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Arindam Nath

Tripura State Rifles, in short TSR is our own force created in the aftermath of June 1980 riot. The Left Front Government led by Nripen Chakraborty was in power at that time. Inadequacy of force for tackling terrorism coupled with over dependence upon the Central Para Military Forces(CPMF) paved the way for passing TSR Act in the Assembly and raising the State’s own Armed Force Battalion in pattern with CPMF. The story which has followed is glorious success for the TSR. Now, the State has twelve TSR Battalions and a major portion of these has been raised when the insurgency in Tripura touched its zenith. TSR played a pivotal role in controlling insurgency and ushering in a new era. The extremism is controlled if not fully eradicated.

My protagonist today is Neeladhaj, a Sub-Officer of TSR. Little over a shade of a decade ago I had served as the Commandant of the Fifth Battalion TSR. Our Battalion headquarters is located at Daluma under Amarpur Sub-Division and the area of responsibility of the Battalion was one of the worst affected from insurgency in those days. Side by side with the anti-insurgency operation, we used to pay emphasis on public relation. We have a good orchestra team in our Battalion. Perhaps, there is not a better tool for the security forces than an orchestra for bridging such bondage with common masses. Very seldom did we miss any opportunity to perform in the interior hamlets with the orchestra team. The local artists were also encouraged to join such musical extravaganza. At times, we invited journalists and other intellectuals from town to attend such programs. The whole event is generally managed by a Sub-Officer.  Neeladhaj was my trusted chief and this was despite his dubious past, I preferred him for this trait.

It’s true that rapid expansion of TSR battalions has paved the way for persons like Neeladhaj to become officer. Initially, he joined TSR as rifleman in first Battalion. Neeladhaj was the centre of attraction of folklores in TSR by the time I joined the force and gradually these became privy to me. Master Parades are weekly Ceremonial Parades in TSR. It’s the avenue used by the Commanding officer for inspecting the turn-out and skill of his troops. Often, it misses its periodicity as the force remains busy in various law and order commitment. But whenever it takes place, the TSR personnel take it as a pride to outshine in turn-out. It also gives opportunity to the jawans to earn rewards from the Commandant by showing their excellence. These rewards give extra mileage for the TSR personnel at the time of their promotion. On the eve of such Master Parades jawans remain busy in ironing their ceremonial dresses, polishing their medals, stars, braces, belts, shoes and so on. But from Neeladhaj’s behaviour, prior to such occasions no one could guess his preparation.

Neeladhaj was addicted to liquor. While others were busy in their preparation he was found taking down a peg or two. But, at the approach of wee hours on the D-Day, suddenly he would become very active. He knows his comrades, especially whose fittings are similar to him. While they were asleep in their barracks, he would stealthily exchange his dress and apparels just like a koel. The koel lays its eggs in the nests of crows for raising its young. Once hatched the chick forces the other eggs and hatchlings out of the host's nest. In his case, only difference is that he provided replacement. Neeladhaj knew some more tricks, as well. A piece of flannel, called ‘Chindi’ is used by jawans for cleaning their rifle barrels. Neeladhaj preferred to keep a Chindi slightly soaked in mustard oil in his pocket. During the Parade, at the approach of the inspecting officer quietly he would give a touch on the toes of his boots with that Chindi. It not only brushes aside the dust from the boots but also gives a mirror effect. When his Commandant stood in front of him and cast a glance towards his boots, the gentleman noticed his image. Very seldom Neeladhaj missed accolades from his boss.

Neeladhaj was a habitual drunkard. Yet, he looked very fit in his lanky appearance, especially he was gorgeous in TSR uniform. It was the infant stage of our Battalion headquarters at Daluma. Neeladhaj was looking after the unfenced campus spreading over more than one hundred acres with some skeletal staff. The place was earlier a buffalo breeding centre. It was late in the month of June. The inaugural function of month-long state-wise Van Mahotsav was slated at Jatanbari and it would be attended by the Hon’ble Chief Minister. Since Daluma comes in his route there was a possibility that he might pay a visit during return for planting a sapling in the proposed TSR campus. Accordingly, Neeladhaj was asked to procure some saplings. As a preparatory, the then IG and Commandant decided to pay a visit and finalize the layout of program. On the preceding night, Neeladhaj recollected that he had some task to perform. Suddenly, he became very active and overnight he prepared a makeshift green-house. There he put saplings and branches of easily available plants Tulshi, Rangan, Kaaripaataa etc. and even few wild varities. Incidentally, one bottle-gourd plant was creeping up on a trellis made of bamboo and twigs in the camp. Neeladhaj purchased two bottle-gourds from nearby tribal village with its stem. Then, he with the assistance of his staff nicely stitched the tails of the purchased vegetable with his plant. Next morning, the two high officials reached Daluma as per schedule. Neeladhaj smartly introduced Kaaripaataa plants as sandalwood of rare red variety, Tulshi as Bramhi leaf, and so on. However, the senior cops instructed Neeladhaj to procure plant saplings in polythene packets from Forest nursery for the actual program. Suddenly, two bottle-gourds hanging from the trellis caught the notice of IG sahib. He was extremely pleased with Neeladhaj and his comrades thinking the same to be the products from tiny plant. He rewarded Neeladhaj and his accompanying staff for the labour put by them for production of fresh vegetables. After lunch when IG and Commandant left Daluma for Agartala, the two bottle-gourds also travelled with them as co-passengers.

The IG sahib, I am describing has retired from service. He is from outside the State and was popular for his simplicity. I shall like to conclude by mentioning another funny anecdote concerning IG sahib and Neeladhaj. On that occasion as well, the same Commandant was accompanying him. Neeladhaj was holding the fort at Manpathar, under Santirbazar police station. TSR camp at Manpathar shared a common boundary with a GREF camp. A few pineapple plants had some off-season fruits at the GREF camp. On the preceding night of visit by the dignitaries the pineapple plants changed their location beyond the knowledge of their inmates. The IG arrived at the camp in due time accompanied by the Commandant and then became busy in checking the defence of the camp. They noticed pineapple plants peeping from here and there in the camp and some had even bore untimely fruits. The camouflage on the ground was too perfect to invite any doubt in their minds. They were damn please and showered all praise upon Neeladhaj and his comrades. It’s needless to mention that some pineapples got the privilege of visiting capital Agartala on that afternoon before becoming components of dessert.

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