The insurgent activities and political unrest in Nagaland, from as early as the 1950s all the way until the early 1990s, were like distant thunder – ominous but not always directly impacting our daily lives. As Nagas, we were still living under the fear of men in uniform, and random checks as well as shootings were still very common in some areas. However, the changing perception of locals about the Indian Army and the political ongoings did indirectly affect us. Discussions at home sometimes revolved around these issues, although our father’s role as a pastor and his apolitical stance shielded us from getting too involved in these matters.

Unfortunately, this also meant that there were not many conversations between my brothers and me when we really needed them. You see, the one thing men across the world have in common is that we’re told since we are little to “Be a man”, or that “Men don’t cry”. Since childhood, my brothers and I were good at following rules, so we just obeyed – we didn’t cry in front of each other or even alone. In Jalukie, we simply went about our days, from one responsibility within the family to another, as men in most societies would, without ever addressing our internal struggles.

We were missing a crucial piece of the puzzle in our lives – an Apfü-sized hole in our hearts. Although we had a new Apfü in our lives, life would never be the same again for us three brothers. So, we tried our best to go on with our lives as if nothing had happened in the family and everything was normal. The fact, however, was that nothing in our lives was normal anymore; everything had happened so suddenly. On most days, we succeeded in masking our feelings, but on some days, we failed and broke down.

For us, shifting from Nerhema to Jalukie wasn’t just a move from a village to a town; it was also the advent of a new family structure, which came with its own complexities and challenges for us brothers. And despite the presence of our new Apfü (our stepmother), there were times when the emotional gap was palpable. The family felt incomplete to us. We often pondered over our scenario in our heads – the rapid shift from our birth Apfü to our step Apfü, an ever-increasing number of siblings, and our father’s struggle to make ends meet with his new occupation. These reflections sometimes led to existential questions that clouded our minds. As we felt more and more distant from our father’s new family, all three of us felt the loss of our mother more deeply and gravely, but each of us learnt to cope with things in our own ways.

Neibu devoted himself to the service of God and academia, the two things that could, perhaps, increase the probability of good luck arriving and change the fate of our family. Rüükielie, on the other hand, the smart young gun that he was, didn’t seem to care about these things too much. Besides, he didn’t have to work hard to do well. So, he spent most of his time outside the house, with friends, always thinking of ways to move out of Jalukie. And I, the youngest one out of the three of us, turned towards “finding humour in tragedy” – something that Neibu disliked because he saw my mischief as carelessness. He would have ideally liked me to study more and focus on getting good grades at school, while I would just study when I felt like. I would roam around and go for movies when I felt like it. The way Neibu worked hard in life, his willpower and his grit were inimitable. So, unlike what happens in many Indian households, with kids being compared to their cousins, in my house, I was compared to my elder brother all the time – “Aap toh Neibu jaisa nahi hai, aap toh aisa hai (You are not like Neibu; you have your own ways),” they’d tell me.

After a point, I stopped caring and started acknowledging the fact that all three of us brothers had been gifted with three contrasting personalities by God, making us a perfect trio that complemented each other and helped us to get through life.

When I look back now, it does dawn upon me that perhaps people were right – there was no one like Neibu. I could never be like Neibu even if I wanted to. His determination to change our fate, which he developed before we could even recognize our unfortunate socio-economic reality, was beyond me. Burning the midnight oil before his class ten exams, he would sit wrapped up in a square blanket, with his books. He wanted to score good marks in order to make it to a well-known science college in Kohima. Even if he wanted to take a nap while he was pulling off all-nighters at his table, he would lean over and rest his head on the arm of the chair and then wake up again to study after the nap. To get ahead in his studies, he would subscribe to all kinds of English-language newspapers, including The Hindu and The Times of India, for Rs 30 every month.

At that point, people in Nagaland, like in many remote areas of India, would get all Indian newspapers three or four days late due to a combination of geographical, infrastructural and logistical challenges. The political unrest and insurgency didn’t help either, they would regularly disrupt delivery and distribution channels. To add to Neibu’s misery, I would pull his leg by telling him, “Neibu, this is not news; this is stale news.” That was the kind of distance then, literally and metaphorically, between Nagaland and mainland India.

Excerpted with permission from Nimbu Saab: The Barefoot Naga Kargil Hero, Neha Dwivedi and Diksha Dwivedi, HarperCollins India.