ambled down the market street, their faces glowing in the wavy ribbons of light from the rows of decorated shops.
It was their first evening stroll together down that road. It was also the first time in nearly 20 years that shops in the insurgency-racked Nagaland capital stayed open after dark.
Till two days ago, shops downed shutters around 4, nearly half an hour before sunset.
All that changed on Tuesday. Colourful stars of Bethlehem glittered in the evening skyline and Christmas trees beckoned people to shops. “We don’t remember going out for an evening stroll along the market street,” said Anikhiu. “It feels wonderful tonight.”
Bizo nodded. The couple had stopped in front of a stall. Then they moved on again.
In a place where people are used to hitting the bed early — both because of the terrain and fear of militants — the plan to keep the markets open after dark reflects the confidence in the ceasefire between government forces and insurgents.
Their spirits have lifted further with the progress of the peace talks between Delhi and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).
The decision to stay open was taken at a meeting of the Angami Students’ Union (ASU) with local businessmen on Sunday. The ASU had assured security.
It seemed that the plan had flopped when most shops closed even before 4 on Monday, though some did stay open till 6. But Tuesday evening was different.
For Anikhiu and Bizo, of the Angami tribe — native to Kohima — the decision was the “most exciting” since the peace process began.
Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio also exuded confidence. “The ceasefire is holding well, there are no reports of extortion, kidnappings and intimidation. Nagaland is absolutely peaceful now,” he said.
The students — who have the support of Angami tribal bodies — proposed the plan keeping in mind Kohima’s 125th anniversary in April next year.
Atuo, who owns a shop in the main market, looked ahead to bright evenings. “Maybe, they (customers) will take some more time to shake off the fear completely, but when it is a regular feature, we are sure evenings will be bright,” he said. “If Tuesday was any indication, the decision seems to be correct.”
Manoj Agarwal — president of the Hindu Kalyan Samiti, which looks after the interests of Hindus, many of whom run shops here — said “the ASU has assured support to us with security by its youth members if the shops are kept open”. Most of the traders, he added, had agreed to respect the ASU’s request.
Shoppers welcomed the trend. “It is a positive sign and this should carry on so that people can move around without fear,” said Chiekropa, who had come from distant Phek for Christmas shopping.
It was as if a leash had snapped, and more so because Kohima does not have any cinema halls. “So shopping becomes entertainment,” said Sanju, who runs a PCO.
“This is a very good trend and we hope it picks up well,” said Theja Meru, director of Dream Café, the first to set the trend when it decided to stay open till 7. The café has been hosting concerts every Friday.