The Years In Service - Eastern Mirror
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Khekiye K Sema

The Years in Service

By EMN Updated: Aug 29, 2013 11:07 pm

Continued ….3

Last week My Years in Service drew us into the real life drama which inspires reel life.Graphic recollections of the establishments of villages in Mon, of monkey dak runners and near warring villages …and the rare glimpse of how even civil servants look towards ‘divine’ intervention to save the day. Read on…

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was a time when Mr. S.C.Dev was a much respected Commissioner of Nagaland. He had introduced a trend of having the Deputy Commissioners’ conference in every District by rotation. It was the turn of our District. All the Outpost Officers were asked to report to Mon HQ. On arrival to the HQ, I was promptly assigned by the DC to receive the Commissioner at Tijit. The Circle Officer there, yet another Mr. Imkong, was already out fishing for dinner arrangement for the Commissioner when I arrived. The Circuit House accommodation was in order under the circumstance. The Circle Officer came back later in the evening with about twenty kgs of fresh water fish very contentedly explaining to me that the Commissioner, being a Bengali, liked fish very much. We spent the rest of the time supervising the dinner preparation and waited. The Commissioner, his lady wife and his accompanying entourage of three DCs arrived at 7.30pm. Dinner was served at 8.30pm which seemed to have gone down well. He then settled down in the common room for a chat over a cup of coffee with the DCs. In course of time he turned to me and asked what time the meeting was being had the next day. In my hurry to reach Tijit, I had completely forgotten to ask DC Mon about this. “Tenish Sir” was the only educated guess I could cook up. All hell broke loose after that. “What kind of a time is that”?! He roared in annoyance at my response. I had unwittingly triggered a major storm with that ISH: ten…‘ish’. It hit the coast from nowhere and ran straight into the Circle Officer. “Imkong you tell me!” he said. Poor Imkong had no inkling of the approaching storm and was completely caught off guard. He haltingly blurted out saying “Sir… last year… we… had it… at around 11.00 a.m”. (I’ll be damned…last year? Thank God he didn’t say ‘elevenish with his … last year’! We would have had a full-blooded hurricane instead). Nevertheless Imkong had it right then and there. “When did I ask you about last year!? I asked you about tomorrow!” The old man chewed us alive. “I expect better performance from young upcoming administrators like you and …blah…blah…blah” He let fly at both of us. Still not satisfied, he pounced on Imkong again compounding the already foul atmosphere by asking him to explain why he was illegally occupying two Govt. quarters, one in Mon HQ for his family and one for himself in Tijit. “Which rule allows this?!”he inquired. I had had enough watching myself and my colleague being strewn all over the carpet in front his wife and all the DCs (which included my distant superior friend Mr. L. Colney, of Mokokchung fame) so I quietly slinked out of the hot room to cool my hot face while Imkong was squirming his exposition on the theory of duel occupancy. From outside I heard the Commissioner finally give an order that Imkong must relinquish one of the quarters and added that one of us should leave early in the morning to inform the DC that we shall start the meeting at 10.00am. After Commissioner and the DCs had retired, Imkong came out of the room looking over cooked. He vehemently boxed his palm with his other fist cursing “Every time Mr. Dev passes through Tijit I do my best to serve him fresh water fish for dinner. After enjoying my fish he scolds me without fail. E-v-e-r-y time!”… And to think that earlier in the day he had looked so smug with his fresh water fishing prowess. I couldn’t help laughing at his outburst despite the drubbing we had just received. Adding insult to injury I asked Imkong which Govt. quarter he was going to surrender. He grudgingly giggled in response but the defiant ‘no retreat no surrender’ was writ all over his roasted face. He had no intention of choosing. He would keep both the Govt. quarters, even if the Commissioner eats his fish and fires him again the next time. Suffering another bout of humiliation from the Commissioner the next morning didn’t appeal to me that much. So before Mr. Imkong could collect himself, I hurriedly took the initiative and told him to bring up the rear. I would go ahead and inform the DC as instructed. ‘Rather him than me’ was the sporting plan. On reaching Mon I conveyed the Commissioner’s message and then out of sheer curiosity asked what time the meeting had actually been scheduled. “10.00 am” said the DC. I too boxed my palm with my other fist infectiously and cursed myself for the lack of presence of mind. That stupid ‘ish’ had cost me dearly. I deserved what I got. Another lesson learnt. Never receive VIP unprepared with elementary information.
A huge crowd of Dobashi (DBs) and Gaonburahs (GBs)) had come to welcome the Commissioner. What impressed me immensely was Mr.Dev’s ability to address each Officer, DB and GB by name as he shook their hands. I have yet to meet anyone with similar capability. In doing a seemingly simple thing like this he made each one of them feel important and recognized. It automatically generated goodwill. This is a trait all administrative officers should try and emulate. The actual conference took its normal mundane course and I won’t bore the readers with the details. Before departure Mrs. Dev sought me out and with a hug she told me, “Don’t feel bad son. Your Uncle only wants you to learn quickly”. She obviously was referring to Tijit fiasco. Her thoughtful gesture touched me deeply. Their only son Ranjan Dev and I was and still are close friends from school and college years and she saw me more as a family member. As for Mr. Dev, he just looked straight into my eyes said “Khekiye” shook my hand got into his vehicle and was gone. That was a humbling experience to be remembered.
Back to my station: At that time not a single Bank had bothered to open a branch in Naginimora. My friend Ranjan Dev, son of Commissioner Mr. SC Dev, had joined Vijaya Bank as its Branch Manager at Kohima around the time I had joined the Nagaland Civil Service. I somehow got to know that they had received a clearance from the RBI for opening a rural branch in Mon District. Their primary focus was apparently on Mon HQs where the State Bank already had a branch. After feeding him with all the relevant information concerning the possible viability of Naginimora with the Assam Rifle Battalion HQs being here, the Ugurijan Tea Estate close by, the brisk logging and boulder operations going on etc. I encouraged him to convince his higher up to check out Naginimora instead. I also let him know that an RCC building was readily available to house not only the Bank but the staff. To my pleasant surprise, he visited Naginimora with his Regional Manager, for a first hand check out after having surveyed Mon HQ already. The Regional Manager grilled me for facts and figures, inspected the two storied RCC building on the main road I had referred to and met the excited owner of the house over-willing to rent out his entire unoccupied establishment. The Regional Manager, Vijaya Bank, happily concluded that there could be no better convenience for rural banking station than this in the context of rural Nagaland. Naginimora had its first Bank opened and started a brisk business. The State Bank only then realized that they had been outsmarted by Vijaya Bank, especially after the main Assam Rifle Battalion’s account was withdrawn from their branch at Mon and transferred to Vijaya Bank in Naginimora. They too decided to open their own branch. Within a span of two years, we had two Banks operating in our sector… a small step forward.
Though a rural township, Naginimora was a fairly vibrant station. There was a Government run ME School in the outskirts of the town and another privately managed Lekhan English School in town being indifferently run up to Class VI. It had around 56-7 students enrolled with an Anglo Indian Smith family as teachers. There were five of them, father and mother, their daughter and son-in-law along with one other male teacher, Mr. Godwine. They complained that they were not receiving their meager monthly salaries regularly. The perceivably indifferent mismanagement prompted me to divert my attention towards a rejuvenation program of this institution for the sake of the underprivileged children. They deserved better. A meeting of the School Managing Committee of Lekhan English School was scheduled. The Assistant Forest Conservator (ACF), along with all the known log and stone mohal contractors operating within the jurisdiction of Naginimora, were listed and given special compulsory invitation. During this well represented meeting a dispassionate appeal was made to the Log contractors and Dikhu river boulder collecting contractors. They owe an obligation to the community to support the effort for improving the educational welfare of children of the neglected area from the ‘unchecked’ profit they were accruing within Naginimora and its neighborhood. The questionable advantages they were salvaging from the porous system were candidly reviewed in the presence of the ACF under whose jurisdiction they operated. They were sufficiently sensitized about my knowledge of their under the current world. They knew me reasonably well by now for my antics in Ugurijan and Namthai and so pragmatically chose not to provoke a conflict of interest. Though the Managing Committee expressed doubts, my proposition that Lekhan English School would now be upgraded to Class VIII as a proceeding High School with three additional teaching faculties was affirmed. The revised monthly salary for eight teachers was budgeted. The monthly subscription responsibility between the contractors was debated and haggled at length but finalized. The all important subscription register per contractor was opened and the fund drive momentum was set into motion. The effort ended reasonably satisfactorily though I had no guns pointed at them other than a verbal one. In course of that meeting one of the contractors surprised the lot of us. He seemed to have taken my exhortation to heart and volunteered to construct a small hill type office building for the school. Most unexpectedly others decided to chip in as well and together they fulfilled this commitment within a span of four months. We now had a secure office space measuring approximately 12’x14’. Observing better human nature overcoming the baser instinct was a fulfilling experience. Playing the role of an extortionist for a good cause was equally satisfying.
The need to reconstruct the main School building still remained unresolved. The old six roomed shed was in a desperately dilapidated state beyond repair. We however had no spare funds to do this. I decided to share the problem at length for the construction of an eight roomed school building with the Kongan village elders. I let them know the latest development: the decision to enhance Lekhan English School from Class VI to VIII as a proceeding High School; the financial arrangement made for the appointment of qualified teachers; the contractor’s commitment of monthly subscription for teachers’ salaries and the ongoing construction of the office building. I explained the importance of education and the prospective future for the younger generation. All these efforts were meant for their children and not for me, I told them. Finally when I asked them for help they went into a huddle and vigorously debated amongst themselves. I could see that some of them were not too keen to get involved but the majority finally agreed to make the sacrifice since their village children stood to gain the most. It was all the more significant because this was happening after the public insult I had meted out to them for the Namthai misadventure. Apart from the concern for their children, they probably didn’t have the heart to let me down again. Fortunately it was also a time when the rural folks were still uncontaminated by easy money mongering attitudes. Human values, decency and honour had still not perished. They took stock of the construction material requirements: posts and pillars, walling, binding and roofing materials (tonko pat) for eight classrooms and asked me to give them a reasonable time for preparation. I gladly told them to carry on and come down when they were ready. After a lapse of three months or so I was informed of the fixed day they intended to begin the work. The male population of Kongan came walking down in the morning in a huge convoy, individually and collectively carrying one construction material or the other yodeling energetically. The school was closed down for the day. They worked with frantic urgency and finished the Naga style bare floor, tonko pat roofed construction of eight class rooms by the evening all at their own expense. Today, such a response would be unthinkable without financial equation. It was truly a pleasure and a privilege to have served these people with such an admirable community spirit of giving. On my part, half a dozen cases of Rum was arranged from the Assam Rifle’s canteen @ Rs.5/-per bottle and they merrily celebrated this achievement around a camp fire that evening. Their revival hour had happened a long time ago. “An unkind way of expressing an appreciation” you are likely to say I’m sure but it was all I could think of or afford at that time within my non-existent means. I had to thank them somehow. At least they shared a moment of intoxicating happiness before they staggered home. The new academic session brought in over 120 students with three additional qualified teachers employed. Today I am told this institute is a full-fledged High School taken over by the Government.
Roughly two and a half years’ tenure at Naginimora went past quite rapidly. My 4th transfer arrived sometime towards the end July of 1978. My relieving officer was Mr. Luheshe Sema. He had arrived Naginimora a couple of days early and was my guest, looking young. Within those few days however, while still in the process of taking over, he slowly turned gray in the heat. He had forgotten to bring his hair dye.
Just a day before my departure, Mr.Godwin the Principal of Lekhan English School came rushing up to tell me that the students of class eight had collectively manhandled him. The official handing over of office had been completed and Mr. Luheshe Sema was now officially in-charge of Naginimora. I however offered to deal with this. The whole class was stood outside the school compound and I asked for the mastermind behind this despicable act, to step out. None Did. I threatened to cane all the boys in the class. Still no one owned up. All the boys in this class were therefore given a severe caning one by one in front of the whole school. My right arm tired out doing this. That was my last gift to Naginimora. Despite their misbehavior, except for the defaulter’s lack of courage, I was glad in a sense that the others braved the situation without sneaking against each other. It showed some character. The next day my wife, our little daughter and I moved on to Dimapur. I completely forgot to recommend to my reliever, a change of hair dye brand. His present brand was betraying him too fast.
Sometime in 1995-6 a Konyak graduate, already in Govt. service, paid me a visit at home in Kohima and asked me whether I recognized him. I didn’t have a clue. He then introduced himself and said he was one of the students who I had caned before leaving Naginimora. That had happened eighteen years ago. He had come to thank me for the concern I’d shown which helped him to become a responsible man he said. That little sapling I had planted a long time ago was now bearing fruits. That was a touching moment.

By EMN Updated: Aug 29, 2013 11:07:48 pm
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