THE MAKING OF AIJAL
By J.Shakespear, Lt. Colonel, dated 13th July, 1939
Aijal, or more correctly AIZAWL had always been a very favourite village site, but was unoccupied when, in the spring of 1890 Mr. Dally of the Assam Police, arrived there with 400 men of the Silchar Military Police battalion, to co-operate with a column of troops under Col. Skinner, which was struggling down the valley of the Dhaleswari river to punish Lianphunga for raiding the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
It was on Mr. Dally’s recommendation that Aijal was chosen as the site of the fortified post which Colonel Skinner had been ordered to construct before he left the country. The site, like all old village sites, was fairly clear of jungle. Lt. Patric of the Bengal Sappers and Miners planned the post, which consisted of two stockades. These were composed to a great extent, of the trees which were common near the site. The stockades and the buildings within them were constructed by Mr. Dally’s men.
The smaller stockade was on the knoll on which the officers’ mess and the club now stand. In it were the quarters of the officers and a small quard. The other stockade was on the next knoll northwards, on which now stand several masonry barracks, in this were the huts cf the rest of the garrison, which numbered 200 men in all, of the Silchar Military Police, under the command of Lieut. H.G.Cole of the 2nd Gurkhas.
At that time boat could not get higher up the Dhaleswari River than Changsil and here was established a post held by 100 men to guard the store houses. Changsil had long been a bazaar and there were good Lushai paths from it to Aial and other villages also to Silchar. It was by this path that Mr. Dally’s party came up in 1890 and it was along the line of this path that the first mule road was made by Mr. Sweet of the PWD. The present Silchar road leading out from the northern end of Aijal was not made till shartly before I let the Hills.The new road saved two marches and also avoided the unhealthy Dhaleswari Valley.
The rising which began in September 1890, with the murder of Mr. Browne, the first Political Officer and attacks upon the Aizawl and Changsil Posts, was put down by Mr. Mc Cabe, who had made his name by subduing the Nagas. He earned the name of“LALMANTU”, so many rebel monarchs did he capture. Peace was restored by the spring of 1891 and from the date expansion of Aizawl began. The remainder of the Silchar Police battalion was transferred to Aizawl and Capt. Loch, 3rdGurkhas, arrived as commandant. The rising of the spring of 1892 was also quelled by Mr. Mc Cabe, but having restored order his health gave way and he had to take sick leave and was succeeded Mr. Mc Cabe.
Davies and Loch worked well together and Aizawl made a good start under them. Of the details of the changes which took place between 1891 and spring of 1897, when I arrived in Aizawl and took over charge from Mr. A. Porteous, who had succeeded Davies as Political Officer in 1894, I can tell nothing.
HOUSE – GOOD AND FIT FOR ISSUE
I found the Military Police in Aizawl housed in good masonry barracks and the whole station a miracle of neatness, thanks to Loch, who though a good soldier, was by inclination an engineer and house builder. Having the roof of the two of his barracks blown clean off during a March storm he was determined to put an end to such disasters by building stone houses for himself and his men in place of wretched affairs of jungle timber and bamboo matting in which they were then living. He mentioned his intention to Davies who told him he did not think it worth–while forwarding such a scheme to government for, he said, “We’ve been 10 years in Kohima and there’s not one stone house there yet’. “More shame to you” was Loch’s reply and he set to work with his own men to build himself a house, at his own cost. When this had been achieved he asked permission to build barracks etc. for the garrison of Aizawl. His house having passed by the P.W.D. as “good and fit for issue”, Loch was told to submit an estimate for all the buildings he considered necessary and this being sanctioned he went ahead. He engaged a Khasi contractor Sahon Roy and also employed many of his own men. When I arrived early in 1897 he had built the assistant commandant’s bungalow and all the Police barracks and hospital and was building the Quarterguard and office building. With the completion of that the works estimated for would be completed except for the armourer’s shop. Now Loch received a check. I told you that one estimate for all the buildings had been sanctioned. In farming that estimate, Loch had been guided by the cost of his house, but as the work went on new quarries had to be opened in more remote and less easily worked localities and so the cost of each building rose above the estimate and the excess increased steadily but the fact was not discovered by the P.W.D. until the Quarterguard building was finished when it could no longer escape notice.
WATERLOO GUN AT AIZAWL
The Quarterguard had, I believe, cost about double the estimated sum. The Chief Engineer rose in his wrath, and an order was issued that Loch should do no more building. This did not really much matter as the only Police building remaining was the armourer’s shop, a small affair and even that was up to the plinth level when it was handed over to the Executive Engineer for completion. I had much pleasure in pointing out in my next annual report that though the building was a small one and was urgently required, the P.W.D. had not been able to complete it in a whole year and I suggested that Capt. Loch might be given a contract to complete it, which was approved of and the shop was finished within a few months. Before, leaving the Police buildings, I better mention the Queen Victoria Memorial porch added to the quarterguard. The bust of the late Majesty, I think, was paid for by Loch. The two antique field pieces which flank the porch have a curious history. They were part of the armament of a ship-of-war, which was in the Chittagong River in 1857. When the detachment of 34th Native Infantry stationed in Chittagong mutinied on 18th November, the guns were thrown overboard to prevent their falling into the hands of the mutineers. Later these were fished up and fitted with wheeled carriages and eventually found their way to Rangamati, when they were sent to Lunglei during the trouble times in 1892. It struck me that aged guns, one of which from its date might have been fired at Waterloo, would form a suitable addition to the memorial of the great Queen, so I had them brought over.
A. R. GROUND COSTED Rs.1,200
The Parade Ground : When Loch took over command the married quarters were on a spur which ran out from the main range, where the Parade Ground now is, this spur ended in a knoll. The nearness of the ladies to the quarters of the gay bachelors was a frequent source of trouble. Loch removed them to their present abodes, and the dovecotes were not so frequently disturbed. He then set to work to cut away the knoll throwing the spoil down on each side. When I arrived in 1897 the work was about half done, but a lump about 15 feet high still remained. At that time there was a road to the Post Office along the east face of the ridge as well as along the west. Loch asked me if he might cut the eastern road way, and I, of course agreed as its removal greatly increased the sized of the parade ground. The cutting away of the road meant a lot of blasting. The labour for the parade ground was formed by the sepoys. Loch gave out contracts which were much sought after. To get the spoil away from the tract of the hill to the edge of the ground the men worked in pairs, one wheeled the barrow, the other filled it, at the spot where the staff had to be tipped, a Gurkha Officer stood with a bag of paisa and paid for each borrow according to the length of the load. The money for all this was provided by the Canteen Fund, which was largely produced by the sums which the workers paid to satisfy the thirst produced by their labours. The only cost to government was Rs.1,200/-. The range was also made by sepoy labour. Mostly on Saturdays when every man from the commandant to the last joined recruit put in about 8 hours Kamjarri, Loch’s battalion was the only one in which there was never any trouble about Kamjarri, the reason being that there was very little except on Saturdays when every one worked. One day Loch said to me, ‘I think I must be a very good man’. I did not dispute it but asked why he had come to that conclusion and he replied. “If you notice it very seldom rains on Saturdays, now there are about 800 men in barracks who pray for Saturdays and I also pary for fine ones, and my prayer is generally granted ergo I must be a good man”. I agreed.
Now for the remainder of the Station:
The Superintendent’s House (Now Raj Niwas): This was designed by my late wife. The first house was of the usual jungle timber type and stood at the south end of the present one. The house was just completed when I went home on leave in 1899. To keep the cost down I had put on a roof bamboo shingles, which necessitated a plain roof with one slope from ridge to caves. This was not beautiful enough for Capt. Cole who acted for me. He put in the three gables which are of great improvement, but the roof leaked so wildly at the joints of gables and the main roof that after my return I had to put in an application for a corrugated iron roof and was wigged for my extravagance. Cole also made the pleasant terrace along the front of the house and handsome retaining wall and picturesque flight of steps in the corner. The lawn and garden south of the house I made and I also made the lower vegetable garden to the north. The garden immediately to the north of the house was made by Porteous, who preceded me as Superintendent. He built the wall along the western edges, to keep off the wind. He at a very great expense had three feet of leaf mould carried from the jungle and deposited in the garden. The Orange trees I brought from the Chin Hills.
WATER FOR AIZAWL – FIRST EFFORTS<
In my days the road from Aizawl southwards, passed along close under the Superintendent’s house and on the opposite side of the “crater”. This was the first effort made in the days of Mc Cabe to solve the water supplying question. He had a big excavation made in a circular knoll that stood opposite the house, the spoils being thrown outwards. Then he cut a number of shallow drains on the face of the hill below the Assistant Commandant’s house all joining into one channel from which by a corrugated iron aqueduct be carried through the drainage of that hill over the road, into his “Crater”. The first burst the Civil Surgeon whose house then stood on the north side of the “crater” complained of the dampness resulting from the experiment. So the aqueduct was removed and the “crater” remained till Cole succeeded me and the road round it was included in his gardens at least so I have been told. The next effort to improve the water supply was made by Loch and myself throwing a bund across the valley south of his house. This too was a failure for as in the first case the water would not stay, but run away under the embankment. Before I left finally a little water did remain as the silt filled up the leaks.
THE OLD OAK TREES
The Oak Trees along the various roads were brought from Champhai, where Loch started a nursery. The fir below the Superintendent’s house also came from Champhai. The Medical Officer’s house and that of the Assistant Superintendent were also built under my orders. Mr. Cotton (later Sir Henry) had, as Chief Secretary in Bengal, seen how well the system of placing the public works under the Superintendent worked in the south Lushai Hills and when he became Chief Commissioner he introduced the system into the North of a Superintending Engineer. He could Sanction works up to Rs. 2,000/-. This enabled me and Loch to work together and I think we made good use of our powers. The Champhai road was traced by Loch; he supplied sepoys to oversee the labour I provided for its construction. So it was in everything we worked for the general good. When I went home on leave in 1899, Capt, Cole acted for me. He did much for Aizawl. The Superintendent’s office and the club were of jungle timber, built with primitive labour by Mc Cabe, but the doors and windows came from Calcutta. I had plans for reconstructing them and told Cole about it. When I came back I found that Cole had removed the old buildings and started stone ones, which had got to plinth level. He had framed no estimate nor had got sanction for the money. We departed. I had to finish the buildings and got the wigging. Cole was a wonderful chap. He made such a name over the Assam camp at Delhi Durbar that he was entrusted with building temporary DELHI with four P.W.D. Executive Engineers under him. He made grand success of the job but he exceeded his estimates by some huge amount and instead of getting slayed, received the thanks of the Government of India. He told me how he achieved this. He used to take a plan up to the Head of Department and say, “This is all I can do for you. It is not adequate I know, but I cannot do more for the money if I cost a little more.” The victims of course thought the second plan the best and ended by putting his initials to it. “So when the excess over the estimate came out I had their initialed plans to show,” said the astute Cole.
The Little Tank just below the Superintendent’s garden (now part of L & J Secretariat) was made by Porteous, but did not hold water. Loch said if I would empty it, he’d get the leak stopped. I said it did not hold water but did hold a certain amount, and the leak could not be located till it was quite empty. We got some length of piping from the water works supply and made a gigantic “dawnkawn” with which he siphoned off the water. It was muddy and of much colour of zu’ and the Lushais crowded round calling out, “Mualzavata Dawnkawn”. I suppose you who who Mualzavata is or was. The District Engineer’s house, below the Lunglei road was only a kutcha erection and has probably disappeared. Hodgkins was the first District Engineer, a very competent man who did much good work. It was under him that the Melveng system of road maintenance was brought to perfection.
The Jail, Record Room and Civil Hospital were among the last buildings erected during my stay in Aijal.
SAY IT WITH A PHOTOGRAPH
The Post Office, when I arrived in Aijal was a most decrepit kutcha erection. The Department refused to find money for a stone building, till I sent a photograph of the office to Shillong the shamed the Department into sanctioning the stone building. There was fire in the building once and energetic fool handed up a tin of kerosene, thinking it was water, to a fellow on the roof who threw it over the flames with no good results. I think I shall remember of the making of Aijal. If you care to ask me any question about other buildings etc. it will be a pleasure to answer if I can.