The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: Chapter three. Second Attack
caption: embarrasment caused by compounder
medium: books
date: 14.3.1939
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: The last morning there broke warm and sunny. The light slanted in through the flimsy walls, spotting the floor and silhouetting the humped jappas. I reached for my tea while Abung, a pint-sized figure, poured water into the washing basin. The door closed behind him. I slipped out of bed. It was warm and windless; I stripped my pyjamas and began to dress.
text: The door flew suddenly open. There was a dazzle of light and a man came in. I cried out sharply - I was half-naked. I fell back, snatching at the nearest thing, a towel, and then saw that the man was the compounder.
text: " I'm not dressed yet - please go away !"
text: He took no notice. He didn't even reply. His head averted - he conceded that - he slouched across the hut to the other corner. He reached the medicine jappa; removed the lid; and, squatting down, began to unpack at leisure the fifty pounds of drugs. The door flopped open, and in came a flood of patients, pushing, unaware of the scene.
text: I still didn't grasp it. I thought he hadn't heard.
text: " What is it, please ? Is it urgent ? I want to dress. I'd rather you came back later."
text: The Tangkhuls saw me. Shocked and embarrassed, they stopped. But there sat the compounder, sullen and slow. His hands played with the medicines; he lifted them up; he looked at them; put them down. A cigarette hung on his lip. He didn't trouble to remove it when he spoke, nor turn, nor apologize; he jerked the words out backwards over his shoulder.
text: " I want medicine."
text: Sitting there on my bed, half-covered, the Tangkhuls shuffling uncomfortably and looking the other way, I understood. It was deliberate; and quite deliberately he had brought in the Tangkhuls, to shame me just that much more. I found myself shaking. I jumped up and ran over to him. I told him, over and over again, to go. He rose, and walked out slowly. The Tangkhuls had gone. I slammed the door. Trembling, nearly crying, I crammed my clothes on. The camp was quiet outside.
text: I sat on the bed till I felt better. Then I went out.
text: The open space in front of the door was sunlit. In the middle of it was a heap of baggage, packed; and squatting by it, the compounder. This was his moment of triumph. Shortly, and not looking at me, he complained to me that I had been rude, and proposed to return at once to Imphal.
text: I contemplated his plan in silence. How thoroughly, how brutally, had the incident been engineered; and what a mind had planned it ! There was no other compounder. Here was an end of the trip to the north, an end to my photographs; to the medical help we had promised the villages there, help they so much needed. At one stroke he had freed himself and ruined my enterprise, and that with as much humiliation and indecency as he could contrive in so short a space of time. And then I saw why he turned his face away. He couldn't suppress, in his moment of victory, a triumphant grin.
text: It was that which did it. This grin was the last straw. All my personal considerations went like smoke. Come hell and high water, that compounder was going on and the hill men would get their medicine. If it was the last thing I did, I was going to win this battle. There was one stroke on which I knew he was not counting. He had complained of my rudeness, therefore he required an apology - I let him have it, an exquisitely polite apology.
text: It took the ground out from under him like a trap. He tried to recover; but it was no use, I had him. My daimon had taken charge. My other self, small at a distance, heard (27) my own voice talking rings round him with alien fluency. When, half an hour later, we left for Chingngai, the next camp, I felt as though I had been wrung out like a dishcloth, but a black-sulky and disgruntled compounder was with us.