Wednesday, July 1, 2009

န Part - I န Parents and My Early Life

Part - I The March Ahead - 1
Parents And My Early Life

I was born in a middle class family in the early thirties. My parents named me Manab. Sylhet, the place of my birth was adistrict headquarters in Assam and is now in Bangladesh. It was my mother’s hometown. My father’s roots were in Nabinagar, avillage in Coomilla district in pre-partitioned Bengal. The names of both these places became quite well known to many in India, during the war of liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
My father Nripendra, an electrical engineer was employed in Upper Assam in M/s James Warren Tea Company, incorporated in England. He was tall, well built, calm, extremely hardworking and devoted to his profession through out his service spanning over four decades. At least that was the impression we had as children in our formative years. My mother Jyothsna, a beautiful and intelligent lady, showered us with immense maternal affection but dealt with us sternly whenever the occasion arose. From an early age, she indulged in tremendous self-sacrifice, managed the household with limited resources and ensured that we thre ebrothers and a sister had proper education. She decidedly instilledin us a spirit of competitiveness, which propelled all the siblings to do well in later life. All of us were closer to our mother than our father who I felt was rather aloof. On matters concerning our education, choice of profession and other family affairs, it was our mother whom we approached first. Many important decisions were taken by her sometimes having to even convince our father with logical analysis and persuasion. She was equally progressive and ambitious as far as her children’s future was concerned.

I was the first born and premature at birth, dark and thin inbuild compared to many other members of our family who were generally tall, light-skinned and well-built. One possible reasonfor such a state, as I gathered many years later, was my mother’s ill health at my birth. This disparity in my physical attributes was not only a matter of concern to the family as was told to me later but also caused discrimination bordering on humiliation from several quarters in later years. The first memory of the environmentin which we were growing dawned on me sometime in the mid-thirties. That was of lush green tea gardens, as if beautifully woven green carpets spread over miles in wavy patterns matching the undulated lay of the ground, kissing the horizon. To a young boy sitting on the handle bar or the improvised seat on the crossbar of my father’s bicycle, it was the world or the end of the world beyond which nothing existed. The skyline of this spectacular scenic beauty was interspersed with an odd tea factory or the English Sahib’s bungalow at a distance and the shady trees so necessary for the healthy growth of the tea plantation.
Gradually, others appeared on the scene, particularly women workers, with baskets behind their backs, and occasionally a baby tied in front of them. They were all dressed in colourful attire and their nimble fingers plucked budding tea leaves. Mostly, they were migrants from the Santhal tribal belt of Bihar. Slowly as I grew, I became aware of the labour colony tucked in one corner of the garden. The days were fine for all in the colony but all hell would break loose on many evenings after drinking and merry making. The drunken brawls between the male workers sometimes led to a nasty finale for the fellow workers and their families. On the weekly pay days, the appearance of Kabuliwalas (moneylenders from the distant North-West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan) at the entrance of the colony created a very tense ambience. This oftenled to fisticuffs between workers and the moneylenders and sometimes even to murder. The situation was brought undercontrol by the Sahibs on horseback, followed sometimes by the police from the distant town of Jorehaut. The treatment meted out to the so-called miscreants was extremely harsh. The Manager, the English Sahib was the ultimate in dishing out any punishmentas he deemed fit. No one dared question his authority. The police followed what the Sahib dictated. This grim picture of exploitationis still etched deep in my mind.
Even when so young, I could realize that the life for the staffin the gardens was rather secluded, monotonous and totally at the mercy of the white managers. It appeared that the happenings in the distant gardens were beyond the reach of the District Commissioners and the Police Superintendents who were invariably whites. Both the Company managers and the District administrators appeared to be comfortable with this arrangement of detached attachment. The company management was a Raj beyond the Raj. They did not feel the necessity for any interaction between them unless there was a murder at hand. Generally, the relationship between the management and the staff was one of humiliation and degradation. I felt miserable whenever I noticed that the staff had to dismount from their cycles, bend and bow their heads when the white managers passed by in their cars kicking up clouds of dust. The staff colony we lived in had about a dozen brick-lined corrugated asbestos roofed quarters almost in the pattern of row housing. These quarters were an exact replica of one another. But for a small number plate displayed at the entrance, it was difficult to locate your own house. About thirty yards away, running in parallel to the frontage of the colony was a meter gauge railway line linking Jorehaut town to Mariani railway junction, which in turn provided connectivity to Guwahati in the west and Tinsukia in the east. The track was so near that sometime sat night, we felt as if the train was running over our chest. But most of us in the colony got accustomed to the scheduled movement of the trains. Some were so used to the rhythm that they had disturbed sleep if the midnight train was late. This railway-line, later on played an important part in our childhood on morethan one occasion.
The headquarters of the Tea Company was across the railway line and its tea gardens were in far flung areas of Eastern Upper Assam. My father would mostly be away on tours to these remote gardens, often for a considerable period. At a time like this, my mother would be most unhappy, as the burden of running the household would fall entirely on her. More so, as she was constantly worried about the education of my younger brother, Arun and myself as others were yet to arrive. She was sure of one aspect of education in the family. If I as the eldest of the siblings did well then others would definitely follow suit. If not, she was almost obsessed with the idea that some thing might go wrong. I was tobe an example to the younger ones, a sort of pole star. These riousness of this responsibility was dinned into me at every opportunity. I must unhesitatingly acknowledge that her continuous drive and determination ultimately bore fruit, though at a considerable pressure on my fragile frame.
There was no schooling facility whatsoever available for children of my age in the neighbourhood except for the whites in their exclusive Gymkhana Club. So my initiation to schooling began at home under the care of my mother. She was finally able to persuade my father and a few neighbours to start a school in the garden itself, which could provide us with formal education. After sometime, a primary school in some form did materialize in one of the staff quarters with a hired teacher from Jorehaut. My classhad two students, one girl and myself. I had great satisfaction instanding first for the first two years. More so because, the other had the stigma of being last in the class, forgetting that she in fact stood second. Yet my mother was most dissatisfied with this makeshift arrangement, in spite of herself imparting additional coaching at home. Ultimately, it was decided that I would be sent to Nabinagar, the home of our grandparents where adequate schooling facilities did exist.

Before proceeding to Nabinagar, let me dwell on my childhood relationship with the railway line. The trains along this route used to move at such a slow speed that we could jump on the footboard, travel till the end of the colony and beyond and then jump off. This practice continued for quite some time. It provided a great thrill to us but we did not realize the seriousness of such a misadventure till one day one of the boys fell down and injured himself seriously. This not only gave away our mischief, but also earned us a severe reprimand at home, may be for the first time. One of our distant relations was posted at Mariani railway junction as a Section Engineer in charge of railway safety, which included regular inspection of tracks, culverts, bridges and signal equipment. The designation of his supervisor was Permanent WayInspector (PWI as was known then) who used to travel in a push-trolley with two or three gang men and tools including a standard template for measuring the gauge between the rails. Sometimes, he used to drop in at our place for a cup of tea while the gang men would check and repair the track in front of our colony. What was exciting to my young mind was the way the gang men pushed the trolley running bare foot over the single rail on either side, eachone by turn and then jump back on to the trolley on gaining sufficient momentum. This was quite a balancing act which amazedus. All the while, the supervisor would sit on the trolley looking for points on the track needing attention. Once the trolley sloweddown, the gang men jumped off and repeated the same drill in acyclic operation. Sometimes the supervisor gave us joy rides. Slowly we understood the timing of such an inspection. It was either of ashort duration before a scheduled train to pass or for a longer duration needing more time for track maintenance, which wasmostly the time gap between the passing of two major trains. Inany case, normally there were two passenger trains, one in the morning and another one in the evening in addition to a goods train at midnight.
One day during one such long time gap, when the supervisor was enjoying a cup of tea in our place and the gang men were taking it easy relaxing on the wayside, four of us boys took charge of the trolley and started following their drill which we someticulously had observed for quite sometime. After initialdifficulty, though one or two of us could not balance and fell off the track, we did master the drill rather easily, may be because of our agile bodies and determination. The trolley picked up speed. We took turns in continuing with the drill and started enjoying the ride. As luck would have it, while approaching an unmannedlevel crossing, we realized that we did not know how to make use of the brake. The speed of the trolley could not be controlled and our magic vehicle dashed against a cyclist, damaging his cycle and injuring him. We panicked as we were also thrown all over. The trolley ultimately stopped owing to the impact of the collision. But this was not the end of our trouble. The supervisor and his gang men were totally taken by surprise at this misadventure. I do not recollect how they reached the level crossing so soon. They cursed us, picked up the cyclist, the damaged cycle or whatever was left of it on the trolley and disappeared in haste. Initially, wewere baffled by the supervisor’s action leaving the site in such a great haste. But slowly we fathomed that he must have realized the gravity of his guilt in neglecting his duty. Because, in those days ofthe Raj, for such a lapse, he and his gang would have to pay a very heavy price, which might even be an unceremonious dismissal from service. Obviously, he had to have a cover up plan placed inposition at the earliest. My father got to know of the whole episode in the evening and for the first time or probably the last, I received a grand thrashing. My mother ignored me for a few days. The supervisor never returned for tea ever again.

After about two years’ stay at Nabinagar, in the early forties, I visited my parents with my grandfather, Narendra. There was an addition in the family. Nandita our little sister was already moving around with faltering steps. I was struck by the suddenness of her arrival. When asked about the mode of her arrival, some one told me that she did so through the aerial of the radio set. Those days, even having a rickety second-hand radio was a status symbol andwe were one of the very few who had such a privilege. My grandpa was very well built and strong, even in old age. He used to carry me on his shoulders, have long walks along the racecourse of the Gymkhana Club, a couple of miles away from our house and tell me many stories. The premises of the Gymkhana Club Complex otherwise was out of bounds for Indians and dogs. On more than one occasion, he told me why they named me ‘Manabendra’. It was named after a great intellectual of the time and he hoped that one day I would also be great. At that time, I did not understand what he implied by most of his utterances. But one point was clear even then that he was motivating me to achieve in due coursesome thing great about which I had only a vague idea. I used to look forward to those forays in the racecourse, as he was very affectionate towards me and amused me with most of his stories.
I noticed that there were signs of definite changes in the garden. More trains were shuttling up and down at any odd hour. There were movements of troops, whites, blacks and Indians. The whites were reserved; Indians indifferent and the blacks were very jovial and always smiling and singing. The soldiers threw lots of chocolates and tinned stuff from the train. There was a scramble amongst workers and their children to pick these up. Our parents prohibited us from picking up any of the stuff, as this was not dignified, though we were often tempted to do so. A major part ofthe tea estate was handed over to the military and a field hospital designed in local specifications was under construction. There were whispers of a war brewing right at our door. It was rumoured that the management of the company was secretly building small airstrips in remote tea gardens for easy exit at first for their families and later for themselves as and when the situation demanded.

One evening, we saw small planes flying over our head with ahumming noise resembling that of bees. That was the first time we saw a plane. In no time, the over-flights of these planes became a regular feature. An aerodrome was being built a few miles away from Jorehaut. The cost of consumables rose as we realized fromour mother’s frustrations. There was restlessness everywhere. It was not the same peaceful environment of the estate any more. It was quite depressing. Some made lots of money by undertaking construction of the army projects and supply of materials to the military and became super-rich overnight. Our father, though some of his subordinates resigned and in the process moved forward orupward, remained where he was. The management wanted him to stay on in the company in those troubled days.
Frequent accidents between the trains and military vehicles became a common feature, particularly at the unmanned level crossings. Gradually, the familiar civilian locomotive drivers were replaced by men in uniform. They were transferred to less sensitive sectors. We lost interest in the trains, though my respect for the locomotive driver did not diminish. I always thought that the most challenging job a man could take on was driving a huge locomotive, only a brave-heart could manage. He was my role model at that time and my ambition was to become one such hero, on growing up.
It appeared that during my absence from the estate the trolleys also had spectacular upgradation. From push trolley to a geared one, with tremendous mechanical advantage leveraged by swinging handles, which did not quite require the gang men to run anymore along the tracks, was a real enhancement. The next advancement for the trolley was a motorized version with a petrol engine. This was a rather quick evolution for the trolley. But the real surprise of all was one day when we saw an army jeep speedily running along the track. Its pneumatic tyres were replaced by railway wheels matching the gauge of the track.

န Little Man From The East : Foreword

By Udayan Namboodiri

Major General Manabendra Paul was referred to me by a common friend, Dr. Purabi Roy, a doughty Kolkata-based academician we both take pride in knowing. As he lives in Bangalore and I in Delhi, it was therefore quite a few weeks before we could meet. That happened at the tea room of the India International Centre on a winter's afternoon in January 2009. Handing over the manuscript of his first book, he asked if I would write foreword for it. I took it up with a sense of pride. Here was a man who has seen so much of history first hand, fought wars, and indeed participated in the building and protection of modern INDIA, selecting me as an introducer for his first book. Having authored two books myself over the past 14 years, I had come to absorb the varied feelings that come along with recognition. Sometimes it comes in the form of a reference in another scholar's work; often as media acknowledgement. Being approached by another writer, that too a first-timer, to lend your name as if it matters a fat lot, is salutation that I find vaguely quaint.
Little Man From The East is a multi-layered joie de vivre. As the reminiscences of a soldier, it is exceptional. But it's place as a social documents cannot be overstated. Born into a professional family in undivided Bengal in the 1930s, the writer belongs to a generation that has lived through one of the profoundly dramatic ages in world history. He records the travails of India as a young nation as they touched his own life, without forgetting the individuals who made it a vibrant era, especially for himself. It was the age of Gandhi, Netaji and other makers of our evolving nation. On the other hand there was a grandfather who taught him the values of life, an uncle who took part in the freedom struggle and another who, characteristic of uncles of that age, played the role of a friend-philospher-guide in the concrete jungle of Calcutta in which the young student from Shillong found himself lost. The story of Pauls unfolds through a succession of teachers, friends, colleagues, and, of course, those wonderfully charming Army colonels.
In the second half of 1962, Paul found himself posted to the north-east, not the safest place in the world for a soldier as there loomed at the time the twin threats of Naga-Mizo insurgency and Chinese aggression. It was also a time when his mind was doubtless preoccupied with worry for his young wife who was pregnant with his first daughter. What emotions assaulted his mind when facing the awesome challenge can hardly be imagined by somebody of my generation. Yet, his story, when recounted forty-five years later, is self-effacing and full of pride in the fact that he could be part of the 65 Field Company which participated in the operation against the Chinese under the 11th Infantry Brigade. He recounts the supreme sacrifice of a certain Lieutenant Khan. Tragically, the young officer was not declared 'killed in action' till a year after his death. The double-whammy (the result of a non-performing, self-serving, slothful bureaucracy which caused the Chinese debacle in the first place) was the criminal delay in releasing Lt. Khan's final compensation to his bereaved family.
The story of Maj. Gen. Paul's movement through postings is not about an ordinary soldier's career graph, but also the saga of modern India. The Corps of Engineers of that age took tremendous pride in the institutions its officers and men built around the country, and I am certain that military historians of the future would seek out this book to trace the origins of important facilities like the dry docks in Vishakapatnam or the Tenga Valley Project or the numerous roads, training academies and others that figure within. For his involvement with these important projects, Maj. Gen. Paul was awarded the Vishlsht Seva Medal and was com mended three times by all three Service chiefs — a rare honour. Professional recognition continued to pursue him even after retirement when the late Raja Ramanna, along with Dr R.L. Kapur, invited him to join the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.
The scattered reference to historical events that touched his life - Bengal Famine, Partition, Independence movement, corruption, war, etc. - reveal early enough the author's keen sensitivity to the large picture. From page 187 onwards, macro history itself becomes the theme, giving the reader a perspective of history that is so rare to come by in India.
Being a graduate with specialization in History from Presidency College, Kolkata, and a lifelong student of historical non-fiction (about the only acceptable genre for me), I received this sectionwith mixed feelings. Major General Paul manifests a great deal of scholary interest in the history of India and offers a uni-dimensional narrative through an "Awakening" series followed byrandom reflections on the national freedom sttuggle, a phenomenon that doubtless shaped the world view of his generation. That said, I was also left wondering whether it was too uni-dimensional. Yet, as a lifelong campaigner against biased history, I had always felt a big void in the Indian historiography tradition left by state-controlled historians. I always believed thateverybody, whether trained in the craft of the historian or not, has the right to record his interpretation of a common past. To that extent, this book addresses a major need.
Major General Paul's chapter on the 1857 uprising (which he paradoxically titles as both "The Great Sepoy Mutiny" and "The Second Awakening") makes for easy-paced reading as well as somewhat refreshing. His take on 'Netaji' Sub has Chandra Bose is the acknowledgement (significant coming from an Indian Army officer) that the 20th century's most charismatic Indian leader was an instinctive military strategist who successfully raised a new regiment. He quotes Ramchandra Gandhi, the philosopher who was also Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, as conceding that Netaji had shocked the world community for proving India's ability to wage a conventional military war against the British. The combined effect of 'Ahimsa' and conventional battle proved too debilitating for the British Empire and India's freedom followed in the natural course.The 20th Century is often reflected upon as the 'People's Century'. In the United States, Britain, Germany and almost every western country, recording for posterity is a national mission to which everybody contributes equal mite. In my view, that passion for seeking the national identity through micro-macro visitations to the past, lies at the source of their economic prosperity. This book left me wistful on the lonesome road that story-tellers have to take in this country. I wish Little Man From The East all success.

[Udayan Namboodiri is the author of St. Xavier's — the Making of a. Calcutta Institution (Penguin Viking, 1995 and Bengal's Night Without End, India First Foundation, 2006). He is also a career journalist, having served in 8 major national media organizations in 18 countries over the past 23 years. He is now heading his own Environment Movement while also serving The Pioneer and National Council of Applied Economic Research in consultative capacities. He lives in New Delhi with his wife and two children]

န Little Man From The East : Acknowledgement


No Book can wholly be the effort of one person. Invariably, put their efforts behind the author in giving it a shape. Once I decided that I should write the book, I almost announced it, excitedly from the roof top to my family members and close friends that I was indeed going to write a book. Though, I was more than adequately self-motivated, the announcement had a hidden agenda. Since then, as expected, whenever I met any of them, the first question they would pose to me invariably was on the progress of the book. They became my prime-movers which prompted me to maintain a reasonable drive on the progress of the book. But for their keen interest, I would have probably taken longer in completing this self-designated assignment...

န Little Man From The East : Preface


The last hundred years in our country's history have indeed been momentous. This has been a century where the human spirit has suffered, endured, excelled and exulted through events that have shaped the modern consciousness and crafted our nation as we see today. The legacy of the past century is a precious one that we bequeath to our next generation. Though in many ways it is a legacy that also contains within seeds of future tragedies if the lessons are not understood in their proper context.
I have been privileged to witness first hand many of the events "it shaped modern India. By virtue of the time and place of my birth and as well as the choice of my profession of a soldier engineer, I have myself lived and worked through remarkable times indeed. Mine was the time of war and peace, of pain and anguish, of hope and glory, of servitude and freedom, of statesmen who strode the centre stage and great men who lived and died as he-roes. In my own way, I have played my part faithfully in the great drama of modern India, just as many other countless citizens over generations. In some ways, therefore, my story is also the story of our country's progress in the century that has just passed and beyond.
Without being extravagant, I feel my story linked with relevant events and viewed transparently will inspire the younger generations who may not be that privileged to experience the kind of past we went through. This is bound to make them realize that hardship, single-minded dedication and love of our country will surely empower you to realize your dream. For, every person must have a dream, however difficult the realization may appear to be. In fact, I did make attempts to focus my experience of a lifetime and of a period the like of which may never reappear again for our children and grandchildren.
It is important that this story is recorded, in as many variations and perspectives as possible. It is important not just from the view of chronicling the past, but also because it is critical to leave as authentic a record as possible for our coming generations. The lessons of history need to be learnt and learnt well - lest our progeny are condemned to repeat it - and therein lie the true value of books such as this. My own passage through time is by itself a narrative in the recording of subaltern reality of many tumultuous decades. And the value of personal observations on the seminal events of the past in the fact that these record perspectives which may run contrary to many established "official" accounts and court histories. We owe it to our children to give them as complete and accurate an account as possible of the process in shaping the nation that we leave behind and this book, I suppose, will contribute to this effort in its own way.
I have enjoyed writing this book immensely. I have enjoyed it not just because it reflects a time that I have lived through myself, but also because it acquired a lively piquancy of its own that has challenged many of my own views and perspectives. It has also forced me to re-examine the past in a fresh light by re-visiting history selectively. This is the quality, I believe, which should probably be the single most important contribution of the book.

န Contents Of Little Man From The East

Part – I The March Ahead

နForeword နPreface နAcknowledgements
န1. Parents and My Early Life န2. To Nabinagar: Our Home in Undivided Bengal

န3. Almost Three Years Stay at Sylhet, Assam န4. Referendum in Sylhet : Prelude to a Mini Partition and Migration to Shillong န5. Schooling in Shillong, Assam န6. A Glimpse into the Second World War: Eastern Sector န7. Experiencing Partition: The Holocaust န8. College Days in Calcutta န9. Life at Jadavpur University န10. The Army Beckons န11. Training in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the College of Military Engineering (CME) န12. My First Officer Commanding and Me န13. My First Exposure to the Punjab န14. Madras Engineer Group and Centre (MEG &C) Bangalore န15. In Nagaland and the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) (Present Arunachal Pradesh) န16. A Stint in an Armoured Formation န17. Tenures with the Indian Navy န18. Tenga Valley Project န19. The Indian Air Force Academy (AFA) န20. With Army Welfare Housing Organization (AWHO) န21. Chief Engineer : Army and Air Force Commands န22. National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore န23. Our Family : A Global Family
Part-II History Revisited
န24. Random Reflections န25. The First Awakening26. The Great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857: The Second Awakening န27. Partition of Bengal (1905-1912) The Third Awakening and a Thunderous One န28 Reflections on the Struggle for Freedom (1913-1931) န29 The New Tide in the Struggle for Freedom (1931-1941) န30. The Cripps Mission : An American Initiative (1942) န31. A Disastrous Period : The Quit India Movement (1942-1943) န32. The Struggle Beyond the Blue Mountains (1943-45) န33. Helplessly Sliding to Partition (1946- 48) န34. Where Did Subhas Chandra Bose Disappear? န35. The Incredible India