As I was loading my luggage into the car after checking out of the Silk Route Hotel, I met Rajan. He was keen to know how the KL registration car came to be in Shillong. He was astonished to hear about my trip and said that he would also want to make such a trip. But he was certain his wife would not permit him to! He wanted to know from me how I had convinced mine. He nearly fell off the steps of the Hotel when I told him that I had not sought any approval or permission!
I thought I had seen it all and done it all after the Sambalpur-Raipur and Siliguri-Dhubri jousts. No, it was not to be. This is the why the solo trip is an experience of a lifetime. Every day brings new experiences, some disappointments, wonderful friends and helpful acquaintances. I was warned by the SP, Karimganj that the Shillong-Karimganj route is in bad shape and that it would take more than 7 hours for the 230 kms. As it turned out, the first 60 kms to Jowai was done in 90 mts and the balance 170 kms in seven and a half hours. The 55 kms from the Assam border to Karimganj took three hours! It was ironic to see sign boards of the Border Roads Organisation at intermittent locations that it “Creates, Connects and Cares“. In fact, on the road between Sivoke and Singtam (to Gangtok), they proclaim that they “build the best roads”. If the roads on these sectors are anything to go by, as Indians, we certainly have different standards in road building too, apart from the standards of hygiene! I have now come to expect the worst condition of roads when the BRO announces that they are in charge of the maintenance. I was told that the poor condition of the road to Karimganj is the result of landslides following heavy rainfall this year and the tussle between the BRO and the NHAI over the control of the road.
The poor roads affect the health of the people who live in the area as the air becomes heavily dust laden and polluted. It is common to see the young and old alike walking around with scarves to cover their ear, nose and mouth. The leaves of the tea shrubs look as if they were infused with a strong concoction of coffee. The wear and tear of the vehicles and its impact on the logistics cost can be well imagined. Our mighty leaders reel out statistics to prove that we are one of the foremost economies of the world. To them the CWG and a UN seat are more important, for they foster interest groups and serve the interests of coteries. The ‘common man’ can wait. His needs will be met in his afterlife. As a prominent social activist recently mentioned, one can actually see ‘India dying in the villages’. This has to be addressed appropriately and the metro/city centric planning should be replaced by a focus on the development of the villages of India. What I experience in the countryside, in the villages, does not make me feel proud as an Indian. What an incredible shame for Incredible India!
The Superintendent of Police, Karimganj, Mr. BP Rabha, was my host in Karimganj. He had arranged for a constable to accompany me from a prominent junction in the town. The constable was happy to know that I am from Kerala and recounted his happy memories of Cochin, where he had been in 1984. He was quite dismissive of the politicians of Assam, who he felt were only indulging in inappropriate dealings and ignoring the needs of the public. Accommodation was arranged in the Police GH. The journey to Karimganj had completely exhausted me. But, the enthusiasm and hospitality of Rabha rejuvenated me. After tea and biscuits, I went to the office of the SP to update the blog. Connectivity has been the biggest problem since the tour of the NE. The challenge on this front will be greater from now on.
The ASP, NC Ghosh, called on me alter in the evening. I had a lucid narration from him on the history of the Dimasas in Assam – how they came to settle in Maibong, near Haflong, after being driven out of Dimapur. I now surmise, after collating information I have gathered over the past week from different sources, that the tribes in the NE feel threatened about their identity. They are concerned that their influence within their dwelling areas is getting marginalized. They are used to subsistence living and are contented about it. Thus, the changes that are happening around them bring out the rebel in their communities.
After confirming the arrangements for the trips to Agartala and Aizawl I had an early supper with Rabha. The menu was sparse; we only had fish curry, fish masala, chicken curry, dal, two types of vegetables and rice! The personal care he took to see that I am comfortable was indeed quite touching. Over dinner Rabha told me, more seriously than in jest, that the jurisdiction of the District is so small that if he starts early enough, he can complete the inspection of all the 5 Police Stations in the District.