(States of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, India: November, 2000): Indian Airlines flight 7256 departed Calcutta and headed northeast to Nagaland’s capital. Dimapur. I really didn’t think John and Evelyn would be there to meet us. Yet I still had peace about making the decision to go on to Nagaland, and I was confident some local contact would pick us up at the airport. But to my great surprise and delight, standing just outside the security door were John and Evelyn waiting for us, along with Dr. Vike Thongu. I breathed a prayer of true thanks.
The capital city of Dimapur wasn’t our destination city today. We planned to travel on to the city of Kohima, which serves a population of about three hundred thousand. After a bit of lunch at a Dimapur restaurant, we set out in Dr. Thongu’s Mitsubishi four-by-four for the two-hour ride to Kohima. Dimapur is down in a broad river valley, so we began to climb almost immediately as we left the city. We were headed back up into the lower Himalayan Mountains, where the inhabitants build their villages and cities on the steep mountainsides and ridgetops. The foliage and terrain were much like that of eastern Mizoram and Manipur but not quite as tropical. Being farther north meant more eucalyptus trees and fewer banana trees, but there was still a lot of thick underbrush, indicating some pretty heavy annual rainfall.
After being jostled for two hours, we arrived in Kohima. The people definitely looked more Mongol, like those you would see in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Cambodia; Thailand; Vietnam; or even southern China, and not at all like the Punjabi or Sikh Indians of Delhi, Bombay, or Calcutta.
Dr. Thongu is a gracious man. He said he wished to take us to his home to meet his wife and family and to see his house. After we met his family and viewed his home, we could then decide if we wanted to stay with them or at the hotel where they had made reservations for us. I thought that to be a pretty classy approach.
To our delight, the doctor’s home was very comfortable and probably one of the finest residences in the city. Drew and I took one look inside and agreed that the doctor’s home would be just right for the next two nights. Most homes are built on pillars embedded in the steep hillsides, but all four corners of Dr. Thongu’s home were actually on mother earth.
The doctor’s wife, Puii, was very hospitable and efficient and welcomed us graciously into their home. She even had a cozy fire going in the dining room, with hot tea and breads waiting for us. John and Evelyn also stayed at the doctor’s home.
From the fireplace, I could see into the kitchen, where the hired help was preparing the dinner on open fires beneath vented hoods. It was all like a photo in a National Geographic magazine. Nearly everyone we met in Nagaland was Christian. As I mentioned earlier, Nagaland’s population is about 80 percent Christian as the result of the early missionary influence. The doctor and Puii are very strong believers and said they had prayed earnestly for some group to come to Kohima to help them.
The inhabitants of Nagaland are great hunters. Before Christianity came to the area, they were a warring people and were quite vicious headhunters. Now they pride themselves in hunting wild game, such as certain species of deer, elk, and wild boar, and many birds.
The dinner entrées were nearly exotic. We had pig and goat (I think) and lovely dishes of squash, rice, potatoes, and vegetables (I couldn’t tell for sure because the electricity had gone out in the city and we were eating by candlelight). There was one specialty dish that I had never had before. When I first looked in the bowl, it appeared to contain an ivory-colored pasta. But on second look, the “pasta” took on a little stranger texture and shape. The doctor said it is the most delicate and desired dish of their culture and is very expensive. They are only able to afford to serve it when special guests come to visit. The whole bowl was filled with a generous serving of young bamboo sprouts cooked with wasp larvae in varying stages of development--wasp larvae--nice big, plump worms. Some worms had developed heads and front legs, and some had actually sprouted small gossamer wings. A few others had hatched early and resembled adult wasps. The most mature insects were black in color and about two inches long. Most of the larvae were still one inch to one and a half inches in length. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the exotic dish was that the larvae actually tasted quite delicious, and the doctor assured us that they are a great source of protein.
Monday, November 6
Today, Drew, the Pudaites, and I spent the entire day in Kohima. A generous breakfast was served for us at the doctor’s residence to get us off to a great start. The doctor and his wife had heard Drew and I like french toast and had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare it for us, along with eggs, pork, and rice, and a cereal made of tapioca. To my great relief, no leftover larvae were served for breakfast.
Following breakfast, we proceeded through the narrow, winding hillside streets of Kohima to Dr. Thongu’s Oking Hospital, located in the heart of the busy commercial district. Across the front of the building were sprawled-out, painted signs that read CT Scan Service, Ultrasound Machine Diagnosis, Pharmacy, and Endoscope Surgery. I soon found out that Puii and Dr. Thongu are running the most technologically advanced hospital in the whole northeast section of India. Their story of insight, discipline, hard work, and entrepreneurial risk taking is unparalleled. Dr. Thongu’s specialty is surgery, and he is good at it. He performs every kind of surgery you can imagine, from orthopedics to skin grafting to delicate brain surgery, and everything in between. Their hospital is the only institution to possess such modern technology for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
The couple started out years ago with a God-given dream. They established a start-up clinic with a pharmacy attached. They set aside 10 percent of all their pharmaceutical products to give to people who couldn’t afford medicine. They also made sure that at least 10 percent of all medical procedures they performed would benefit desperate people who were too poor to pay. Additionally, they disciplined themselves to set aside in savings another 10 percent of everything they earned to build for the future. Eventually, they had enough money saved to purchase the property on this busy street. Since it was almost impossible to borrow money for construction or other investments, they began to build their forty-bed hospital as they put the money into savings. It was strictly a pay-as-you-go endeavor. Their discipline and hard work paid off handsomely.
Puii told me they began putting away another 10 percent of their income to eventually purchase high-tech equipment, knowing that if they could offer such services, they could exclusively capture the medical market. Personally, they refused to take even needed medicine for their own children out of the pharmacy unless they paid the full price. Puii built a greenhouse by hand on their residential property and began growing their own vegetables in order to save money normally spent on food so it could be applied to building the hospital.
They had no money to buy beds or other furniture for the hospital, so they made their own beds and sewed their own mattresses and sheets. When the hospital opened, they needed divider partitions between the beds, so Puii took the drapes out of their own house and sewed them into usable panels.
As the forty-bed hospital on the busy little street began to function, the patients started coming from all over. Soon Dr. Thongu and Puii realized that forty beds weren’t enough to take care of patients, other than their surgery patients. The property owners to the rear of the hospital agreed to sell their land and small buildings to Dr. Thongu and Puii. Dr. Thongu and his wife didn’t have money to pay for the land, so they began to rent out rooms in their house to raise the needed capital.
As an economist and businessman, I was in awe of the entrepreneurial example of this wonderfully dedicated Christian couple. Their eyes sparkled as their story unfolded. They never acquired MBA degrees from Harvard or Yale, but they are outperforming classic business planners by leaps and bounds and making sure all the time that their charity work is never cut short. In fact, a couple of years ago, they started bringing village people from across the border in Burma to their hospital and training them to perform simple medical procedures. Then they send them back to their villages in Burma with knowledge, experience, and boxes of free medications.
Next Week: Yummy India Marketplace & Miracles of Hidden Water