I was now slated to work with Mr. I.K. Changkija the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Dimapur. The joining time was taken to settle the family down in the official allotted quarter. Calling on the controlling officer at the residence was now off my radar. I reported for duty and met Mr.I.K. Changkija in his office chamber. He was a warm hearted soul, a thorough gentleman without any hierarchy hang-ups. He got out of his chair, shook my hand and sat me down. With a pleasant smile he said “Welcome to the team. So, how was Naginimora?” He made me feel welcomed. He showed me human dignity. On completion of the formality I was assigned the Establishment Branch. After a quick round of introductory meeting with my other colleagues I settled down to learn my ropes.The working environment at Dimapur was an entirely different kettle of fish. In Naginimora file work was almost nonexistent. Here files were moving thick and fast and it took me some time to adjust. At that time Mr. V. Sekhose was the EAC (HQ), an intelligent and a very shrewd operator. He had an ingenious plan in the pipeline and gave me a peep a few weeks later. I perfunctorily said OK without paying further attention. It was a proposal for Govt. site allotment directly opposite the present Trigopan Hotel across the main road which was more a drainage space than a site. At that time ban on Govt. site allotment had still not been imposed. Starting with his site first from the Golaghat junction with two roadside face followed by Babloo Changkija (son of ADC), then me and Mr. Nillo Rengma (then a Circle Officer) in that pecking order. It was a team proposal with a very subtle catch… Babloo the carrot. Within a couple of months of my arrival to Dimapur, I was a surprised recipient of a gift without an effort… a site allotment order in my name, courtesy inputs of Mr.V. Sekhose with the final nod of Mr. Changkija.
Meanwhile, scrutiny within my establishment branch threw up a rather uncomfortable scenario. The Accountant brought to my notice a loan request from an officer. He then showed me an unofficial loan register being maintained that had a list of all the Officers and staff that had taken loans from the branch. Record showed minus returns. This included the ADC himself. When I inquired where this loan money came from, the Accountant explained that a negligible percentage of the daily revenue receipts from various sectors including ILP was normally kept without being deposited into the treasury, to render such temporary services to the officers and staff in need. It looked more like a nonreturnable loan than temporary. I couldn’t help but feel uneasy with this arrangement. It was in violation of the financial norms and not very above board either. Since I was personally accountable as the immediate branch officer in-charge, my neck would be on the chopping block first. I needed my neck and therefore decided to preserve it for a while longer. An internal confidential notice was individually served to the entire loan taking Officers and staffs letting them know that this practice was being discontinued and to kindly return the loan taken within the week. In all fairness ADC too was not spared this notice despite the awkward discomfort. As expected I was called up. He was sternly reading the notice when I entered his chamber with a sense of depredation. He however surprised me with a hint of a grin saying, “Khekiye, I’ve just seen your note”. He tapped the notice on his table and continued.“I wish you had spoken to me about this first” he began, “but of course I agree with what you are doing. It is the right thing. I had completely forgotten about this loan… it will be returned within a day or two, OK?” Despite the disguised smile I could see he was upset but he had it under control. That was it. “Yes Sir” I responded with a huge relief. I was fully prepared for an unpleasant dressing down but not this politely. He kept his word. Somehow the internal news spread that the ADC had returned the loan. Baring a few exceptions with their difficulties, everyone then followed suit without question. Mr. Changkija displayed an admirable sporting character of doing the right thing when confronted with a choice and was leading from the front either ways and it felt good to be serving under him. The Accountant was instructed to ensure that henceforth no percentage deduction should be made on my watch and all revenue receipt should be fully and promptly deposited into the treasury.
Three months had passed swiftly. My wife had barely completed unpacking when my promotion to SDO (C) arrived. Though happy with this elevation, my spirit was dampened by the accompanying 5th transfer order in a span of 4years + of service, this time to the backwoods of Aghunato Sub-Division. We had to pack up all over again.
From this point onwards the reading comfort may somewhat be impaired for the non-Sumis trying to negotiate Sumi names but don’t be discouraged. If you are the adventurous outdoor type you may just enjoy the hike. After all, my tenure in Aghunato was mostly a story about climbing smaller hills and scaling an active volcano called ‘Mt. Hollohon”. Heard of him?
In fact my problems began before I had even set foot at Aghunato. I had confirmed information that Mr. Vihuto Yepthomi the very first SDO (C) posted there before me had stayed in the PWD Rest House while his official designated quarter was occupied by Mr. Kughato Yepthomi, Special Dubashi, his subordinate. This was a precedence I was absolutely unprepared to follow. I flashed a wireless message to Mr.C.N. Ngulley, who was again the Deputy Commissioner of Zunheboto, informing him of this ground situation and letting him know that I had no intention of staying anywhere else but in the official designated residence of the SDO (C) which needed to be vacated. I requested for his help. Such an aberration diluted the image and dignity of the Administration and I wanted to ensure that this distorted picture was restored before I stepped in.
The family made a short stopover at Kohima to call on my father-in-law on our way Aghunato. While I was refueling my Jeep in the BOC I bumped into, of all people, Mr. Kihoto Hollohon himself, the Aghunato MLA who had also come to gas his tank. He knew I was headed for his kingdom. We stood chatting for a short while but even within this fraction of a moment he dropped a bombshell. He ‘advised’ me not to take Clan-biased decisions. He was probably hinting about the scattered Chishi Clansmen inhabiting Aghunato, I being a Chishi myself. He seemed to have already developed a preconceived notion, logging my administrative acumen under his suspect column. Somehow I was unable to stomach this advice. Rather unhappily I let him know that it was unfair on his part to start suspecting me of unfair play even before an action had been initiated. You do not scold a child preempting mischief. He tried a lame explanation but we parted with that negative vibe. I’m headed for a station where the sun sets before it even rises, I gloomily thought to myself.
The DC Zunheboto had apparently assigned Mr. Metongmeren SDO (Sadar) to Aghunato to have the official residence vacated quickly. On reaching Zunheboto I was however informed that the house was still occupied by the Special DB despite being instructed. I therefore decided to stay back at the Zunheboto Administrative Rest House with due permission from the DC, until the deed was done. Poor Mr. Metong had to go up to Aghunato one more time and I’m sure it could not have been a pleasant experience for Mr. Kughato Special (as he was known). Mr. Metong would have been ‘extra polite’ to him considering the fact that he was on an uncalled for second mission for a case of ‘Special’ stubbornness.
During my short sojourn at Zunheboto, many of the Aghunato elders had come to felicitate my arrival. I particularly recall the incident of the very first GB who called on me. His name is Mr. Ghokheto the Head GB of Khekiye Village. (Damn it I did not know I had established a village and had a Head GB! You will hear of him again later). This Hd.GB generated a very negative impression from the very start, both in terms of appearance and his spoken words. He had a crooked face with his lower jaw severely out of alignment. He said God had created him normally but some people got jealous of his looks and threw stones at him when he was a youngster and deformed him. I was beginning to seriously wonder what else was crooked after listening to him. “I am like the wind” he said. “And like the wind I will spread the news of all the good works you do, to the world”… poetically implying that the same service would be available for the bad ones committed too. It works both ways after all. He was making an emphatic statement that people like him can upgrade or downgrade the reputation of an officer and should therefore be given prominent importance by the Administration. I thought I had left the roundabout expression of the Konyaks behind but I was in the thick of it right now. Anyway, since I was meeting him for the first time, I did not have the heart to get confrontational and therefore only advised him to understand that wearing the red blanket of a GB does not necessarily guarantee respect and that respect would have to be earned. After few weeks of waiting, the official house was finally vacated and renovated by the PWD. I finally took physical charge by mid-November.
Aghunato Town turned out to be a chilly, foggy, windswept glorified village forgotten by time. It only inspired a severe marooned sense of isolation. My disappointment multiplied on seeing the ‘shopping mall’ consisting of three or four little shanty shops that catered to bare essential rural needs. Nothing of worth was being brought. While interacting with the shop keepers they told me they could not afford the risk of bringing anything expensive. Before they fully explained why, I guessed. This was the Sumi heartland. It would be taken forcefully without payment. Understandably, they were ill at ease to divulge who ‘those people’ were but by then I already had a pretty good idea. As a matter of survival convenience, this problem had to be set right first. The shopkeepers were assured of my personal attention. Such a practice would no longer be permitted. They were encouraged to upscale their efforts one more time. However, a more positive step was called for to restore their confidence. The next day I gathered all the DBs and together we took a walk to the mall. In front of the shopkeepers the DBs were instructed to keep a strict vigil and see who were in the habit of taking things from the shops forcefully without payment. The DBs concurred that the first offender should be given an exemplary punishment with a summary jail sentence without mercy no matter who they were. The shopkeepers were also instructed in the presence of the DBs to directly report to me when that happened. Since the culprits were now the watchmen the business picked up tentatively but reasonably well with the passage of time. Aghunato saw a gradual improvement in the average quality and variety of goods being brought with new shops beginning to sprout.
Once upon a time Aghunato was also under North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) administration. The NEFA fixation had still not worn off completely and the abnormal peculiarity compounded and vitiated the administrative atmosphere. The Dobashis (DBs) were still the reigning lord of the jungle as you would have already perceived through the event of house vacation shenanigan. Stories of few Circle Officers and EACs who had passed through this place before me being fined and penalized by their DBs were still being gloated about. The absurd aspect of it all was that those administrative officers had actually paid up the fines imposed on them by their subordinate DBs, (perhaps to stifle the broadcast of their spiritual and nocturnal activities). These examples had set a very negative precedence of empowering the DBs to the heights of untouchable supremacy and mindset. Such was the clout of the DBs. To structure a working team, meant quailing a formidable tide within my own kitchen. The volcanic Sumi wild west was waiting for me out there.
The writer is a retired IAS officers