Dick Scott

  March 2012

This page is dedicated to the writings and stories of Dick Scott
please click on the name of the story to read

Road Skills

Flywheel Recovery

The Borsakoli Tusker

John Vauqulin

An Eventful Evening

Magic Fate or Sheer Coincidence

Diced Mixed Vegetables

To Have Found That Which Was Lost





January 7 2013



Roy Church's observations on "Transport in Assam" in the 1950s and 60s brought backmemories of some of the users that we encountered on Assam's roads when we were both only recently out of the regular army and working as Assistant Managers on neighbouring tea estates of the Jokai (Assam) Tea Company. He recounts the dangers of travelling those highways both day and night but leaves unmentioned his own remarkable ability to circumvent the hazards so regularly presented by the GMC 6 x 6 timber trucks and other economically loaded leviathans that thundered along those single track roads. I had first-hand experience of all this as I was at the time cadging lifts from him in the absence of my own car. These juggernauts having worked up full speed resembled charging elephants careering inexorably straight ahead unable and usually unwilling to slow or stop and in effect simply going where their huge loads pushed them. Manual brakes proved fairly ineffective despite their being 'stood' upon heavily by large and determined Punjabi or Deshwali drivers and at night these usually 'one eyed' monsters kept one alert if nothing else.


Roy had recently acquired his car, a green Fiat under the company car scheme which alleviated very considerably our transportation problems enabling us to visit each other and reach rivers and more distant friends without having to beg for the use of the manager's jeep and driver. Roy was a competent and resolute driver imbued with a single minded determination to successfully achieve his destination and a good understanding of the vicissitudes of the local roads; always a distinct advantage in Assam. I recall a particular instance soon after getting his car when we had arranged to meet our 'tax consultant' Sri Banshi Bagaria whose office was on the Mancotta Road out of Dibrugarh. The secondary purpose of our trip was for Roy to show me in the centre of town the premises of a dealer in general wares Messrs M L Aich, who was the local agent for Bengal Potteries.


I had purchased a good quality dinner service when I arrived in Assam from a retiring superintendent but required a more basic service for day to day use. Roy assured me that a set of Bengal Potteries crockery should adequately serve my purpose. We arrived at the rather dingy and unprepossessing  backstreet e tablishment   of M.L. Aich and were duly shown the crockery available. It was all remarkably solid but in totally unimaginative plain and rather bilious hues of blue, green and yellow with plates and cups not entirely round and cup handles just a little crooked and off centre. I purchased a set in the least  bilious blue.


The pieces of my newly acquired tableware were robust to say the least but decidedly lacking in even the slightest degree of elegance. Indeed the characteristically descriptive military term 'thick as NAAFI tea cups 'defined them well and whilst ably describing the inelegant tea cups used in military canteens (NAAFI), was also frequently used by exasperated instructors to elucidate the ability to assimilate their teachings of the slower members of a training squad. But, the oft maligned NAAFI tea cup was porcelain china against Bengal Potteries crockery ofthe early 1960s!
From Messrs M.L. Aich we headed out of town for the offrce of our rather grandly termed tax consultant. I hasten to explain at this point that our need for such a consultant resulted not from any affluence, quite the contrary in fact as we were both prime examples of the permanently impecunious chota sahib log of the tea industry. We had however just been alerted to the fact that in India expatriates would hence forward be taxed on their 'world income'. This rather grandiose term in respect of both Roy and I, and indeed most of our friends was represented
by our salary in Assam. India was at the time extremely short of
foreign exchange and every obstacle possible was placed in the way of expatriate tea planters endeavouring to remit a percentage of their salary to the UK after extraction of a maximum by way of income tax.

I knew little about tax either in India or the UK as having just completed nine years in the regular army all my tax and similar matters that routinely plagued civilians had been handled by the War Office (as it was then). Roy ratherw isely suggested that we visit Shri Bagaria as he could explain the intricacies of the new law and for a small 'retainer' prepare our annual tax returns and persuadet he Tax Department of our single and limited income thus keepin us well clear of the convoluted tax law and its avaricious administrators.

 We were heading for Bagaria's office with Roy at the wheel and bowling along very nicely when a GMC 6 x 6 'going like the clappers' overloaded with driftwood from the Sessa Nadi approached in the centre of the single track road. The windscreen-less cab of the approaching monster was open and the very large bearded Sikh driver accompanied by two Deswali 'jugalis', could be clearly seen spinning the wheel nonstop left and right to take up the slack  to keep the old truck in the middle of the road. Roy was determined not to be forced to take his new car off the road onto the side which at that point was dry paddy fields considerably lower than the road. Having soldiered in the east I was quite accustomed to slightly unorthodox driving and whilst having the utmost confidence in Roy behind our wheel I was singularly
unimpressed by the unorthodox  lorry that was approaching  us at breakneck  speed.

 Roy's eyes were glued to the road, in particular the small portion of it that we might be afforded to pass the monster careering towards us but we continued to discuss whatever we were discussing as I was anxious to demonstrate the same nonchalance to the situation as Roy. The old GMC, its driver and jugalis (assistants) staring fixedly ahead careered past without reducing speed, perhaps moving over about two feet more by good luck than good judgement and Roy skilfully manoeuwerd us safely past with a minimal reduction in speed and no more than two inches to spare. 'Crazy b----r'!   Quoth Roy as we sped anticlimactically on our way. Such confrontations were regular occurrences on the highways of Assam in those days and the ability to counter and more importantly survive them was a 'knack' that one had to acquire

January 3 2013



Gordon, a friend of those days in Assam always enjoyed a trip up the river but never got around to acquiring an outboard engine of his own. He had a keen interest in firearms and whilst spending enjoyable hours poring over my collection he never in Assam owned a rifle of his own. Gordon sometimes
joined me for days on the Burra Nadi (Big River) at Sessae estate
where he worked was down the valley south of Dibrugarh so he had to make either a very early start or stay overnight as it was a forty mile journey to get to my bungalow at Daisajan or Tippuk. Either way an early exit from the club the night before was strongly recommended but not always possible, as temptation to over indulgence in the electric potions of Mr Carew amongst others could definitely diminish at least temporarily, the enjoyment of an early morning on the river.

 Some-time before coming to Assam Gordon had completed National Service as a 2nd Lieutenant in one of the corps which perhaps explained a number of his eccentricities and he certainly demonstrated the ever enthusiastic never-say-die attitudes often associated with such young gentlemen. It did not take his friends long to realise that he was also more than a  little accident prone and if there was a hole to fall into you could bet that he would fall into it, but being an irrepressible chap he was seldom perturbed by such misfortunes.

 On one memorable occasion he had made the journey to Tippuk on his 350cc Royal Enfield and we spent an enjoyable Saturday evening preparing rods and tackle for the next day. During drinks and dinner we discussed the ballistic wisdom of Sir Gerald Burrard in his excellent book Big Game and Big Game Rifles after which we retired to bed at a respectable hour ready for an early start the next morning. I had run the outboard engine in the tank before he arrived on Saturday afternoon and in that regard all seemed to be well.

 Driving from my bungalow compound the hundred meters or so through the tea early on Sunday morning we turned left on Highway 37, never very busy around Tippuk at the best of times but deserted at that time in the morning. Passing along the road towards Talap station with the railway line immediately to our right we drove past the estate boundary. Just off the road to the left on a small piece of waste land between Tippuk and Talap estates
stood a fairly
well-known local landmark, well-known not because of its size or architecture but for the usually bizane antics of its occupant. It was a tiny concrete 'shrine' hardly to my mind justifying that appellation but shrine it was. It was adjoined by a minute and extraordinarily unclean bamboo hovel which was the dwelling of an equally unsavoury  sadhu (holyman). This evil looking individual tended to be steered well clear of as he was reputed locally to engage  in somewhat unholy nocturnal activities with small boys. Whenever I passed in the course of kamjari (work) I was sure to be regaled with unintelligible but clearly hostile imprecations screamed by the prancing, long haired, ash covered and totally naked mendicant brandishing a small metal trident. We were not to be spared even that early morning and taken aback on this his first encounter I bade Gordon fear not as we were not a specially
selected target as the
crazy sadhu hurled abuse or whatever it was at just about everything that passed including trucks and trains. "Not" commented Gordon rather drily "a credit to the Hindu faith and perhaps lacking some of his marbles!"

We arrived at Saikhowa Ghat by 0700 and in my 'coffin' we headed across the Lohit and through the Dibong 'mukh' which that year was virtually opposite the ghat. Knowing the Dibong very well I didn't need a boatman so with only the two of us aboard we made good time as the early morning mist cleared, the sun assertedi tself and the day warmed up. We were headed for Dutoo Mukh where the inner line reputedly crossed the Dibang where we intended to fish before moving leisurely back downstream in the afternoon 'flogging' Ootmara, Kerim mukh, James's Pool and the Diopani before returning to Saikhowa.

 I caught a couple of small mahseer around Dutoo Mukh after which we enjoyed a leisurely meal of curry and parathas before heading back downstream. We motored and drifted to our next stop Ootmara and having no luck there I started the engine with some uncharacteristic difficulty of which I thought nothing at the time, intending to get out into the mainstream to drift a while before motoring down the rapid into the Kerim pani pool. After next stopping the engine just above the rapid Gordon hooked a good Mahseer and rather than throw out the anchor and impede his playing the fish I took the bamboo pole, standard boat equipment fo the burra-nadi (Big river) to the bow and worked it into the sandy bottom to hold the boat whilst he played and boated the fish. It was a nice ten pound Mahseer and its catching really made his day.

 Fish safely in the boat I unhitched the pole and went to the stern to start the engine whilst he took a moment or two to admire his fish My engine usually started first pull but now failed to do so about 100 yards from the top of the rapid leading into the long deep stretch of water into which flowed the Kerimpani. We were not drifting very fast so as he continued casting I removed the engine cover and recoil mechanism to check the plugs and contact points and tried to start again but to no avail. The engine sounded very dead and the fault distinctly electrical so I decided to remove the flywheel to get a better look at the points and change over the condenser and coils to try and isolate the problem. Meanwhile we drifted closer to the rapid which was neither very fierce nor deep but one did have to keep the bow forward and the boat in the deeper water down the middle.

 As I removed the flywheel nut and bolted the flywheel puller into position I bade the rather un-nadi wise Gordon grab the pole and just keep us pointing in the right direction, the water would do the rest. In order to remove the flywheel the engine needed to be upright but this was rather dangerous entering a rapid as the lower end could well touch bottom and cause us to spin broadside or even worse. I decided I had time to have a try before we entered the shallow rapid and gave the puller a couple of beefy belts with the hammer but the flywheel didn't budge. Meanwhile Gordon ever anxious to help thrust rather too enthusiastically on the pole and we swung round to begin a sternward drift down the rapid with me in the stern and him now upstream in the bow. We were by now close to the rapid but rather exasperated at this inconvenience I gave that puller one last belt and up flew the flywheel, successfull removed but straight over the side into the two foot deep water at the head of the rapid just wide of the main flow. I uttered an extremely basic comment but Gordon shouted "don't worry I can see it;" most reassuring but highly unlikely I thought, everything now happening in a matter of seconds!

 We gathered speed as we entered the 'pull' of the rapid and I lifted the engine to avoid snagging the 'skeg' (bottom end of the gearbox) My enterprising passenger desperately anxious to help was meanwhile shouting that he would hold us in position with the pole from the bow then go over the side and retrieve the flywheel, not in fact a very practical solution! Attempting to emulate my action of moments before to check our headway with the pole in slower water on a sandy bottom was a virtual impossibility in fast rocky water but he drove the pole for all he was worth towards the bottom as we drifted gathering speed. He clung onto it but the flow was too strong and the boat and I drifted away leaving him dangling on the pole the end of which was jammed rather miraculously behind a very large half buried log and two substantial boulders and so remained upright with Gordon hanging from it like a guidon on an aerial.I meanwhiled rifted enginelessd own the rapid into the wide deeps tretch of water into which flowed the Kerimpani.

 Without a flywheel it threatened to be a long drift back to Saikhowab at worse by far would be the loss of face when the story of its loss got out so it would behove us sparing no effort to retrieve the flywheel, as unlikely a possibility as that seemed.I had a cleshi( country) paddle in the boat so using it I drifted out of the rapid and paddled to the shore about fifty yards away. I dashed back up to where he was still valiantly clinging to the bamboo pole suspended now almost in the water but a valiant and effective marker for my sunken flywheel. I waded out to within a yard or so of him knowing that if he let go and floated away I might never be able to relocate that flywheel.

 Trying simultaneously to hang on to the pole and direct my gaze to the flywheel lying in clear water about two and a half feet down, I actually saw it not far from the base of the pole and with eyes fixed on it edged forward ready to duck down and seize it. As I prepared to reach for it there was a yell and a splash as the pole dislodged and he fell in to be carried away. Here goes my flywheel I thought and knew that if I could not grasp it first time I would probably lose it. We were at the head of the rapid and with Gordon's 'departure' the only recognisable marker now was the sizable log behind which he had lodged the pole by a chancein a million.

Rather ungallantly forgetting the now disappearing Gordon I edged my left leg towards the flywheel and bent slowly down intent upon not ruflling the water and obscuring my view of the thing sitting tantalisingly on the bottom. I could hardly believe my luck and carefully reached forward and got my fingers above it. With a final desperate lunge I lost my balance but was able to grab it and clutching it to me followed Gordon down the rapid but in the shallower water at the side. Scrabbling myself to my feet on the stones I found him leaning on the bamboo pole just above my boat. "Did you get the bloody thing?" he called as I emerged reminding myself again that I greatly favoured having a boat between me and any  water whatever the depth and velocity I lifted that wretched flywheel in triumph and he called as I scrambled ashore, "well done Old Boy I really didn't think you'd make it." It was in fact an incredible piece of luck but I never did find out whether he actuallv had seen the thing at the very outset or just thought he had. It mattered not we had it and would at least not arrive back at the ghat without a flywheel to face the inevitable embarrassing questions.

With the coffin secured in shallow water I checked the electrics and found one coil slightly loose.I neither knew nor cared how this had happened but aligned the ends and tightened it. I cleaned and adjusted the contact points and plugs following which with flywheel back in place the engine started first pull and we were away. We still had some time and drifted past the Diopani casting around us just in case a monster mahseer was waiting to be caught. It was not to be today however and we made our way back to the ghat as if nothing had happened mentioning nary a word about our mishap. The moral of this story had to be -never lose your temper with your flywheel in a rapid!

Gordon returned to Sessa after an interesting day on the river with a good fish to show for it and the knowledge that he had been instrumental in this fluky recovery. I had providentially recovered my flywheel almost lost through my own impatience so avoiding massive 'loss of face' had I returned without it. Maybe the mishap had something to do with the unkind things we had said about the cavorting sadhu earlier that morning but looking back on it all I don't suppose anyone would have believed our story; but I can still see Gordon hanging onto that pole in the middle of nowhere in the Ootmara rapid high on the Dibong.


August 16 2012


This is the story of the lone tusker that appeared on the scene to terrorise over a two monthperiod the Muttak villages on the Dangri River behind Daisajan T.E. It is short and violent and illustrates the consequences of interference with the free passage of elephants in an area they had long considered their own.

By 1966 I had been the Assistant Manager at Daisajan for about two years and knew the local villagers very well. I first heard of this elephant from Jewel the Line Chowkidar (residential labour camp Head-man)of No 8 line that housed workers of the Munda and Orang tribes, many of whom were Christians. Line Chowkidars on tea estates were usually older and trusted men, usually of the same tribe as the workers residing in the line and already having some standing within the labour community and held in respect by everyone. They were uniformed and their prime function was to maintain social peace and harmony and each evening inform the workers of their line of the work to which they were allocated the following day. Daily work programmes were handed down from the Assistant Manager (European and Indian) through the Jemadar Babu (Senior Field Supervisor) who was usually a highly experienced A ssamese or Bengali of many years' service.

On this occasion Jewel came to the bungalow one evening to inform me that Siboo a recently retired tractor driver living in No 8 line with his wife and family had told friends about the small patch of rice that he shared with one Ramlall on the banks of the Dangri River being damaged by a wild elephant. As word had come to Jewel second or third hand he asked if he could send Siboo himself to explain everything to me.

I remembered Siboo well from his days as a driver and was also acquainted with the good Ramlall, a very boisterous and intemperate soul who when sober was an amusing and likeable rogue but when under the influence, which was most of the time was utterly useless. I knew that I would get a more coherent and less embellished account of circumstances from Siboo than Ramlall so agreed that Jewel should arrange for him to contact me as soon as possible which is what he did at morning office the next day.

It appeared that Ramlall and Siboo had been taking it in turns overnight to watch their small patch of rice surrounded by dense kuggeree from a small low grass shelter in the middle of the cultivation. It was on Ramlall's watch two days earlier that he was alerted at about 10 pm by suspicious sounds from the kuggeree at the edge of the cultivation. It seems that the elephant did not at first fully emerge but at a distance of about thirty yards Ramlall claims to have clearly seen a huge head and large symmetrical tusks about 'teen hath lambah' (3 hand/ forearlmonsg - 4%feet) but knowing Ramlall his 'teen hath' (18x 3) would depend entirely upon the variety and quantity of lubrication he had most recently imbibed. Fortified I have no doubt from his everpresent supply of 'bati sharap' (illegally distilled raw spirit/moonshine)or similar intoxicant, he hurled abuse at the marauder in his high pitched strident voice as he did at most things that displeased him and the elephant made a short rush towards him. This gallant soul, who was slightly lame in his right leg, promptly withdrew to the other end of the cultivation from whence he continued the abuse. The elephant it seemed considered the noisily retreating Ramlall no threat, stopped and took a mouthful or two of the surrounding rice and then wandered back into the kuggeree. This Siboo informed me was the story as given to him by Ramlall.

That aftemoon after work I accompanied Siboo to the site and all the signs more or less supported what he had told me at the office. We encountered Rarnlall ensconced comfortably in the grass shelter dutifully watching but obviously being consoled by a very grubby bottle of the absolutely lethal and evil smelling bati-sharap rather ingeniously and illicitly distilled in 40 gallon drums by Nepali gentlemen on the jungle edges beyond the villages. Without delay I was treated to a long inebriated and garbled account of happenings in which the hathi (elephant) got bigger and bigger as he the fearless Ramlall drove it off single handed! Siboo edged closer and rather self-consciously assured me that this was not really what happened, worried I think that I might lose patience and return home leaving them to the tender mercies of the elephant, but I needed no telling; I'd encountered Ramlall before!

There was little more I could do at the time but on my way back through the villages I stopped to have a word with some elephant owners who they assured me that they had not encountered any lone tusker. It was nevertheless quite likely that having made a visit to Siboo's paddy it would be back again before very long as there were many other similar coolie rice plots along the river. I could only wait and see.

About five days later I had word from one of those owners whose mahout a day or two earlier had had difficulty in disengaging his female elephant early in the morning from the company of a kub dangor (Ass:very large) wild tusker with kub dangor danth (Ass:very largetusks)A day later I was met at morning office by a group of villagers both Assamese and coolie, including Siboo with the news that the tusker had only that night visited a number of rice plots in the vicinity of their plot. The watching owners had driven it off by making lots of noise but it had simply moved into an adjacent plot almost immediately and continued feeding, only disappearing into the kuggeree around sunrise. I managed to derive from the excited babble that some intrepid watcher had actually fired a 12 bore shotgun, using home-made ball ammunition at the intruder as it departed and scored a lucky but ineffectual hit at the base of the trunk to speed it on its way back to the shelter of the kuggeree. Once again I went to the site and was able to confirm the story from the sign on the ground and the mess of uprooted and trampled dhan (rice)

The best rice land around these villages was owned by the native Assamese and they invariably kept it to themselves. They did however often use ex tea garden workers to help them plant and harvest their rice and do odd jobs around their homes in return for which they would allow them to plant their own rice on small patches of outlying land beyond the main village areas such as that cultivated by Siboo and Ramlall. Most of the land in this locality given out in this way lay beyond the Dangri River and usually had to be cleared from the vast kuggeree beds between the villages and the Dibru Forest Reserve. These scattered patches of paddy served as something of a buffer for the main village rice fields and the wild elephant and buffalo from the forests tended to plunder them first before moving into the village paddy fields.

I continued to receive reports of elephant damage from Siboo and others and it was becoming obvious that a lot of damage was being done. All those affected insisted that it was being doneby one elephant - a big tusker. The coolie cultivators were now being raided on a nightly basis and were pleading that I simply come and kill the marauder. It was not quite as simple as that and I didn't really want to kill it as I was fairly sure that it would move on once the rice had been harvested. A lot of damage had nevertheless already been done and these poor people were getting impatient; I knew that unless I did something they would probably take matters into their own hands in a manner which would almost certainly make things worse. The Assamese villagers had not yet been badly affected and the villagers of Bhutiamkahl and Borsakoli for their part were not showing much interest because the elephant had not penetrated to their rice fields or bothered them - vet!

This state of affairs soon changed and a group of Borsakoli villagers arrived at my office in a state of high excitement to inform me that the tusker had only that morning killed one of their number. If this was indeed true then matters had taken a very serious turn. They blurted out that three villagers had been making their way with a domestic elephant to some nearby bheels on the Ajuka nadi (ajuka river) to empty their fish traps. The Ajuka was in fact the Dangri before it finally entered the Dibru Reserve as the Laica-jan (Laika stream).

The story as it was recounted to me in the office was that one of the three had been walking ahead of the others who were aboard the female elephant. They were following a track that I knew very well to Laica bheel through scattered kuggeree interspersed with some quite large jungle trees about forty minutes from the village beyond Singli Pathar. The man on foot, Sokeswar Moran a middle aged chap was walking quite quickly about twenty yards ahead of the others when he rounded a sharp bend occasioned by a large dead tree. It seems from that point everything happened very quickly. The tusker as that what it turned out to be, trumpeted and Sokeswar shouted in alarm. I was surprised when they told me that their female elephant had given little waming other than for a 'belly rumble' at the tusker's presence ahead and turned away simultaneously. They told me that she needed little urging to backtrack to put some distance between them and the bend and not having reached the bend they didn't see Sokeswar stumble onto the tusker.

I was then treated to a pretty harrowing account of what they did see as they looked back as the tusker appeared round the bend trumpeting madly and taking no notice of them whatsoever but with the unfortunate Sokeswar screaming and impaled on its right tusk. The tusker they told me was trying not very successfully to dislodge him with its trunk and by violently shaking its head and scraping the encumbered tusk against the tree. They told me that their elephant became difficult to control with the trumpeting of the tusker, the screams of Sokeswar and their own shouts as they retreated. Sokeswar's cries they said stopped suddenly but looking back they could hear crashing and thumping beyond the bend accompanied by nasal blowing and angry trumpeting. The female became increasingly agitated and began blowing madly through her trunk, flapping her ears and shaking her head from side to side.

They were obviously very badly shaken by what had happened and needed to tell someone who would listen and as the tusker would probably have to be destroyed they decided to tell me. They explained how everything suddenly went quiet and they heard the tusker crashing offthrough the kuggeree. They were afraid that it might return but they couldn't leave the scene before finding out what had happened to their friend who they could no longer see nor hear their having been carried back along the track by their elephant. Their fear was that the tusker had carried him off. Fearing the very worst for their now ominously silent friend and not wanting to leave their elephant without a driver, one man slid to the ground and moved to the bend and edged cautiously round it at the base of the tree. Sokeswar they said was not only dead but ek-dum tookra hogaya (absolutely in pieces) and hardly recognisable with blood and guts everywhere. In shock and panic they fled the scene returning to the village to spread the news. The Gaon Burra (village headman) agreed that they should call me and instructed rather bravely that only when I arrived should anyone go to the scene. It struck me when I heard this that compliance with that instruction would say much for the authority of the old Gaon Burra as normally such circumstances could be guaranteed to precipitate an hysterical stampede to the site of the attack.

It was imperative that I wasted no time so without further ado returned to the bungalow, collected my rifle and standby kit, bundled the now more subdued messengers in to the jeep and set off. Over the twenty minute journey to the village they added snippets of information but were adamant that the tusker was a new arrival in the area and when we arrived I found the Gaon Burra doing a valiant and surprisingly successfrrl job restraining his people until my arrival.

On arrival I lost no time in explaining to the lamenting and fractious throng that it would be best if I went to the scene first on foot with a guide to check exactly what had happened and to be sure the tusker was not still around. It was perhaps my insistence that it might still be there to 'greet' them if they were to go straight to the scene that persuaded them to wait until I had had a look at things. Not unexpectedly the Gaon Burra insisted on accompanying me with one of the two who had been with Sokeswar. I was not averse to this as once the village throng arrived on the scene doing their own thing there would be chaos, particularly if the tusker still happened to be close by which was in fact pretty unlikely.

We crossed Singli Pathar (singli rice-fields) to the Dangri and were soon on the well beaten track taken earlier by Sokewar and his two friends. With Ananda Moran, the erstwhile passenger on the female elephant guiding us we were soon at the scene and I realised that this was my old track to Laica bheel and an adjacent very entangled swamp area frequented by wild pig, in my opinion the best meat in the jungle.. My rifle was loaded and I was alert to anything that might suggest that the tusker was still in the vicinity having retumed to the scene of the crime. I had told Ananda to warn me when we got to the point to which they had finally retreated on their elephant at the time of the attack. After about thirty minutes of swift but very vigilant walking I realised from the stench that we were getting close. Sure enough Ananda stopped and indicated that this was the spot. I halted the group, and we moved off the track and squatted in the undergrowth to listen, half expecting to hear something that might indicate the presence of the tusker. Not really surprisingly there was nothing; indeed there was rather an eerie silence with none of the familiar miscellany of jungle sounds and this discomfirted me somewhat as it was a beautiful area always full of small jungle life and sounds. The silence was almost as if its denizens understood that something terrible had occurred.

After listening intently for about two minutes Ananda indicated the tall dead tree on the left at the sharp bend some distance ahead. I could see that the Gaon Burra and he were itching to get to the scene almost as if there might be some remote chance of the unfortunate Sokeswar somehow still being alive. I bade them stay where they were and went forward alone. The silence was deafening and I was uneasy and didn't like it at all and approached the bend with caution certain that the tusker would not be around but jungle wise enough to know that with wild animals one could never be certain. I was alert to the slightest strange sound although it was extremely unlikely the tusker had returned or was even in the immediate vicinity. Steeling myself for a shock I listened and then eased myself around the base of the tree to be confronted bv a truly gruesome scene.

An area of about ten square yards astride the track was a mass of crushed and trampled undergrowth spattered with blood and nasty blue human entrails with bits of body scattered everywhere. Sokeswar was indeed tookra hogaya and only recognisable because I knew it was

Sokeswar. There was a broken head, remnants of a tom and flattened torso tangled in a bloodsoaked dhoti and everything was now a heaving mass of huge black blow flies. The rank smell of death and rotting flesh and blood pervaded the scene in the late morning heat as my gaze shifted to the tree which caused the bend in the track. It stood amongst some kuggeree stems and tree fem and from some reasonably fresh droppings and crushed vegetation it seemed that the tusker had been obscured from view by the tree and the kuggeree behind the bend in the track. The unsuspecting Sokeswar had literally walked onto it and a flick of the huge head would have been all that was needed to impale him. There was blood and gore on the tree substantiating the claim that the tusker had tried to use it to dislodge the body from its tusk. Having failed to do so using the tree, the enraged animal had simply lowered its head with the body skewered on the tusk and removed it by standing on it and pulling it apart. The mess around me suggested that having successfully removed it he then vindictively stomped and kneed it to a bloody pulp before making off into the kuggeree.

I called the Gaon Burra and Ananda to come forward but wamed them of the mess. Ananda was hesitant as he'd been there already but the old Gaon Burra was halted speechlessin his tracks as he took in the macabre scene. There was nothing more any of us could do for the moment so I told them that I would remain nearby whilst the two of them retumed as quickly as possible to the village to do what they had to do. I knew that soon a wailing mass of people would descend on this pathetic and grisly place. As the old Gaon Burra retired around the comer visibly shaken with his nose and mouth covered by a loose end of his dhoti, he told me simply " iyeh hathi nohoi huzoor iyeh shaitan aseh, huzoor maribo lageh!. " (Ass:this is not an elephant, but a devil sir must kill it and you Sir must kill it)

As I waited for the villagers to arrive I pondered just what might provoke an elephant to behave in this way. For an elephant a man was not difficult to kill, in fact it could be achieved without even trying, but to then mash the victim in this vicious and vindictive manner I found difficult to explain. The tusker had almost certainly been chased away from many paddy fields and habitations in its lifetime and as a loner was now perhaps disgruntled at that enforced status. It had reportedly even been slightly wounded by a gunshot very recently. If undergoing the condition of musth (period in male elephant possibly resembling the female season) would certainly be quite capable of behaviour such as this but there was no indication of it being in musth and there was still the question of whether it was even the same elephant as had been troubling the locality recently. It had attacked a man, dismembered and trampled him in the most excessive way. Did it have some grudge or vendetta with mankind having perhaps suffered in the past at the hands of man, or had it simply been surprised by Sokeswar virtually bumping into it? There had been no reports recently of a tusker having actually attacked or killed people in the general area so this appeared to be its first kill. I was at a complete loss but the facts were there to see and the big question was - did we have two tuskers in the area or was the raider of the dhan keti (rice cultivation) the culprit?

Elephants are known to be capable of extremes of behaviour and I have heard of cases in which well-behaved captive elephants both male and female, even in zoos had inexplicably tumed on mahouts and keepers who had tended and shown them kindness for years, unpredictably turning on and killing them in a most brutal manner. This full grown wild tusker was surely unlikely to have had enough contact with mankind to cause it to generate a hate so savage as to skewer, dismember and trample a man to little more than a bloody puree?

Although I never fully trusted any elephant, I could only conclude in this case that the tusker had been dozing in the shade and was taken completely by surprise when Sokeswar suddenly appeared from nowhere and virtually collided with it. At such close proximity and with those great tusks a mere flick of the head would have sufficed to impale him. Then having skewered him the screams and frantic movements coupled with the scent of blood may have alarmed the tusker to such an extent that he became frantic to remove the bloody and noisy impediment from just in front of his face? The dismemberment had almost certainly occured in removing the body from the tusk but I was at a loss to explain why the remains had been savaged to become just a stain on the ground.

I was fairly certain in my own mind that the tusker raiding the dhan khets (rice cultivation) and the perpetrator of this latest gruesome killing must be one and the same animal as it would have been just too great a coincidence for there to be two lone tuskers in the area at the same time, but I had no way at the moment of being sure- There was no doubt about the damage done in the cultivations as I had seen it for myself but I was still bothered that despite the many witnesses I had not actually seen the culprit myself and wanted to be sure somehow that it was one and the same animal. I knew only too well that in the minds of the villagers they had already decided, and if I didn't do something decisive pretty soon they would take matters into their own hands which would include ineffectual pot shots from their ancient and unsafe weapons. The reputedly large tusks would be very valuable and a massive attraction to opportunistic local hunters with heavier weapons, and wounds inflicted by both would certainly inflame the perpetrator further and inevitably result in more attacks.

The noisy mob of villagers eventually arrived swearing immediate and terrible vengeance and I left them to the grisly task of collecting up the pieces of the unfortunate Sokeswar and taking them back to the village. I drove back to my bungalow and then on to the Forest Range Office and reported the incident. The foresters had already heard of the tusker and his earlier raids on the cultivations and they too agreed that following this latest atrocity the villagers would inevitably take matters into their own hands. The Range Officer therefore after considering the latest developments asked me to destroy the tusker under the conditions of my control licence.

This I agreed to do but insisted that I first satisfy myself that the rice raiding tusker was indeed the culprit. I had to do something pretty quickly as the caution I was displaying was simply not understood by the villagers who believed that this animal had already abrogated its right to any traditional feeling of respect and as a killer wanted it dead with a minimum of delay.

The next morning with this in mind I called Siboo and told him to inform the gaon-burra that I would come to the village to meet Sokeswar's widow and in the process I met Ananda and his friend again and rather uncharacteristically their account had not changed. I questioned them again on the appearance of the tusker particularly as to whether they had noticed any sign of musth. I was careful not to infer or suggest anything and pressed them as to how they could be sure that the tusker that had been raiding the dhan khets was the tusker that had killed Sokeswar. When questioning villagers in this way you had to be extremely careful as they would usually tell you what they thought you wanted to hear! On this occasion their reasoning was simple; there could hardly be two big tuskers in the area, and I had to agree that this seemed highly unlikely but needed something more concrete. Then as we discussed the attack Ananda, completely out of the blue announced that we would soon know if they were one and the same animal because when the tusker had appeared round the bend trying to dislodge the body from its tusk he had noticed a still oozing gunshot wound at the base of the trunk. In all the recent excitement I had completely forgotten the random shot by a villager that morning some days earlier in an effort to drive off the raider but that wound was just the evidence that I needed to enable me to recognise the culprit myself.

Retuming to the estate I warned Siboo to inform me should the tusker reappear. The warning was not long is coming as the next moming he arrived at the bungalow whilst I was out in the tea and told Dasso my polish wallah (floor polisher) that Ramlall had sent word that the elephant was already in the kuggeree close to their cultivation and would certainly emerge again that night. Dasso sought me out and passed on the inforrnation.

Immediately after work that evening I headed for their plot with Siboo and Dasso. Ramlall had been on watch since morning and Siboo was to take over from him and stay the night in the little shelter in the middle of the rice patch. We arrived at about 5:30 pm and before he left Ramlall pointed out where he had heard the elephant in the kuggeree earlier in the day. Siboo quickly went round the neighbouring plots in the fast dwindling daylight and warned the watchers that I was with him and should the elephant appear, to waste no time in alerting me. Meanwhile with Dasso I took a quick look round the perimeter to check the signs and listen. We heard absolutely nothing that might indicate that there was an elephant nearby but that I knew meant absolutely nothing as those huge animals could be remarkably silent even in the incredibly dense kuggeree.

It was one of those crisp clear evenings that for me typified the Assam cold weather and was always so enjoyable in the tranquillity of the small patches of rice surounded by the kuggeree beds and only a hundred yards or so from the Dangri River which flowed too slowly at this time of year to make any sound. As night fell we withdrew to the little grass shelter to join Siboo who I cautioned against lighting up the inevitable biri (local cigarette) starting a fire as I was here to kill an elephant that would not stay around long if it got wind of humans close by. The fine evening gradually turned into a bright clear night as we settled, each facing in a different direction straining to catch the first sounds of the intruder.

As we waited my thoughts turned to just how important these small plots of rice must be to the very existence of the coolie people, largely unwelcome outside the tea gardens who were willing to take such risks within the domain of dangerous wild animals to provide extra food for their families. I had no desire simply to kill elephants for the sake of it but these people gave little or no consideration to why wild animals might trouble them from time to time. They did know however that I was about their only salvation under the circumstances and the difference between life and death to members of their usually extensive families to whom the next meal meant just about everything. They didn't know and cared even less about my motives for agreeing to rid them of the attentions of rogue elephants and the like, it just seemed to be something that some of the rather unfathomable 'boga sahibs ' enjoyed doing; so why not take advantage of it.

We heard nothing until about 9 pm when we were alerted by small sounds in the dry kuggeree tangle not far to our front. It could be the elephant moving through the kuggeree towards the cultivation but if it was I marvelled yet again at how silently such a huge animal could move through such a dense tangle. In moving through it myself, even excruciatingly slowly, I found it impossible to move really quietly and always fancied myself to be making far too much noise. The odd little sounds that we heard were probably kuggeree stems or small branches brushing the elephant's sides as he moved slowly towards the kuggeree edge; he was unlikely to be feeding in that dry dusty tangle given the imminence of succulent grazing in the rice plot. The huge plate-like feet of an elephant were remarkably silent even when moving in dry kuggeree as when its body weight bore down on them they swelled out. This was due to a gelatinous material beneath the intricately laid bones of the lower feet that acted as a cushion, squeezing into the ground even the driest stem or twig and deadening any sound. As we sat listening intently I contemplated the many accounts I had read of these huge feet being used by the rulers of ancient India as instruments of execution of enemies and subjects who displeased them. It also brought back the gory scene on that nearby track where the feet, tusks and trunk of this very elephant had so efficiently dismembered and blotted out the life of Sokeswar Moran.

We had all heard the sounds and our attention was focussed on them to our front but after about ten minutes Dasso gave a low hiss to attract my attention as he pointed using pouted lips towards the kuggeree to my right. I followed his pointer and saw nothing at first, but then a small movement focussed my gaze and there was the massive head peering from the tangle as if sizing up the situation. Again I marvelled at how this huge beast had got to this point through that brittle dry kuggeree entanglement virtually without a sound.

What was important now was to try and identify the wound at the base of the trunk that had in fact been mentioned just after its infliction, but overridden by subsequent  tragic happenings until opportunely reminded by Ananda the previous day. This was not immediately possible at this distance despite the bright moonlit conditions. The tension now began to mount palpably as we willed the animal to move. The great head however remained unmoving amidst the kuggeree stems but I knew if he was intent upon feeding in the rice then he would emerge in his own time and we must do nothing to alarm him. Come what may I wanted the elephant completely out of the kuggeree so that I could clearly identify that wound so as to be sure that the right elephant was about to die.

Suddenly he moved, only perhaps two paces but absolutely silently and the entire head and tusks now became clearly visible. He was indeed large and fully grown but those tusks were all of five feet outside the lip meaning that there was still another fifteen or eighteen inches inside. This was considerably more than the "teen hath" (three hands/elbow to finger tip)l aimed by others; but in village Assam inference of time or size invariably lay in the pronunciation of the adjective 'very' - 'bahut lamba ' (very long),bahuut lamba,(very,verylong)  and bahuuuut lamba'(very,very ,verylong) etc.

He moved a further two or three paces closer and swung slightly to his right towards a small area of un-trampled rice and began uprooting clumps of it with his trunk and knocking it against his foreleg to remove adhering soil before swinging it under his head and into his mouth. He seemed unaware of our presence but Siboo was beginning to get excited making signs that I should fire before the elephant made off. With as angry a glare as I could manage I told him in an emphatic but subdued whisper to "baitho chup, chapl "(sit still and be quiet)

I anxiously waited for the great head to turn towards me as he moved deeper into the rice, feeding as he went and now about thirty yards from our position. Despite my warning Siboo became more excited and wriggling the yard or so between us to whisper too loudly "mero sahib ki hathi bhagega" (fire sir or the elephant will run away).I t was Siboo's none too quiet whisper that alerted the tusker and it turned towards the sound and in doing so now faced us; that head, chest and tusks appeared massive in the moonlight, but that all important wound at the base of the trunk, still leaking, was now quite clear. It was him!!

He could either now take off in alarm or advance upon us and I did not intend to miss this opportunity so signalling Dasso and Siboo to sit tight I stooped out of the shelter and stood up, cocked both barrels and with butt in shoulder moved three quick paces towards him. His ears flapped once as he swung to fully face me and blew mightily through his trunk and took a menacing step forward. He was absolutely head on and I was now clear in my own mind that the raider of the rice plots and the killer of Sokeswar were one and the same and now stood before me. Our positions proffered the frontal shot that I wanted and now face to face at twenty paces I sighted on the prominent bump between the eyes and squeezed the trigger sending on its way the heavy solid in the right hand barrel. The detonation was deafening in the tranquillity of the late evening as he was slammed back on his haunches by the impact and rolled lifeless onto his right side.

The shot would have been heard for miles in the stillness of the night and the first people to arrive on the scene were the coolie farmers guarding their adjacent rice plots. Ramlall, who was supposed to be off duty and at home was one of the first to arrive cavorting like a dervish on his lame leg and cackling with insane laughter and I suspected not a little pagla (drunk). A few Assamese villagers followed soon after to view and curse the killer of Sokeswar.

The following morning I brought the Forest Range Officer to the scene to measure the feet and tusks for recording on my licence. The calculation using the circumference of a forefoot indicated a height at the shoulder of ten feet three inches. It was those huge forefeet and tusks that had so brutally dismembered Sokeswar and only two days after the killing we had no difficulty in finding traces of dried blood close to the lip of the right tusk.

Not unexpectedly as I arrived with the Forest Officer that morning the younger people of the villages began arriving to view the killer of their neighbour Sokeswar. This was something of a ritual when some marauding wild animal that had killed near a village was itself killed. Everyone wanted to be seen to be in at the death! There was for me despite the circumstances an element of sadness in all this as it was a very big life to end in this way.

There were many elephants in the Dibru Reserve between the Ajuka/DangnlLaica stream and the Brahmaputra, and for many years they had roamed free to feed on the abundance of natural food available to them. Gradually the Lohit and Brahmaputra had eroded their habitat to the north and the expanding towns and villages with their accompanying cultivations did the same to the south. Steadfastly following their age old but ever decreasing feeding circuits the elephants often now retumed to find rice, sugar cane and other attractive crops where they had only months before found their natural food in a forest environment. They fed where they found food, whatever the food, and this elephant had paid the sad but perhaps inevitable price for appearing to stand up to the human race and feeding perhaps where it had fed undisturbed for many years.

The villagers shot into the base of the trunk, still oozing when I shot the beast, can be seen below mine on the lump between the eyes. The shotgun wound was not very deep but must have been pretty painful and would have done nothing to improve this elephants view of the human race.

August 7 2012
Herewith a short reminiscence of a real character and close friend from yesteryear. JV was well known to everyone but was particularly good company on the river where he could be guaranteed to keep everyone highly amused with his stories.



The small freshwater turtle of the Assam valley was a familiar sight sunning itself on the  duttoos( driftwooadt) the base of the steep
kuggeree banks of the larger rivers and plopping off
into the water in panic as we motored past en-route for a day's fishing. The females left the water during the cold weather to head up the lower banks of dry sand in which they made a small depression and laid a clutch of soft shelled eggs, covering them and leaving the warmth of the sun and sand to hatch them. These clutches of eggs, and there were hundreds
of them
could be located by following the turtle tracks and digging where they stopped to return to the water.

A close friend of those great days in Assam was John Vauqulin, or JV as he was popularly known. Whilst I was in the Doom-Dooma district he was the senior assistant  on various of his company's estates close by and had also worked on Pengari T.E located to the east miles from nowhere at the end of a very mediocre single track kutcha( unsealed road)  surrounded by dense primary jungle.
    He was amongst other things a good rugby player as I would add were both
Roy Church and Peter Wilson, and the President of the HABs (Harry Arsed Bastards Rugby Club). He was universally popular, short and stocky and as Roy would explain dipping into a rich military repertoire garnered from the barrack square of the depot of Her Majesties Regiment of Foot" built like a brick s--th ouse".

JV was always great company on the river and insisted that the eggs
of the freshwater turtle
made the most delicious omelettes we willingly accepted this believing that he would knowabout such things as much of his childhood had been spent in South Africa where he assured us such delicacies as Ostrich and Crocodile were also consumed  !
      On river trips he could be
seen at a distance making pre-breakfastg forays trotting along the turtle tracks and regularly bobbing down to collect the eggs for his breakfast omelette as we sat savouring our early morning coffee or tea! Visitors from London head offices and other company guests who we were sometimes 'requested' by the Buta-sahib log to take for weekends on the river, and anyone else unfamiliar with J.Vs seemingly aimless early morning antics in the sand surrounding our camps,might be forgiven for assuming that he had perhaps spent a little too long in the sun!! I don't think any of us ever tasted his avowed delicacy and rather preferred to take his word for what he insisted was his favourite breakfast dish!
We are all endowed with our little foibles, likes and dislikes, no less so JV. His pet culinary hate was 'Tej-patta'(Bay leaves) an important ingredient of Indian food if properly used.  It was not the taste to which JV objected but rather to find the odd leaf floating around in a plate of curry that he would otherwise enjoy. I would point out here that these leaves were sparingly used for their flavour and usually left in the finished curry. When cooking for JV in camp it was imperative to remember that irrespective of Indian culinary tradition all 'tej-patta
had to
be extracted once their flavour had been imparted to the dish. To find such a leaf on his plate lurking unobtrusively beneath a succulent piece of chicken or meat could be guaranteed to give rise to a colourful variety of allusions to the culinary capability of the cook.
JV in common w\ith others of our group w\as an accomplished 
raconteur at any time, but his
talents could be greatly enhanced by liberal lubrication w\ith the excellent CarewsX XX rum by the camp fire before dinner. A favourite tale was of a pitch black night in pelting monsoon rain returning late one night to his bungalow  at Pengari
considerablyt he 'worse for wear'
from Digboi Club. Navigating that jungle road at the best of times he assured us was quite testing but on this occasion made more-so by a persistent 'rummy haze' and the oveniding importance of correctly selecting which of the three resultant roads he swore were unravelling before him should be followed.
Picking his way in his Fiat along the rough single track, headlights 
rather dim and windscreen
wipers not working he was hemmed in closely on either side by thick jungle. Peering ahead with some diffrculty through the teeming windscreen he was confronted by what appeared to be an odd dark arch spanning the road that he did not recall and got out to have a closer look.

On emerging rather unsteadily at about twenty five yards range he was struck by the sobering realisation that the unfamiliar'Howrah Bridge-like span' (his own words) in front of him was in fact a very large elephant stationed across the road, head and rump in the jungle. He was plunged into a situation in which he endeavoured to appreciate the situation, albeit in a condition that did not encourage great mental clarity; should he put his foot down and press on regardless through the arch or reverse,even though neither might have been physically feasible under existing circumstances? The former course he reasoned would probably make the elephant quite cross and the latter would almost certainly not be very easy given the effects of rum or rain and darkness and end in his ditching the car on the lonely jungle road.

Providentially it seems that the problem was solved by the elephant
simply ambling off into
the jungle permitting JV to continue on his way. This was always a favourite campfire story which he would seldom finish due to the paroxysms of laughter into which he would inevitably
dissolve as he added entertaining embellishments.




June 20 2012


On a fine cold weather afternoon whilst Garden Assistant on Daisajan Tea estate in the mid-1960s I was in the tea supervising a challan (gango) f women pruning when Mundi the No 4 line chowkidar (watchman/headmsoaung)h t me out with the information that a goat belonging to someone in his line had been killed by a tiger: tea garden labour probably quite sensibly considered all big cats 'tigers'! This unlikely event had it seems happened the night before and the partially eaten goat was lying on the edge of the paddy fields near the line. There had recently been two such kills in the same area so the killer had perhaps developed a taste for No 4 line goats but never bothered to return to finish its meal. The killing of a tea garden goat didn't cause management any distress whatsoever as all lndian goats counted within their extremely diverse diet of anything vegetable, cardboard, waste paper, discarded clothes and other equally improbable delicacies, the strictly forbidden leaves and stems of the tea bushes that we worked so hard to cultivate.

The kill was not far away so I accompanied Mundi to a vantage point from whence I could view the remains of the unfortunate goat. Being only a goat the usual throng of inquisitive spectators had not trampled the area and under normal circumstances there was every chance that the killer might return. I didn't go too close and given the nature of the area wouldn't find any tracks but was fairly sure the perpetrator would be a leopard not a tiger. Tigers didn't stoop to pinching goats from a labour line, but leopards regularly sneaked around habitations at night seizing loose dogs and goats.

On the spur of the moment I told Mundi I would meet him at 7 pm that night in the line which was only a few hundred yards from my bungalow and see if I could spot and kill the leopard should it return. Mundi rather sheepishly, fearing he might be going against my wishes, reminded me that the evening was scheduled for a baiascope (cinema) show. I had forgotten this but fully understood his reticence as these monthly shows arranged for the workers entertainment were an eagerly anticipated occasion and not to be missed by anyone.  

The pruning women overheard Mundi's report and my suggestion that I might deal with the culprit that very night and their immediate response was a questioning "ap marna nai sekega aj rath meh sahib, ap baiascope jaroor deckna hoga? " (you cannot kill it tonight sir,you must definitely see the cinema) Quite so I thought;
 ,the leopard would indeed have to wait as I too didn't want to
miss the show as it was guaranteed as always to be an interesting occasion and it was hookum (standing  order instructions) that all chowkidars (Line headmen/watchmen) including Mundi should be present to keep the peace in case the excitement generated by the film became too much for the audience and bubbled over into disorder. This occasionally happened as the audience always entered, often somewhat physically into the spirit of the film and actively took sides with the on screen factions. The audience that evening could be guaranteed as always to comprise the entire Daisajan labour force with their extended families, local villagers and even workers from neighbouring estates. It was always a great occasion to be thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, and anticipation began to build early in the aftemoon.

When I reversed my decision Mundi with considerable relief agreed whole-heartedly that the leopard should wait its turn and be dealt with later. He suggested that even if it didn't return this time it was bound to kill again sooner or later and there were plenty of stray goats and noisy dogs that would make good bagh khana (tiger food)lt his obviously an allusion to my having recently chastised him rather severely for goats from his line having been found supplementing their diet with the leaves of surrounding tea bushes. Obviously, he observed rather dryly, it must be a singularly thoughtless leopard anyway in choosing to kill on the day of the cinema!

Work finished for the day the women made their way home to complete their chores before doing their hair and donning their 'going out' saris. The men also finished their tasks with notable alacrity in order to get home, feed and make ready for the eagerly awaited cinema show and not least the various other distractions on offer on such occasions. I knew that the steady stream of people from the lines and the local villages carrying their seats ranging through cane moftN, small wooden stools, jute sacks and simple wooden benches would soon start in an effort to secure the best viewing positions. I was still in the office at 4.30 finalising kamjari (work) for the next day when small boys from the nearby lines began racing happily past in the direction of puja field (field set a side for religious festivals and other occasions)  with cries of: "cinema gari ata-hai, cinema gari ata-hai" (the cinema truck is coming)
The little girls always
much more restrained would normally only move around with their mothers. I finished what I was doing and hopped onto my bike and dodging the excited scampering kids cycled to the puja-field located on high land overlooking the surrounding pathars (ricefields).

Wheezing its smoking and tenuous way towards the field, differential grinding and giving every impression of the distinct unlikelihood of never making its destination, there was indeed the cinema van, an ancient petrol engined De-soto with a covered back containing the mysterious baiascope (projector)large white screen and other cinematic necessities.I stood marvelling as this relic made its ponderous way along the narrow road to the sound emerging from the cloud of exhaust smoke of the equally decrepit but garrulous driver hurling highly imaginative invective at the cavorting excited children, whilst endeavouring to keep it on the road with about three turns of the steering wheel for every inch of direction on the front wheels. Such was the excitement amongst the increasing gaggle of children that I found myself willing the ancient mechanical monstrosity to complete the last few yards to its destination, which thankfully it finally managed to do.

It was finally manoeuvred into position with much crashing of gears amidst a cacophony of shouted instructions, the doors of the enclosed back facing the open field. Before switching off the engine the driver who also doubled as projectionist, assistant and electrician ordered large rocks to be placed behind all wheels as being brakeless there was a distinct possibility of it rolling down the gentle slope into the paddy fields. Technical preparations by the driver, now thoroughly enjoying his prominence and not short of advisors and assistants proceeded apace. Reasonably sure now that the great occasion could actually take place, I left to take a bath and change into slacks and shirt before returning. I cycled back to the bungalow against the increasing stream of people to calls of "jaldi korega sahib na cinema dekhna nahin milega!" (hurry up Sir or you will not see the cinema) On the way I took the added precaution of instructing the factory bijli mistri (electrician) to attend with the tools of his trade and assorted bits of wire to lend any professional assistance necessary as electrical failure during the show could be guaranteed to create quite a challenging situation.

It was only perhaps five hundred yards from my bungalow past the factory to the puja-field and the road was thronged with excited people heading for the field. They were mainly workers and villagers whom I knew so I decided to walk the short distance back to the field with them. The topic of conversation on everyone's lips was speculation on the film to be shown and who would they see? Would it be Dara Singh a very popular and muscular Sirdarji who was equally entertaining as a goody or a baddy? Johnny Walker was another great favourite or even Helen a much favoured actress of the day. The film might possibly be Sacchi Robin (an Indianised Robin Hood) or a bhakti (religious)film, always guaranteed to be very popular. Speculation was rife and excitement mounted, but whatever film was shown it would in the manner of most Hindi films of the day be very long and inevitably end happily.

The ground rapidly filled and the excitement gradually approached fever pitch. The mithai and channa wallahs (sweet and grain sellers)carrying their trays or setting them on wooden legs lit by their small oil lights did a roaring trade. The vendors of illicit liquor were also doing business with considerable abandon secure in the knowledge that it would take extremely brave or very foolish excise officers to show their faces on such an occasion! As the prescribed start time drew closer so the shouts of humlog thiari hogia, cinema chaloo lar"(we're ready start the cinema)became more animated.

As soon as the rectangle of light and reel numbers scrolled across the screen and the first images appeared the hub-hub died down as if by magic and all were rapt attention. Being unable to read a majority of the audience depended on seeing the scenery and characters to know what they were about to see. Everyone soon became completely engrossed in the on screen happenings with regular suggestions and advice being shouted at the characters and muted commentaries carried on within groups as to what was happening and what was going to happen. On screen confrontations between goodies and baddies would give rise to shouts of "maro salah, tik se maar " (beat  the- ---- beat him well).In an atmosphere so charged, woe betide the projectionist incompetent or rash enough to interrupt the vibrant excited anticipation by permitting a break, even to change reels as he would be subjected to the most frightful derision and lurid threats from all present.

On this occasion midway through the religious film in which the antics of gods and goddesses held the rapt attention of everyone, Gonesh a factory chowkidar emerged from a nearby plucking path through the tea quietly asking those on the shadowy periphery where he could find the Scott sahib. Though merely doing his job the poor fellow was immediately soundly berated for this disturbing behaviour with such sarcastic retorts as"Scott-sahib Bilath meh gia, aur kya?" (Scott-sahib has gone to Englands" so what) and "Hey! Tum ki hulla karta-hait"  (hey what's all the noise about) Such sarcastic invitations to "shut-up and go-away" soon guided me to him as I feared the beginnings of a disturbance and he whispered urgently to me that there were tea thieves in the factory. Attempts at theft from tea factories were not uncommon but seldom were the thieves ever caught red handed.

The vast quantity of tea produced in Assam was a valuable source of revenue to both the State and National governments and so its movement in whatever quantity was strictly controlled and documented. As a result very little good tea could be found for sale on the local market and most of it would be tea stolen from factories sometimes by professional thieves or by workers willing to risk their jobs by concealing it in their clothing as they left the factory. Daisajan could boast having one of the district's most notorious Cha Chor (tea thief) resident just beyond the estate boundary. He was an extremely unpleasant Bihari and went by the name of Sadama Sing and was ably assisted by his brother Bakshi and a group of equally villainous friends.

His tea stealing was particularly irking as we were well aware of his activities, invariably nocturnal but could never catch him in the act; but here perhaps was our chance! Hoping to capitalise on the scarcity of people moving around due to the cinema and the likely reduced diligence even absence of night watchmen for the same reason, Sadama and his minions had surreptitiously entered the factory. Gonesh and his four fellow watchmen had been gossiping in one of the leaf houses near the gate when Gonesh had gone off on a periodic skulk in the shadows of the factory walls to see that all was well. He had caught sight of someone scrambling into the fan duct of the sorting room wind tunnel at the rear of the factory and having warned his friends to stay where they were he set out to find me.

I told Gonesh to accompany me and we doubled along well concealed plucking paths through the tea to my bungalow to change my light coloured shirt and collect my shotgun. This took no time at all after which we headed for the factory fence where in the shadows behind the leaf sheds Gonesh knew there to be slightly buckled lower portion that did not meet the ground. We squeezed under and with the sounds of the cinema masking any sound we contacted the other watchmen telling them to stay put and made for the shadows under the walls of rolling room. It seems Sadama and two others had parked their ancient Landrover in the tea some distance from the factory in anticipation of making a good haul and entered the compound, perhaps using a similar mode of entry to our own.

When we arrived two of the thieves, Sadama and another were outside with two hessian sacks of tea struggling to extract another with someone obviously still inside, probably Bakshi. Sadama had narrowly eluded us many times and I badly wanted to catch him and if we acted now we would surely have him. Bakshi would be trapped inside as it would be difficult to extract himself quickly through the fan duct. The thieves were shirtless with dhotis wrapped as loin cloths for ease of movement confident that with the cinema in full swing they would not be detected. Gonesh and I crept round the factory walls in the shadows to within about fifteen yards of the end of the wind tunnel. I knew the remaining four watchmen would come running so he switched on his torch and I fired a shot in the air. Abject panic ensued and abandoning the bags of tea the two thieves made a bee-line for the fence about forty yards away gallantly deserting their friend and brother still inside the chamber of the wind tunnel.

Simultaneously the remaining watchmen armed with their torches and steel tipped lathis (canes) rushed to our assistance.Both thieves were frantically attempting to clamber up the chain link fence topped with inclined barbed wire to the watchmen's cries of "mero sahib bandook se maro, wolog jane nohin dega !" (shoot sir shoot  with the gun don't let them go).This of course sadly I could not do but I loosed offanother shot into the air just for good measure by which time Gonesh and the other watchmen were raining blows unrestrainedly onto and dragging the now semi naked and struggling ,sadama and friend off the fence. Their dhotis although previously tightly wound for ease of movement as loin cloths were now well hooked up and unravelling on the barbed wire. We were soon joined by the duty engine attendant andhis jugali (assistant) alerted by the shots and determined not to miss the fun.

Together the watchmen and engine attendants, well acquainted with Sadama's thieving activities were all set to take firll advantage and as he with accomplice were forced to lay face down hands behind heads coconut rope miraculously appeared and they were well trussed up. The watchmen now waited in eager anticipation that I would now permit administration of a sound thrashing and were extremely put out when I refused. Leaving two of them to guard the captives with the instruction to beat them if they as much as moved, we tumed our attention to the wretched Bakshi deserted by his friends and cowering inside the dust collection chamber of the wind tunnel, unable to extricate himself as his escape route was blocked by the third bag of stolen tea jammed in the opening. We removed the jammed sack and I thrust the shotgun barrel through the vent and ordered him to get out. As he did so with perhaps a little too much alacrity he was treated to a couple of hearty cracks across the shoulders from the lathis of the watchmen just for good measure. Suitably deflated he was duly trussed alongside his brother.

The manager was away for the evening using his car so I sent for his jeep and using the estate mechanic grudgingly extracted from the cinema audience as driver, bundled in the now totally immobilised thieves and their booty and sent them escorted by four chowkidars (watchmen) and a member of the factory staff to the local police station. Having been caught in the act in the presence of witnesses detailed investigation would almost certainly be deemed unnecessary. Following the physical persuasion that was usually the initial stage of the police investigative technique and to avoid the expense and long drawn out inconvenience of a court case they could expect to spend two or three hungry, painfirl and possibly expensive days as the guests of the local police who were not in those days renowned for minute attention to human rights! The loot, mainly tea dust and fibre winnowed from good tea in the wind tunnel but still drinkable would doubtless be retained as 'evidence', gradually dwindling in quantity as it provided cups of tea for policemen for some time to come well away from the attention of the excise inspector.

I returned to my bungalow as the cinema ended and the happy crowd began wending its way homeward, the topic of conversation now diversified to include the film and the capture of Sadama and friends. Sitting on the veranda overlooking the road and its happy throng, partaking of a recuperative peg of Mr Carew's excellent rum the crowd passed with encouraging shouts of Shabash sahib ap Sadama aur uskn bhai-log tik se pukeraya hai (well done sir, you really caught Sadama and his brothers) and Salah chor uska tolop milgia (bloody thief has received his dues)

I was just finishing my rum and about to head for bed when Paniram my bungalow chowkidar called from the foot of the veranda steps that word had come that the bagh had returned to No 4 line and taken yet another goat and could I come quickly. The leopard, if leopard it was and the same animal was either a dedicated killer or demonstrating a most uncarnivore like fastidious streak having decided to pass up the day old kill and go for some fresh meat! The loss of yet another tea eating goat was no great calamity but there was always the danger having little fear of human habitation, that it might one day grab a child. My shotgun was already to hand so I picked up four LG cartridges from the gun cabinet and hastened through the tea to the line intent upon arriving before the noisy No 4 line faction of the cinema throng. Somnath the No 4 line resident drunkard, probably too drunk to get to the cinema and obviously still severely under the influence and loitering in the line, assured me emphatically but decidedly blearily that the leopard was woh diggeh (over there) behind some nearby houses having grabbed a loose goat which it was probably even now devouring behind an adjacent bamboo clump. I didn't think for one moment that the Leopard would actually still be there even if it had been there in the first place, but nevertheless just in case I carefully approached the bamboo beyond the houses and edged round it to the right. I paused to listen and was surprised to hear an animal tearing at something. Whatever it was leopard or jackal, my shotgun was in my shoulder and loaded as I carefully edged further and the noise of the meal continued. Still not really convinced that it was a leopard I peered round the bamboo and there it was intent upon its meal and although facing towards me certainly wasn't expecting me. It suddenly sensed my presence and reacted like lightening throwing itself back in a low twisting roll to escape, but with shotgun already in my shoulder I fired. It coughed once and fell dead about ten yards from me, struck behind the right shoulder. It was,a young male and not very big which probably accounted for its preference for small goats from No 4 line.

It could never be said that a tea planter's life in those days was dull. That night had been an interesting one with the cinema show that I had been largely unable to watch, the very satisfying capture of a particularly bothersome tea thief and the killing of a troublesome leopard all within a few hours and about five hundred yards of my bungalow.

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June 16 2012


A wild makhna (tuskless male Indian elephant) had been raiding villages and crops on the edges of the Doom Dooma Reserve over a period and three villagers had been killed, one very savagely. I had been in pursuit of it for some weeks but always arrived at the scene of its depredations too late and despite tracking it into the jungle on a number of occasions I couldn't manage to get as close as I wanted before it took off.

During this period I had to replenish the stock of ammunition for my.470 rifle and had just bought twenty five solids and five soft-nose cartridges and had them flown up from Calcutta on the daily Indian Airlines flight to Mohanbari. It was to be many years before Mr Bin Laden and his like appeared on the scene so moving live ammunition by air presented no problem. Just to be on the safe side I always took the precaution of test firing new ammunition before taking it 'on operations' and on this occasion fired two solid and one softnose at an old tin from 15 - 20 yards into the bank in front of my bungalow on the Tippuk stream.

Two days later, early in the morning the young son of a Kakopathar villager who I knew quite well and whose sugar cane plot had earlier been decimated by the makhna, called on me to say that the tusker owned by his father had fought the night before with the wild makhna close to their house. The makhna it seems had sustained a slight injury in the tussle and taken off into the Doom Dooma Reserve. The tusker had earlier been at a camp in the reserve with other village elephants for a number of days and the makhna had persisted in visiting to fight with it so a decision had been taken to take the tusker away and tether it at the village.

I changed into my greens and with my rifle and new ammunition bundled the lad into my jeep and hastened to his family home in Kako. I expected to meet his father there but was told that he would be away on a day's fishing. I was taken to the jungle edge not far from the house where the confrontation had occurred and had no difficulty picking up the trail of the makhna. There was a little blood but he was obviously not badly injured so telling the boy to tell his father what was happening I set off to follow the tracks.

Once inside the jungle I loaded up with a solid in the right hand barrel and a soft-nose in the left although I always ensured that the single solid did the killing; the soft-nose could serve as the coup-de-grace into the heart if necessary. I started tracking at about 0900 by which time the day was beginning to warrn up and the makhna headed away from the village and the Doom Dooma River deep into the reserve. He was moving quite fast but I kept in the back of my mind the old elephant ploy when being pursued of stopping to face back along its tracks to wait in ambush.

This was unspoilt shaded primary jungle with a high canopy and relatively little undergrowth. The leaf covered ground underfoot was quite dry and easy to move on but as always in Assam, infested with leeches. The signs of his passing were not diffrcult to follow and I heard nothing of him until about 1400 when for the first time I heard the sound of a breaking bough up ahead. At this point the overhead canopy thinned to permit penetration of more light and the undergrowth consequently thickened and merged into something of a continuous screen ahead of me. I paused to observe and listen and after a minute or two heard again the unmistakable sound of foliage being displaced. It was almost certainly him browsing but by the sound of it not feeding very seriously, probably just resting and quite possibly facing back towards me, particularly if he had any inkling of my presence- I knew I had to be careful and the sounds served as a waming so I cocked both barrels watched and waited. I could still not see him and it was imperative that I did not allow him to see me. Small give away sounds continued and told me he was not moving but I had to get closer. I scrutinised the green screen ahead and placed my feet with the utmost care and instinct urged me to move in a crouch but such a posture made movement ungainly and potentially noisy so I remained upright but moving one studied step at a time.

Any movement in this kind of close cover
close to a dangerous elephant had to be extremely stealthy but I needed to know exactly where he was without revealing my presence to him in any way. Even though I could detect no air movement to carry my scent, an acute sixth sense or just the slightest hint of an alien scent or sound could well precipitate a charge or yet another hasty retreat.

My preference was always for the frontal shot from 15 - 20 yards from whence I could clearly discern the prominent lump between the eyes the centre of which was my aiming point. ln close jungle it was essential to gain the earliest possible indication of how the elephant was positioned in relation to me, if possible well before getting as close as fifteen yards. This would tell me just how much movement would be necessary to get into the firing position. Needless to say following the concentration and tension of a prolonged and engrossing stalk any careless movement in such close proximity to a wild elephant, particularly one of the evil repute of this beast was singularly ill-advised.

I always preferred any elephant I was after to be stationary when I fired and if possible oblivious to my presence, but achievement of this depended entirely on my own skill.

Sometimes this was not possible and the shot had to be taken as the elephant began to move forward but snap shots were not an option and to my mind if a shot was taken it had to kill.

Edging closer I strained for the glimpse that would tell me how he was positioned and whether I would need to back off and approach from a different angle. He was about 25 - 30 yards ahead of me completely obscured by the screen of merging vegetation but hopefully facing me. I glanced down momentarily to check where to place my next steps when the silence was shattered by a deep hollow hiss as he exhaled noisily through his trunk. This sound usually signified alarm or preceded a charge or rapid departure either of which would necessitate my starting the pursuit all over again. Yet again!!

I watched and waited forcing all conscious thought from my mind and concentrating my senses on the immediate situation. My gaze was concentrated on the screen of undergrowth ahead concealing him from me. Nothing happened for a minute or two until an almost imperceptible movement of leaves about twenty yards ahead focussed my gaze. I had to assume he suspected my presence and butt in shoulder I took two or three very rapid but carefully placed steps, thinking if he comes now I will at least be as close as possible. I stopped as he made another noisy exhalation moving slightly and partially exposing the huge black head about 20 yards away directly in front of me. As always in such close frontal proximity to a wild male elephant it gave the impression of looking straight at me. It must have known I was there but surprisingly continued to stand there quite still.

The bump at the base of the trunk was sufficiently visible and with twenty yards between us I could hardly expect a better sighting. Still puzzled at why he just stood there I raised the muzzle conscious now of that familiar feeling experienced so often in contacts and ambushes in Malaya; a cocktail of apprehension, tingling anticipation and a rising eagemess to make the kill. I controlled my breathing; almost impossible given a pounding heart thumping in my ears, sighted and squeezed the right hand trigger. Anticipating the detonation and satisfuing punch back into my shoulder that would signal the end of my pursuit there was a deafening CLICK! I almost over balanced with the shock, confusion and shattering sense of anticlimax.

I suddenly realised - a misfire, now what?

This should have been the culminating point of my chase with a very dead elephant in front of me, but inexplicably absolutely nothing happened and there was certainly no dead elephant simply adding to my bewilderment. He continued to stand quite still and unable to comprehend my good fortune took a split second to gather my wits. With rifle in my left hand and eyes never leaving what I could see of that monstrous head I lowered the muzzle, opened the breech and extracted the misfire putting it in my right trouser pocket and rapidly replacing it with another solid from the three behind my left breast pocket. Although these movements were quick and almost reflex he surely must have seen me?

I was now sweating profusely as I raised the muzzle, aimed and fired. CLICK again! He still didn't move! This was ridiculous. Could it really be happening? Hands moving again like lightening using the two remaining solids I replaced both the second misfire in the right and the unfired soft-nose in the left barrel. Despite the incongruity of the situation I was thinking clearly enough to put the soft-nose in my left trouser pocket and the misfire into the rightwith the first one. Over these fleeting seconds I kept my eyes glued to him unable to credit his inactivity. He continued to stand stock still, ears pinned back and I could feel my heart thumping fit to burst and my head and whatever was in it pulsating as if about to explode.

This was so unreal that ridiculous doubt began to assail me. Perhaps there was no elephant there at all? Was I seeing things? I aimed again and fired the right hand barrel, leaning well into the shot that must surely kill him and almost overbalancing when all I got was another shattering CLICK and he flapped his ears. I was utterly deflated almost to the point of disorientation. Surely he must have seen and heard me after all this?

But no! I was left now with only the contents of the left barrel; surely he must come now? He didn't and I aimed again and fired. CLICK! This was uncanny and still he made no move.

Each click and his complete lack of reaction added to my confusion and utterly staggered by what was happening I lowered the butt in disbelieving exasperation and in doing so lifted the muzzle a fraction and as I did so the silence was shattered by an explosion. I recoiled instinctively realising that the left barrel had fired with a strange hissing bang! It was a hangfire into nowhere and with no shoulder behind it I had almost dropped the now empty rifle and braced myself for the charge that now must surely come. It didn't! My huge adversary with not the slightest attempt at concealment merely turned purposefully to his right, showing me a very ample grey rump as he disdainfully ambled away as if in the full knowledge that I was in a state of confusion, unarmed and powerless to do anything further.

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of anti-climax almost humiliation and I felt distinctly cheated and angry. I was dripping sweat and trembling with tension my heart pounding at a rate that I'm sure a doctor would have declared impossible. A friendly tree stood a few yards away and fortunately there was no-one there to see me make a bee-line for its support on trembling legs. The sounds of alarm occasioned by the detonation had subsided and all now seemed strangely quiet. Never before had I experienced anything to which I could not affach some sort of explanation, and yet here I was out in the middle of the Doom Dooma Reserve following a situation in which the behaviour of a rogue elephant had been as inexplicable as that of my rifle and ammunition. I was not enjoying the feeling at all and to declare that this added to my frustration would be a gross understatement.

This is all taking time to recount but from my first 'shot' to the makhna's imperiously disdainful departure must have been no more than 45 seconds. After a couple of minutes leaning against that tree I was composed enough to seek explanations. I was still in a state of stunned disbelief, it was not fear but total incomprehension. I opened the breech and removed the misfire from the right barrel. The cap had been well and struck, similarly the hang-fire in the left barrel. Groping in my right trouser pocket I took out the first two misfires and examining them carefully found them well struck. Four shots in all and all I had to show for it was three misfires, a hang-fire and a heart pumping away at about four times the recommended rate! ! Absolutely astonishing!

I was left now with only the unfired soft-nose extracted earlier and no other good ammunition, and preferring not to wander in the jungle with an empty rifle I inserted it into the right hand barrel. Although I would never use a soft-nose as a first shot against an elephant at least having something 'up the spout' that might make a bang was no liffle comfort under the circumstances.

Now comes the silly bit without which this whole tale would mean nothing! After five minutes against that tree I felt better and reckoned I was about five hundred yards south of the Doom Dooma River. I realised that the occupants of the elephant camp on the river would have heard the shot and recognising the report of a heavy rifle deduced that I was the source.

They would also deduce, quite wrongly in the event that the single shot signalled the end of the rogue that had been troubling them. Their sense of direction and familiarity with that area of jungle would doubtless lead them to me before I located them and it was not long before I started to hear loud hails to which I responded. Guided by our calls we met after about 20 minutes and it was indeed the elephant men from the camp in very high spirits on their way to view the dead rogue.

Inevitably the first shouted question even before we had come together was the whereabouts of the dead elephant. My response that there was no dead elephant was greeted with no little disbelief, after all had they not heard the shot? One of the older men questioned what had happened as they had quite definitely heard a shot from a heavy rifle, was it not me? I explained - three misfires and a hang-fire and mora hathi nohoi (no dead elephant).This precipitated an eruption of questions and knowledgeable assertions,kene-kuah hoi (How could it be) the question was bandied back and forth had they not quite clearly heard the shot? They knew me well as an experienced hathi shiluri (elephant hunter) and suspected that something must have gone badly awry. Questions came thick and fast but to me at this point it seemed quite simple and I said so, either my rifle or ammunition had to be faulty although I hated to admit this as I had tested the ammunition only two days earlier. To Assamese villagers this simplistic explanation would never suffice as being both suspicious and superstitious for them nothing happened without a reason and they were not long in seeking that reason. My replies to their barrage of questions underwent noisy analysis and the inevitable question was not long in coming. I was alone, that they could plainly see, so who they asked had performed the jungle puja (yngte offeringto) the forest deities before I set out. From that pointed question I knew exactly what their inevitable conclusion was going to be.

I told them the simple offering had not been made because entering the jungle alone it never occurred to me to do it myself and there had been no one at hand suitably 'qualified' to do it.

I didn't really think they expected me a ghora sahib (white sahib) probably sceptical of such things anyway and a non-Hindu to boot, to perform it. Irrespective of the circumstances, to them everything was now perfectly clear. This omission was obviously the problem and, quite clearly they assured me, it was not the day designated for the elephant or me to die.

Simple! For my part I could offer them no better explanation than a defective rifle or ammunition and this is what I honestly believed but knew better than to question their absolute conviction knowing and respecting their feelings and beliefs in such matters.

Heading back to the camp I had already resolved to test my rifle and those misfires in front of them as this I thought would put their minds at rest. But little did I know! After joining them in a bowl of strong black cha-pani (tea)w ith salt rather than sugar in the manner of the elephant men I made ready to test my rifle and the misfires. They watched sceptically as I removed the butt piece to expose the breech face, placed an eight ailfla (50 naya paisa) over the right firing pin cocked the action and pointed it to the sky. Glancing around, the looks on the faces of those elephant men quite clearly portrayed the question 'what is this mad sahib about to do now?' I pulled the trigger and the coin flew strongly skywards. I did the same with the left barrel with the same result; obviously nothing wrong with the hammers and springs. Careful examination of the firing pin tips also revealed no distortion. My statement to the assembled onlookers that there seemed nothing wrong elicited knowing glances between them and not very well concealed murmurs to the effect of "well, what did he expect?"

Now for the real test - the misfires! This would definitely convince them. I reassembled the rifle under their questioning gaze that clearly implied "now what is he going to try and prove?" I stood on the river bank that marked the edge of the camp ready to fire at an old sardine tin I had asked them to place half way up the opposite bank about twenty five yards away. I loaded both banels with misfired rounds and leaning well into the shot confidently anticipating only a click, aimed and fired. Bang! A perfectly normal detonation resulted as the old tin was punched back into the bank, and to enthusiastic and knowing shouts of maro sahib, dussera guli maro (fire Sir,fire the second cartridge  I fired the second barel with exactly the same result. I was dumbfounded to say the least but not so my watching friends who had just witnessed exactly what they had all along confidently expected. As I turned to face them I felt rather like a schoolboy being coaxed through a not too diffrcult problem. I was urged volubly to fire the remaining rounds and still dumbstruck proceeded to do so with exactly the same result. "There you are what did we tell you?" they chorused with scarcely concealed satisfaction. "Today was not yours or the elephant's day to die!" What could I say? To them what had just happened was under the circumstances quite straight forward, but to me unbelievable. I was totally mystified and had absolutely no explanation. Furthermore having recounted this story many times over the years I still don't have one so I leave whoever may read this to have a go at it!


May 11 2012



British soldiers have from time immemorial been perhaps the world's greatest grumblers.

They will grumble about anything and everything from the lousy food, the Platoon Sergeant,

the Sergeant Major, the obviously biased (against them) duty roster or the manifestly faulty planning of operations which they are required to carry out not plan. This grumbling is a wholly routine and on-going feature of their life and its cessation at any time should serve as  a warning to Senior NCOs and officers that all is not well!

Food, the lack of it or its quality was arguably the subject of most concentrated grumbling and this was particularly the case as my platoon prepared for a three week jungle patrol in the mid-1950s during the Malayan Emergency which was a war in all respects but name. The most inveterate grumblers were the regulars who had of course already made the most basic error of all (in the eyes of all regular soldiers) by volunteering, in those days to serve for 22 years in multiples of three or six years. They were closely followed by the National Servicemen who were there for 2 years because they had no option and grumbled about that in addition to all the other available subjects.

Following the detailed briefing for the operation the platoon would retire to its 6 man tents or bashas where the rations would be distributed by placing on each mans bed 24 hour ration packs sufficient to cover the first 7 days after which resupply by air or helicopter would be effected. The composition of British ration packs could be considered highly imaginative or totally unimaginative depending on how you looked at it.

The rations were mainly in tins and divided into daily breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. If all were packed into the bergens we carried few men would have made it over the first 300 yards, so much was thrown out. Most men kept the'biscuits, chocolate bars, glucose sweets, tea, tubes of Nestles condensed milk, bully beef, baked beans and of course the extremely coarse brown bog paper commonly referred to as'bumf . A much prized lunch ingredient that was usually retained was 'diced mixed vegetables in mayonnaise'. The only problem with this culinary exotic, obviously designed by some gourmet who would never have to hump it for miles through almost impenetrable jungle, was that the mayonnaise was utterly revolting and as un-mayonnaise like as it could possibly be and often described during grumblingsessions as 'flavoured engine oil'.

Having sorted out what they wanted to keep the men would then visit the Char-wallah and purchase rice, curry powder, tins of pilchards, bully beef and the like which were much more portable and appropriate jungle foods in terms of both weight, and belly frlling capacity if not nutritional value. It should be understood that a tasty and filling afternoon meal was imperative and about the only enjoyable experience the 'ulu' (Mal:j ungteh; ad to offer, and naturally its absence would precipitate severe grumbling.

A separate issue was made of water purification tablets a novel military innovation comprising two types of tablet white and blue. The War Office (as it was in those days) firmly believed that the white tablets (Chlorine) would puriry the water and the blue would take away the taste. Our latter day Thomas Atkins' were of the equally firm opinion that the white tablet definitely did something to the water but the blue returned it to its original poisonous condition. All were therefore thrown away and everyone simply resorted to the cornmon expedient of boiling their water.

Insect repellent was also issued but in true army fashion if applied to the skin it had a similar effect to hydrochloric acid and positively attracted any passin g 'mozzies' which inevitably bit you before they were liquefied. It had a similar effect on the ubiquitous leechesimmediately dissolving them into a nasty brown leechy gludge. A major disadvantage was its strong and distinctive odour that if detected by members of the Malayan Races Liberation Army whom we fought, it gave them the best possible indication that British Soldiers were in the vicinity. It too was thrown away and salt in a little water or a cigarette end used instead.

On one memorable occasion having set up my platoon base near a small rocky jungle stream in the Sungei Plus area of Perak state I found three men of one of the sections commanded by a young National Service corporal busily engaged at the water point. They were puncturing tins of diced mixed vegetable and jamming them between the rocks so that the flowing water could pass through washing away the revolting mayonnaise leaving nice fresh mixed vegetables that could then be added to bully beef and curried.

The young corporal a fresh faced respectful and willing farm lad from near Louth, in fact about the same age as me, was sitting on the opposite bank behind a tree guarding his men at their task, just as the book said he or somebody should. I went over to him and whispered (talking in normal voice was not permitted on operations) "what the hell are these blokes doing corporal?" A rather silly question as I could see exactly what they were doing. ..Getting rid of that bloody awful mayonnaise sergeant", he dutifully responded. Doing this with one tin was oK I told him but with 9 tins every bandit within miles would know from the smell and residue on the rocks down-stream that we were around. "sorr;, sarge', he said genuinely contrite "I didn't think of that"! I told him to finish what they had started and then come to my basha as he would be taking out a recce patrol the next day to visit some 'Sakai ladangs, (aborigin Mala lav cultivationisn) the area to see if the CT (communitsetr roristhsa) d been gleaning food from them. He had only been in the army about a year and the Malayan jungle was about as far removed as anything could be from the rural surroundings of Louth in central Lincolnshire.

He duly attended his briefing for the patrol and I pointed out his objectives and routes on his map and he went back to his section to select the three men who would accompany him. He had never done a patrol on his own before and as this was an easy one not taking him too far I didn't allocate an Iban (sarawaD k ayak)tracker to accompany them. I sat in on his patrol briefing which he did absolutely by the book and I was at the perimeter vine to see them off soon after daybreak the next moming.

The patrol was due back by.1400 hrs that day and by 1600 hrs I was getting a little worried.

The young corporal had lots of common sense and could I knew read a map well but beingout there alone in command for the first time could prove a daunting experience. I would point out here that jungle navigation in those days was based on common sense, sense of direction, the excellent military 'compass prismatic GS' and a map (GPSs had not been even thought of). Our maps were usually just a mass of very appropriate green with spidery blue streams, masses of brown rather confusing contours, marked barometric heights and often large white patches of unmapped areas usually in the most inconvenient places. I warned the outlying base sentries to keep their ears open for the missing patrol and by 1730 hrs they had still not returned and it was beginning to get quite dark.

The water point sentry came in to tell me that he could hear movement downstream and ordering the base to stand-to I accompanied him back to his post carrying my Browning pump action shotgun loaded with LG. One had to be extremely careful in the jungle as unexpected contact even with friendly forces by soldiers, always on edge, could result in someone being killed as we knew that he who pulled the trigger first lived longest!

It was getting dark under the heavy canopy of the jungle trees and under such circumstances passwords were used but we usually preferred to wait until there was a possibility of recognition. I was well concealed close to where I had spoken with the corporal the day before and I too could now definitely hear the odd splash as something or someone moved towards me in the stream.

Whatever it was it was moving very slowly and suddenly a shadowy figure became visible bending down occasionally as if examining and touching the rocks. Four figures moving very slowly came into sight and with considerable relief I recognised the patrol. Heart in mouth I allowed the first, which turned out to be the young corporal to draw to within two yards of me when I quietly called his name. He stopped and his patrol immediately dropped to their knees as I stood up to be recognised.

I led them in the dark back to my basha to debrief them. Obviously relieved to be back thyoung corporal made his report on what they had observed in the ladangs (cultivationsIt) . seems having completed their task they became lost, something that was very easy to do in the jungle. In casting around they found a small stream which he decided to follow. As they moved slowly and carefully against the trickling water almost resigned to a night out under trees one of the patrol found a greasy white stain on a rock and searching further they found more. The corporal rubbed his finger on it and sniffrng it instantly recognised the foul rationpack mayonnaise! He commented succinctly; "you did not have to be the Bishop of Lincoln to know that this was our base camp stream," and in following it and the stains would eventually, probably quite soon arrive at the water point which of course they did.

The young corporal had done well and I told him so but also warned him that in the event he had followed his own mayonnaise back to base but imagine the consequences if it had been

(The communist Terrorist)had found it??
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1 April 29 2012


Prior to mid-1963 and managing to equip ourselves with boats and outboard engines Roy Church, a friend since regular army days, and I were forced to rely on Peter Wilson for a lift up the river. Our journey in Roy's newly acquired Fiat from our estates about forty miles down the valley was usually via Peter's bungalow at Beesakopie where we would impose ourselves upon him for breakfast. One Sunday in late March 1963 I had been conveyed by these two intrepid anglers, at breakneck speed I might add in Peter's 'skimmer' to the Diopani Mulch on the Dibang. We didn't have a particularly successful mornings fishing but early in the afternoon got amongst the Karang (Himalayan Trout) casting from the shallower and warmer Diopani into the much deeper and faster Dibang. The Himalayan snows had just started to melt and the Dibang was beginning to get very cold and a little murky with sand in suspension.

Around 2 o clock I emerged from the Diopani which itself was quite cold to get the circulation moving again in my legs. I walked down the bank casting into the Dibang with my brand new ABU                  Ambassador 6000 paying rather more attention to my super new reel and Ringal cane rod, both being 'blooded' that day, than to what my lure was doing. To cut a long story short I hooked onto a large Mahseer and despite about 45 minutes of scintillating advice, good natured abuse and caustic comment from the two spectating 'master fishermen' I landed the fish. Even now I prefer not think of the loss of face and ridicule I would have suffered had I lost that fish! On landing it was dispatched by Peter with a clinical crack on the head with the ball-peen hammer from his tool kit. I would add here that the fight and landing of the fish is another story in itself


This is the photograph taken by Roy at the Diopani Mulch that memorable day so typical of many similar days spent on those rivers. To tell its story I must jump ahead forty four years to 2007. Providentially we had my camera with us that day without which there would have been no pictorial record. In the foreground can be seen Peter's very practical if unsophisticated nadi (river) kit of a workman's battered tin lunch box and gas mask bag. Peter to this day insists that had it not been for his consummate skill with the hammer this my first really big mahseer would never have been landed. Roy for his part insists that but for his skill as a photographer no-one would have believed our big fish story anyway!

For whatever the reason it was virtually impossible to obtain colour print film in Assam in those days so the camera was loaded with slide film that had to be processed in Bombay to then obtain a print. Although it didn't seem to bother us at the time, slide film in the humid rains climate of Assam was about the most unsuitable medium possible for photographic record as the humidity soon encouraged all kinds of fungal growths on valuable pictures. The film was duly sent to Kodak in Bombay and the above print produced with one enlargement going to each of us. The original slide has accompanied me all over the world to even more extreme climates than Assam and it still survives. The picture of that memorable afternoon in March 1963 has since that day always had 'pride of place on some wall of my home, wherever that has been.

Roy finally left Assam in the late 1960s to enter the Royal College of Agriculture in Cirencester and I visited him there whilst I was on leave. Peter went to Ecuador to plant tea in the early 1970s and in 1974 I went to Papua New Guinea initially to set things right in a plantation company newly acquired by some of the directors of the Jokai Company, my employers in Assam, thence to the World Bank to establish tea and a factory in the remote southern highlands. Being a fairly indifferent letter writer; in truth just idle I proceeded to lose contact with Roy for a time but met Peter in Mt Hagen in Papua New Guinea around 1980 whilst he was visiting on business. Even over lunch that day in the Mt Hagen Hotel we relived that day at the Diopani seventeen years earlier and Peter confirmed that his copy of the photo was still in reasonable condition.

In 1987 on my return to the UK from Papua New Guinea it took me no time at all to realise that I could not possibly settle and vegetate there and needed to head for warmer and more challenging climes with the least possible delay. One evening I received a surprise telephone call from Roy who was working somewhere in South Lincolnshire or Norfolk and I mentioned that I had been asked by the Commonwealth Development Corporation to go to Cameroon to rectify some tea chaos for the Cameroon Development Corporation and was about to depart. The telephone connection failed and we proceeded to lose contact again. I did however during the next twenty years on a couple of occasions note reports in my Expatriate Weekly Telegraph of a magistrate in eastern England somewhere named Roy Church sentencing miscreants for various acts of wickedness. I wondered if this could indeed be Roy and resolved to try and re-establish contact; but to my eternal discredit did absolutely nothing although obviously somewhere along the line he decided about the same time that he would find me! This is how it came about.

In 2007 out in the wilds of Cameroon where I was busily engaged in establishing a Pepper plantation I received a mobile phone call from the General Manager of the Cameroon Development Corporation, whose three shambolic tea estates I had earlier recovered and managed for over twelve years. He told me that he had received a letter from a Mr Roy Church enquiring if he might be able to give some clue as to my whereabouts. As was usually the case in West Africa the letter had taken over four months to be delivered and with no response Roy had obviously had to decide on an alternative course of action.

True to the Roy that I knew so well he was undismayed by this minor setback. Never the man to do anything by halves, some days after the call from CDC I had yet another from none other than the


Prime Minister of Cameroon himself whom I happened to know quite well. He enquired if I might know someone called Roy Church who had contacted him claiming to have served with me in the same regiment and later in the same tea company in Assam? This really was a bolt out of the blue and I was happy to acknowledge on the spot that I did. It was of course Roy, still as determined and persistent as ever, who with no response to his letter and not quite sure who now to approach decided (as he would say) "with no messing" to go right to the top - the Prime Minister, who in Roy's opinion should obviously know whether Scott was one of the thirteen million people residing in his country! I lost absolutely no time in responding to the e-mail address the Prime Minister had given me and Roy replied immediately. We were remarkably painlessly, certainly for me, back in contact and have remained so since.

In that e-mail, twenty years after the last contact was the news amongst many other things that Pete Wilson had finally retired from Ecuador to his home in Cornwall and was anxious to obtain a replacement for his now aged and climate affected picture of the great fish. I was very happy to be back in contact with these two old friends with whom I had shared so many unforgettable experiences and immediately sent (electronically) a new copy of the photograph scanned from the original slide taken those forty four years earlier. I caught many good fish during my years in 'Assam and subsequently in other countries also but this one that memorable afternoon at the Diopani, though not quite the biggest was my first big Mahseer and to me the best and most exciting.

There was no record other than through word of mouth of the many good fish caught (and those that got away) by members of the Lohit River Club and I resolved to present a 'Fish Book' in which fish, weights and comments on how and where they were caught could be recorded. The book was duly presented with my 40 pounder caught that day at the Diopani as the first entry. The last I heard through Roy in 2008 was that this book now resides as an interesting relic and record of days gone by in the safe hands of Mohan Nath erstwhile Group Engineer and later Manager of Nokhroy Tea Estate, a contemporary of those days now retired and whom Roy still meets when he visits India.


April 29 2012



From a fairly early age I've been aware that brains are a fairly important component of the human anatomy and have even agreed that all of us, including the birds and beasts of the field were endowed with them by our maker albeit in varying quantity and capacity. I was also made aware early in life that brains in the human species resided in the head and were there for a very specific purpose; and whilst other living creatures also kept their brains in that very location those allocated to some of them were also edible. This concept however, ever since first being most vigorously encouraged to partake of the assured nutritional merits I have always regarded as almost cannibalistic to say the least. It all came about in this way.

Born in Hong Kong in 1937 and living there during those distinctly colonial times with my mother and father, the latter a sea captain on the China coast, in my early years I never wanted for very much. All was well until the 'Sons of Nippon' took it upon themselves to expand their influence in the form of the Greater South East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. My father was away at sea when they arrived in Hong Kong and their arrival precipitated the departure for Australia of many European women and children. This providential exodus of many, but not all, women and children including my mother, her own mother, her seventeen year old brother, myself and my infant sister took us to a very welcoming Australia. My mother's father as an engineer remained behind as a demolition officer and was ultimately killed for his pains.

In Frankston near Melbourne on Port Philip Bay in Victoria food was never the problem that it was in Britain during the war. But we arrived as evacuees with very little more than the clothes on our backs and were extremely well cared for by Australia while my mother and grandmother organised their affairs for what would be a three year stay in that wonderful country, then of only seven million people many of whom still referred to the UK as 'home'.

In the early days following our arrival in Frankston I was encouraged to eat all kinds of good things and enjoyed most of them. Certain foods were recommended by the Australian government for evacuee children and most of them ,I needed no persuasion to partake of. My particular favourite being vegemite which to my delight in much later years I found on Tesco shelves in Scotland whilst on leave, and always carry back to wherever I am working. It took me no time at all however to develop an absolute abhorrence for my two pet hates of the time; sheep's brains, apparently a highly nutritious Aussie delicacy and passion fruit.

At the time despite world chaos and the Hong Kong invasion that had disrupted our life and family I gave thought to little else but play and food and always viewed mealtimes with great anticipation. Such anticipation soon evaporated however when I was confronted with a plate of brains. I cared not to know how it was cooked nor the nutritional value, my overriding recollections being that the revolting quivering grey mass on my plate appeared just as my child's imagination would expect brains to look after de-encapsulation from the confines of a skull, human or otherwise. Something like this was actually inside my own head yet here I was being asked to eat it!! I rebelled and refused, not once but on numerous occasions which in those days invariably resulted in a thrashing and being sent to bed without food. In this everlasting memory it was to my young mind infinitely preferable to being forced to put that revolting quivering mass into my mouth.  

My revulsion to eating brains, any brains surpassed even my dislike of the taste, texture, smell and everything else about the passion fruit that grew in abundance in that part of Australia.On reflection perhaps the best way of inducing me to consume brains or passion fruit might have been to tell me not to do so!!

It was on a late rains Sunday excursion some twenty years later to the Dirok River with Roy and Peter that we arrived at the erstwhile Chinese restaurant in Digboi, now owned by a jovial Sikh gentleman Mr Singh believe it or not and boasting an accomplished In dian cook who had worked with the previous Chinese owner. On this occasion we had as usual traipsed all over both banks of the Dirok river that had fallen to a level at which it could be crossed on foot with care and the pools were quite clean. It was all made even more worthwhile by having caught a fish or two and enjoyed a large shandy at the Ledo Club. We enjoyed an excellent meal and a beer or two before the inevitable visit to the Kashmir Emporium and return trip to our gardens. We planned to do the same
again the following week as the Dirok being quite a short river cleared quickly after rain. Before bidding Mr Singh farewell we booked a meal comprising the same dishes for the following Sunday.

Returning to the area the following week we were not as lucky as there had obviously been heavy rain in the hills and the Dirok was very full and extremely dirty. Undismayed we retired to Ledo Club and a shandy and returned early to Digboi Club and decided upon a game of squash to fill in time before our meal.

The good Mr Singh appeareda little taken aback when we rolled up as it seemed he had not taken our promise to return seriously and as such had forgotten what we had ordered; but did not tell us this of course. W e sat down with some recuperative cold Kingfisher beers and waited for the meal to arrive. It was an Indian meal of numerous small dishes that were placed before us with none of us taking much notice of what the meal comprised. All was ready as Mr Singh fluttered around inviting us to enjoy our meal.

We checked over the meal as its predecessor the past week had been excellent and we Anticipated the same again, but this was not to be, certainly for me. The composition of one dish eluded us completely as we could not recall it from the week before. As I examined it not a little quizzically, a coarse lym inceds oft, smooth and doubtless beautifully spiced mass of something definitely not vegetable but not unattractive, an odd feeling of distant familiarity and apprehension descended upon me. Had those dreadful brains, the quivering mass of 1942 or an exotic derivation of them rcturned to haunt


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March 19 2012

                        "PUNCTURE HOGAYA"

During the late cold weather of 1964 I was working as the Garden Assistant at Daisajan Tea Estate which was located to the west of the Assam trunk road and its adjacent railway that culminated just beyond the small town of Doom Dooma in the Upper Assam valley.
mid-day I was making a fairly leisurely retum to my bungalow for lunch on my bike, the standard supervisory conveyance for Assistant Managers at that time. At the gate I enoountered an acquaintance from nearby Borgora village who declared his intention of paying me a visit. He greeted me not in his native Assamese but rather chose to display his linguistic versatility in the Hindi dialect of the tea gardens- "Salaam Huzoor, hum apko bet korege".  (Grreetings Excellency I want to see you).Sure that there was more to his visit than just meeting me I returnedh is greeting with"Salaam Burra. Ap kaisa hai? " (Greetings old one how are you) Assamese age standards he didn't really qualify for the title 'old one' as he was only perhaps middle aged but I could never bring myself to refer to him directly by the vulgar appellation 'Puncture Hogoya'by which he was known to my friends; and indeed it was recognisedb y the villagers should we use it in searching for him for some reason.

He had acquired this somewhat vulgar sobriquet, which I have always suspected bore the stamp of Roy's sense of humour, because for whatever the cliriical reason if indeed there was one, he 'passed wind' remarkably regularly, explosively, and publicly with apparent glee whenever he made almost any movement. Having most effectively polluted the atmosphere he would then gleefully exclaim "puncture hogaya!" meaning literally (in the estate Hindi dialect - not his native Assamese)' there has been a puncture!' Whilst his vulgar sense of humour was rather uncharacteristic of his people, I'm sure in the presence of young gora(white)-sahibs who apparently found his aflliction rather amusing he played up to his nick name. Despite the ailment if indeed that's what it was as he seemed able to switch it on and off at will, he was an accomplished boatman and tracker, and a visit from him or a journey in his boat was guaranteed if nothing else to be an experience of rather trying olfactory discomfort!

I had been introduced to Puncture by Roy, in late 196l soon after our first meeting, when Peter and I accompanied him one Sunday to the villages behind Daisajan with which he was already familiar and I was soon to become so. The plan that Sunday was to have some boatmen from Borgora convey us up the Dangn River to the bheels atLaina where we could shoot some duck. Puncture was one of the selected boatnen and I have always held a more than sneaking suspicion that Roy had allocated him to me on this my first trip to the area by way of 'familiarisation'! The boats were small, narrow rough-hewn dugouts that were highly unstable even without a boatman standing on the stern poling it forward and skilfully negotiating the water hyacinth and fallen trees that littered the river. I was in fact no stranger to such craft having become acquainted with similar vessels on jungle patrol in Malaya where they were termed 'prahus'.

The journey up the Dangri despite Puncture Hogaya on the stern wielding the pole and 'puncturing' fluently was extremely peaceful and enjoyable if a little wobbly, and my mind was drawn back to a similar situation being propelled in like manner up the narrow densely vegetation clad channels of the Tasek( malay: lake) Beras in Southern Pahang State in 1955.
that occasion my six man patrol was heading for the Malay Police jungle Fort Iskander having been dropped nearby from small Pioneer aircraft. My journey up the Dangri was considerably less tense as it lacked the threat of the armed and distinctly unfriendly Chinamen who frequentedt he jungles of Malaya at that time. Those C Ts (communist terrorists) were ever wont to ambush patrolling soldiers wending their rather wobbly and unstable way up rivers minds concentrated on two major endeavours, namely staying upright so not depositing their weapons, rations and kit into the slow moving water and remaining alert to the extremely hostile members of the MRLA (Mahyan Races Liberation Army) The onlyn likelihood of ambush on our peaceful way to Laina was perhaps a domestic or even wild buffalo crashing of into the reed beds on the banks startled by our shouted conversation between the boats passing in line astern.

The purpose of Puncture's v isit to me on this occasionw as not long in being
revealed. He and
his neighbours w ere convinced that the best possible koki-dawai( cough medicine) aval able  w as common or garden petrol. Roy had mentioned this rather improbable belief on an earlier occasion but I honestly thought it was simply an 'old soldier story' a little like the Indian rope trick and such tales! As on this occasion requests for small quantities of petrol were quite often made for this medicinal purpose and for fuelling the ubiquitous silver Zippo cigarette lighters which in the hands of some villagers became veritable flame throwers. I was always happy to oblige and as usual promised him a bottle of the magic elixir, particularly when he emphasised once again using the Hindi dialect of the gardens for added effect, that his entire family were "bahut koki karta hai"(coughing a lot)! In his expert medical opinion and just in case I harboured any thoughts of delaying delivery, he emphasised
that the  immediate
commence me not f treatment was absolutely imperative.I thereforeu ndertook to deliver a gin bottle of petrol to his house in Borgora that very evening after work.  

This mission of mercy did not end there. As I was returning from Borgora to my jeep after delivery in the declining evening light a full grown tiger emerged some fifty yards ahead of me from the road on which my jeep was parked. t stopped in the middle of the road between No 11 and No 8 tea sections and looked straight at me. I was unarmed and stopped instinctively and it must have seen me in my light shirt and shorts. It took no notice whatsoever and disappeared in to the tea of No 8 on my right. This sighting following one in the tea nearby about two weeks earlier signalled the beginning of another tale that I relate elsewhere but I have often wondered since what I would have done had that tiger decided that I presented the opportunity of an easy meal  as  did an unfortunate village girl some weeks later.





Between 1961 and 1968 I worked in Assam on estates on the south bank of the Brahmaputra as the field or factory assistant at Bokel and Muttuck near Dibrugarh then Daisajan and Tippuk near Doom Dooma, finally reaching the dizzy heights of Acting Manager at Tippuk before moving over to the North Bank.

Home leaves to the UK came once every three years although I preferred to spend them elsewhere in India or Hong Kong where I was born and my family still resided. We were also given two weeks local leave every year and I always spent this and sometimes even part of my home leaves in camp on the river. As a result I came to know well the rivers large and small in the upper valley and outside NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) into which entry was prohibited, on both banks of the Brahmaputra, referred to by all as the Burra Nadi (big river)

I always looked upon the preparations for a trip up the river whatever its intended duration as almost as enjoyable as the actual time spent on the river. I saw such preparation much the same as planning and preparation for a military operation. Fishing tackle, guns and camp kit had to be prepared and the engine checked and run in a tank in the bungalow compound. Detailed preparation was I suppose a relic of those army days when sound preparation and organisation helped to ensure that things went smoothly and indeed saved lives. On jungle operations given efficient planning and preparation it was left only to the enemy the MRLA (Malayan Races Liberation Army) to cause chaos, and the same applied in Assam albeit to infinitely more peaceful activities; good preparation left only Barbus tor, stones and snags to cause problems! There were those who didn't necessarily subscribe to my views and left engines and tackle untouched from one weekend to the next. They were inevitably the unfortunate souls who could be found drifting backwards down rapids with engine problems or bemoaning tackle broken by that huge fish that got away. To my mind this was easily avoidable and such people really only got what they deserved.

Local leave during the cold weather of two full weeks up the river also most Sundays or weekends was always something to look forward to with great anticipation during the intensely wet monsoon period of June to September which was also the main production period for tea. For these local leaves we considered that a comfortable base camp added to the enjoyment although not an absolute necessity. We would usually arrange to accompany us six expert Assamese boatmen from the Sadiya area who enjoyed the two weeks as much as we did and at the same time were able to make a bit of extra money.

For local leaves the head nahuriya (boatman) would be told exactly where to set up our base camp and then some four days before commencement of our leave would load their two large dugouts, hired with the boatmen with our heavier camp materials, tents, tarpaulins, kitchen utensils and spare fuel, and pole them to the camp site. This would usually take about three days. On arrival at the camp site they would build a kitchen and sleeping bashas for those who did not own tents. They would also dig and build a latrine inelegantly referred to as 'the bog' or when burra-sahibs cor memsahibs were around 'the loo' and gather dry firewood from the mass of driftwood lying around deposited by the river as its level fell following the rains.

Bog building for sahibs was for the boatmen always something of a puzzle, well in keeping of course with Bilathi Sahib's behaviour in general. The bog to an Assamese boatman seemed completely superfluous as they when nature called would merely seize their lotah (small usually brass urn) of water, their substitute for toilet paper, and head off into the distance. The rather tiresome insistence by sahibs on the need to construct a bog of a particular design was especially perplexing and seemed to lend credence to the generally held belief that most gora (Ass: white) sahibs were at least slightly mad. Bog designs varied and having worked with many sahibs our boatmen were familiar with the preferences which they considered seemed to be strongly influenced by age and seniority.

Perhaps the most sophisticated variety was the 'thunder box', familiar as regimental toilets to all who had served Her Majesty in the East. It comprised a large square wooden box with no bottom but a hole in the top which for added finesse was sometimes shaped and for Officers and Sergeants messes often sported a lid. This box could be placed firmly over a deep hole in the ground or a suitably shaped bucket (a pail). The latter was of course rather too cumbersome for transportation and use on the river. This distinctly shaped receptacle in military quartermasters nomenclature was designated as 'pails hygiene' and usually reserved for Officers and Sergeants mess toilets. Malefactors from the ranks who had been unfortunate enough to attract the attention of unkind Sergeants and were undergoing lankers', were usually given the duty of emptying and cleaning the aforesaid. pails during their period of penance.

Another popular design comprised a three foot square hole in the ground a couple of feet forward of which was strongly implanted a short stout stick termed 'the grunting pole' onto which one clung firmly whilst manoeuvring into position or straining over the hole. This design was widely used in platoon base camps on jungle operations in Malaya hence the slightly vulgar soldier appellation for the pole. I recall some distressing (often very amusing) `accidents' on jungle patrol in Malaya when unpopular junior officers or NCOs refusing to use the same 'bog' as their men and utilising this variety of toilet facility constructed by subordinates, incorporating poles the firmness of implantation of which they failed to check before use, literally landed them in the jungle equivalent of the 'pails hygiene'! Seen in less elegant military terminology as being 'in the s--t'.

The last and most basic design and that most favoured by Chota-Sahibs was simply a hole in the ground well away from the camp site. Irrespective of design all bogs would be surrounded by at least a screen of kuggeree stems but never built too close to or inside the kuggeree for fear of occupants suffering the ignominy of having to flee from inquisitive tigers or leopards. For this reason all serious bog activity was advisedly restricted to the daylight hours!

Talking of bogs I recall an instance in Malaya near Bahau involving the 'thunder box' variety whilst I was temporarily attached to a company of the 2/2nd Gurkhas. It followed a briefing by the company commander for a cordon and search operation in an extremely overgrown locally owned rubber estate in which members of the local MPLA independent platoon were sheltering. The operation entailed the Gurkhas beating them out and my platoon picking them off as they broke cover; rather as with jungli murghi (wild chicken) years later in Assam! The briefing was curtailed rather abruptly when the major was called by nature and dashed to the officers mess loo that was located some distance beyond the briefmg tent. Heavy afternoon rain threatened and as often occurred at such times it was preceded by a strong wind that blew open the carelessly closed door of the loo just as a platoon of Gurkhas was being marched back to the armoury at rifle regiment pace after range practice. The door blew open

with a crash and the Gurkha sergeant in charge, ever alert could not fail to see the major sahib enthroned within, and regimental to the end ordered a smart 'eyes left' which was duly acknowledged by the major sahib who was still wearing his cap having obviously been caught very short indeed.

Back now to our camping arrangements. One of the boatmen would usually own a single barrelled shotgun and would kill a deer, butcher it and suspend the cuts enclosed in bags in the ice cold river at the camp site. The beer, often home brew would also be kept cold by burying the bottles neck deep in the wet sand on the water's edge to await our arrival.

I make mention of home brewed beer as the need for it and its mode of manufacture is worthy of note as a memorable feature of our life in Assam. During the 1960s the exact year I don't recall, the law in the UK governing the brewing of beer at home was changed to make it legal providing there was no attempt to put the local breweries out of business. In Assam beer was readily available, usually Kingfisher and Golden Eagle. Kingfisher was quite good although Golden Eagle was a singularly un-beer-like brew in a clear bottle that always seemed to contain liberal quantities of glycerine supposedly for preservation purposes. This glycerine was routinely separated from the beer prior to consumption by inverting the bottle in a glass of water. These beers were considered expensive by impecunious chota-sahibs, many of whom were not slow to try their hand at home brew. Properly brewed, usually in large glass battery jars it could be very good indeed but the numerous pitfalls often resulted in a brew tasting something between vinegar and cough mixture.

Malt was readily available in Calcutta but the dried compressed hops had to be purchased in the UK usually as part of a brewing kit. Many of the memsahibs brewed very successfully as did one or two of the bachelors occasionally. Often however due amongst other things to a heavy-handedness with the sugar when bottling, the bachelors brew could be positively explosive. Many were the young sahibs awakened in the dead of night by explosions in their faltoo kamra (spare room) as the newly capped bottles of fermenting brew became too much for its bottles. The mention of malt brings to mind the war-time 'cod liver oil and malt' that I was forced to consume in Australia as a Hong Kong child evacuee from the ambitions of Nippon in the Far East. Wonderful stuff, and years later the malt from Calcutta less the cod liver oil element that I did not miss at all, was often consumed by the tablespoon full before I could even commence experimentation with the manufacture of home brew. This splendid malt along with Nestles condensed milk another great favourite, also by the large spoonful was well worth the thrashings I received in Australia for 'borrowing' it without my long suffering mother's permission after escaping the 'Sons of Heaven' when they 'visited Hong Kong in 1941.

The explosive properties of home brew were amply demonstrated when a recently appointed young assistant arrived at Tippuk whilst I was acting manager. He had been lucky enough to obtain a Johnson 10 hp outboard soon after his arrival and was itching to try it without delay. Without a boat of his own he managed to borrow a rather notorious small skimmer, not really the ideal craft in which to make an inaugural trip up the river. It had been suggested that he make a familiarisation trip with one of us first but he declined. He did nevertheless ask me if I would agree to follow him up the Dibang one day, a course that some helpful soul had suggested might perhaps be the easiest way to familiarise himself with his engine. I had planned a Dibang trip one Sunday and suggested he follow me, literally in my wake. He was prone to not taking advice and in addition had picked up from somewhere a' boatman' who

none of us had ever seen before. We left Saikhowa Ghat with me initially in the lead but after a few minutes overcome by enthusiasm and speed, confidence growing with each yard, insisted on racing ahead.

He stopped periodically rather condescendingly to allow me to catch up as I followed somewhat more sedately in my coffin as we approached the stones rather cynically awaiting the inevitable. Suddenly as he entered the first rapid well ahead of us Puali my boatman shouted gesticulating ahead, and although I could not hear much above the sound of my own engine there was no mistaking his boatman leaping with great alacrity over the side as they attempted to negotiate the 'V' of what was not too difficult a rapid if you kept to the centre funnel. It turned out that he was carrying some bottles of home brew for periodic refreshment and having been shaken up in passage they commenced exploding just as he entered the rapid putting the fear of god into his boatman and precipitating his abandonment of ship in complete disarray, something a regular and experienced boatman would never do. My young friend was obviously no less confused and paying more attention to the exploding bottles and fate of his boatman than his navigation steered into the stony shallows.

As I reached the foot of the rapid and shut down to await culmination of his undignified rearward drift towards me, I was forced to watch helplessly as in total confusion and boatmanless he attempted to guide the un-guidable skimmer -stern first over the stones to calmer water. I met him at the foot of the rapid rather chastened and perhaps now appreciating how lucky he was not to have overturned. His engine was providentially not 'on lock' and had lifted when it struck but his new aluminium propeller had been dramatically reshaped.
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