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 thirty-three. The Man Who Came to Catch Butterflies
caption: Colonel Betts and the 'Naga Queen'
caption: to Shillong and marriage
medium: books
person: Betts/ Col.Mills
date: 7.1945
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: His baptismal names, it appeared, were Frederick Nicholson, but he was usually known as Tim. His story was the final touch. But I was past the stage of being surprised, the heels of the world were uppermost, we were all mad and a little more insanity couldn't matter.
text: He had first heard of me by the nickname of the " Naga Queen " the very first day he joined " V" Force, eighteen months before. He had even then been intrigued by the idea of a lady guerilla. Then followed the Jap invasion, when he and his camp together were overrun. He had walked out for three weeks, right through the Jap Army, arrived at Kohima starving, and been shipped out to hospital just before the siege began. When Bill Tibbetts, one of the subalterns of his detachment, was sent off to my support that summer, his reports, when he returned, roused curiosity still further. But Fate seemed against a meeting. When I went on leave, he missed me by two days at H.Q. in Comilla, and then failed to find me in Calcutta.
text: A year later, the unit was in Shillong, refitting and training. The war was now so far off that there was talk of disbanding " V " Force altogether. Everything was flat, at a loose end. It suddenly came to him that now was the time to call on the Naga Queen. The war was over, or nearly; if he was ever going to get married, there wasn't much time to waste, and she sounded as if she'd have more in common with him than anyone else he'd met. Anyhow, it was famous butterfly- country and he was a keen collector - that gave him an excellent excuse; and if the main objective should prove unsuitable or unwilling - well, the time spent wouldn't all have been wasted. He sent a tentative letter off, and, on receiving a fairly mild reply, applied to his Commanding Officer for leave.
text: The C.O. was loath to grant it and asked for reasons. The reply - that it was for the purpose of reconnoitring the Naga Queen with a possible view to matrimony - knocked the wind clean out of his sails and left him with his mouth open, a thing the Japs had never been able to do. Tim got his leave. What the unit would have thought if they'd known I don't know. My Zemi bodyguard had a reputation.
text: The journey itself could hardly be called propitious. He missed a train-connection and then missed Perry, and had to sit about waiting for both; the Rains broke as he entered North Cachar. Late on a dark and streaming day he reached the Tolpui pass. Soaking, weary, running with rain, he sat down for a rest. It occurred to him that he was a damned fool.
text: She might be a frightful, hard-faced, horse-toothed Amazon. She might throw him out on his ear. In a turmoil of indecision, he drew lots. Long straw, she's a harpy. Middle one, she's a peach - but she won't have me. Short one, she's a peach and says yes.
text: It came out short. He got up, pulled his green beret firmly on his head, and marched off through the rain towards Laisong.
text: One thing I did insist upon, and that was a six months' engagement. I would not be rushed; I must consider. He went off back again a day or two later, his leave over, and we were to meet again in Shillong in three weeks' time.
text: When the aged train clanked down off the Hill Section and into Badarpur Junction one afternoon in July, a long, familiar figure was waiting on the platform. He was afraid for a minute I hadn't come, and then Namkia's red waistcoat came bobbing through the crowd, an unmistakable landmark, and we were all together and fighting our way out to the jeep.
text: As we bowled into the evening along the flat, interminable road which runs westward along the foot of the hills, he dropped the bombshell. He had been posted to Burma in the Military Administration. He wanted the wedding at once.
text: I said No.
text: I went on saying No consistently till we reached Shillong. There the Mills family shook my resolution. Tim had been round to call on them and announce his intentions - they were the best friends I had in India - and they were delighted with him. They were all for having the wedding at once.
text: The next day Tim called for me with the jeep and we argued the matter the length and breadth of Shillong. I said No on the peak; I said No in the Police Bazaar; I said No by the racecourse. At last we found ourselves on the Gauhati road and overlooking the American Remount Depot. Perhaps it was the lengthening afternoon; perhaps it was the sight of several hundred mules. At any rate I said Yes, and the next thing I knew, we were tearing round Shillong on two wheels in search of the padre and a special licence.
text: When Tim dropped me outside the hotel that evening, the first person I saw was Namkia. I took a deep breath and told him the news.
text: It was the only time I ever saw him stricken speechless.
text: Forty-eight hours later, on July 7th, we were married. Cake, wine, wedding-dress, reception - Mrs Mills, by some unfathomed miracle, produced them all. Namkia and Haichangnang stood picturesquely on either side of the church door - Namkia with his well-deserved British Empire Medal just gazetted. There was a guard of honour -of Assam Rifles. We came out under an arch of kukries, and the last little rifleman on my side, who was more than usually pint- sized, had to raise his weapon at the last moment to avoid beheading the bride. All things considered, " V " Force let us down pretty lightly. They delivered the groom at the church in just the proper state of light anaesthesia; and there were only two Army boots and a kerosine can on the back of the bridal car. Then we were in the train and bowling off to Darjeeling and Sikkim, and Tim's orderly, Namkia and Haichangnang, were with us, each one more bewildered than the one before.
text: There followed sixteen days' trek through Sikkim and Tibet. We went out over the Nathu La and came back by the Jelap La. Half-way to the former a huge Tibetan muleteer at the rear of a mule-train greeted Tim joyously with " Hello, Joe ! " and just beyond Chumbithang we all sat on the roadside for half an hour while Tim, armed with his beret, chased a Camberwell Beauty round a 'chorten.' He proved to be quite right, and we had a lot in common, but, as we both seemed to be mad along the same lines, it appeared a very suitable match.
text: Then he went off to Burma from Calcutta, jolting away up the line with a convoy of trucks, and I and my Naga pair rumbled back up the other line, back through green Bengal, up by the river steamer, into Badarpur at some unearthly hour and up the road from Mahur into the blessed cool. Over the top of the range by the Tolpui pass; and there we were again in the old haven.
text: The day following our return to Laisong, I saw, in the afternoon, a formal procession composed of all my staff leave the lines and advance towards the house with Namkia moving regally at its head. This was the usual prelude to a petition, and I thought it likely that, in view of my new status as a married woman, they would ask for a rise in pay. They reached the living-room floor and formed up in a line before the table. It was a serried rank of solemn faces. I felt a twinge of alarm. Was this an ultimatum ? Namkia stepped forward and looked me in the eye.
text: " The Sahib," he said. " Is all right."
text: The whole lot turned about and trooped out. The tribe had delivered judgement.
text: I wonder what they'd have done if he was not ?