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Op-Ed

My Years in Service

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By EMN Updated: Nov 14, 2013 11:23 pm
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Khekiye K. Sema 

…CONTINUED- 14

Those days I was close to chain smoking so I pulled out my pack of cigarette. The Principal casually asking me which brand I smoked. I said “Wills Filter” and then he surprised me by requesting me for a cancer stick. “Oh, you smoke too?” I asked. He promptly responded with a smile, “Yes, but I only smoke OPB”. He had me floored there. I wasn’t aware of  an OPB brand of cigarette so got drawn into asking him, “what kind of brand is that”? He replied “Other People’s Brand”. We smoked together over a cup of tea, wished him well and left.   That was an economical way of smoking all right. 

[dropcap]2[/dropcap]nd January 1984: The war drums were growing louder. Tension was on the rise. With the arrival of the Tuengsang NAP Battalion reporting as scheduled in full strength, a coordinated war council was convened between the NAP and the Civil Administrative Officers. Mr. Imkong being the senior most EAC was positioned at Sikur (B) a Sumi village on the main road between Kiphire and Tuensang. It was the last village under Shamatore Sub-Division with a distance of about 2 kms away from Anatangru, the immediate frontline where the full Yemchungru opposition force was expected. Possible entry points at Pongronger and Phelungru with a focus on Anatangru were prioritised with Administrative officer each along with the requisite NAP strength. Kiphire deployment would monitor all traffic towards Anatangru. The NAP unit Commanders had expressed apprehension that if the situation went out of control firing orders would be required to be given by the Administrative Officers and whether they had the nerve to give it. That sounded rather insulting. Some of them made blunt reference to experiences where the Civil administration had succumbed to the danger and had retreated without giving the firing orders, exposing them to untenable disadvantages. Despite my assurance that that would not happen they insisted that an overall understanding must be made clear. I therefore authorized the NAP to fire if the situation warranted it and the administrative officer in charge was unable to give the order. With that settled the troops moved out that very evening with an Administrative Officer each in command. I was on constant contact with all the outposts from my wireless set.
3rd January 1984: A small part of the morning this day was spent catering to a social call. Rtd. Colonel & Mrs. Verma had come a visiting on their son Raj Verma (CO). Unfortunately the son was on an assignment above the cloud line at Ponrongru. Since Raj was in no position to receive them I took Uncle and Aunty down to the wireless control room and had them speak to Raj. That was the next best thing I could do. Apparently they too had a Yimchungru-Tikhir kind of issue within their kitchen which had prompted their visit. Theirs had to be postponed for the time being. Though disappointed Col. Verma being a retired Army man himself, knew the meaning of an operational command duty. They naturally left dejected with their mission unaccomplished. The rest of the day was spent with Superintendent of Police (SP) Tuengsang (whose name I have conveniently forgotten) and I doing a roundup of all the outposts. It was late evening by the time we arrived at Sikur (B), the last post in the battle front. We were surprised to see a large crowd of highly agitated elders in the Head GB’s compound with Mr. Imkong EAC in their midst. A rather heated argument was on. When I asked them what the commotion was all about the elders explained that the Sikur (B) GBs had just returned after attending a massive Yemchungru public meeting at Shamatore. They were ordered to prepare food for 200 Yemchungrus who would have their meal in their village and then attack Anatangru. The elders were ‘gheraoing’ the EAC to let them have their guns back. It had all been rounded up and kept in the stockade as per my instruction. The elders had no confidence in our NAPs or the presence of an administrative officer. They believed that when the storm arrived they would be abandoned and therefore wanted their guns back for self defence. That was the level of confidence they had on us. The tension was palpable. All the village women folks and children had already been herded to one end corner of the village for their security. The news unsettled the SP and he started to repeatedly suggest that we head back to Kiphire for an overall management from the operational command centre. He knew very well that I was in touch with all my outposts through my mobile wireless set in my vehicle but still kept insisting. It was now getting dark and the persistent nagging of SP was not helping me much. I understood then what a henpecked husband would feel like. It was partially because of his persistence as also for not wanting to leave my EAC to face the music alone that I decided to stay back in that village for the night. I publically requested the Hd. GB to make arrangement for my stay back in the village for the night in the presence of the SP to stop his nagging for the final time. The elders quietened down after that. We sat in the Hd. GB’s kitchen over a cup of hot black tea and reviewed the situation all over again with them. They did not have the resources to feed 200 persons on such short notice and failing to do as ordered by the other Tribe would definitely result in confrontation and they did not relish the idea of being left empty handed without arms. The other outposts had reported that they were having a relative calm in their respective sectors which was a big relief. As for Sekur(B) the atmosphere was still not easing up. I finally berated the Head GB jokingly for his lack of hospitality since this was my first visit to his village and asked him to call the women folks and sing traditional songs for me. He quickly did as was asked. The ladies were herded into the kitchen and almost close to midnight they kept the full house entertained. The atmosphere was now reduced to a superficial calm. We finally decided to retire just 20 minutes short of midnight.
Imkong and I shared a room and the SP with the Assistant Commandant NAP in-charge of the detailment. We had hardly hit the bed when a huge commotion erupted. Imkong and I rushed out and were told that two vehicle headlights were seen coming towards our direction but had switched off close to Sekur (A) a Tikhir village some distance above the main road. We suspected the worst. Our NAP boys were immediately dispatched with an order that they arrest whoever they find and report. The SP made his nervous appearance way after his boys had already gone. Within half an hour they were back. Apparently the inmates had a tyre puncture and were desperately doing the replacement when the NAP had arrived. It was Mr. Yamakum the EX-DB, Mr. Throngshe another Tribal leader along with their Yemchungru Student Union President. In fact they were on their way to Kiphire to meet me. The Deputy Commissioner, Tuengsang had had a meeting with the Tribe and had assured them that a coordination between Yemchungru and Tikhir would be personally conducted by him immediately after the conference and to call off their intended strike on Anatangru. The Yemchungru had finally given a condition to the DC that all troops should be withdrawn from Anatangru and let the students have their conference to make it look like it was with their (Yemchungru’s) permission that the conference was allowed. After having read the DC’s letter delivered to me and heard what their duty was, I decided to take them back to Kiphere and formalise the proceedings. It was already past 4.00am when we finally reached Kiphire. While I did have a healthy respect for the word of honour of an elderly and responsible person, I couldn’t take the risk of their Tribe backsliding on this decision and cause a disaster at Anatangru. Mr. Yamakum and party were served a good behaviour bond with a surety of one lakh rupees each if they defaulted on the agreement. I promised them that no matter which corner of the earth they try and hide, I would get them and make them pay. They signed..all three of them. Then came the issue of troop withdrawal from Anatangru. I asked whether they had their network in place to inform all their tribesmen that a deal had been struck with the Administration and that they were to stand down. They realised they had neither the network nor the time to inform their people. “ Ahha! Sahab, ki misa kobo, dikdar hoise” (Ahha Sir, why should we tell a lie, we are in trouble). They had worked their way into a fix and had no idea how to unfix it. The conference would be starting the next day. The table was turned. They realised the full impact of their responsibility and accountability and begged me in earnest not to withdraw troops from Anatangru. On my part I told them that an agreement was an agreement and that I would withdraw. After making it sadistically difficult for them for a while insisting on withdrawal, I finally conceded and instead reinforced the troop presence at Anatangru by withdrawing from the other posts. We were now fully prepared for any surprises or eventualities. For the very first time the Thikhirs had their Student’s conference without confrontation or interference from the Yimchungrus. Both the Police and the Administration were ecstatic with the job well done. Not a single casualty for a change. The NAP Jawans had their spiritual feast with cases of rum purchased from the Army Canteen while their Officers, down to the rank of a Sergeant, had our own bash in my residence along with all our Administrative Officers. Jokes of the operation were flying around thick and fast from each post. Then an Inspector NAP stood up to relate his sectoral event experience. He had shared the same room with his Assistant Commandant and the SP at Sikur(B) that night. He began with: “ Ki misa kobo, (why should I tell a lie). [This was an expression that I had heard an earful already and fated to repeatedly hear for the next three and a half years of my stint at Kiphire]… This is a true story. During the British time there was a very tense law and order situation. One night, when the young Civil British Officer in command was informed of an emergency happening, he jumped out of his bed, went for his shoes but halfway to his shoes he changed his mind and went for his shirt but decided halfway to go for his pants instead but finally started the process all over again with his shoes”. The fun part was that this lanky Inspector in full uniform was relating the story in action with all the relevant expressions, twisting and turning as he went along. He continued, “By the time he was decently dressed the trouble had already been resolved”. He stood to attention after that and then sat down. After a roaring laughter at his performance someone asked how many stars that ‘Civil’ British Officer had on his shoulder the Inspector stood up said, “Ki misa kobo, ekta phully ekta Ashok” (a star and an Ashok) and sat down without looking in the direction of his SP. This ‘civilian’ officer had an ‘Ashok and a star’ on his shoulder … the ID rank of the SP. The Inspector had obviously watched everything that was going on in the room next to ours and couldn’t stomach what he saw. He spilled the beans. I was inclined to believe his story because the SP did appear on the scene way after his soldiers, under the command of the Assistant Commandant, had left. The loudest laughter came from the Civil Administration that night after having suffered a rather uncomplimentary comment from the Police of being referred to as ‘gutless’ to give firing order in the face of danger, before this operation had begun. Next morning we happily saw the SP and the NAP boys off and Kiphire was back to normal. ‘Ki misa kobo’, end of this part of the story.
The next began. Schools had started to reconvene. We had a fairly well run Loyella Catholic institution established in Kiphire. I met the Principal and was reasonably happy that they had a qualified teaching faculty managing the show. After a chat with the teachers, the principal wanted me to join him over a cup of tea. Those days I was close to chain smoking so I pulled out my pack of cigarette. The Principal casually asking me which brand I smoked. I said “Wills Filter” and then he surprised me by requesting me for a cancer stick. “Oh, you smoke too?” I asked. He promptly responded with a smile, “Yes, but I only smoke OPB”. He had me floored there. I wasn’t aware of an OPB brand of cigarette so got drawn into asking him, “what kind of brand is that”? He replied “Other People’s Brand”. We smoked together over a cup of tea, wished him well and left. That was an economical way of smoking all right.
I then decided to also check out the Government High School. Ki misa kobo, the Head Master was a SUMI. He called all the teachers together in an impromptu meeting in their teacher’s common room and had me introduced. When he began his address with: “My dear Collegoose (colleagues)” I hardly remembered what he said after that. It took me a great deal of effort to maintain a straight face. The formality of checking out the infrastructure of this institution was carried out. It ended with a conclusion that both the institution and its Head Master was in serious need of attention and touch up. At the end I felt extremely sorry for the rural children studying here.
Having met Catholic Father OPB and Mr. Colegoose, I decided that that was more than enough for a day and headed for home. Ki misa kobo, we will continue this conversation next Friday, but for now ciao.

The writer is a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima

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By EMN Updated: Nov 14, 2013 11:23:23 pm