Friday, September 5, 2014

A Tribute to Madan Mohan Rasaily Jewel of Sikkim, always - KC PRADHAN

In the passing away of MM Rasaily, recipient of Denzong Thu-ki Norbu, Jewel of Sikkim 1974 - the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Sikkim – the State has lost one of the greatest souls it had ever produced. Sikkim is the poorer in losing one more stalwart of the yesteryears; a person who saw history in the making from very close quarters. What is more, he was a passionate fighter for the just cause.
He hailed from an illustrious family and his father, Manbir Rasaily, was the first Finance Secretary of the erstwhile Kingdom. My father, a Forest Manager, being his father’s colleague, our family relations went back several decades. MM (to his close colleagues like MP, CD, JT, KS, JK, ES) was a Sikkimese in the truest sense and he adhered to his principles till his last. For his astute determination and stubborn loyalty, he had to suffer a lot in later life, but given the extremely strong moral fibre that his character was stitched with, he took all these in his stride, always holding his head high and never being vengeful. He was a man at peace with himself as I often noticed, falling asleep the moment he lay on bed. Many a times I would still be continuing a conversation not knowing that he was already fast asleep.
He was a storehouse of Sikkim’s stories and history, especially the phase immediately before Sikkim became the constituent unit of the Union of India and knew the inner stories in keener detail than anybody else. He was a close and true lieutenant of the erstwhile ruler and had the determination to make his vision a reality. He was blunt and never hesitated from calling a spade a spade.
To me, he was a teacher, guide, friend and colleague in the administration. I first came across him in school in 1947 when he was the Scouts Master cum Geography Teacher at TNHS (now TNA) with a command of English unknown in those days having just completed his Senior Cambridge from Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling. He was one of the first Hillmen to study in the premier English public school in those days. He was a highly disciplined person and did not tolerate any lackadaisical attitude - a trait he carried throughout. We were together in IFC (Indian Forest College). He was my immediate senior and taught me cycling - a must for all Officer Probationers for whom bus rides to town were a No-No. Being an immediate Junior it was an added advantage to take many tips which put me in good stead. He was the blue-eyed boy of veteran forester PD Stacey, an IFS officer from the days of the Raj and Forestry Chief of then undivided Assam - as Director of Forestry Education in FRI and Colleges. All his classmates- 20 in number - liked him and many of the Juniors just loved him as he had a gift of befriending all. He was very warm-hearted towards the menial staff and they would often fall back on him for help to take matters up with the authorities. Peter, his house attendant was special to him and he regarded him as his true guardian.
As the first Forester with Superior Training in Sikkim as its head, he ushered in many innovative ideas. Transportation of logs from Lachung to Bardang by river floating system conceptualized by Political Officer Basil Gould and well sold to MKS P.T. Namgyal was his pet forestry project. In the process we travelled throughout the length of the river Teesta to understand the way this river plays. Never knew that there was such a vast whirlpool below Singhik where even 1,00,000 cft of logs would get just sucked in and lost. This led us to plan a chute of timber scantlings detouring this notorious section of the river. The whole idea was to put in place a paper mill at Melli (present Brewery site) with 25 metric tons per day capacity churning out high quality security paper. Construction of a series of accommodations for the staff in the Department was his brain child as well. There were meager resources but we had raw material such as timber at our disposal. This gave the staff much respite. He had a keen sense of mechanical and engineering technicalities and we established a series of Donald Gravity ropeways to haul the timber and logs across the valleys. Veteran foresters like PS Moktan, DP Rai, JB Rai, CD Lama and Kundup Lachungpa were the key lynchpins.
Perfecting the technique of natural generation of Silver Fir in north Sikkim was the idea conceived of by him and Forester par excellence Kundup Lachungpa well supported by FG Sinchung - his FG confidante! Later on, it led to SSO (Subsidiary Silviculture Operation) and was included in the Plan Fund duly appreciated by the Planning Commission. The system was much admired when TN Srivastava, then Inspector General of Forests visited the area in early 1970s as Silver Fir’s natural regeneration in the western Himalayas had been an utter failure and they had not been able to find any remedy. But in Sikkim whether it was followed to the extent desired is another matter.
We were the first two forest officers in Sikkim with training in Superior Forestry –a course started in 1947 in Dehradun to train officers on the same lines in Coopers Hill in Oxford for Imperial Forest Service - and had the occasion to travel to all the interiors of the State together for many years. That gave us an insight to Sikkim from the grassroots level. He, with his smart black beret, was feared by all and people used to vanish in the forest the moment they saw our entourage headed by him leaving all their loads whether wood, fodder or timber along the roadside – path, rather. To his subordinates, he was both loved and feared as even the slightest misbehavior meant an on-the-spot dressing down. FG Kaluk, his orderly, despite all his mischievous habits including stealthily taking his revolver for target shooting and for which the punishment was lying overnight under the chair, did not hold any ill-will against his master.
He played a significant role for a decade and half prior to the merger in the administration in Sikkim. He was one the three members of the External Affairs Committee. Though he was very close to the Chogyal, he was generally on the wrong side of the officers on deputation. That led to a series of wrangles though to Dewan Baleshwar Prasad, he was the officer to be relied on always, and teased for his signature which looked like an ‘elephant’. During the Chogyal’s regime, he was entrusted the department of Industries, Trade and Commerce.  Sikkim Jewels with P. Pherwani as the Consultant was his dream project.
Sunanda Dutta-Ray has included some of MM’s remarks in his book: “Indians don’t have enough experience of the hills, all their problems are geared to problems of hunger in the plains… We want to associate with small but developed countries that share our difficulties”. Just this excerpt speaks volumes of his bluntness.
BB Lal, Executive Officer and Governor, was his nemesis. But once the Bhandari Government came to power he was given his place of honour and well accommodated in the administrative unit. When he was super-annuated as Home Secretary after 35 years of long service, the Government saw it fit to reward him with the same emoluments as the Chief Secretary though he was not a Member of IAS.
He was also a sportsman with hockey as his choice as I remember from IFC days and was a first rate soccer referee. He was a great disciple of Satya Sai Baba. The Sai Mandir at Balwakhani was established due to his persuasion when led the organization as its President. He loved Bhajans and he himself mastered the art of singing some of them.
The most important aspect that remains unknown, unless he has left behind any writings, is the short sojourn he undertook with the Chogyal attending the Coronation of HM King Birendra in Nepal against the wishes of the Indian Government. What was the true story and the information that were fed by the Indian Embassy to MEA that led to accelerating the process of the merger will ever remain unknown and un-clarified. This missing gap, to which he alone was privy, will always remain a mystery in Sikkim’s history.
He is no more, but memory lingers. He lived a full life and left an undeniable mark in Sikkim’s history. The future will understand him better. I miss him dearly. We had many issues to be clarified but that opportunity, unfortunately, never came. It is so heartening the children were brought up with strong values and high sense of dedication and are making marks in their respective fields much to the delight and pride of Sikkim. Our sympathies to the bereaved family in their hour of sorrow and pray that his Soul be rest in peace. Adieu!
[The writer is a Forester and a former Chief Secretary]

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