Cross-border dialogues

Cross-border dialogues

Cross-border dialogues

Way back in the early 1970s, during my service in the Air Force, I did brief stints at the advanced landing grounds (ALGs) skirting the China border in NEFA — North Eastern Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh.

Inkiang, Along, Hyuliang and Tezu were among these ALGs. These were manned by airmen deputed from the Air Movement Control Centre based at Shillong, referred to as the Scotland of the East for its pristine terrain.

On this score, even NEFA and several other locales in Mizoram and Nagaland were at par with Meghalaya as for the evergreen hilly tracts, where communication was a bit problematic. One could beckon a person on the facing hillock with a mere shout or loud whistle, whereas it would have entailed a trek of nearly an hour to reach him.

In such a set-up, one evening at Along, around 3.00 IST, I spotted a person clad in saffron trotting up the hill on the other side. In tune with the adage of an idle mind being a devil’s workshop, my vocal chords hailed him in a language that must have sounded like Greek to those standing next to me. “Hey, kalla sanyasi… yelli hogta idiya…” were my words that echoed across the valley. What I blurted out in Kannada was, ‘You, hoax of a saintly person, where are you off to?’

Well, the next morning, after a hearty breakfast of egg bhurji and poories drowned with cups of tea, I hopped over to my signals cabin for the routine exchange of metars (hourly metrological reports) vis-à-vis the various DZs (dropping zone sorties) carried out by our IAF aircraft. Another schedule in the course of morning duties was transmitting the observations of the pilot balloons hoisted by our meteorologists.

No sooner than I had sent these readings to Chabua and Shillong, I was startled to see a person clad in saffron approaching our ALG. Security not being that rigid those days, he entered our camp and proceeded towards the commandant’s office.

At this stage, my colleagues Kuriakose and G C Sharma, who had witnessed my previous evening’s catcalls, came over to my desk to warn me of the episode’s consequences. While I apprehended a reprimand for my foolhardy antics, I was astonished when this monk, escorted by the base commander, came over to me and said, “I’m delighted to know that there is someone here who knows Kannada!” He was a monk from Ramakrishna Mission.

Further, he was elated to learn that I am an alumnus of Sri Ramakrishna Vidya Shala in Mysore. Sans any sign of anger over my sarcastic remarks, he patted me and even invited me to visit his ashram. However, I could not since I had to return to Shillong.

Let alone my pranks in Kannada with this monk in the remote NEFA, what I experienced here was that language was no barrier even along the international border.

The Chinese and Indian troops would share mugs of tea and biscuits to the tunes of songs from latest Hindi movies blared over loud speakers across the frontier, which probably was the then Peking’s propaganda.