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Memories: My Days in Jagiroad

I was familiar with every bit of it. The green mountains, the rainforest, the blue horizon and beautiful Assamese people. It was in the month
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On a stormy rainy day in Kolkata, I remembered my days in Jagiroad. Jagiroad is in the Morigaon district of Assam nearly fifty five kilometers from Guwahati. There’s a small station named Jagiroad on the Guwahati Lumding railway line. I stayed there for nearly a year visiting beautiful places like Panchgram, Halflong, Jatinga, Karimganj. I was familiar with every bit of it. The green mountains, the rainforest, the blue horizon and beautiful Assamese people. It was in the month of February in 1982 when I got an engineering job in Hindustan Paper Corporation’s Jagiroad plant site. After passing my engineering degree I was searching for a job. Most of my friends had already got appointments barring a few of us who were still looking for an opening. Incidentally I got a job in Flakt India Limited and was posted in Jagiroad paper mill site. My employer gave me an Indian Airlines Fokker FK- 302 flight ticket but I refused to accept it as I had severe aerophobia in those days. Instead I took the Kamrup express and reached Guwahati in the wee hours of the night.
There was no broad gauge line from Bongaigaon. At night when I reached Bongaigaon, a meter gauge train was stationed on the next platform. I boarded the train. It was a 156 km journey and travel time was nearly five hours. Guwahati station at midnight was very busy with passengers waiting for trains to different destinations like Dibrugarh, Shilchar, Tinsukia, Karimganj, Halflong, and even Lumding. I boarded the Barak Valley Express and reached Jagiroad after one and half hours. At that time it was a small meter gauge railway station and very few trains ply on that line. The paper mill is two km from the station. I got an auto rickshaw to the Paper mill township. It was a small township built for the employees of Kolkata based companies. DCPL, Stewarts & Lloyds, Jessop, BE Pump, Flakt India, Paharpur Cooling Tower are the main companies apart from BHEL. The township was surrounded by majestic hills with dense forests. The caretaker told me elephants frequently come in groups in the township apart from cheetahs and bears. There was a small market with a grocery shop, one medicine shop, two garment shops and a stationary shop apart from a tiny bazaar.

The nostalgic Silchar Guwahati express meter gauge line

I reported to the chief divisional engineer who accompanied me to the factory erection site. I was surprised to see the progress of the work. The site was very close to the mountain. But there was no activity at the site. Assamese workers demanded a wage hike. I requested them to start working and in the meantime I shall look into the matter sincerely. They resumed work. It is the first professional success in my life. Meanwhile I sent a telegram message to my head office stating the facts. Two days later the General Manager sent me a telegram agreeing to increase 20% of their wage. Work was in full swing when the management sent an executive engineer, Mr Bakshi, to assist me. Bakshi is a fine humorous man in his late fifties with a lot of experience.
The evenings at Jagiroad were very dull and monotonous. I stood watching speeding long-distance buses on my balcony. Sometimes I heard the roar of diesel engines and saw the meter gauge train passing through the dense forest. There was a sharp bend in the line where the train disappeared but the sound of the engine lingered. Nearby there was a small tea stall that remained open up to 8.30 pm where I had a cup of black tea followed by a cigarette.
After the month ended, Mr Prasenjit Gogai, Cost Controller of the site asked me to go to the Jagiroad HPC paper mill State Bank branch to open an account. My salary will be deposited there. The branch itself was small but there were many people waiting for their turn. Jagiroad is an industrial township and several companies operate their salary accounts at the branch. While waiting, I saw the lush green vegetation outside and a small tribal village very close to the bank. I met the officer in charge Ms Pranati Saikia who sat looking at some documents. I opened an account; my salary of Rs 8500 had been deposited. I withdrew some money and left

Barak river

Spring was pleasant in the Barak valley. The mornings were cool. As the day progressed it turned warmer. Gusty winds from the south blew across the valley, turning the trees bare. Soon afterwards millions of new pale green leaves sprung. Birds, monkeys and squirrels were frequent visitors at my verandah, waiting for their ration of rice, banana, bread and water. Two stray dogs also visited. But they could not alleviate my feeling of loneliness. I finished reading the magazines I had carried from home. One day I received a telegram message that I have to visit additional sites of Halflong , Karimganj and Cachar paper mills.
Assam was then under President’s rule after the state assembly led by then chief minister Anawara Taimur was dissolved. A few days later, I boarded a train towards Haflong. I will never forget my railway journey. The train route traveled through several tunnels and waterfalls. Suddenly the train came to a grinding halt. I got the message that Bodo militants had blown away the track jeopardizing the train service. I took a bus and proceeded to lower Haflong. Shuttle cars were available to reach upper Halflong. I put up at the guest house of a tea garden. The view in front of the guest house was wonderful. There was a green valley surrounded by majestic mountains. The garden manager told me that this is Jatinga valley where thousands of birds mostly the migratory birds flying from Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, Central Asia committed suicide particularly in the month of October and November. 

View of Jatinga valley from the tea estate guest house

Halflong belongs to the tribal districts of Dima Hasao. After two days of extreme hardship I have the opportunity to visit Jatinga which is only nine kilometers from Halflong. There is also a rail station in Jatinga where passenger trains halt. There are tribal villages surrounding Jatinga. Mr Abdul Samad the garden manager and I waited till evening for the tribal people to light their fire with forestwood. As soon as the birds saw the light of the fire, they fell into it. In some places nets are fitted in trees and birds get caught in nets. Nowadays ornithologists and researchers have found out, the birds get disoriented due to high winds and firelight and fall to their death.

Next day I took the train and went to Silchar which is a busy town in Barak valley and also a big business center in Cachar hill district. Panchgram paper mill was only 39 kilometers from Silchar. I found out, very little work had been done at the site. After convincing the local labourforce, work resumed but at a very slow pace. I was there for two weeks and then returned to Jagiroad. In the afternoon on a cloudy day Pranati called me over the phone to meet her at the SBI Branch. The bank was almost empty. She told me that my company sent an ex-gratia of Rs 2500. I wanted to celebrate the evening with her at a restaurant. Pranati was quite proficient in Bengali as she was from Bengali dominated Silchar. We had a great time together.

The beautiful Haflong valley

How quickly the days passed. Durga Puja was around the corner. Both Mr Bakshi and I applied for leave during the puja. While his leave application was approved, mine was turned down by the management. I was alone in my quarter. There was a small Durga puja organized by the Bengali association in the paper mill colony. I visited the pandal. It was a modest pandal but as I looked at the idol of Durga I had a different joyful sensation. I was feeling unwell from the next day. I came down with a fever and a severe cold and cough. But no doctor was available during the festive season. I was able to contact my caretaker who lived nearby. He called the mill’s medical officer Dr Vrigu Gogai. The mill RMO came to see me and told me that I was suffering from pneumonia. He arranged to send medicines including some antibiotics. Pranati came to meet me in a festive dress but was quite upset to see my condition. She visited a few times while I was sick. After suffering for three weeks I got rid of the fever. I called the caretaker and arranged to send my resignation letter through telegram from the mill post office. I received a reply within two days. The management accepted my resignation and asked me to collect my dues from the head office at Kolkata. I informed my divisional manager. He issued my release with a certificate of appreciation. I packed my bags, gave some money to my caretaker and was ready to depart for Guwahati. Pranati visited in the afternoon. She asked me what happened. I told her that I had tendered my resignation. Will you ever come back? She asked. I didn’t have an answer. I saw tears in her eyes. Soon I boarded a train for Bongaigaon.

All images used in this article are by the author.

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