ForeverMissed
This memorial website was created in memory of our most loved, Anuradha and Ajit Datta. 
Posted by Angsuman Barua on May 5, 2021
Tagra Raho! - Vikramaditya Chaudhury

I would disagree with the trite catchphrase, “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.” The memories of their valour live on and are passed down the generations, thus making them immortal. However, while their deeds in battle are oft recanted and are remembered by all, their human side and warmth is a treasure that is cherished only by a lucky few. Once you have taken away the gun, stripped away the uniform and divested the human being of his rank and unit, you may be pleasantly surprised to encounter a childlike innocence, mischievous antics and an infectious sense of humour underneath the hard exterior.
Major Suren Dutta of Rilbong, Shillong was an impressive personality. He was as tall as he was dark. His wife, Labanyaprova was petite, pretty and extraordinarily fair of complexion. They truly were a striking couple and legend has it that they may have inspired the leading characters of Tagore’s Shesher Kobita, parts of which are rumoured to have been penned in the precincts of their home in Kench’s Trace.
Together they produced ten children, five sons and five daughters. While their Mother did her best to educate the daughters in matters pertaining to school and society, it was left to the good Major to discipline the brats. One fine day, he declared at breakfast that the boys would have to handle all the chores around the house. One of the first things on his list was cow management. The household boasted of a few magnificent Jersey bovines which were cared for by the trusted ‘Dajus’. Thus two of the most difficult brats, Nanu and Bulu, were placed under their tutelage. They had to learn all about the cows and their care.
For a few days all seemed to be going according to the well laid out plans of the Major. The boys woke up before sunrise and accompanied the bovine contingent and the Nepali cowherds to the pristine pastures of Shillong, returning later in the day for lunch. Only to set off immediately post lunch to bring the cows back home. They seemed to be learning a lot about cow management, though they remained rather evasive in their responses when they were questioned about their new found knowledge. Then one day, the Major returned home and asked his wife, “Have we employed any new Dajus? On my way back, I saw two young boys lying down by the roadside smoking beedis. They were chatting with our Gurung and Thapa. Must be their relatives?” He did not observe that Labanya had frozen in mid stride and continued, “In fact, one of them was very tall for a Daju, he was almost as tall as Nanu.” The penny had just dropped. That was the end of cow management.
This Nanu bloke was turning out to be quite a character! Towering above six feet and strikingly handsome, he was later regarded as the Don Juan of Shillong in his youth. While in primary school, we’ll just say that he didn’t excel in his academics. However, he boasted of an impressive lineage as his bad report cards were often returned to his Khasi class teacher, signed by Abraham Lincoln (his uncle), George Washington (another uncle) or Winston Churchill (yet another uncle). Matters came to a head one day and he was hauled to the Principal’s office with a report card that was signed by Queen Victoria (his maternal Aunt). The good Major was forced to intervene and sort his famous family out. Nanu, though bruised and battered, lived to fight another day.
The family home was a palatial and beautiful cottage on a hilltop. The entire hill was owned by the Dattas and it was dotted with several other smaller cottages, inhabited by distantly related family members. If the 12 member immediate family wasn’t big enough, the extended family had its tentacles spread far and wide from Lakhimpur to Jorhat to Guwahati to Calcutta. They numbered in the hundreds and the palatial cottage ‘Gopal Giri’ was forever inhabited by those who were near and not so near for short and not so short spans of time. Nanu was known to strip down to the pink, in the chill of Shillong, smear his body with talcum powder, and perch on a bough of a pear tree. As these unsuspecting temporary visitors happened to pass below, he would let out the most spine chilling shriek. Many of these relatives never visited again.
Yet another time, a newly married couple had come visiting and the Major had graciously allotted one of the several vacant cottages for them to reside in privacy. One moonless night, in a state of dishabille, the new bride screamed and howled all the way across the hilltop into the protective arms of Labanya. The bride recanted that she was about to change out of her Mekhela Chador when she saw a grotesque, distorted white face squashed against the window pane. It was a ghost AND a monster, she spluttered and swooned. As the commotion reached a crescendo and the entire family gathered, no one noticed that Nanu was missing. It was only the next day that one of the Datta girls, who loved to paint, noticed that her tube of white paint was missing.
Into young adulthood, Nanu excelled at cricket and was a fearsome pace bowler and he probably would have made a career out of it, however, fate had other plans. He also broke many hearts and many of his old flames, now in the twilight of their lives, still turn misty eyed at the mention of his name. In his early teens, he was kidnapped by some extremists. As the family panicked and the authorities swung into action, Nanu arrived home unscathed. He had beaten up two of his kidnappers and escaped!
Despite all this bravado and physical strength, he was also very kind hearted and forever ready to help those who needed it. He stood up for those who were not as fortunate as he was and many a bully was straightened out by Nanu. However, a disciplined Major and a free spirited maverick are unlikely comrades and it was thus decided that Nanu would be sent off to the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla. Nanu needed to be disciplined!
Thus, another soldier was born unto the Datta family of Rilbong.
He excelled at the Academy and it was the proverbial duck and water relationship. Some of the wild unpredictability remained and he would often return home unannounced carrying nothing with him, not even a change of clothes. During his sojourn in Shillong, he would mend the fences, paint the walls, mow the lawn and putter around the house taking charge of chores and repairs before he was asked to. On a whim, he once trekked to Guwahati and back, resting for a few hours at some stranger’s hut at Nongpoh.
Much has been written in various articles of his valour, leading a contingent of the 1/9 Gorkha, at the Dera Baba Nanak Bridgehead in 1971 and I would rather acquaint you with Nanu the human being.
He was a dancer par excellence and I have had to reluctantly vacate the dance floor for him to jive with his favourite niece. I stood and watched in rapt admiration as he effortlessly jived to, “My heart goes Sha – La – La –La............” She remembers that he taught her how to dance to Perry Como, Neil Diamond and Lobo. She remembers going for long walks perched high on his shoulder. Up and down the hilly paths of Shillong giggling and gurgling with glee. She remembers laughing and laughing for no reason, except that he made her happy. For her, he was and will forever remain larger than life.
Post a botched heart surgery, he retired from the Army and was promptly appointed as the Chief Security Officer of a prominent bank which has branches all over India. He came back and straight facedly told Labanya, that he had been appointed as a security guard at a bank. He would be given a .303 rifle and a stool to sit on, at the entrance of the branch. It is another story that whiles on this assignment, post a bank heist in Mizoram; he raided a terrorist camp and recovered almost all the money that had been robbed.
Mischievous as always, he met up with a ‘young’ astrologer who solemnly examined his palm and told him, “You look like a man of uniform”. A ram rod straight gentleman, who was over 6ft 4inches tall, who had piercing eyes and the grip of a vice - you didn’t need a crystal ball to guess that he was a man of uniform! Nanu’s eyes lit up and he beamed, “You are a genius Sir! I have spent the last 40 years of my life working as a hotel waiter in uniform!” The astrologer was very pleased with himself.
She was beautiful and he was handsome. She was a college student and he was a Second Lieutenant. It was a match made in heaven. Whenever Nanu would visit Bhonti at her hostel, it is said that all the girls would line the balconies to see this stunning couple together. Soon the soldier and the beauty were married and they produced three wonderful children who I am privileged to count as family today.
I met him when I married his favourite niece and she was a bit apprehensive as to whether I would measure up to him. I didn’t. Five feet ten doesn’t stand a chance against Six feet four! Other than that, we got along famously. Military life for me was a dream and since I couldn’t / wasn’t allowed to achieve that, I had spent my life researching and learning about the history of wars and conflicts. My scant knowledge earned me his respect and his favourite lines (or were they my favourite lines?) for me were, “Arrey yaar! I keep forgetting that I am talking to a civilian. You are a true blue Fauji!”
We enjoyed some ‘Sharaab’ together. Many bottles were laid to rest over the years. He never called it “Daaru” or anything else, Sharaab was Sharaab and had to be given its due respect. Later, ill health took over and he gave up alcohol completely. One of the last jokes that he cracked was, “They are not letting me drink Sharaab any more, so I am having a lot of grapes. They will ferment and turn into wine!” Our favourite Army song was “Badlu Ram ka Badan” and we once belted it out together at 2 am, much to the displeasure of the unsporting neighbours who didn’t want to join in the chorus.
I met him for the first time in 1990, just after I married Lakhi. It was a winter afternoon and we had driven up to Shillong. Gopal Giri was bustling with family members and we were just about to be served lunch. Being a brand new son-in-law, albeit a vegetarian, it still promised to be a grand affair. I was introduced to him, he winked and beckoned me to follow him, I silently did so. Once out in the front lawn, he put his arms around me and sombrely said, “You are new to our family, so I thought that I would acquaint you with some of the rules that we follow at the dining table.” I was all ears. He continued with a very sad look on his face, “You see, prices have gone up. Everything is very expensive. All that we could use and throw; now we have to reuse. You know what I mean?” I didn’t, however, seeing his solemn expression I nodded silently. He exhaled gravely and whispered, “I have a small request for you. Please do eat all the food that is offered to you on the crockery, but please don’t eat the plates, bowls, cutlery and the glasses. Nowadays, we wash them and reuse them!” After a moment of deafening silence, he roared in laughter and a lifelong bond between the Colonel and the ‘Fauji’ was born that day.
He spoke atrocious Bangla and yet insisted on conversing with Lakhi in that distorted lingo, after all now she was a Bongali Daughter - in - law! My interactions with him were restricted to intricate discussions on war history and the memories of his Army days. I wish I had pestered him more and noted all that he had recanted. He included me in a WhatsApp group and I proudly found my name amongst the recipients of emails that were also addressed to erstwhile Brigadiers and Generals.
A few days before he took his battles elsewhere, he wished all of us, “Tagra Raho!” Those interested may Google it.
Unsung, undecorated, anonymous he left us on 21st. April 2021. However, he ensured that when his beloved Bhonti followed him just three days later, she was given a better farewell by the members of his erstwhile Regiment and other branches of the Army. Selfless till the very end.
Heaven is a much happier place now. God has Nanu by his side to make him laugh and Bhonti is right there beside them to keep him in check. She’ll ensure that they don’t belt out “Badlu Ram ka Badan” at 2am. In the unlikely event that they do, I will surely join them.
Tagra Raho Colonel Sahib, till we meet again.

Vikramaditya Chaudhury
Posted by Antara Roy on May 4, 2021
Nanu mama was a charming person. My favourite uncle, he always greeted me with a smile and a big, generous hug. Inside that warm hug, I would return to my childhood, to my days of running around streams, and chasing butterflies.
 
 Nanu mama was welcoming and inviting to the core, and in his company, you always found a home. Which is why, perhaps, whenever I left his company, I felt orphaned for a while.

 Visiting Nanu mama was like visiting the mountains or an immense deep blue sea.
He had so much life and laughter in him that he could fill the empty cups inside all of us. We would overflow with joy, and yet, there would be more. More jokes, more anecdotes, more stories, even scary ones which were narrated with his quintessential humour 

I am certain that he is someone's favourite uncle, favourite cousin, favourite friend, favourite colleague....
He was that kind of a person- a favourite.

The last time I spoke to him was on the phone. On my request, he narrated a true life ghost story. At the end of the story he said, 'I am tired. You see, Antu, I'm very old now. I'll tell you the next story some other day.'
In a few days, there was a mail in my inbox. Nanu mama had written about the other ghostly incident, as he had promised.

I remember an afternoon from long ago when I was walking back home from school, and bumped into Nanu mama's car. The car drew to a stop and in an instant, he had convinced me to accompany him and Bhonti mami to a boxing match in the army grounds.
What an afternoon it was! Sitting right in the front row, I watched the boxing match with awe, and I took it very, very seriously when one of the players was injured. After a while, I told Nanu mama that all this violence was too much for me, and making me feel giddy. He broke out into peals of laughter. He must have enjoyed my helpless, desperate reactions more than the boxing match!

  He was as pure as a cloud- not a bad word for anyone, not a hint of malice for his fellow human beings.

  When he had gone to war, he had lost a dear friend in battle. That was the only time he had been driven to despair. He wandered around the family compound all by himself, remembering his friend.

  I have been feeling this terrible ache in my heart since morning, since the time I heard the news of his passing away. The world grows dim, and the stories I have been writing have come to a halt for now.

But dear Nanu mama, I will not bid farewell, or say goodbye to you. Who says goodbye to sunshine, or to cotton-like, puffy clouds, or to daisies nodding in the light breeze?

Nanu mama, I will say "hello" to you everytime I see or feel something beautiful, something full of promise and optimism.

To me, you never go away. You stay, and live on, forever.

For my forever favourite uncle with the sunshine smile.
Posted by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
An April Requiem - Krishna Barua

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain----T.S.Eliot (The Waste Land)

Colonel Ajit Datta, youngest son of late Major S.C.Dutta and Labanya Prava Dutta of Shillong, passed away of cardiac arrest in Delhi on 21st April. He was 78.
An Alumnas of St Edmunds college, Shillong; National Defence Academy, Pune; and Rashtriya Military Academy, Dehradun, he started his career as a second lieutenant in Gorkha Rifles, then joined 4th Garhwal Rifles and DDG Assam Rifles and retired as Colonel in 1996.A war veteran, he had actively participated in the 1965 and 1971 wars, especially the Dera Baba Nanak battle in 5th dec, 1971, where Indian army built up enclaves and the bridge blown off to eliminate Pakistan entering Amritsar .
Later, after retirement, he joined the State Bank of India as the Chief Vigilance officer in the North East.While in SBI, his most memorable action was his several visits to Myanmar resulting in the recovery of Rs 2 crores, which was looted from a SBI branch in Mizoram.
Always a soldier in spirit and action, we rue the tragedy of him not getting a soldiers funeral. Today ,on the hallowed day of his Adya Shradha, let us pay tribute to his gallantry and valour. “Let four captains bear him, as a soldier to the stage,..and for his passage, the soldiers music and the rites of war speak loudly for him.”
It has been the cruelest April ever. The stormy night of Nanuda’s death had hardly subsided, when on the morning of the 24th April, Anuradha, his wife, our beautiful Bhanti bou, died of cardiac arrest. Anuradha was the daughter of Late Pratul Saikia and Renu Saikia of Guwahati.
Educated at St Marys School,Shillong and Cotton College, Guwahati, she did her Masters in English Literature from Guwahati university.She taught at Digboi College, and St Edmunds School for some time. A beautician of repute, she ran the very popular Beauty Salon Anuradhas in Shillong  and Guwahati with an exclusive clientele.An avid gardener, her green fingers transformed her terrace garden into veritable delight of blooming flowers and seasonal vegetables.Her interests were varied and wide, and she loved to connect with each member of the family and friends ,through phone or facebook almost everyday.
Ajit and Anuradha! Theirs was a love affair deep and profound, inseparable, always together.As in life, so in death.In this pageant of the world we were blessed to have you both with us, as you leave us shattered and bereft.My heart goes out to my bereaved nieces  and nephew, Babli, Ripli and Shiboo. May God give them strength and blessings to bear this irreparable loss. In this hallowed day of their Adya Shradha, this is our humble requiem for the Eternal Peace of their Blessed Souls. Rest in peace ,Nanuda and Bhanti bou, for life and Death are one to you, even as the river and the sea are one.
My dearly loved brother, my Nanuda, my hero, my life. It is like breeding lilacs out of the childhood days, mixing memory and desire, where there is no sign of spring rain to stir up the dry roots of pain.Growing up together in our full house of nine siblings, it was always Nanuda ‘s continuous pranks, escapades and sudden disappearances which broke through the highly regimented household.Not a day passed without the neighbours complaining in groups to Deuta about his mischief.Those were the days of innocence, a lilac world, a lifetime of laughter and love.
What a piece of work is man! How express and admirable was Nanuda! tall, dark and handsome. The talk of the Town, the dashing Don Juan of Shillong. The ace cricketer of St Edmunds, the fastest bowler that Shillong had ever seen. Almost every weekend Nanuda with his friends used to go for hiking, scaling mountains and uncharted terrain.In one of these, he with his friends Mukut and Sankar accompanied by a pet dog went hiking from Shillong to Guwahati ,taking rest in Nongpoh for the night, and next day reaching Guwahati with sore limbs and aching bones, exhausted but jubilant!
Such was Nanuda. A bibliophile ,his interests ranged from thrillers to classic English fiction. A Film buff, he loved the westerns as much as a Satyajit Ray film. Sophisticated and extremely sharp ,every sentence of his was laced with his ingenious wit and humour. Magnanimous and deeply caring, he had a delightful  gift of appreciating each one of us, family, friends, cousins et all. Warm hearted to the core, his infectious voice and laughter added to the sunshine of our lives.
Goodnight, Dearly beloved Nanuda and Bhanti, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Dr. Krishna Barua
Posted by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
Nanu and Bhonti – two shining bright stars. - Dr Nilmony Sikdar

My best epitaph of Col Ajit Datta nee Nanu and Anuradha Datta nee Bhonti is that of two shining stars in heaven. I would rather celebrate their time and lives than mourn their passing away because much to reminiscent with love and pride and they left a legacy for those that were left behind. As for now I can only say “Let their soul rest in eternal peace”. The only consolation for us
who are left behind in this mortal life of ours is neither Bhonti and Nanu were not in any pain and passed away in sleep. Theirs is like a fairy story when looking back at their lives. They knew each other since they were children. Both Nanu and Bhonti were born in Shillong, played and grew up together, fell in love with each other, got married with their parents’ blessings and then became parents of two daughters, nicknamed Babli and Ripli and son Shivali.
My brother-in-law achieved his permanent commission from Indian defence academy, Dehra Dun, became a full Colonel at an incredibly young age, served the country in overly sensitive and highly dangerous border spots along the Indo-Chinese border, Indo-Pakistan border in the Western front and notably in highly explosive border along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Many do not know he was due to be promoted to be Brigadier, but his hope of promotion was cut short by unexpected heart condition. However, his most daring exploit as a young Indian army officer was in in 1971 Indo-Pakistan war in the Western front. He led a platoon of crack Indian troops, infiltrated into Pakistan
behind the border and blew up a strategic bridge. Without that courageous and intelligent exploit, Pakistani Patton tanks could have rolled easily into India and capture Amritsar. He was highly decorated for this courageous and intelligent accomplishment, but I do not think lot of people knew about it. My point of writing all but not distracting from the essence is, all these years he served his country with distinction and valour risking his own life and yet like so many of our compatriots in India succumbed to Covid 19 infection but that is another story. It was untimely death at a relatively young age of Nanu and Bhonti, the two exceptionally loved and talented people and we like so many
are mourning their passing away and for how long the pain and anguish will be felt, I honestly do not know. Many knew Nanu as a military officer of distinction which seem to overshadow all his other qualities of head and heart. Had he not joined the military, early in his youth he showed a promising
career as a cricketer and such was his talent, he could have represented India internationally specialising as a fast bowler? He was feared by even well-known batsmen in Ranji Trophy matches for speed, aggression, and ability to hurt. Looking at his tall athletic frame, one may be excused for assuming he was only good at sports but contrary to expectations he was almost like a scholar and historian when it was an opportunity to discuss about military history, the famous world wars especially the World War 2 and the events that shaped the history of countries, the leaders, and the people. One of the supremely soft side despite being in the military and all that is involved was his kindness and generosity to all those who were not as fortunate as him. It was said that he was popular than his superior officer because of his kindness and ready to protect the interest of his junior officers and soldiers with compassion and conviction and that reached the ears of his generals and that was well appreciated.

Dr. Nilmony Sikdar
Kent, UK

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Posted by Angsuman Barua on May 5, 2021
Tagra Raho! - Vikramaditya Chaudhury

I would disagree with the trite catchphrase, “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.” The memories of their valour live on and are passed down the generations, thus making them immortal. However, while their deeds in battle are oft recanted and are remembered by all, their human side and warmth is a treasure that is cherished only by a lucky few. Once you have taken away the gun, stripped away the uniform and divested the human being of his rank and unit, you may be pleasantly surprised to encounter a childlike innocence, mischievous antics and an infectious sense of humour underneath the hard exterior.
Major Suren Dutta of Rilbong, Shillong was an impressive personality. He was as tall as he was dark. His wife, Labanyaprova was petite, pretty and extraordinarily fair of complexion. They truly were a striking couple and legend has it that they may have inspired the leading characters of Tagore’s Shesher Kobita, parts of which are rumoured to have been penned in the precincts of their home in Kench’s Trace.
Together they produced ten children, five sons and five daughters. While their Mother did her best to educate the daughters in matters pertaining to school and society, it was left to the good Major to discipline the brats. One fine day, he declared at breakfast that the boys would have to handle all the chores around the house. One of the first things on his list was cow management. The household boasted of a few magnificent Jersey bovines which were cared for by the trusted ‘Dajus’. Thus two of the most difficult brats, Nanu and Bulu, were placed under their tutelage. They had to learn all about the cows and their care.
For a few days all seemed to be going according to the well laid out plans of the Major. The boys woke up before sunrise and accompanied the bovine contingent and the Nepali cowherds to the pristine pastures of Shillong, returning later in the day for lunch. Only to set off immediately post lunch to bring the cows back home. They seemed to be learning a lot about cow management, though they remained rather evasive in their responses when they were questioned about their new found knowledge. Then one day, the Major returned home and asked his wife, “Have we employed any new Dajus? On my way back, I saw two young boys lying down by the roadside smoking beedis. They were chatting with our Gurung and Thapa. Must be their relatives?” He did not observe that Labanya had frozen in mid stride and continued, “In fact, one of them was very tall for a Daju, he was almost as tall as Nanu.” The penny had just dropped. That was the end of cow management.
This Nanu bloke was turning out to be quite a character! Towering above six feet and strikingly handsome, he was later regarded as the Don Juan of Shillong in his youth. While in primary school, we’ll just say that he didn’t excel in his academics. However, he boasted of an impressive lineage as his bad report cards were often returned to his Khasi class teacher, signed by Abraham Lincoln (his uncle), George Washington (another uncle) or Winston Churchill (yet another uncle). Matters came to a head one day and he was hauled to the Principal’s office with a report card that was signed by Queen Victoria (his maternal Aunt). The good Major was forced to intervene and sort his famous family out. Nanu, though bruised and battered, lived to fight another day.
The family home was a palatial and beautiful cottage on a hilltop. The entire hill was owned by the Dattas and it was dotted with several other smaller cottages, inhabited by distantly related family members. If the 12 member immediate family wasn’t big enough, the extended family had its tentacles spread far and wide from Lakhimpur to Jorhat to Guwahati to Calcutta. They numbered in the hundreds and the palatial cottage ‘Gopal Giri’ was forever inhabited by those who were near and not so near for short and not so short spans of time. Nanu was known to strip down to the pink, in the chill of Shillong, smear his body with talcum powder, and perch on a bough of a pear tree. As these unsuspecting temporary visitors happened to pass below, he would let out the most spine chilling shriek. Many of these relatives never visited again.
Yet another time, a newly married couple had come visiting and the Major had graciously allotted one of the several vacant cottages for them to reside in privacy. One moonless night, in a state of dishabille, the new bride screamed and howled all the way across the hilltop into the protective arms of Labanya. The bride recanted that she was about to change out of her Mekhela Chador when she saw a grotesque, distorted white face squashed against the window pane. It was a ghost AND a monster, she spluttered and swooned. As the commotion reached a crescendo and the entire family gathered, no one noticed that Nanu was missing. It was only the next day that one of the Datta girls, who loved to paint, noticed that her tube of white paint was missing.
Into young adulthood, Nanu excelled at cricket and was a fearsome pace bowler and he probably would have made a career out of it, however, fate had other plans. He also broke many hearts and many of his old flames, now in the twilight of their lives, still turn misty eyed at the mention of his name. In his early teens, he was kidnapped by some extremists. As the family panicked and the authorities swung into action, Nanu arrived home unscathed. He had beaten up two of his kidnappers and escaped!
Despite all this bravado and physical strength, he was also very kind hearted and forever ready to help those who needed it. He stood up for those who were not as fortunate as he was and many a bully was straightened out by Nanu. However, a disciplined Major and a free spirited maverick are unlikely comrades and it was thus decided that Nanu would be sent off to the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla. Nanu needed to be disciplined!
Thus, another soldier was born unto the Datta family of Rilbong.
He excelled at the Academy and it was the proverbial duck and water relationship. Some of the wild unpredictability remained and he would often return home unannounced carrying nothing with him, not even a change of clothes. During his sojourn in Shillong, he would mend the fences, paint the walls, mow the lawn and putter around the house taking charge of chores and repairs before he was asked to. On a whim, he once trekked to Guwahati and back, resting for a few hours at some stranger’s hut at Nongpoh.
Much has been written in various articles of his valour, leading a contingent of the 1/9 Gorkha, at the Dera Baba Nanak Bridgehead in 1971 and I would rather acquaint you with Nanu the human being.
He was a dancer par excellence and I have had to reluctantly vacate the dance floor for him to jive with his favourite niece. I stood and watched in rapt admiration as he effortlessly jived to, “My heart goes Sha – La – La –La............” She remembers that he taught her how to dance to Perry Como, Neil Diamond and Lobo. She remembers going for long walks perched high on his shoulder. Up and down the hilly paths of Shillong giggling and gurgling with glee. She remembers laughing and laughing for no reason, except that he made her happy. For her, he was and will forever remain larger than life.
Post a botched heart surgery, he retired from the Army and was promptly appointed as the Chief Security Officer of a prominent bank which has branches all over India. He came back and straight facedly told Labanya, that he had been appointed as a security guard at a bank. He would be given a .303 rifle and a stool to sit on, at the entrance of the branch. It is another story that whiles on this assignment, post a bank heist in Mizoram; he raided a terrorist camp and recovered almost all the money that had been robbed.
Mischievous as always, he met up with a ‘young’ astrologer who solemnly examined his palm and told him, “You look like a man of uniform”. A ram rod straight gentleman, who was over 6ft 4inches tall, who had piercing eyes and the grip of a vice - you didn’t need a crystal ball to guess that he was a man of uniform! Nanu’s eyes lit up and he beamed, “You are a genius Sir! I have spent the last 40 years of my life working as a hotel waiter in uniform!” The astrologer was very pleased with himself.
She was beautiful and he was handsome. She was a college student and he was a Second Lieutenant. It was a match made in heaven. Whenever Nanu would visit Bhonti at her hostel, it is said that all the girls would line the balconies to see this stunning couple together. Soon the soldier and the beauty were married and they produced three wonderful children who I am privileged to count as family today.
I met him when I married his favourite niece and she was a bit apprehensive as to whether I would measure up to him. I didn’t. Five feet ten doesn’t stand a chance against Six feet four! Other than that, we got along famously. Military life for me was a dream and since I couldn’t / wasn’t allowed to achieve that, I had spent my life researching and learning about the history of wars and conflicts. My scant knowledge earned me his respect and his favourite lines (or were they my favourite lines?) for me were, “Arrey yaar! I keep forgetting that I am talking to a civilian. You are a true blue Fauji!”
We enjoyed some ‘Sharaab’ together. Many bottles were laid to rest over the years. He never called it “Daaru” or anything else, Sharaab was Sharaab and had to be given its due respect. Later, ill health took over and he gave up alcohol completely. One of the last jokes that he cracked was, “They are not letting me drink Sharaab any more, so I am having a lot of grapes. They will ferment and turn into wine!” Our favourite Army song was “Badlu Ram ka Badan” and we once belted it out together at 2 am, much to the displeasure of the unsporting neighbours who didn’t want to join in the chorus.
I met him for the first time in 1990, just after I married Lakhi. It was a winter afternoon and we had driven up to Shillong. Gopal Giri was bustling with family members and we were just about to be served lunch. Being a brand new son-in-law, albeit a vegetarian, it still promised to be a grand affair. I was introduced to him, he winked and beckoned me to follow him, I silently did so. Once out in the front lawn, he put his arms around me and sombrely said, “You are new to our family, so I thought that I would acquaint you with some of the rules that we follow at the dining table.” I was all ears. He continued with a very sad look on his face, “You see, prices have gone up. Everything is very expensive. All that we could use and throw; now we have to reuse. You know what I mean?” I didn’t, however, seeing his solemn expression I nodded silently. He exhaled gravely and whispered, “I have a small request for you. Please do eat all the food that is offered to you on the crockery, but please don’t eat the plates, bowls, cutlery and the glasses. Nowadays, we wash them and reuse them!” After a moment of deafening silence, he roared in laughter and a lifelong bond between the Colonel and the ‘Fauji’ was born that day.
He spoke atrocious Bangla and yet insisted on conversing with Lakhi in that distorted lingo, after all now she was a Bongali Daughter - in - law! My interactions with him were restricted to intricate discussions on war history and the memories of his Army days. I wish I had pestered him more and noted all that he had recanted. He included me in a WhatsApp group and I proudly found my name amongst the recipients of emails that were also addressed to erstwhile Brigadiers and Generals.
A few days before he took his battles elsewhere, he wished all of us, “Tagra Raho!” Those interested may Google it.
Unsung, undecorated, anonymous he left us on 21st. April 2021. However, he ensured that when his beloved Bhonti followed him just three days later, she was given a better farewell by the members of his erstwhile Regiment and other branches of the Army. Selfless till the very end.
Heaven is a much happier place now. God has Nanu by his side to make him laugh and Bhonti is right there beside them to keep him in check. She’ll ensure that they don’t belt out “Badlu Ram ka Badan” at 2am. In the unlikely event that they do, I will surely join them.
Tagra Raho Colonel Sahib, till we meet again.

Vikramaditya Chaudhury
Posted by Antara Roy on May 4, 2021
Nanu mama was a charming person. My favourite uncle, he always greeted me with a smile and a big, generous hug. Inside that warm hug, I would return to my childhood, to my days of running around streams, and chasing butterflies.
 
 Nanu mama was welcoming and inviting to the core, and in his company, you always found a home. Which is why, perhaps, whenever I left his company, I felt orphaned for a while.

 Visiting Nanu mama was like visiting the mountains or an immense deep blue sea.
He had so much life and laughter in him that he could fill the empty cups inside all of us. We would overflow with joy, and yet, there would be more. More jokes, more anecdotes, more stories, even scary ones which were narrated with his quintessential humour 

I am certain that he is someone's favourite uncle, favourite cousin, favourite friend, favourite colleague....
He was that kind of a person- a favourite.

The last time I spoke to him was on the phone. On my request, he narrated a true life ghost story. At the end of the story he said, 'I am tired. You see, Antu, I'm very old now. I'll tell you the next story some other day.'
In a few days, there was a mail in my inbox. Nanu mama had written about the other ghostly incident, as he had promised.

I remember an afternoon from long ago when I was walking back home from school, and bumped into Nanu mama's car. The car drew to a stop and in an instant, he had convinced me to accompany him and Bhonti mami to a boxing match in the army grounds.
What an afternoon it was! Sitting right in the front row, I watched the boxing match with awe, and I took it very, very seriously when one of the players was injured. After a while, I told Nanu mama that all this violence was too much for me, and making me feel giddy. He broke out into peals of laughter. He must have enjoyed my helpless, desperate reactions more than the boxing match!

  He was as pure as a cloud- not a bad word for anyone, not a hint of malice for his fellow human beings.

  When he had gone to war, he had lost a dear friend in battle. That was the only time he had been driven to despair. He wandered around the family compound all by himself, remembering his friend.

  I have been feeling this terrible ache in my heart since morning, since the time I heard the news of his passing away. The world grows dim, and the stories I have been writing have come to a halt for now.

But dear Nanu mama, I will not bid farewell, or say goodbye to you. Who says goodbye to sunshine, or to cotton-like, puffy clouds, or to daisies nodding in the light breeze?

Nanu mama, I will say "hello" to you everytime I see or feel something beautiful, something full of promise and optimism.

To me, you never go away. You stay, and live on, forever.

For my forever favourite uncle with the sunshine smile.
Posted by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
An April Requiem - Krishna Barua

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain----T.S.Eliot (The Waste Land)

Colonel Ajit Datta, youngest son of late Major S.C.Dutta and Labanya Prava Dutta of Shillong, passed away of cardiac arrest in Delhi on 21st April. He was 78.
An Alumnas of St Edmunds college, Shillong; National Defence Academy, Pune; and Rashtriya Military Academy, Dehradun, he started his career as a second lieutenant in Gorkha Rifles, then joined 4th Garhwal Rifles and DDG Assam Rifles and retired as Colonel in 1996.A war veteran, he had actively participated in the 1965 and 1971 wars, especially the Dera Baba Nanak battle in 5th dec, 1971, where Indian army built up enclaves and the bridge blown off to eliminate Pakistan entering Amritsar .
Later, after retirement, he joined the State Bank of India as the Chief Vigilance officer in the North East.While in SBI, his most memorable action was his several visits to Myanmar resulting in the recovery of Rs 2 crores, which was looted from a SBI branch in Mizoram.
Always a soldier in spirit and action, we rue the tragedy of him not getting a soldiers funeral. Today ,on the hallowed day of his Adya Shradha, let us pay tribute to his gallantry and valour. “Let four captains bear him, as a soldier to the stage,..and for his passage, the soldiers music and the rites of war speak loudly for him.”
It has been the cruelest April ever. The stormy night of Nanuda’s death had hardly subsided, when on the morning of the 24th April, Anuradha, his wife, our beautiful Bhanti bou, died of cardiac arrest. Anuradha was the daughter of Late Pratul Saikia and Renu Saikia of Guwahati.
Educated at St Marys School,Shillong and Cotton College, Guwahati, she did her Masters in English Literature from Guwahati university.She taught at Digboi College, and St Edmunds School for some time. A beautician of repute, she ran the very popular Beauty Salon Anuradhas in Shillong  and Guwahati with an exclusive clientele.An avid gardener, her green fingers transformed her terrace garden into veritable delight of blooming flowers and seasonal vegetables.Her interests were varied and wide, and she loved to connect with each member of the family and friends ,through phone or facebook almost everyday.
Ajit and Anuradha! Theirs was a love affair deep and profound, inseparable, always together.As in life, so in death.In this pageant of the world we were blessed to have you both with us, as you leave us shattered and bereft.My heart goes out to my bereaved nieces  and nephew, Babli, Ripli and Shiboo. May God give them strength and blessings to bear this irreparable loss. In this hallowed day of their Adya Shradha, this is our humble requiem for the Eternal Peace of their Blessed Souls. Rest in peace ,Nanuda and Bhanti bou, for life and Death are one to you, even as the river and the sea are one.
My dearly loved brother, my Nanuda, my hero, my life. It is like breeding lilacs out of the childhood days, mixing memory and desire, where there is no sign of spring rain to stir up the dry roots of pain.Growing up together in our full house of nine siblings, it was always Nanuda ‘s continuous pranks, escapades and sudden disappearances which broke through the highly regimented household.Not a day passed without the neighbours complaining in groups to Deuta about his mischief.Those were the days of innocence, a lilac world, a lifetime of laughter and love.
What a piece of work is man! How express and admirable was Nanuda! tall, dark and handsome. The talk of the Town, the dashing Don Juan of Shillong. The ace cricketer of St Edmunds, the fastest bowler that Shillong had ever seen. Almost every weekend Nanuda with his friends used to go for hiking, scaling mountains and uncharted terrain.In one of these, he with his friends Mukut and Sankar accompanied by a pet dog went hiking from Shillong to Guwahati ,taking rest in Nongpoh for the night, and next day reaching Guwahati with sore limbs and aching bones, exhausted but jubilant!
Such was Nanuda. A bibliophile ,his interests ranged from thrillers to classic English fiction. A Film buff, he loved the westerns as much as a Satyajit Ray film. Sophisticated and extremely sharp ,every sentence of his was laced with his ingenious wit and humour. Magnanimous and deeply caring, he had a delightful  gift of appreciating each one of us, family, friends, cousins et all. Warm hearted to the core, his infectious voice and laughter added to the sunshine of our lives.
Goodnight, Dearly beloved Nanuda and Bhanti, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Dr. Krishna Barua
his Life

Col Ajit Datta - Commanded 4 Garhwal Rifles at Solan

Col Ajit Datta.
Commanded 4 Garhwal Rifles at Solan.

1971 India-Pakistan War

Dera Baba Nanak Battle

"Yes it was my proud privilege and honour to be associated with a band of brothers and heroes whose stories of valour still run in my memories as if of yesterday. Remember vividly the aftermath of the battle on 6 dec morning of 1971 with burnt bodies and wounded lying about with yours truly watching helplessly till medical evacuation. Post battlefield trauma is not a myth as such memories are very unpleasant and unforgettable." - Col Ajit Datta.

Tagra Raho

Nanu mama used say "Tagra Raho" while saying goodbye, which is the regimental salutation of the Assam Regiment ("stay strong/fit") in the Indian Army. 


This is the joke he sent last year.

A  Assam Regt officer told me this story. Some ASSAM bn personnel were attached for guard duties in the GOC's House. One of the men had to go into the House and whenever he would meet the GOC's Wife Greet her Loudly . The GOC's wife was on the obese side.This daily greeting by the soldier was not liked by her. She conveyed her displeasure to her husband stating that he was poking fun, of her obesity. The GOC promptly summoned the CO of the Battalion.The CO told the GOC that he knew the soldier, who was sincere and an outstanding soldier and he would not make fun of any lady and more so the GOC's wife.The CO asked , as to what exactly did the soldier say. The GOC rang up his wife, who said"TAGDA RAHO MEM SAHAB" Both the GOC and the CO burst out laughing, for it was the ASSAM Regimental Greeting. The GOC requested that the soldier be asked to greet his wife with 'Namaste Memsaheb'......☺️☺️
Recent stories

Unauthorized Robbery - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
The plot to rob the bank had been in the police constable’s mind in an embryonic stage ever since he had seen a movie on a television channel. Many permutations and combinations kept nagging his thoughts, robbing him of many a good night’s sleep till he finally gathered enough courage and confidence to execute the plan. It was a simple plan that required the help of the local insurgents. In a dingy cafe near the bank, he contacted the town sergeant of the insurgent group to spin out the plan of robbery. It was to be a joint operation on Christmas day, the very next day, when the presence of the bank-guarding contingent would be minimal. As planned, he managed to convince his section commander to detail his team of conspirators to be on duty within the bank premises at the crucial hours.
And, down in the plains, about 200 km far off, the next night was a long and frosty night, especially after midnight mass in the newly constructed Baptist church on the hilltop. It overlooked the perched, wide river running down from the hills. The tall officer, now on leave, drove down the winding road, crossed the iron bridge and entered the rhododendron- bordered driveway to the newly constructed double storied house with many balconies. He unlatched the front door, turned to the car to help her pick up the sleepy children. At that precise moment he could hear the telephone ringing in the bedroom but let it ring off automatically. He was wondering who it could be at three in the morning when the telephone rang again. It was his deputy from the district headquarters, informing him of a robbery in the bank. The culprits made a smooth getaway in a Willy jeep after police guards were overpowered and, losses were yet to be ascertained as the bank staff was out of station on Christmas holidays stretching over ten days. He had recently taken over the new assignment in the district, reputed to be stronghold of the most prominent insurgent group in the state.
He was so furious that he ordered the immediate suspension of the guard, and tasked the deputy to select a good replacement. Evidently it was an insurgent supported operation which could affect the recently agreed upon ceasefire in the volatile region.
All concerned were contacted to seal off roads and detail search parties to sensitive localities and by the time his sources contacted the underground to confirm the robbery as their operation, it was almost daybreak. The only silver lining was that though their cadre was involved, it was a local operation by an underground team without the clearance from their controllers.
The Christmas holidays were long, almost up to the New Year’s Day and it was very difficult to contact the right people so early in the morning. As he was almost 200 km away from the scene of crime, his presence there was a must. Somehow the local army battalion commander was contacted and informed about the robbery. They were already aware of the incident and search parties were out. Their brigadier was to land shortly on the helipad to coordinate the search operations. The army was taking the robbery, as a serious violation of ceasefire and full-fledged operations would be launched in no time unless the loot was returned. The army was very concerned as a huge arsenal could be created with the looted amount, resulting in more bloodshed. He was also advised to contact the coordinator of the insurgent group’s ceasefire monitoring cell for the blatant violation of ceasefire by their cadre and their reactions thereafter. The coordinator confirmed that it was an underground operation and he would join him to the district headquarters to defuse the situation arising out of the robbery by their cadre. They left in the Maruti Gypsy in the morning and reached the district headquarters in the evening as the twilight descended. They went via the capital primarily to apprise the commissioner about the robbery and its impact on the fragile ceasefire. But he was out of station and instead they met the Special Secretary to the Chief Minister. He promised to contact the bank people, as none was locally available. 
They went straight to the red and white RCC building where the deputy minister of the underground was staying in the district headquarters, an elderly gentleman with a dignified bearing who was part of the famous long march to China in the initial stages of insurgency.
He sat down on the polished floor at the old man’s feet and to his surprise, held on to his knees."I will not leave your feet till you save my honour. Great humiliation has fallen on my family and my clan, especially on me by the robbery committed by your boys. That cash was under my responsibilities and no way can I wish it away. If the cash looted is not recovered I’ll kill myself in front of your feet, please help me."
The old man just smiled, chided him for sitting on the floor in spite of being such a senior officer and lifted him up gently from the floor to sit next to him on the white couch.
The old man added, "It was an unfortunate mistake committed out of greed. It was an unauthorized operation. The culprits have been identified and traced. Even if rupees five crore were taken, all would be returned. Now go in peace and find out how much was looted fromthe bank. I think your police guards were responsible for corrupting our boys and inviting them to loot the bank. We will punish our defaulters after returning the looted cash."
The bank building, a triple storied concrete one with small, cabin shops on the ground floor facing the main square and the bank staff’s accommodation on the top floor, had a staircase connecting all the floors on the right corner of the building. It was a sad looking decaying building, might have seen good days 15 to 20 years earlier. Two iron-grilled gates controlled the access to the banking hall on the first floor. He could see that the new guard had already replaced the earlier one as ordered by him telephonically, wondering whether the earlier lot were arrested or suspended for dereliction of duty. The strong room where the cash used tobe stored had a big hole where the ventilation system used to be. It was evident that afterwidening the ventilation hole with a sledgehammer, the culprits entered the strong room.
The underground minister had already hinted at the involvement of the policemen in the bank robbery, and individual interrogation of the police guard immediately brought out the truth.
Suddenly a black humour descended on him. It was a strange situation where the insurgents were looking for and chasing the police for the recovery of the looted amount from the bank.
When the robbery was reconstructed, it was revealed that on Christmas day six armed insurgents gained entry into the bank with the help of three police constables who were on duty from 7 to 11 p.m. The underground team was contacted and invited for the robbery a day earlier by one of the police constables who had a penchant for designer clothes and high stake gambling.
The police guard was of 19 strong and had recently replaced a CRPF guard. But only eight were present on that day as others were on French leave to be with their families for Christmas. The off duty sleeping guards in the guard room were quickly neutralized and with the help of these three police guards, the insurgents widened the ventilation hole by breaking away the edges with sledgehammer. Before decamping with the cash in a jeep, the insurgents left one sackful of cash for their police friends. One of the constables, the ring leader, deposited this cash with his mother staying close to the bank, returned to fire a few rounds to depict resistance from their side and tied themselves up to prove their innocence.
But the planner missed out on one small vital detail – the existing ceasefire agreement and
the consequential impact of the robbery. But none had any clue as to how much was stolen until the joint custodians of the cash returned. The local battalion of the security force intervened when their night patrols heard the stray shots and immediately smelt a rat. The brigadier flew in next morning and pressurized the local hierarchy of the underground group to maintain status quo as far as the ceasefire was concerned. The looted amount must be returned. Even the local public was getting concerned and insisted on return of the loot.
After the interrogation of the three constables and along with the police search party, he went personally to the house of the mother of the constable for the recovery of the looted cash. He immediately became suspicious when he found her most reluctant to leave her bed as he called on her, unlike other places where the old ladies traditionally fawned over the guests.
She would just not leave her bed as she made casual conversation to locate the looted cash.He had to resort to a simple trick to get her away from the bed – a glass of water for the thirsty guest. As she left the bed, a quick check revealed stacks of currency notes under the old, cotton mattress. A thorough search revealed more bundles of currency notes hidden in the pigsty, some even under the feeding tray. More than 50 lakh were recovered from that house. The same night, the area commander of the underground group also recovered almost 85 lakh from their cadre from a nearby village where a few had taken shelter for the night.
They were on the run from their own organization. It was a unique sight when the sackful of currency notes were brought in to the DC’s office for counting, verification and safe custody, within the presence of the town elders. As the bank remained closed, the recovered cash was handed over to the local battalion of the security forces for want of confidence in the guardian of law-and-order. But exact losses were still unknown.
The bank officers arrived next morning from the plains and were immediately whisked away to the bank premises. But there was a hitch, as they couldn’t get hold of the accountant from his home town – only the cash officer could be contacted and fetched over. The vault could not be opened until and unless both custodians used their keys to the vault. The cash officer had dropped a bombshell when he mentioned that the strong room contained approximately
10 crore at the close of business just before the onset of the long holidays and one particular almirah had only 500 rupee notes, totalling about 7 crore. As the suspense became unbearable, it was decided by the district authorities to unseal the hole in the strong room to allow a rough estimate of losses as the delay was affecting recovery operations. The widened hole was just enough to permit a frail man inside. The cash officer, a burly Sikh gentleman, was invited to have a look and if feasible enter the strong room through the hole to carry out an assessment. But his turban got stuck in the small hole, so it was removed much to the amusement of the onlookers. There was an audible sigh of relief as he reported that the almirah containing 500 rupee notes appeared unbroken and losses could be maximum two crore or so. The only way the strong room could be opened now was with the duplicate keys.
Then the hunt began for the location of the duplicate keys, apparently it was kept safely under round-the-clock surveillance of the local police. This time, it was the turn of the officerin-charge to be missing from the scene. By the time he was contacted at his hometown andbrought over to the bank, it was well past midnight. There was a dramatic incident enroutewhen the jeep fetching the officer hit a local student leader, resulting in a near riot condition in that village. The officer along with the jeep driver was released temporarily from police custody on intervention at the highest level. His presence was essential to locate the duplicate keys to the bank.
The strong room probably had never seen such an august gathering within its confined space – right from the DC, SP, cash officer of the bank and also the local area commander of the insurgent group. The area commander was under posting to their general headquarters and his relief had already joined to take over the responsibilities. He was convinced that there was a conspiracy by the establishment to undermine the credibility of the underground organization and he wanted to be sure that losses were exact and not inflated. He was given a crash course on cash management and was convinced that verification of cash ledgers would bring out the losses. It took time but eventually all were convinced that losses were of two crore, as asserted earlier by the cash officer. It was just sheer luck that the almirah containing 500 rupee notes was not touched, otherwise, the losses could have jumped to 7 crore, enough to purchase more than a thousand AK-47 rifles from the arms bazaar of Chittagong. There is a lot of glib talk about "choking off funds" to the insurgent outfits but very little thought is given to safeguard the main source in a hostile environment.
Accountability, as usual, is nonexistent. Within an interval of a few days the underground group, successfully chased and recovered almost 1.5 crore but refused to hand over their culprits. The strength of the group can be assessed by the recovery and return of the looted amount in no time. The ceasefire still stands and the bank is still operating in the district headquarters, albeit with a paramilitary guard. But such joint ventures between the local police and an insurgent group both in robbing the bank as well as in recovering the looted amount are rare indeed in the annals of crimes against banks the world over.

That bungalow in Kenches Trace Shillong - Col Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
There were flowers everywhere right from a variety of roses to seasonal cosmos, snapdragons, dahlias and others along the perimeter of the well mowed  lawn divided by a pathway along with flowering trees like camelias and fragrant magnolias on the edge  of the boundary hedge rows  flowering now and then.Not only that , there were orchards of oranges. plums and peaches on the slopes of the house  meeting the road down below. That was the house Jerry Cunningham , from Canterbury constructed with local khasi carpenters in1898 on a 3 acre land ,clearing a portion of pine forest of the estate with wooden floors ,wooden walls and even wooden ceilings with imported thick tin sheets. A house of 5000 square feet with a length of 100 feet and width  of 50 feet and many a room. He named it Bothwell.
He was a coal trader and made enough money to marry a tea planter's daughter , Sundari who loved looking after the estate with its pine forest,orchards and gardens and was happy as ever she could be.
But those days of happiness amongst beds of flowers, flowery trees and orchards were abruptly cut short by an accident in the jaiantia colliery which caved in due to heavy sippage of water after a cloud burst that took away scores of lives of local miners.The death of so many led to bankruptcy  and eventual death of Jerry in a flash flood that swept him away while crossing the nearby stream, returning from the  cricket ground carved out of slope of hill by a Captain of the Gurkha Regiment with troop labour. The garrison ground. But his body remained untraceable  even after days and months.
Those happy days were no more there for Sundari as the house wore a haunted look with locals avoiding nearby pathways because of sudden stillness all over the estate as if the estate itself was in mourning with flowers and fruits slowly withering away in spite of loving care by all in the house. And that there was a stench ,sometimes very overpowering and very strong that made one to cringe away in fear. Especially on full moon night with jackals howling and warning of something that they were scared of. Even Sundari started to wither away with various unknown illnesses. There was a particular cold wave around the house-- Adoo Adoo a shivering and trembling one in khasi.
And as we said before Sundari's Bothwell fell into a well of depression even the red tinned roof started visibly to depress itself. There was a noticeable depression on the middle of the roof as if proclaiming  the end of the good days long gone past after the death of Cunningham. This depressive environment with the wind blowing in a rotting fishy stench now and then, it was there one moment and not there another moment  and his favourite velvety  white roses of canterbury withering away made life unbearable  for the lady of the house.
But suddenly things changed as his bloated body was found by an avid angler in the barapani area behind a huge boulder. The stench raised the angler's curiosity and the body was subsequently identified by  the wedding ring.
Sundari buried her long lost husband as per his last wishes as in the will of inheritance, under the bed of his favourite velvety white roses  of canterbury at the northern corner of the lawn of Bothwell and  the miracle of burial chased  away all the blues and withering and even the roof straightened up, visibly so. Jerry was back home and happy. When the master is happy, dead or alive, there's happiness everywhere.
But the long sojourn under the torrential waters of Rilbong initially and then barapani's placid waters had created an unbearable cold that covered even the grave and its foliage on top.. Passersby  sometimes felt the coldness emanating from the cryptic knoll of the grave and some even heard at very low key a shivering ,adoo adoo in khasi. 
 Few  local fortunates or unfortunate who are familiar with the legend of Jerry of Bothwell, sometimes hear his Adoo Adoo when they press their ears to the grave, seeking his blessings when venturing out in coal business. Many who sought his blessings from his grave are millionaires now.
Col. Ajit Datta

THE CHILD INSURGENTS - Col. Ajit Datta

Shared by Angsuman Barua on May 4, 2021
It was the beginning of the summer month of May in Kashmir and the snow had started to melt in the higher reaches of the mountains. The twilight had encroached into a tiny hamlet near the line of control and also into a small timber house. The kerosene lit German lantern even in its dimness, could not erase the suspense and anxiety from the young faces of young mothers- there were whispers that their children were on their trip back home on completion of jehadi training on the other side of the border.  And it was an irony of fate that they were depending on the Assam Rifles for the return of their children.


Very few know that two battalions of the Assam Rifles made their first foray into the Kashmir valley at the request of a General who having served in the North East understood the true potential of these battalions. The main strength of the Force is its close rapport with the civil population against the cantonment syndrome prevailing in the Army. Realizing the great strength of Assam Rifles, the General requested Delhi for two Battalions of the Force to contain insurgency in the Kashmir valley. This unusual request resulted in such a master stroke that within a period of two years more than 800 assorted weapons including 508 AK-47 Rifles and more than a lakh of AK–47 ammunition rounds were recovered by these two Battalions in 90-91. This also resulted in one of the largest hauls ever in a single counter insurgency operation in the world. This is a story of only 10 Riflemen of Assam Rifles challenging 150 heavily armed militants and getting away with flying colours and that too with a rare show of unexpected kindness.

The Army is trained to be iron fisted and the complete reversal of their role when deployed on policing duties causes resentment, more confusion and lot of goodwill is lost, as velvet gloves are required to conceal the iron fists in counter insurgency operations. Otherwise the iron fists tend to create more insurgency. The Assam Rifles specializes in respecting local sentiments. The emphasis is on return of peace and understanding the local culture and their aspirations through long association. And not head or weapon hunting as many in power insist on. A young teenager would never accept the degradation of the status of his parents or family members in search operations, mostly carried out well past midnight by the Security Forces. The loss of dignity in such operations causes anger, albeit slowly. He joins the insurgents at the first opportunity more so when they are the only hope in an environment of corruption devoid of any job opportunities. Counter insurgency operations must be based on solid actionable intelligence otherwise innocents get the brunt of such operations, leading to more insurgency. This is where Assam Rifles score over the Army because of their long association with the land. The first foray into the Kashmir valley was another testing ground of their motto of never to hurt an innocent civilian.


Padam Bahadur Chettri, a subedar of the Assam Rifle Battalion located on the line of control in Kashmir was climbing up gradually along the spine of the ridge to the Dudhi post. 18 riflemen were following him. The steep climb started immediately after crossing the tiny rivulet over a small footbridge. 5 local porters with their ponies laden with a month’s ration were also following his column to occupy the Post. The chill of the winter could still be felt as they gained height, though it was the beginning of May and the height of summer. The pine forest along the spine of the ridge still had heavy residual snow. The shadowy portion of mountain slopes still displaying fully snow- buried pine trees. And a few top branches could be seen bowing down with the heaviness of the lingering snow. They were struggling against the heavy snow as they reached higher reaches and stopped about 5 km short of the Post, as darkness fell. Their porters, with the ponies, also fetched up after 30 minutes or so and took shelter in a hut meant for the shepherds grazing cattle and sheep during the summers.  
They had succeeded in reaching out to the local population and had earned their confidence when numbers of apprehended child insurgents were returned to their parents. The call to join the main stream was ignored as the children found the mainstream to be too polluted even to be touched with their toenails. The child insurgents’ anger against the establishment had a genuine base – burning of their own houses in a firefight was the last straw. Of late, there were a number of indications that scores of young boys, barely in their teens were infiltrating back after training as Mujahideens. Expectations were very high and many mothers were depending on the Assam Rifles to see their sons again. Apparently the worldwide problem of rehabilitation of child insurgents is still eluding the experts but the simple solution of returning them to their parents is still to be implemented. The Colonel’s orders were very clear to Chettri- no child insurgents should be hurt. And that was a tall order in a firefight when identification of child insurgents might not be feasible. Chettri fell asleep while discussing with his platoon the Colonel’s order on child insurgents and the firm orders to return them to their parents- the night was uncomfortable and chilly in the grazing hut in spite of the warmth provided by the snow mattresses, sleeping bags and three pairs of woollen socks worn by each one of them.  The local porters had also joined in the discussion and were rather pessimistic about apprehending the child insurgents without harming them. But all agreed to give a fair chance by warning them before opening fire, against all military teachings that might compromise their own safety. There was a freak heavy snowfall falling intermittently throughout the night and the night sentries were busy clearing the fresh snow jamming the door of the shepherd’s hut.


6 Riflemen were left in situ to prepare the pony loads into man pack ones as ponies could not move an inch on the heavy snow. Chettri moved with 12 boys along the top of the ridge- movement was slow on knee-deep snow. On crossing a false crest, the column saw the Post another mile away, the shelters barely visible under the snow. As Chettri was looking down towards the night’s staging camp to monitor the movement of porters ferrying their rations and ammunition, flashes of tiny lights in the pine forest caught his eyes. These flashes were in the nullah coming down from the Post –something reflecting the morning sunrays piercing the snow laden pine forest. Closure scrutiny through the binocular revealed scores of snow flaked, bearded individuals resting on the snow, some under the pine trees. What probably attracted his eyes were the transparent plastic caps worn by some as protection against snowfall, reflecting the sunlight here and there. Initially he took them to be sikh troops from the neighbouring area but once they started moving in a single line, their street clothes could be clearly visible. And there were a hundred and fifty of them, heavily armed with many carrying two weapons and ammunition belts strapped across their shoulders. He could make out the child insurgents at the end of the trail, smooth faced and their heads covered by the plastic caps, their backs bent under the weight of the weapons and ammunition carried. They were about to cross a clearing in the pine forest about three hundred yards away. A quick decision to take them on and a quiet hand signal to fan out for battle, Chettri awaited an opportune moment for a dramatic announcement, knowing fully well that this move might cost him his life. Reactions to his moves could be unpredictable as freedom enjoyed by insurgent groups from complicated organization like regular armies and their abilities to merge with local population demand reorientation in thinking. The only way child insurgents could be saved, was a fair warning.

“ Surrender or Perish – you are surrounded by 500 commandoes of Assam Rifles” he yelled confidently and exposed himself on the skyline with the machine gun poised at his right hip and added, “Drop your weapons and raise hands”. He could see the child insurgents raising their hands after dropping their weapons and looking up at him. For a few moments, there was silence everywhere, when suddenly the pine forest erupted with violence. There were loud curses, screaming and chaos as a few insurgents opened fire towards Chettri on the crest. A bullet nicked Chettri’s earlobe and pierced through the helmet- he found himself on the snow, slightly dazed. His radio operator was shot through the heart and another lay mortally wounded. They were only ten at that moment. But they were on a dominating height and had control over the situation.


There was instinctive retaliation from the ten as their murderous firepower cut through the column of militants. Mortar bombs, grenades created havoc amongst jam-packed militants as they ran helter skelter amidst the pine forest. There were plaintive cries for mercy and dying screams of the grievously wounded – eventually the sound of firing gradually died down as ammunition ran out. Many could be seen running down through the pine forest, stumbling and dragging themselves through the heavy snow. He radioed for assistance to block the escape routes. A total of 133 assorted weapons including 76 AK- 47 were recovered from the killing fields with 74 militants lying dead on the snow. 
    Chettri found 11 child insurgents barely in their early teens hiding and crying behind pine trees, sobbing uncontrollably for their mothers. It took a long time to pacify them and to remove their fears. As the porters fetched up, the child insurgents rushed and hung on to them. The porters were from their village. The terror stricken lips of the child insurgents, their petrified eyes full of tears haunted the ten for many days to come. And the jubilations that erupted on their return to the village would be forever etched in their memory. Most embarrassing were the kisses they received from the grateful mothers. 
     And the payback – the officers’ club suddenly became renowned for its kashmiri cuisine specially of meat dishes. It was a very poorly kept secret that mothers of these children took turns to cook choicest meat dishes on special occasions to celebrate the return of their children.  The undue access to the kitchen caused much consternation in the Intelligence circle. And food poisoning case was expected any time! Once a visiting General even refused to have lunch till his reservations and doubts were fully satisfied. The children were permitted to play basketball, volleyball within the unit lines and coaches were readily made available. It would be relevant to bring out that gradually the local population persuaded the militants to shift their bases from their villages to the pine forests, out of the reach of the Assam Rifle battalion.
Chettri has settled down in Nepal after retirement with an award of ‘ Kirti Chakra’ for his extraordinary presence of mind in neutralizing a huge infiltrating column. He proudly recalls that one of the rescued child insurgents, coached by Chettri himself, became a star volleyball player of Kashmir. A kind man, an extraordinarily kind man, transformed the killing fields into playing fields. He could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the plight of child insurgents, why no one else’s heart was filled with compassion by the sight of terror stricken lips, petrified eyes filled with tears and the supreme happiness of their mothers on their return. There are still thousands of child insurgents but the helmet with the bullet hole silently recalls the story of only 11 child insurgents and the kindness of the ten. The anger still drives them from the playing fields to the killing fields.

based on a true story
Ajit Datta