WHILE commanding a company of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the early 1980s, I often had to visit my battalion’s headquarters at Lamphelpat in Imphal (Manipur). I was stationed at the Imphal airport as my company was entrusted with the task of securing the place.
The valley was highly disturbed, with militant outfits such as the People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Republic of Kangleipak and the Kangleipak Communist Party operating there. We would often resort to random checking of vehicles or persons on the road while going to the battalion HQ and also while returning. The movement of single CRPF vehicles in the valley was banned. An escort vehicle with a section would follow, while three-four personnel would be in the Jonga in which I travelled.
One evening, I had to go to the officers’ mess to attend the farewell dinner of an officer who had been posted out. Since the situation was not conducive for travelling late at night, the parties used to get over by 9 pm. While returning, I spotted a paan kiosk at Kwakeithel along a deserted road. It was still open, illuminated by the dim light of a hurricane lamp. A lone customer standing with his hands on the kiosk counter appeared to be chatting with the shopkeeper.
In insurgency-hit areas, we usually tend to view everything and everyone with a shade of suspicion. I asked the driver to halt; he quickly pulled over. Lest the person at the kiosk should run away, I kept my eyes glued on him while crossing the road.
When asked why he was out at that hour, the man hid the cigarette he was smoking and claimed that he had come to purchase cigarettes. After asking him questions about his residence and family, I warned him not to move around at that late hour. Before telling him to return to his house, I asked him if he was doing a job. He replied in the affirmative. Still at attention and addressing me as ‘sir’ after every sentence, he said he was working in the CRPF and was posted elsewhere. He added that he had come on leave.
I asked him his rank. ‘DSP,’ he said. Since he looked young, I presumed that he must be a directly appointed officer. ‘Which batch?’ I further enquired. ‘11th DAGOs,’ he said (in the CRPF, such Deputy Superintendents of Police were known as Directly Appointed Gazetted Officers or DAGOs).
Taken aback by his seniority, I stood at attention and apologised. When I told him that I was from the 12th batch, he had a hearty laugh and revealed that he had known it all along but had playfully feigned ignorance. The officer, BS Yambem, is no more, but the episode remains etched in my memory. Rest in peace, Yambem sir.
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