Jungle lore

Being fond of paan since my college days, I enquired what he was chewing.

I am deeply hurt by the strife that is currently tearing certain regions of North-East India. And what is worse is that the tension is spreading to faraway areas like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Although it’s pointless to have an opinion on who is right and who is wrong in the violence that erupted last month, it’s extremely important for all of us to ensure that the North-Eastern people living in other parts of the country feel safe and secure. Here is an account of some of my experiences in the North East regions where I was treated with respect and the hospitality was tremendous. 

I have served the Indian Army as an infantry officer in various capacities in several jungles along borders of our country. I nostalgically remember my association with the jungles be it in Nagaland, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh. 

I distinctly remember the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh around the foothills, when I was serving in Misamari. Back then, I was a subaltern and was leading something called a protective patrol through the jungles for a few days. At nightfall on the second day, when we were deep inside the jungles, we were looking for a place to halt for the night. As we progressed a little farther, we did not find any trace of habitation.

 Some distance away, we found light penetrating through the tall trees of the jungle. As we neared it, we found a huge fallen decaying tree. It was glowing in the dark and the there was good illumination for a few yards around it. I still don’t know what tree that was but it was fascinating to see it glowing on its own in the dark.

I ordered the boys to halt for the night, next to the tree where it was like moonlight. In the morning when we left the place, I cut a small piece of the trunk of that tree which I carried to my camp and bottled it.

It glowed for a few days till it decayed completely.

The next day, while we were marching on our route, I found a tribesman in the jungle chewing paan (Betel). Being fond of paan since my college days, I curiously enquired what he was chewing. The tribesman pointed to a piece of wood freshly cut from a tree, which he was carrying. He cut a small piece from that and presented it to me to chew. It was like any authentic paan.

Later, when I was serving with the Assam Rifles, when we were preparing to move on a week long patrol, I found that the boys were carrying dry rations and a Dah/Kukri each. When I enquired about bringing any small utensils with them, they just said that they would manage on the way.

The first day, the boys requested me to order night halt a bit earlier than usual. I found that the boys were ready shortly with bamboo utensils, bamboo cups, ladles, spoons, etc. It was a sumptuous meal and something that I can never forget. Apart from all this, the boys of the Assam Rifles regaled us with jungle lore.

When bamboo shoots grow during a particular season, the Assamese jawans prepared yummy pickles with bamboo shoot. The pickles were offered as snacks during Barakhanas and JCOs’ mess parties and they were delicious.

Strange yet friendly are these environs of the North-East. The people from this region are just as friendly and should be treated with respect.

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