Khekiye K. Sema
He ‘accidentally’ swept aside his black leather jacket intentionally to let me have a glimpse of the pistol he was carrying and now in Sumi dialect said, “Noye khiu putsa ani keno ithi animo!?” (Do you know who you are speaking to). Of course it had to be a Sumi with all the trademark of ‘ahissshhhees’ and ‘jaisshhes’ and the leather jacket! The audacity of this character knowing that I was a Sumi and still talk to me in Nagamese as if I couldn’t make out.
[dropcap]I [/dropcap]had concluded a rather uncharitable tale of my earlier assignment as Joint Secretary in the H&FW with… ‘here we go again’… for an obvious reason. After a rather shabby start with Mr. L Colney in Mokokchung as his EAC way back in 1975, I was headed into his den again this 7th February 1990 morning. As a senior man, a Lilliput passing through his hand was naturally not an event in as far as he was concerned but for the likes of me on the receiving end, that impression had been ingrained into my psyche…’back to the army barrack’ was all that I had anticipated. I certainly avoided going to his house this time to let him know that I was joining him yet again. When I walked into his office to report my joining I surprisingly met a more pleasant mellowed man, unlike the one I had encountered in Mokokchung. This time he ordered for a cup of tea and shop talked with me for a while. When I asked him whether there was anything I needed to be instructed about the department he only said I would be able to pick up my ropes as I went along and that nothing specific was needed to be said other than to ensure careful file analysis and avoid file pendency. Fair enough.
The first thing that I noticed about Mr. Colney was his remarkable change of attitude form the regimental management style to that of a participatory civilian approach in his administration. The army in him was gone. Juniors could now speak before the seniors without being flagged down. There was a certain air of camaraderie in his office. In fact there were times when he would send for me just for a chat, looking over huge pile of files lying on his table. He resembled a lone outpost sentry in the LOC sector peeping over the bunker. The rule of file pendency that he had advised me against did not apply him. The scenario of an overworked bureaucrat was apparent and this impression probably appealed to him anyway. In one of this chat stint I suggested that the regular Departmental meetings that he was coordinating in his rather crammed chamber could be done in an upgraded ambiance of our present unused shabby conference hall. He agreed. The renovation work was immediately commissioned and furnished within a couple of months. We added a semblance of dignity to our official proceedings. I was gaining a great deal of working experience from Mr. Colney…who turned out to be an amiable teacher. I had hardly spent four enjoyable months in the department when rumbling in the political sphere had erupted in a change of leadership in the ruling party with Mr. K L Chishi taking over the chair of the Chief Minister. By first week of June 1990 my 15th transfer order in a 16 year service as Director of Civil Supply was received.
My tenure as the Director of Civil Supply began rather uncermoniously. Mr. H K Khulu the incumbent was not in station that day. I was informed by his Officers that Mr. Khulu was not using the official residence and therefore we decided to do a recce to assess what I would need when I moved in. I was surprised that the residence showed some semblance of being in use and regretted having done so. A lot of my well intending friends had informed me that Mr. Khulu was feeling hurt by my unintentional action of barging into his residence… understandably so. I owed him an apology. The situation was further aggravated by his misunderstanding that I had campaigned to replace him…I never did. That was the honest truth. In his annoyance however, he apparently told some of our common acquaintances that he would get me out of this department at all cost. It didn’t bother me much what he wanted to do so I left the matter take its own course.
Meanwhile, within that short tenure, there was an experience that clearly made me see the level of commitment that the Southern Brothers from Manipur had towards NNM. One evening a group of Tankhul NSCN(IM) led by a Lieutenant came to my residence to request me to allot 10 bags of rice for their soldiers in their camp. That I gave or didn’t give is not the issue. I recognized a few of the foot soldiers with this Lieutenant. These boys were doing their MA in Delhi during my tenure there as DRC. On completion of their academics they had joined the NNM straight away and here they were standing before me as mere foot soldiers. Had it been our Naga brothers from Nagaland, they would have been looking at no less than a General’s rank or nothing, with that kind of an academic degree. This stark difference of attitude underlines the character of the NSCN (IM) cadre between the Tangkhuls and other tribes. The natural progression of those with the educational background was obviously faster than those without proper educational qualification. In times of war, bravery was the hallmark of a soldier’s advancement in his career in which the Sumis had excelled. In a peace time scenario however, educated personals were necessarily an asset in the management system with a steady promotional avenues. Yet as a human being, after the rough road travelled, the less educated warriors were beginning to feel the pinch of being sidelined in the hierarchical progression causing much heartburns.While a rational balance had perhaps been attempted at, to try and recognize this two realities, the base feelings has perhaps not comfortably settled down to an even keel even today. The fact that the Southern brothers from Manipur had joined the NNM only after the Cease Fire seems to have escalated this sentiment of status disparity between the Southern brothers and the rest of the Tribes involved. The simmering discontentment in those formative years was rather palpable at that time.
Anyway, the overground political atmosphere was simmering with internal intrigues and there was a change of guard yet again. Mr. Vamozuo was now in command as the Chief Minister with Mr. I K Sema, brother-in-law of Mr. H K Khulu, as his Deputy CM. By end October 1990 the threat of Mr. Khulu had now become a reality and my 16th transfer order in a 16 year service was issued. After a heart to heart talk with Mr. H K Khulu we ironed out the misunderstandings of the past and present as he took over the charge of the Department once more. He frankly told me about the background of his hurt sentiment and I clarified the reality on my side of the fence. There was expression of regret from him for the present development but we parted as brothers without any hard feelings. I joined the Department of Works & Housing in November 1990 with Mr. Noke Konyak as our Minister.
This frequent transfers was taking a toll in the home front and my patience. We were literally a gypsy without mostly being given an opportunity to settle down for a decent duration in any place of posting. Accommodation issue was getting as hazardous as the word hazardous itself. Mr. Y K Angami was the Officer in charge for the processing of Govt. Quarter allotment in the Home Department. I was embarrassingly causing sever space pollution in my Father-in-law’s residence over and over again and was doing all I could to find myself a Govt. Quarter at all cost. One late evening after dark, I dropped in on Mr. Y K Angami’s private residence in desperation to find out whether a vacant house way down at the tail end of the Forest Colony could be considered for allotment to me. Presumably it had been allotted to Mr. Alla Sakhrie but he was not interested to occupy it. Mr. Y K Amgami’s tied up Alsatian dogs at the front veranda were ferociously barking at me when his wife peeped out through a half opened door. After enquiring what I wanted she left me standing outside and went right back in without quietening the cacophony being raised by their dogs. Then the man appeared, shone his torch straight at my face and kept it there when he spoke to me… he standing in his veranda and I standing outside his house. Simple tribal curtsey of inviting a visitor into the house was not in his agenda. Amidst his roaring dogs, I faintly heard him refusing my request bluntly without any preamble and went back in. ‘Thank you Mr. YK Angami, may God bless you for your hospitality’, I thought, showing my right index finger to the dogs spitefully as I too left. Now another Govt. Type VI Quarter near the Zoo was vacant, apparently allotted to my department’s Minister of State, W&H. I had reached a point aggression where I couldn’t care less. I broke the lock, went and occupied it and sent an official request to the Home Department for allotment thereafter. It ruffled the feathers of the upstairs with CM in Delhi at that time beginning to get upset with my insolence. As luck would have it, I found an ally in Mr. Thenicho, a Minister and a brother-in law of the CM who interceded on my behalf with the CM to let the matter rest. That’s how it ended. My Minister of State was given an alternative Quarter instead and my invasion was finally regularised.
Mr. SB Chettri was the Secretary when I join him in the W&H Department. At that time a great deal of complaints were flooding the department against the contractors in Wokha sector concerning fictitious bills being prepared for the PWD roads being perfunctorily constructed within the District. A High Power Committee was ordered and I was assigned as the Chairman to carry out a physical verification along with some senior Engineers of the department. The evening of our arrival at Wokha was tumultuous. A group of agitated contractors met us in the Circuit House giving us instructions as to how to go about the verification. Initially I had sat with them alone with my officers in the ante room next to the common room. With the volume of my voice having gone up several decibels in course of the discussion, they too came out and joined the party. I finally dispatched the lot with clear direction not to interfere with our work. The field verification was divided in three working groups. We spent the whole day on physical verification. The last case pertained to a reasonably well known gentleman by the name of SS Ezung. It was carried out with candle lights burning because we had not anticipated having to work this late. He had done some retaining wall work in his residential colony. This man had simply expanded his compound by encroaching into the Govt. school compound instead of protecting the Govt. Quarters for which the retention work had been sanctioned. His retention wall had now exposed the Govt. quarters to more risks of landslides. Back home, when the final field assessment was drawn, all the Engineers were extremely dissatisfied with the work seen on the ground. After hearing the detail field situation I had opted to recommend 5% for all the pending bills with the exception of Mr. SS Ezung’s case which was not to be paid at all and instead charge him for encroachment into the Govt. land. The Engineers however explained the technical aspect of the works on the ground and suggested that a 10% would be more appropriate. Their recommendation was given due cognizance. My final report caused an uproar amongst the Wokha Ministers and MLAs. At midnight Mr. Chettri got a very tipsy angry visit from Mr. TA Ngulley, a Minister from Wokha, with a loaded pistol in hand. He had come to order Mr. Chettri to consider his strong supporter, Mr. SS Ezung’s case. This is a story that a fuming Chettri related to me in office that morning. “I am asking you to release Mr. SS Ezung’s bill in full” said the angry Minister. “No I won’t. I will strictly follow the HPC’s recommendation” was Mr. Chettri’s response. “Then come with me now to the Chief Minister’s residence” said Mr. Ngulley. “No I won’t” shot back Mr. Chettry and refused to budge. Mr. Ngulley had run into a brick wall and he knew it. He stormed off threatening Mr. Chettri of consequences. It took guts to stand up to a Minister the way he did…and this diminutive fellow had a lot of it. When I heard this story, I felt proud of being counted as a bureaucrat along with the likes of Mr. SB Chettri.
Then came the incident of a visit from an NSCN(IM) in my office chamber. My college buddies, Mr. N.T Nakhro and Obang Sangtam were sitting with me at that time when our chat was interrupted by a small looking boy man. “Secretary laga room kot ase!” he asked me rudely without even introducing himself. When I told him to go out of my office take a left turn and another, he would find the Secretary’s room. “Ami tati jaishe holebi nai. Tai kot jaishe!?” His arrogance was beginning to get to me. “Ami Bhagwan nohe…tai kot jaise ami tu najane” (I’m not a God…I don’t know where he has gone) I replied with clear annoyance in my tone. That offended him. He ‘accidentally’ swept aside his black leather jacket intentionally to let me have a glimpse of the pistol he was carrying and now in Sumi dialect said, “Noye khiu putsa ani keno ithi animo!?” (Do you know who you are speaking to). Of course it had to be a Sumi with all the trademark of ‘ahissshhhees’ and ‘jaisshhes’ and the leather jacket! The audacity of this character knowing that I was a Sumi and still talk to me in Nagamese as if I couldn’t make out. Saying that I neither knew him nor bothered to want to know him, I immediately got up, caught him by the scruff of his neck with one hand and his weapon arm with the other and led him out of my office and pushed him onto the outside street. Fortunately for me, the CRPs were doing parameter guard duty in the vicinity those days and so he could not do much other than to yell back at me saying he did not know where I lived but that he would come looking for me. I yelled back telling him that I lived near the Zoo if he didn’t know. When I re-entered my room my two friends were still nervously sitting there in silence. They had watched it all and couldn’t believe what they had seen. They hurriedly left without finishing their tea. Within the hour a worried Sumi Inspector in the Industry Department came to my office to convey a message that the ‘boy man’ was summoning me to come to a location in Dak Lane at his appointed time. I told him that I would do no such thing. It was then that this messenger told me that this guy was a dangerous cold blooded killer who had recently assassinated the Secretariat Security Officer…his name was Kiyeto or something. I firmly told the messenger to tell him to come home instead if he wanted to meet me again. The messenger’s visit was immediately followed by my cousin brother Xuvuto the nephew of Mr. Isac Swu, equally alarmed. After explaining all that had transpired I instructed him to accompany this Kiyeto guy when he paid me a visit. By the time Kiyeto came home with two other backup wearing Naga Shawls that same evening, my cousin had already informed Kiyeto that I was actually scheduled to meet up with Mr.Isac and Mr. Muivah at Bangkok on a summon from them. Kiyeto began rather aggressively initially but in due course I subdued him with a lecture of his life. What I said was….. Oh we’ll let that be, otherwise my story won’t end. Suffice is to say Kiyeto left my house feeling apologetic and offered his help to me should I ever needed one. Amen.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer,
Forest Colony, Kohima