Nagaland (1978)-- As our stay at Faizabad came to an end, we dispersed to proceed to our respective battalion locations in different parts of the country. My battalion was located in Nagaland. I boarded the train heading north east and after three days' journey, got down at Mariani junction in Assam which was the nearest rail head. This was the first time i was travelling to north eastern region of India where the night falls at four in the evening and the day breaks at three, the wee hours for the western part of the country. It was another two days' journey by road from Mariani to the place where my battalion was located. Two small towns fell on the way -- Mokokchung and Tuensang. At Mokokchung the scene was just out of this world. The boys having shoulder length hair, with guitars slung on their shoulders and girls wearing skirts and tops dancing and singing merrily at public places, gave me the impression as if i had come to some country located in the far east. But the signs of modernity could not be seen beyond Mokokchung. As i advanced further into the interiors of Nagaland the tribal culture got more and more visible in the dress, food and the life style of the inhabitants.
I reached the battalion headquarters only after night fall, so next morning when i came out of my room and had a look around, i was left speechless. Lush green mountain ranges all around, offered a breathtaking view. The sub units of our battalion were deployed on those hills across the valley, on the Indo -- Burma border, to prevent movement of hostiles across the international border. Though, I was posted in the battalion headquarters, my desire was to go around the country side and explore the unknown regions of Nagaland about which i had heard or read so many stories. One day i requested my Commanding Officer Col Ashok Bhan, to send me across to the posts. Though, our Adjutant Capt Baleshwar Khanna did not approve of my having volunteered in that manner, (the Adjutant in his initial briefing had told me that young officers are only to be seen and not to be heard, so he took it as defiance of his advice) but the Commanding Officer readily agreed and asked me to proceed to the posts the very next day.
The first company location which i visited was near a village. Though the visual distance from one hill top to the other looked very close but while actually travelling between the two, it took one's breath out. One had to first walk deep down into the valley and then climb up the same distance to reach the top. The jungles of Nagaland are very thick and tricky and at some places even the sunlight does not penetrate the thick foliage. The group of jawans who accompanied me had warned me to save my self from two dangers while walking in those jungles. Firstly from the leeches which may fall from the tree tops on the back of the neck and start sucking the blood by the time one came to know of their presence. These had to be separated from the skin by either putting salt on them or else touching them with the end of the burning cigarette. Second danger that i was put on alert was against the ambush by the hostiles. One never knew that from where a poisonous arrow or a bullet would come and pierce ones' chest while walking through the thick forests. The Naga hostilities were at its peak during that period.
By the time we reached our destination, it was dark. Next day the company commander Capt PK Narula took me around the village. Army was required to keep a very close liaison with the villagers to get the intelligence about the movement of the hostiles. Before proceeding, he had briefed me that villagers would offer me 'madhu', a local wine brewed out of barley, which most of the Nagas were seen drinking from large wooden jar shaped cups with wooden straws while basking in the sun in front of their huts. And once offered something to eat or drink by a Naga one could not refuse for the fear of antagonising them One just had to say "gaan christhaan", meaning that i was a Christian.
Every village had Christian and non Christian population. There was a small church and a pastor in every village. The Christians were more civilised, not used to drinking liquor or eating meat etc. Another major difference between the two classes was that while the Christians wore normal dresses like pants and shirts for males and skirts and tops for females, the non-Christians remained topless. The men wore only a loincloth and the females wrapped just a shawl below their waists. The women folk of all ages were seen working in the fields, carrying fire wood or hay for the animals, pounding barley, washing clothes at village water points, knitting on hand looms (almost every house had a hand loom where the women would knit shawls etc) or attending to other such daily chores of life, wearing nothing on top.
While a small cleavage visible under the thin dupatta or through the pallu of a woman's saree is certainly a pleasant sight for any man worth his salt, without harbouring any malafide thoughts in the mind, but there in the villages of Nagaland it was an anti climax to see the dangling pairs of bare boobs, available to look at in abundance in all shapes and sizes. Initially they were a cause of some excitement, which was natural , but gradually the excitement turned into monotony. I was reminded of the words of a famous poet that the 'beauty that is veiled looks more beautiful'.
Let me narrate two very interesting incidents here. When the Company Commander took me around the village and introduced me to the 'Gaon Buda' -- the village head, he took us to his house. On the gate of the house he had displayed a number of human skulls which indicated as to how many men he had killed. He made us sit in the big hall around a fire place where the fire wood was burning. On the ceiling above the fire place, small pieces of meat were hung with help of metal hooks. That process was called smoking. It was to preserve the meat for longer periods without cooking. 'Gaon buda's wife and daughter were sitting across the fire place wearing nothing on top. He said something in his lingo sounding like "pesha khaibi" which meant "have tea" and told his wife to prepare tea for us. While the tea was on the fire and the company commander and the 'gaon buda ' were busy discussing about the activities of the hostiles, i heard some sound behind me. I looked back and saw that a small pig was drinking water from a large pot lying behind me. The tea was served to both of us. The company commander was too busy in talking. While he merrily sipped his tea, i could not do so because i had seen the pig drinking water and was in doubt whether it was the same pot from which the water for the tea was filled. So taking advantage of the low light inside the room (the only light in the room was that of the flames of the fire place), i threw the tea in to the ash accumulated around the fire place and merely made actions of sipping the tea from the cup. After coming out i told the officer about the pig. He smiled and said that the water got purified after boiling.
At another occasion, when i took over as a post commander of a small village named Wenshoi, which was bang on Indo --Burma border, a villager came to ask my permission to go for hunting into the jungle. It was mandatory for them to seek permission if they wanted to use fire arms for hunting. Their fire arms were improvised ones, though, they hunted mostly with help of bows and arrows. I came out and found him sitting in a crouching position in front of the gate, holding his gun between his knees. As i walked towards him, a small beetle type of insect flew in and rested on his bare shoulder. He was wearing only a loincloth. He immediately slapped his shoulder and killed the insect. Instead of throwing it away he put it in his mouth and chewed it like a child enjoys a chocolate. I asked him that why did he do so. He signalled to me by touching his stomach and said something in his lingo which meant that it was good for the stomach.