by Sankar Sen
SOMETIMES the best as well as the worst traits of a man’s personality are revealed in difficult and challenging situations. A man deemed unworthy and incompetent can display extraordinary courage and presence of mind unexpected of him, and similarly one considered strong and lion-hearted becomes craven in a crisis. I recall a revealing incident when an officer considered inept showed his true métier in a life-and-death situation. Details of the incident were recounted to me by a close friend and colleague.
My friend Kalyan Mitra was posted as the Superintendent of Police in Bolangir district of Orissa. It was his first posting in a district. As new SP, he was straining hard to get to grips with the problems of effectively policing a district and earn his spurs. One of the foremost challenges of a district police chief is to size up his subordinates, assess their strong and weak points and then make suitable job allocations. His success as the police chief of the district depends much on the choice of his team and the way in which he leads it.
In a district police organisation, the reserve office is the key-stone of the arch. It is the nerve centre for the deployment of police personnel for various duties all over the district. For quick response to emergencies the district armed police reserve is stationed in the reserve office. The Reserve Inspector is an important functionary, whose job is to ensure efficient running of the reserve office and also to organise sports, drills and games in the reserve ground. He has a pivotal role to play in smooth deployment and maintenance of discipline in the force.
Mitra’s Reserve Inspector at that time was a person called Binod Mohanty. He was smart and muscular with an athletic bearing. But performance of duties belied his smart appearance. He was casual with a laidback style and somewhat mercurial temperament. Duties assigned to him were perfunctorily performed and he had to be pulled up on countless occasions for various omissions and commissions. But censures and remonstrances did not have any visible impact on him. Mohanty remained unredeemed.
However, in an extraordinary situation, the same Mohanty who was often the butt of Mitra’s invectives displayed exemplary courage and presence of the mind of a high order never expected of him. Lousinga police station of Bolangir district at that time was terrorised by a leopard wreaking havoc. The grisly animal had become a byword for fear. Many panic-stricken villagers had left their homes and sought the help of the district authorities to protect them from the leopard menace. Responding to the call of duty, the young Superintendent of Police went to the village, accompanied by a constable, who was an ace shooter and the Reserve Inspector Mohanty.
Mitra felt that as a young SP he must lead from the front. On reaching the village, he came to know that the leopard, after being shot and wounded by a local shikari, had retreated into a nearby forest. In his fervid enthusiasm, he committed an error of judgement by deciding to enter the forest in search of the leopard accompanied by Reserve Inspector Mohanty and the constable, an ace rifle shooter of the district.
Mohanty was carrying a 410 musket and Mitra and the constable carried 303 rifles each. Soon after entering the forest, the party heard a deafening growl and saw the animal glaring at them at a distance of about 25 feet. Before Mitra could press the trigger, the animal rushed towards him in a lightning burst of speed and pounced on him. The rifle flew away from his hands and he fell on the ground with his face turning upwards. The constable, thinking that discretion was the better part of valour, took to his heels, hid himself under a tree and watched the proceedings from a distance.
But Mohanty held his nerve and came to Mitra’s rescue. He repeatedly tried to hit the animal with the barrel of the gun and went on shouting to distract its attention. The angry leopard, which was trying to claw prostrate Mitra by one hand and snarl at Mohanty with the other suddenly gave up the prey and moved to a near-by bush. Mohanty lifted the SP, who had suffered injuries in several parts of the body and was profusely bleeding. Providentially, he was safe and alive.
Later, Mohanty was awarded the “Prime Minister’s medal for life saving”.
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