My Years in Service
The next thing that transpired was an absolute class act wonder…Elumyu accepted the gift and returned the favour by sharing their cooked meat with Pongitong. Both villages then enthusiastically unleashed their spiritual camaraderie, now openly cheering one another as they shared their lunch. While the Church might have disapproved this kind of spiritual activity it was a heart warming sight to behold…these two old foes cheerfully mingling with one another with animosity cast to the wind. Come to think of it, a few bottles of Assam Rifle Rum achieved what the Church was unable to….restore friendship. It made me believe that goodness resides in all of us just waiting to be exploited.
TSUMANG Lake brought out the best and not so bright side of Lotha inherent tribal nature. At this point the lake had literally dried out due to the collapsed dam. It however afforded an ideal opportunity to dredge the sedimentation in some of the critical areas to enhance the depth of the lake after the dam was restructured. Trying to clear the debris with the bulldozer turned out to be hazardous, getting bogged down in the loose damp soil and therefore we had less option but to have this task carried out manually. An open invitation was floated for village wise social work. The District Administration would provide elementary refreshment of tea and snacks only. As a matter of acknowledgement of Wokha Village as the parent village of this township, their Village Council was requested to do us the honour to take the lead in this mass social work in the Lake as a starter. According to them, the land owners were agitated against my ‘rough shod takeover’ and had refused to participate. Since forced labour was not the intention, they were informed that the request was made purely as a matter of curtsey in this honourable endeavour of community service…refusing to do so was their loss in public standing. It only displayed the village leadership in a very poor light. It was at this juncture that, of all villages, Niroyo Village with its assumed negative reputation, made the first move. Mr. Thomas came with his village elders to request me to allow them the first privilege. My consent was gladly given and the first mass social work was kick started by Niroyo Village. The whole population came down and worked furiously with only a self-prepared lunch break in between. The town folks in the vicinity heard the melodious traditional work refrain as they energetically laboured throughout the day. I too spent the whole day at the lake, joining them in the work, off and on. At the end of the day we had a short thanksgiving roundup where they received sincere “thank you” from the district administration. Their spirited enthusiasm was the spark that lit up the whole canvas. Village after village filed in their request and were given their schedules accordingly. Pongitong and Elumyu village were clubbed together on the same day. At that time I was not aware that these two villages had been having a running feud and street fights over the years, for whatever their reasons be. Mr. Nrithung, who was the Political Assistant of Minister John, came to me for a change of their village schedule, not wanting to share the day with Elumyu. He initially suspected that I had done this deliberately…but it was not. I then convinced him that the hands of destiny was at work and advised him to instead take this opportunity and do something unusual… show Pongitong’s hospitality to Elumyu. “Buy a case of rum from the Assam Rifle Canteen, kill a pig and share it with them”. “You seriously want me to do that”? he asked me in disbelief. “Do you see a smile on my face”? I asked back. He actually bit the the idea hook line and sinker. This man went ahead and did exactly that. I assigned a separate working areas to them but they had an unspoken competition that day. At lunch break, Mr. Nrithung opened his case of rum along with a huge pot full of cooked pork, took it across to Elumyu’s camp and made his unexpected gesture, to the utter surprise of Elumyu villagers. I stood in their midst as this event unfolded. The next thing that transpired was an absolute class act wonder…Elumyu accepted the gift and returned the favour by sharing their cooked meat with Pongitong. Both villages then enthusiastically unleashed their spiritual camaraderie, now openly cheering one another as they shared their lunch. While the Church might have disapproved this kind of spiritual activity it was a heart warming sight to behold…these two old foes cheerfully mingling with one another with animosity cast to the wind. Come to think of it, a few bottles of Assam Rifle Rum achieved what the Church was unable to….restore friendship. It made me believe that goodness resides in all of us just waiting to be exploited.
By now, seeing the rush of involvement by all the neighbouring villages, Wokha finally realised to their embarrassment, the folly of initial refusal and came to render their apology and requested me to give them a slot. I played hard to get for a while but finally allowed them to make amends and restore their village honour. They too came down in full force and did a good job. We rounded up the social work with Wokha town. The turnout was unbelievable. The whole lake was swarming with social workers with hardly any space to work. By now, a table and a chair was placed on the island and the official duty were all being conducted at the Lake itself. An entry bridge needing to be constructed was being obstructed by another temporary house structure that also had to be evicted. With an additional compensation that had to be paid from the project fund, the site was vacated and the bridge was now constructed. Longsa Village offered to do the honours of constructing a traditional gate at the entry point of the lake, which they did. I was informed that Yikum village had master craftsmen who could carve the Totem post that was required as the two main front pillars for this traditional gate. In consultation with them two huge tree trunks were arranged through the Boarder Road Organization who too wanted to do their bit. They lifted the tree trunks and had it unloaded in my compound. The master craftsmen camped in my compound for several weeks and began their work in earnest. I often spent time in the evenings observing them at work and was finally drawn in. I joined them and carved out one of the hornbill head on the totem pole myself. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this. The dam construction was also commissioned and was nearing completion. Funds was running desperately short and therefore an additional amount of approximately Rs.40,000/- was independently raised to add to the kitty. The whole Lake was bustling with furious activity in every corner…the Tribal pride was well and truly ignited and everyone wanted to be a part of this little movement. The carving of the totem posts had now been completed. The Longsa Villagers erected the traditional gate. Yikum did the honours of carrying the totem posts from the DC’s bungalow to the construction site, all done ceremoniously in traditional attires. I too joined the procession all geared up as a warrior, feeling rather uncomfortably exposed. Amidst revelry of enthusiastic crowd the totem posts were hoisted to the traditional gate and Tsumang Lake was officially christened and inaugurated.
I had my share of trouble and awkward times having to deal with National Workers and the Political bosses. All the Ministers and MLAs were earlier being facilitated with the liberty of drawing the district/constituency funds for disbursal to the beneficiaries on their own after drawing the whole amount. The order of this practice being discontinued was issued during my tenure. Constituency plan: the names, the schemes and the amount earmarked for the scheme were made public by placing this information on the DC’s notice board. This generated a big stir with long public queue interested to take a peek…including NSCN (IM) whose command area Wokha happened to be at that time and they too wanted their pound of flesh. Arbitrarily deducting percentages from the beneficiaries’ scheme fund was something I was unprepared to do and therefore refused to do this. This had prompted Brigadier Livingstone and Lt. Col. Ramkathing to pay me a visit and were politely upset since they seemed to have enjoyed this short cut privilege all these past years. They too were unable to force the issue. They then visited all the Ministers and MLAs to take the responsibility to have the deduction made and pass it on. For a change the Political bosses mirthfully passed on the buck to me saying that their authority to draw the funds had been curbed by the DC and was not going to be able to help them. The District Planning Officer who was the nodal officer, was in the eye of the storm. Thinking that he could avoid the National harassment, he went off on a long unannounced earned leave without informing me,… Funds had still not been sanctioned at that time therefore the final disbursement was not done during my stay at Wokha. I am not sure whether the National vultures got their pound of flesh eventually, after I left.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima