Sunday, February 5, 2012

North East Chronicles 5: Lakwa: Saikia, RIP...

Calmness in those days, in Sibsagar, was an on-and-off affair.   There would be bursts of action, commotion between the locals and the security forces on the ground.   Then there would be a week of uneasy silence, and people would settle down  to run their normal life in the narrow alleys of the town. 

The reason for a flare up was due to a constant high pressure undercurrent between the fuming, but dependent locals and the restive and high strung up security forces.   The oil and gas industry needed the protection and the local activists were hell-bent on keeping the pressure on.  

The locals could not run large businesses.  The small scale vendors were dependent on the materials management departments of the oil behemoths.   The jobless would resort to vasuli ( collections) or chanda (tax) in the name of one God or other.   The hawkers and other people had to tolerate this.

There were serious restrictions in the way of life.  Some are outlined in my earlier story around Lakwa.  A constant effort of oneupmanship was on.   This was through the local newspapers to some extent.   Even small incidents were reported in two different points of view.   The news papers had to do a constant balance act.  This present incident revolves around an effort to score brownie points going awry.   In fact, this was the preceding week of the events of the Barrel Bravado narrative.  So this is a prequel?  Not sure, and none can explain.

This ADSP was known to be a press savvy officer  ( let us call him Saikia.)   All news bytes on law and order were fed to the local newspapers by this gentleman.  Over the years, it seems he had become the unofficial spokesperson of every law and order story, for all security forces, including the Army.  

This time, there was a tip-off, cordon and search and few people were arrested in the Sibsagar - Jorhat district border.   Couple of people were arrested.   Apparently, some cache of arms - including LMG's, grenades were recovered. 

Saikia called for the first hand press meeting.   The local press eagles eagerly landed like vultures.   The local dailies were hungry for news bytes.   For the normal person, sanity prevailed by keeping the kettle on ... reading the stories of both sides and munching the news-cud till the cows went home.

A file pic of cache of arms for display

The press meeting was arranged on a week day evening.   A small shamiana ( tent )was put up.   The sound systems were arranged.   The standard arrangement of a followed table covered with black cloth, laundered and sprightly looking.   Few LMG's, grenades, bullets were spread.   Two jawans ( soldiers) and couple of tenadaars ( constables) from the nearby chowki ( police station) assembled.  

The press corps with their notepads and pen, thick set goggles,  old Nikon cameras assembled - about 7-8 of them.  The wait for Saikia was on.   We were outside the hotel, having some vegetable pakodas and chai. (tea).

Saikia arrived about 45 minutes late.  With an air of familiarity, he waved and wished couple of reporters by name.   The guys wished him back and then settled down.   Some of these scribes would have thought, here he goes.   Saikia rambled about how the police was alert along with the security forces, and how they were successful.   The people were thankless and did not appreciate what the rakwalas  ( guards) did to protect them.

The discourse went on for about 20 minutes, before one of the tenadaars brought Saikia's attention to the table.   Then immediately Saikia started on how the tip-off worked and the dare devil raids were conducted and 3 people arrested.    It was a bloodless raid, he said proudly.   He got up and struted around the arms catch.  How would anybody escape their net?

The Army-men suddenly saw that an olive-green jeep was coming towards the naka.   They stepped back and moved out of the tent.  This innocous actsaved them!

Meanwhile, the master of the oratory function, Saikia, took a grenade in his hand and lifted the same above his head - like a magician pulling out the rabbit out of the hat.   He put the ring of the pin in his hand and swirled it like a master rolling his whip to bring a circus lion under control.    We all were watching this small theatrics with rapt attention.   The scribes were catching on to every word spilling out of Saikia's mouth.  

A typical scene of Sibsagar after
typical 'events'
Kabooooomm.... the grenade went off.   What we saw was a flash and fire...we rushed in to the hotel.   The tent went up like a ball of fire.   The over-excited ADSP had accidently pulled the pin when he swirled the nip of the grenade with his fingers - a scribe who survived later told.   Couple of other hand grenades and some bullets exploded, adding to the melee.

It was all blood and gore.  Smell of burnt flesh and screams of the injured-but-alive were heard.  Mangled steel chairs, broken wooden chairs, footwear, burnt notes.   The net result - about 4 people died in the nearby ONGC hospital and 13 of them injured.

The security forces in the vicinity were confused by the explosion and panicked.  They took firing positions at the end of the street and asked everybody to leave the site.   Two of them opened fire for about 10 minutes, in almost every direction.  Three by-standers were injured, so I heard.

When the gun-burst stopped, the entire place looked like a war zone.   The blue sky had turned ash with smoke.   The light brown sand was painted red with blood.   Ash and red, a weird sight. 

This adverse sight, the smell and the sounds were too violent for any person to bear.   I ducked into my room and kept staring at the road from the window.  

Night fell.  Nobody ventured out.   Everybody embraced and took solace in the darkness.  There was a powercut, and this time it was God given.   Silence and darkness - were great comforting allies.   Atleast for sometime.

Next day, the bus that had to take us to the oil-rig came and honked, inviting us to start our day, business as usual.

When I stepped out of the hotel in the morning, the sky was again blue.  The sand was wet, but brown.   No ash, no red.   The entire place was again bustling with people trying to find their way and executing their morning chores, as if they had gone to a movie last evening!  

As the bus played the same Assamese tune, this time, my mind was not hugging the music.  The sun was too hot and bright.  It all, now seemed like a sordid drama of last evening - curtains down, all packed up.  All I could think of was, Saikia RIP.

-The One

(Pic courtesy Internet)


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