In the Years in Service, Khekiye Sema share rare vignettes of what the call of duty can sometimes imply in Nagaland for a civil servant. Much has perhaps changed in the last two decades but paradoxically much remains the same. One being the penchant for pork and rice brew. Read on
THE countdown initiative for starting a family of my own had finally begun. However, the sheer incompetence and inaptitude of my handling this department was a stuff of legend from the start … and comical too in retrospect without intending it at the time of occurrence. I had a very committed and loving Angami lady life partner all lined up… the daughter of a grand old man Late Mr. Lhoukuolie Medom. Her handle: Theyievituonuo. Without a helping hand I still have problems spelling or articulating her name correctly as the Angamis would. It is more a problem of the tongue and not the heart. Anyway the point is, I blundered every step of my way through to marriage. Blunder No.1: The first unwitting initiative that I embarked upon, grievously wounded my prospective father-in-law’s pride when I directly approached him for his daughter’s hand in marriage, emulating the mucho man in the western movies. My inexperienced mind failed to comprehend that the tradition bound elder generation would take this unkindly. The right to represent myself for myself stemmed from the misplaced notion that I was a Fatherless eldest son. Coupled with this was the naïve assumption that the present times ought to have moderately diluted the traditional rigidity, had prompted that audacity. He naturally took serious offence and felt very deeply insulted. I nervously watched the transformation of his face going from normal to red and to black but with a deathly calm he said, “I would rather shoot my daughter and shoot myself first before I let that happen”. If not for the uttered words, somebody else hearing the tone without seeing us would have concluded that he was having a casual conversation with me. That’s the amazing kind of emotional control he had. Despite the extreme provocation, he didn’t go and get his gun and use me for target practice but even a moron could tell that my chances had been blown sky high after this fiasco. Blunder No. 2: The option less scenario led me to a desperate scheme of elopement with my partner. Rev. Tiusem Shishak was contacted through his brother Dr. Ariyo Shishak (who was with us in Delhi and knew me very well when I was a student there).He confirmed that his Rev. brother had agreed to have us married in the Baptist Church, Church Road, Dimapur. Dr. Ariyo must have pleaded with a lot of josh on my behalf and it was extremely kind of the Reverend to do so despite not knowing or meeting me personally. Just imagine indirectly tying up the most important event of your life, the marriage solemnization function, through a third party. ‘Stupidity personified’ is the way I would surmise ‘now’ but obviously that didn’t matter ‘then’. Further arrangement for booking a very small wedding lunch at Breeze restaurant was then synchronized. Having set the clock for the next day, I made my way to Kohima to pick up my partner in cahoots. Other than the target no one was in sight when I arrived. The coast seemed clear… so I thought. I stood outside and made my goofy Wakching driver slink into the house to quietly help bring out her belongings. While surreptitiously lugging a heavy trunk from her room he was suddenly ambushed halfway by my prospective mother-in-law. I heard a loud crash of a box hitting the wooden floor followed by goofy flying out from the house as if the stinging bees were at his back and cringed behind the 12 year old Wakching Jeep. A highly agitated prospective mother-in-law immediately surfaced at the front door all fire and brimstone yelling at my driver…not me, my driver…for the attempted theft of her daughter and her box. My marriage plan evaporated for the second time like Hiroshima during the World War II after the A-bomb. Blunder No.3: In the volcanic eruption that followed with lava flowing dangerously close to my feet I couldn’t even salvage the time to show due necessary courtesy to Rev. Tiusem and the Breeze Restaurant to at least let them know that my plan had been blow up to a no plan. In my embarrassment I never got to render an apology to Rev.Tiusem for the awkward inconvenience I had caused him. Breeze Restaurant apparently had an unusual rush that day and since I didn’t show up for my wedding the food I had ordered had all been sold out. They graciously spared me the bill. The only positive thing in the garbage I had collected around me was that the ruffled in-laws ‘to be’ at least recognized my committed intent. They knew for certain that this dark knight would not retreat and strike again in one form or another. Throughout the entire storm my partner unwaveringly weathered the rough patches remarkably well. Subsequently my Mother and Uncle Lukhashe with a mighty helping hand of Dr. Sato Sekhose as the interceder, smoked the peace pipe with my prospective father-in-law, (though they were all non-smokers). My pathetic affront was forgiven. The requisite customary norm of a formal proposal by the elders on my behalf was finally fulfilled. Having ensured that my father-in-law had truthfully locked away his British gifted double barrel gun and the buck shots, on 12th March 1976, I legitimately got married and took my wife to the jungle city of Wakching. (The moral of this story is this: Avoid short cuts. You could run into a short tempered trigger happy prospective father-in-law, get all shot up and be left without in-laws. You may not have the same luck of this author. So do not gamble and follow the traditional route).
At that time my wife was a Lecturer in the English Department with a recent transfer to Fazal Ali College, Mokokchung. It was the shakiest stage of our lives and therefore the option for both of us remaining in service from the economic consideration was very compelling. We both however, felt the importance of nurturing a stable family as our primary priority and not the money. She put in her papers when the time for the final act arrived. Thereafter, she remained by my side every step of the way through all the jungle out posts of Nagaland that I’d been to. It was a major unselfish sacrifice on her part for which I have always been deeply grateful to her in my heart.
Nine months had already drifted by since I had first arrived Wakching. On the tenth month an internal District reshuffle was ordered. Mr. C.N Ngulley the Deputy Commissioner Mon was a non-vegetarian but he could not stomach the inherent eccentricities of his Assamese EAC HQs (Mr. Goswami), and therefore was being transferred to relieve me at Wakching. November 1976: I was asked to take over Naginimora with Mr. Imkongnungsang, EAC Naginimora heading for Mon HQs. It was a happier station to be in as compared to Wakching. My wife and I packed our bags once again and moved down to a more civilized living accommodation. This was my 3rd transfer order since joining the service in 1974, discounting the inglorious training period at the Administrative Training Institute (ATI), Kohima.
Naginimora was a small outpost in the foothills bordering Assam, mosquito infested, very hot and humid. Administratively there was nothing much to do. One day the Executive Engineer (EE) Mon paid me a visit. Like any other rural householder we did not own a fridge at that time but that aside, I deliberately served him lukewarm water in that stifling heat of summer. He suffered my sadistic hospitality in discomfort and guessed my maneuver when I assured him that he would be served chilled beer in his next visit. All he had to do was fund me to construct a shortcut log bridge over a fairly deep gorge leading to my office that would reduce the daily circuitous route through the town and at the same time create a short cut for fridge procurement. It was in my stars that he happened to be an open hearted man who took the practical joke with a comradely spirit. We walked to the site in question. After a spot estimation he concluded that the work could be completed within an amount of Rs. 10,000/- with a little spare to buy a small fridge. He asked me to go ahead. I did. Mr.Khekiye K.Sema EAC cum contractor now had a shortcut motorable log bridge to his office and a proud owner of a small refrigerator. The EE never paid me a second visit. He was perhaps apprehensive of my ‘warm’ hospitality followed by another request. With the improved convenience came the vice. Those days a bottle of beer was available at Rs.2.50p in the Officer’s Club of the Assam Rifles Battalion HQs stationed at Naginimora to which I was made a member. Supply link to my fridge was firmly established. There were a number of wild fruit trees in Ugurijan Tea Estate at a walking distance from the EAC’s residence that used to be frequented by green pigeons. When in station I would stroll across to those trees in the evenings with my Late father’s .22 rifle and pick off a couple of greens and have chili-pigeon with chilled beer. It was like rearing green pigeons. Life couldn’t have been better.
The first couple of months were spent on an extensive tour, familiarizing myself with the State boundary. Ugurijan Tea Estate had their plantation right up to the approach road to the EAC’s residence. The very sight of it tended to irritate my sensibility. One day the Manager came complaining that the town dwellers were intensifying the plucking of the tea leaves, affecting his production and requested the administration to please intervene. Ugurijan Tea garden was paying tax to Assam but not to Nagaland despite the fact that almost the entire Estate was within Nagaland boundary from our stand point. The increased tempo of plucking tea leaves by the town dwellers did not happen by accident. It compelled the Manager to seek me out again. He was then told in no uncertain terms that his Estate would have to pay annual revenue to the Government of Nagaland. He was assured that the pilferage would then be effectively checked by the administration. The message was abundantly loud and clear. He was left with no doubts that his garden productivity would take a severe beating unless he paid the land revenue to the Government of Nagaland and acquire the cooperation of the Administration. Despite the serious apprehension that Assam could penalize his Estate he eventually agreed to pay land revenue equivalent to what he was paying the Government of Assam. He had run out of option. As a commercial venture, productivity was paramount and he couldn’t afford to compromise this. It was agreed that the fixed revenue would be deposited to the office of the EAC by the first week of every month in cheque as an evidence of their land tax payment which was duly entered in a newly opened revenue register. The cheque would then be dispatched to the DC Mon for our District boundary revenue record management. During my tenure this agreement was honored by the Ugurijan Tea Estate without default. I too upheld my side of the bargain. The complaint ceased.
My focus was then shifted to Namthai which was a small 27 household Naga village smack on the boundary with Assam. Assam also had their own Namthai with over 80 households which lay closer towards Nagaland. The total subservient attitude of Namthai villagers, outnumbered by Assam Namthai and so utterly cowed down by frequent Assam Police harassment was an unpalatable sight for any self respecting Naga. Since direct expansion of new houses at Namthai would have immediately stirred up a hornet’s nest from Assam a different strategy had to be adopted. With the help of forest map a survey of the 1925 boundary line was identified. (The 1925 boundary is not recognized by Nagaland but accepted by Assam).
The gloves came off. A thought for establishment of Namthai (New) Village within the Assam recognized boundary, to bolster the moral of the original Namthai population, was conceived. This was followed up with series of meetings with Wakching and Kongan Villages, since the land in question belonged to them. Families willing to migrate were to be identified from both the villages allowing the customary land use practices to apply. Generally land belongs to the community under the administrative management of the Angh of the village. The community land occupied, developed and used by any individual would remain with the family concerned and also be inherited by their children. They however are not authorized to sell it without the tacit approval of the Angh. Both the village communities would have to shoulder the responsibility of constructing houses for the families prepared to shift to Namthai. The casual way of establishing a new village was traditionally an unfamiliar territory for them but the objective of strengthening a beleaguered Konyak village appealed to them.
The plan was unanimously endorsed by both the Anghs. 24 families (twelve from each village) including the younger brother of Wakching Angh were finally slated for migration. I broached the subject with the Deputy Commissioner, Mon conveying the willingness of Wakching and Kongan to enact this plan. Mr.C.N Ngulley left the final decision to me but in the event of my carrying on with the plan, he offered to provide all necessary requirement in terms of ration for a month, light blankets, clothing, mosquito nets, pots and pans etc. for all the migrating families. This was his generation’s way of endorsing my action plan. With infused confidence, efforts to locate the village near a perennial spring, the site selection for each house was meticulously planned out. The two villages then diligently spent a few months collecting the critical construction materials at site. The total preparation took us six solid months from start to finish. Wakching and Kongan villagers came down in force on the appointed day, enthusiastically reinforced by Namthai population and they performed a miracle of constructing 24 houses in a single day. It was an exhilarating sight watching them coordinate and perform like ants at work. House allotment and essential provisions gifted by the DC were all distributed to the migrating families. A fully functional Namthai (New) village came to existence in a day. I was reasonably pleased with the outcome which had gone so smoothly without a hitch. A couple of months later, Assam Civil Administration, Forest Department and Police came and razed the village to the ground. The displaced inhabitants naturally retreated to original Namthai. Though increasing Namthai population had not been intended in the manner it finally turned out, the main purpose was nevertheless served in a roundabout Konyak style at the end without further interference from Assam. I immediately visited the site on receipt of the information, took photographs and submitted a detailed aggressive report to the DC and the Government of Nagaland asking for compensation from the Govt. of Assam for the evicted families. The DC backed me to the hilt. However, it made my blood boil when I saw the mild polite ‘why did you do that’ kind of a complaint that was sent to Assam Government by Mr. Kathipri, the then Secretary, Boarder Affairs. Nothing of substance was about to emanate from this since it was a case that needed to be sorted out at a Government to Government level. In fury I organized a massive public meeting of both Kongan and Wakching Villages and rabble roused a retaliation plan. Without any hesitation both the villagers agreed to do my bidding … go on a warpath and burn down Assam Namthai village. I meant every word of it at that time. The action date was set. During this time a real crazy Christian Revival Crusade was sweeping across Naginimora and Kongan village.
On hearing about the rampage plan, a soothsayer in Kongan prophesized that there would be loss of lives and nothing good would result from it and that Kongan should not participate. On that fateful day a strong Wakching raiding party had reached Kongan village but when they confirmed that Kongan had withdrawn from this escapade, they refused to carry out the raid alone, being a joint venture, and had returned to their village. Here in Naginimora, I impatiently waited and waited but they did not turn up. Later I got to know what had transpired. This casual letdown enraged me immensely. Monkey dak-runners were urgently dispatched ordering a general public meeting both in Kongan and Wakching. The two villages were publically insulted in the crudest uncensored terms in front of their womenfolk. ‘Man without manhood’ I shouted with venom. I vehemently announced that the DC Mon would be requested to sanction a mekhela each for all male members of the village. In my anger, I had not even bothered to contemplate on the consequence of their reaction to my insults. Seeing my kind of face superimposed by anger perhaps, no one dared challenge the insult…thankfully! I was more intent on satisfying my hurt ego. This however closed the chapter for good. Long years later, after gaining a modicum of maturity, I looked back on this incident and fervently acknowledged that a Devine intervention had caused the villagers to back off. I never found out who that soothsayer is/was. I owe him a big one. Had the plan been carried through, I would have been completely helpless to stop the carnage. In the heat of the moment people could have died as well. My administrative career would have been short lived as a result. My Friday column for Eastern Mirror would have ended here too. This was a case of reckless enthusiasm of youth that I deeply regretted. Lessons were being learnt every step of the way.
The writer is a Rtd IAS officers