Friday, February 27, 2009

Bare Beauty of Nagaland

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.


Sagarone said...

Interesting stuff! Waiting for the next installment........

Indyeah said...

Very interesting and amazing memories....The land that you speak of here seems so far removed from the image one has in one's mind....:)

Mom and dad talk of the three day train journeys ,they had been in Rangia first and later somewhere in the interiors of Assam..

The words here paint a picture that makes me curious and amazed at the diveristy of cultures in India...Would love to go there sometime..
The pig was drinking from the pot?:D
smart thing you did..:D boiled or not bolied it would have been a hard tea to drink:D

you are really fortunate to have had such amazing experiences...:)
I really wish I had joined the army..:)

Indian Home Maker said...

Loved reading about Nagaland and your experiences!
Aren't blogs such a wonderful way to share so much of interesting information with those who have never been to such places! And now it will stay here as a record for anybody who wants to learn about the place - a first hand experience.

Such experiences do widen our horizons, no wonder you can see beyond the obvious and write posts that leave an impact and make a point ...
My one fav was about the couple in the train where no one objected until they smoked, and before that about one about religion ...
Love such posts. Thanks for writing them :)

Balvinder Singh said...

Sagaone, thanks yes next post shortly. The journey will continue.

Abhilasha, you have rightly written in your post why we love India, it the very diversity that unites us.

Yes i have been fortunate enough to have gone to such remote places where it is different wolrd altogether.

IHM , Yes the blog world has opened the flood gates for sharing such information on the net. One moment it is in one's memory. Another moment it would be on the computer screens for all to read.

And thanks for the compliments.

LazyKing said...

Cant wait for the next post!

J P Joshi said...

Enjoyed this post. A friend of mine was posted in Mukokchong immediately after commissioning, as a bachelor. He had told us some interesting stories about the place. I must say that you have exercised utmost restraint, but could not help but bring out the facts. A course mate of mine was the first Naga A.F. pilot, and he told us that Naga's love dog meat and that is the reason you never find dogs in Nagaland. Is that true?

North East is really out of this world for natural beauty and Nagaland even more so. I have only flown over it. Waiting for the next one.

Cess said...

wow, how can u remember so many details from so long ago? have u ever consider writing a book about ur past, u seemed to have live quite a lot, my life seems boring next to urs.
btw the text in green: really funny:)
PS: pass by when u have time at my place, i m having a topic about indian arranged marriage :)

Solilo said...

This made such an interesting read and also learned so much about the place and their life. Waiting for next installment:)

As an Air Force officer's daughter I have lived in/visited many states in India but North East is a place I want to go if I ever get an opportunity as I have no clue about their culture and the place.

Balvinder Singh said...

JP, yes i had written a lot in the draft. But then edited the post to almost half the size bearing so many factors in mind, inluding my reader friends. I already seem to have annoyed one of my blogger friends by writing about argumentative Indians in Kolkata. (Sticker Story --2)

There is so much stuffed up in my memory. I always write in my posts what i have seen with my own eyes. No place for fancy here but yes restraints galore.

And very true, no stray dogs seen in Nagaland and why only there, in 1998 in our office at Delhi we had Naga Armed Constabulary (NAC) looking after the security arrangements who used to reside in the premises and did their cooking etc inside. Well, we did not have stray dog menace for the duratuon that they were there.

Balvinder Singh said...

Cess, I think human brain is better than a super computer and the memory stays there. Only thing is to retrieve it and then reproduce in right form and forum. And my blog is helping me do precisely that. Thanks for the compliments. I think no one will be interested in publishing my life story. But i will continue writing it here.

And Cess, I don't think life can be boring also. Look back and you will be reminded of many ineresting incidents of your life. Just start writing, they will pour out on thier own.

Yes i will certainly look up your post today.

Balvinder Singh said...

Solio, thanks. Yes, there are places in our country, so rich in diverse cultures that one can't imagine about, unless, one visits them personally. I had the fortune to go around the country side in the very begining of my career. My civilian friends used to say that i was just taking rounds of the periphery of the country like foot ball team does before entring the field.

Yes next post shortly.

roop said...

very interesting. waiting for nexT!

Balvinder Singh said...

Cess, you know green text has been heavily edited.

Roop, thanks. Yes, next post soon.

How do we know said...

wow... u have led a VERY interesting life!!!

Reflections said...

Reading posts like these brings back to me exactly why I keep blogging:-D

loved reading it....surprising actually why u hadnt done it earlier.

p.s: cdn't help laughing at the green text:-D

Anand said...

Hi Sir, I fell short of breath jus' reading ur post. :-)

Btw fyi, THIRTY brand NEW links have been added in to HellLottaLinks, the blog u have liked so far. I still await for ur suggestions and comments.

Hey Sir, could you recommend any 2 best bloggers that U really like?? I'd love to include the 2 u suggest in my list of Rocking bloggers. Let them know u like them so much that u have recommended them, wot say?? Send me their links.

(Btw, I secretly follow ur blog too.)
Anand. :-)

Balvinder Singh said...

'H D W K'-- thanks. Yes life had been quite interesting till now, hence the title of first post in this series "So Far So Good"

Nancy -- i did not write it earlier. The memories have been lurking in the mind but putting them in right words takes some effort for me where i have to exercise so many restraints.

Anand -- Thanks for following me. I like your profile picture spreading sun shine all around. Yes i will give you the names of two bloggers after careful selection.

Soul Searcher said...

Remarkably interesting. Sorry for being oout of circulation for some time. Was busy winding up at Kazakhstan and settling back at home.

You do have a gift for narration. The army has given you a real insight into the far reaches of India. My travela only took me till the tea gardens of Assam where I had the chance to stop by and chat with some army guys from Tezpur just after the Nellie maasacre. While they shared horrific images of the tragedy I also learnt a lot of the North east from my times with them.

Your blog made all those memories come alive again. Thanks so much for sharing.

Balvinder Singh said...

Soul Searcher -- thank you, yes as mentioned above, Army has taken me places. And now through my blog i have got the opportunity to share some of my experiences with the world. Thanks for the compliments.

Anand said...

Hey sir, U blog rolled both my blogs?? Wow.

Now that's an honour.

Thank u so much. I appreciate it.

N need I say it again?? U write supersuper. Keep it up. Did u read my latest BAJU story though?? Im sure ull enjoy it.

Anand. :-)

LazyKing said...

I'm waiting :)

Mampi said...

Very very interesting.
Nagaland has always has a great fascination to me. Reading your first hand account has only whetted that curiosity.
Great one!!

RJ said...

A wonderful read sir... waiting for the next post :)

Balvinder Singh said...

Anand, thanks for the cmplements, yes both your blogs are interesting so i blogrolled them. I will read the story that you mentioned.

Lazy King, next post is there, all yours to read. Thanks for waiting.

Mampi, RJ thanx.

Usha Pisharody said...

Very informative.

And yes, I would like to echo IHM, because we learn so much about so many many things, all because of wonderful bloggers like you who share so much! Thanks so much!

Sorry, am late, all over again, though :)

Balvinder Singh said...

Usha thanks for invincing interest in the memories that i am sharing, which though i am doing with lots of restraints, bearing in mind so many aspects including the nature of my job and the sentiments of our people.

Swaram said...

Hi! First time here. I read Parts 1 and 2 of ur journey of life and am loving it. Just stopped at this part to thank u so much for sharing ur memories. First and foremost, I have a lot of respect for the Army bcoz of whom we are leading a peaceful life; we sleep peacefully as we believe there's someone out there protecting us. Added to this, ur description of diverse cultures of India is so beautiful. Loved ur blog.

Balvinder Singh said...

Swaram, firstly, thanks a lot for the kind words for the Indian Army. Yes the countrymen can relax because the Indian Defence forces are there not only at the borders but almost omnipresent, ready to deal with any sticky situation that the nation may get stuck in.

Having traveled around the country side i have experienced the true diverisity of our cultures. So just trying to put down my experiences and, i owe it to my blog that i am able to share my memories with you all, and Swaram thanks for invincing interest in the same.

Keep in touch.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! Continue the good posts.

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Anonymous said...

Great blog, and your post on Naga women was insightful without being voyeuristic and titillating. Its very difficult for a man to talk about breasts without appearing hopelessly lecherous. :)
But you pulled it off! This post reminded me of the stories that my father, who was also an armyman, told us about Nagaland when we were kids. Excellent job!

Balvinder Singh said...

Thanks Mr/Ms Anonymous.

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