Journalism was lots of fun and adventure in the pre-RTI and mobile phone era. Bureaucracy was then the Great Wall of China, difficult to penetrate. Getting a government official to talk was like talking to the lifeless wall as the Official Secret Act provided them a refuge to stonewall queries you asked them. To get a fodder for your news organization was challenging and, thereby, bit of fun.
The few of us back then used ingenious ways of getting information. Basically there were two choices then; cultivate source or stormed into the officer’s or minister’s room and demand the information. Storming was a messy affair, but effective. I liked storming.
When I barged into a minister’s or officer’s room they were not amused. I was physically bundled out from the secretariat by the security many times but what they did not comprehend is that I would return even before they could say ‘cheers.”. The second time, they would relent; showing sagacity over ministerial or bureaucratic snobbism and parting with the information with a pre-condition that I would attribute it to a ‘source.’ It suited me.
Once I sparred with a PDIC secretary Imti Imchen at the government bungalow Tara Ghar while trying to garner information by eve-dropping from the tall British era bungalow’s skylight. A political meeting of the regional parties-HPU, HSPDP and PDIC- was on and I had no means of getting to know what the discussion was all about. The regional parties were part of the Congress led coalition government, so I presumed the meeting was all about power-politics.
It was around 10 pm on a chilly December night as all doors were closed in Tara Ghar I spotted a bamboo ladder below a window. After placing the ladder just below a skylight, I climbed up and parked myself in the big British era skylight with notepad and pen in my hands. I hurriedly scribbled what they were discussing but was violently brought down when Imchen shook the ladder.
As I touched the ground the feisty Imchen pounced on me and we were rolling in the ground on a cold wintry night. The commotion outside brought the meeting to a halt. I saw the late BB Lyngdoh, GG Swell and others looking down at us. It was Swell’s commanding voice I heard, “Imchen stopped this nonsense.” He immediately stopped. I was a familiar face in the political circuit and they knew my mission that night.
The political stalwarts BB Lyngdoh and GG Swell ordered that I be allowed inside the house and made me sit near a heater in the dining room. I was treated to hot soup and dinner and after the meeting was over Swell briefed me on how the Congress government had been reduced to a minority.
I got my scoop for the next day edition and two days later the regional parties with the support of turncoat Independents formed the next government. I sure miss the fun and political leaders of Lyngdoh’s and Swell’s stature who understood professional compulsion of people like me who sniffed and trespassed like James Bond. If such thing did take place today, I would have been jailed.
When two bureaucrats’ fight everyone suddenly becomes observant. The battle between the babus normally proves fatal, but at other times have entertainment values. I remember the spat between the then Meghalaya State Electricity Board (MeSEB) chairman SK Agnihorti and the then young daredevil Prashant Kumar Naik, who was the East Khasi hills deputy commissioner.
Like MeECL today, those days too MeSEB was going through tumultuous financial crisis. Electricity dues by different government departments remain unpaid and in his effort to tide over financial crisis Agnihorti decided to pressurise the deputy commissioner’s office to pay the electricity bill by disconnecting his office power.
This triggered an immediate reaction from Naik as he felt disconnecting electricity would cause lots of inconvenience to the public with whom the DC office primarily deals. The day the electricity was disconnected, Naik rushed to the circuit house in the evening and pulled off the plugs from the meter box and came back to office. Agnihorti was staying in the circuit house. To his misfortune, the circuit houses are under the DC.
When he came from office at night, Agnihorti found his room and circuit house under darkness, When he learnt Naik was responsible for the darkness he complaint to the chief secretary DK Gangopadhya. A meeting of the two warring officers was called by the chief secretary in his office to resolve the issue. But Naik stood his ground and refuse to budge asking Agnihorti to write to the state government to release fund to him for paying the electricity bills. He made it clear he was not going to put the fuse back in the circuit house meter unless the power was restored in the DC office.
As the chief secretary could not pressurise Naik, Agnihorti had to cave in and restore power in the DC’s office.
Long time ago, one of my cousins went missing in Jhalupara after he was returning from a cremation in the evening. He was in a group, but mysteriously disappeared. After searching unsuccessfully for an hour, I went to the Jhalupara police station and lodge an FIR requesting the OC to take immediate action.
The police and the OC’s inertia agitated me. I got into a verbal duel with them over their inaction. As it became apparent the police will not act on my FIR, I had no option but to call Robert G Lyngdoh, who was then the home minister. He immediately called the OC on his landline, who in turn ordered his men to arrest all the drug addicts in the area.
It took them just an hour to locate my cousin who was abducted by a group of drug addicted and kept him in captive in a rundown house. They had robbed him of his rupees and a wristwatch. It was a bone chilling incident where anybody could be abducted from a busy market like Jhalupara.
I wondered whether the area is still swarmed by drug addicts in the evening. If it is then the residents must come together to flush out this menace.
Joke of the day
A teacher asked five years old Johnny, “How old is you father.” The kid promptly replied, “He is five years old.” A shocked teacher questioned, “How can you father be only 5 years old.” Johnny replied, “Arre Sir, he became a father only after my birth five years ago.”