The king’s gift of bamboo

Brig Gurinder Singh (Retd)

MY battalion moved to south Nagaland in March 2000. As we were settling down, we were asked to move to Mon district in northeastern Nagaland because clashes between two insurgent groups had broken out. We were deployed in Tiru, a small valley with thick jungles dotted with few clusters of hutments on the ridges. A 27-year-old was the aung (king) of this area and feared his subjects and livestock may get caught in the crossfire.

We established our camp in the valley and got busy with our task. But the next day, it started raining, and soon the waterlogged camp was infested with leaches and mosquitoes. After being continuously drenched for two days, I asked the aung if he could help. He suggested that we move the camp to another site, which happened to be an abandoned camp of insurgents. Protected by rivulets from three sides, it had some artificial caves. As for the accommodation for troops, he said, ‘Tomorrow is Sunday, the day of prayer. I will do something on Monday.’ Luckily, there was no rain on Sunday and we could dry our clothes and stock rations and equipment in the caves.

At daybreak on Monday, our sentries sighted a group of Naga men approaching from multiple directions. Immediately, everyone got ready for imminent action. Just as I was assessing the situation, Tobun Konyak, a trusted man of the aung, informed me that all these people had been sent by the aung to make ‘barracks’. A batch of about 30 men levelled the ground and started erecting shelters. Soon they were joined by another group of men who brought logs, sleepers, bamboo and palm leaves, and then there was a third group. About 100 men were feverishly sawing, nailing and arranging leaves.

I was a bit circumspect when at 3 pm Tobun invited me to inspect the ‘barracks’. A raised platform for sleeping was fine, but how could palm leaves protect from rain? But I kept quiet and thanked him and his men for their help. Just then, it started raining heavily, and to our surprise, not a drop of water could find its way to the barracks.

After three weeks of relentless operations, we were ordered to move back from Tiru valley. I profusely thanked the aung for his help, who turned philosophical, ‘Sir, I always wanted to construct a school building at this site as the earlier one was destroyed in floods. I knew you would leave in a few days and these shelters will be used for classrooms, so let us thank God for this. You have chased away the insurgents, I should be thanking you.’ The aung gifted us two truckloads of bamboos. ‘You will be in Nagaland for few years, if you have bamboos, any Naga can build you anything,’ the young ruler advised.

‘Long live the king’, my second-in-command muttered as we bid goodbye.

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