Thursday, April 13, 2017
Last month, the Salute magazine published a special issue on the Assam Regiment, one of Indian Army's well-know infantry units. I wrote a small tribute to one its illustrious officers, Brig. T. Sailo, who also later became the Chief Minister of Mizoram. Here's the account of my first encounter with him more than 33 years ago.
It was January 1984. Barely, seven months into the profession of journalism, my Editor at The Sentinel, the Guwahati-based newspaper, decided to send me to Mizoram. The idea was to do a comprehensive coverage on the Union Territory (Mizoram was to become a state three years later) and the state of insurgency there.
Later, I met him a couple of times when he was not Chief Minister. In those meetings, I ventured away from politics and asked the Brigadier about his Army life. In his slow, deliberate style, he recounted how as a young 20-year old man he was commissioned into the Assam Regiment in 1942 in the middle of World War II. "I was the first Mizo to become a commissioned officer. The Army took me to different places including overseas and made me what I am," he reminisced.
The apogee of
his military career was to command the 190 'Korea' Brigade of the Indian Army. Now headquartered at Tawang along the China border, the 190 Brigade is called Korea Brigade because it was deployed in Indo-China in the 1950s. Brig Sailo was proud to have been part of the Indian Army and particularly the Assam Regiment.
As I started gaining better insight into the Army and learning about its structure, ethos and traditions, it was not difficult to see why the Brigadier was so fiercely possessive about the Assam Regiment, a unique experiment
in integration of disparate tribes in the north-east. There was no common language that these boys, from different tribes spread over the region, could speak or understand so they have, over the years evolved a lingo of their own: a mix of multiple languages, a language that only they can understand! More than the language however, it is remarkable that the Assam regiment has emerged as one of Indian Army's finest regiments, thanks to early work by its leadership, both British and Indian officers.
Brig Sailo passed away in 2015 but I will always remember him as someone who was kind to me in early days as a journalist.
(The writer lived and reported from the north-east between 1983 and 2006)