[ Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi ]
It was an emotionally charged gathering. The crowd sat silently, tears in their eyes listening to never before heard dirge from a host of speakers whose chocked voices and, one of the speakers, Dr Tasso Kampu’s sobs in between plunged the whole atmosphere into a melancholy mood. Yes, I am speaking about the funeral function of Dr (Late) Chukhu Nirmali Taba, who breathed her last on this day last year, which was on the evening of 13th February, 2019.
We human beings are born in this world temporarily, to live for few years, and within these few years some leave behind their footprints on the sands of time, some just fade away unsung and unremembered. Why? The answer lies what good deed you accomplished in your life time for this world, for the human race, for the society. Those who lived the life for others, people feel great loss
on their passing away and as a mark of respect they throng by the side of the dead body with flowers in their hands to pay homage.
Ayo Nirmali, as we fondly called her, was such a great lady and her greatness was evident on 15th February 2019, when thousands gathered at her residence to pay last respect and love before she was laid to rest.
Dr Taba Nirmali was born to late Chukhu Nitin and Chukhu Yadap at Gumto village, Doimukh of the then undivided Subansiri district on 16th January, 1964. She had passed the All India Senior School Certificate Examination from Doimukh Government Higher Secondary School in science stream, standing first position amongst all girl students of Arunachal Pradesh in 1982, and on virtue of being top in the merit list she was selected for MBBS course as in those days selection to technical course was done on merit basis of higher secondary school leaving certificate examination. In 1988 she passed her MBBS from Gauhati Medical College, Assam becoming the first lady doctor from amongst the Nyishi tribe and in the same year joined as medical officer at the general hospital, now TRIHMS.
While in service, she went for further studies at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Imphal and did her MS degree in ENT. After serving at the general hospital for 24 years, she took volunteer retirement from government service to serve society in independent way and for providing better service.
A philanthropic mindset was ingrained in her conscience since childhood. She understood from her young days how backward her tribe Nyishi was and so she, since then, started her humanitarian service in her capacity as social service secretary of the school. She, along with her fellow student friends conducted many awareness campaigns in interior areas like Sagalee about the need to send children to schools (In those early NEFA days parents were reluctant to send their children to school and didn’t know the importance of education); about maintaining cleanliness and hygiene and taking medicine (People then thought all sickness was caused by evil spirits); ills of child and forced marriages, etc that were ailing our Arunachal societies.
In those days there was no road communication to any place of Subansiri district except Kimin-Ziro road and, so young Ayo Nirmali and others had to walk on foot for days together for such awareness campaigns. For her zeal in social service and leadership quality, she was selected for a programme known as the Student’s Experience on interstate living tour of All India sponsored by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1982, and since then the nationalism was ingrained in her and she remained an active member of the ABVP.
Many people after joining service become mere salary-earning robots, and forget their zeal to serve society which many of them nurtured while in school and college. But Ayo Nirmali never allowed her zeal to extinguish, and rather took the service of humanity beyond the call of duty. Her experience as doctor in a government hospital taught her that the government cannot alone solve all the health problems, especially with so much red-tapism in every step, for which our state needed private hospitals to provide better health service. So, she opened the NIBA Hospital at Naharlagun and there started her philanthropist humanitarian service. Some of her doctor friends with likeminded zeal to serve humanitarian cause came forward to form a team and among them were two experienced and expert doctors, senior surgical surgeon Dr KK Dey and now Director of TRIHMS Dr Moji Jini. Together they formed a cancer society with Dr KK Dey as chairman, Dr Taba Nirmali as general secretary and Er Taba Tedir as assistant general secretary.
Dr Nirmali and her husband Er Taba Tedir provided a ward free-of-cost to run the society and provided free treatment and consultation to cancer patients. The society took up awareness campaigns in schools and villages against tobacco, one of the main causes of cancer; held seminars with lectures from cancer experts from the B Baruah Cancer Institute of Guwahati and taught people the preventive measures to save oneself from cancer. The society engaged Dr Sam Tsering, the first oncologist of our state for treatment of cancer patients and also took up with the government for opening cancer department in the state hospital, and now our state has a full-fledged cancer department with Dr Sam Tsering as its head. The cancer department of the hospital also provides chemotherapy treatment to patients free-of-cost.
Another philanthropic act of Dr Nirmali along with Dr Moji Jini was the start of an innovative programme called the Smile Train and through this programme they surgically stitched cleft palates of more than 600 people and brought beautiful smiles on their lips. She, along with her doctor friends also conducted many free health camps in various interior places of Arunachal Pradesh.
All these philanthropic works were done in the health front as she was a doctor herself, but she did not confine rendering her humanitarian service to the health sector only, and spread her services in other fields also which prompted her to take voluntary retirement from active government service.
She was deeply committed to preservation of indigenous faith and so started a venture to document the chanting of Nyibu’s, but that venture remained at its starting stage. She was preparing a detailed plan to open a research institute at Ganga in Itanagar for indigenous traditions and culture and it was under the pipeline, but it ultimately had to be abandoned when she learnt that she did not have enough time to fulfill her dream project.
Another reason of her leaving government service was, she realized that to do bigger things for society, one has to enter public life, which is, the political field, as to do all round development of your land and for your people one should have enough power and resources and that power and resources lies in politics. She joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and became the secretary in charge of the Beti Bachao Beti Parao flagship programme. As the Secretary of that important programme, she toured different parts of the state to monitor the implementation of the programme of field officers and took keen interest for the girl child’s welfare in the state.
In 2014 she contested the Assembly election and faced defeat with very small margin as luck did not favour her that time. It was written in her destiny not to become an MLA in her lifetime as it had proven when time came to contest again to smile a winning smile she was no longer there. No doubt she was defeated in a contest, but her spirit remained undefeated and high. She took the defeat as a lesson to work harder and do better. She, with her ever smiling face told her bosom friend, Dr Tasso Kampu not to be unhappy by her defeat, and narrating that episode more tears rolled down from the eyes or Dr Kampu while she was speaking to mourners gathered near Ayo Nirmali’s coffin just before her last rites.
Yes, while writing this piece of my homage to her, her ever smiling face lingeres in front of my eyes as one of the finest lady I have ever met, albeit for a very brief period.
We have a picture of her with a Nyishi basket on her back with drinks and lunch, climbing Potin Hill through the lush green tea garden, an organic tea garden which she had nurtured with great care and zeal. On 24th February, 2017 my wife and me were being taken to see the garden and to have a picnic there. With us was Taba Tedir, her husband. At that time, I was oblivious that she was going to live only for a few months as she as usual was full of life and merriment. My wife and Ayo Nirmali regaled us with memories of their travel through European countries as tourists. Yes, Ayo Nirmali was fond of travel and toured many countries including Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia of South East Asia. She toured foreign countries so that she could learn how those countries have progressed and make our state and country developed like those countries.
Today, on her first death Anniversary, I pay my homage to her. Hope, you are there in heaven, looking down on this mortal world how dearly every one, apart from your family members, are missing you. (The writer is a noted writer and president of the Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society)